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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Quotes from Flannery O' Connor (1925-1964),
The Nature and Aim of Fiction
in Mystery and Manners (FSG)

On writing classes--
". . . so many people can now write competent stories that the short story as a medium is in danger of dying of competence. We want competence, but competence by itself is deadly."
On bad writers--
". . . these are times when the financial rewards for sorry writing are much greater that those for good writing. There are certain cases in which, if you can only learn to write poorly enough, you can make a great deal of money."
On reading--
"Some people have the notion that you read the story and then climb out of it into the meaning, but for the fiction writer himself the whole story is the meaning, because it is an experience, not an abstraction.
On an "enlarged view"--
"It seems to be a paradox that the larger and more complex the personal view, the easier it is to compress it into fiction."
On the richness of subject--
". . . the straightforward manner is seldom equal to the complications of the good subject."
On 9-11--
". . . it's well to remember that the serious fiction writer always writes about the whole world, no matter how limited his particular scene. For him, the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima affects life on the Oconee River, and there's not anything he can do about it."
On the "escape" in fiction--
"I'm always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it's very shocking to the system. "
On the call to write--
"There is no excuse for anyone to write fiction for public consumption unless he has been called to do so by the presence of a gift. It is the nature of fiction not to be good for much unless it is good in itself."
On bad writers--
"Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher."
* * * * * * *
That's just a taste from an essay full of special beauties . . . Go dig up a copy!

The Endicott Studio will celebrate National Poetry Month (April, natch--the cruelest month) by putting up an ecard with picture and poem each day at No doubt this will be an improvement over the atrocious cards available out there in e-land. I wish Laura would do ecards . . .


  1. I find this whole thing interesting since it was written several years ago and still seems to apply today.

    I think the on reading part is iteresting because when I read a book it si a whole experiece for me as well. I do, of course try to get my students to this experience as well. I also have to, however, use excerpts to get at particualr meanings and skills.

  2. Good heavens, we do live in a universe of synchronicity. I just had a tattooed, chain wearing, leathered young man come in (my pitbull was delighted) looking for some Flannery O'Connor (yeah, I had some). He was delighted. He said that he'd seen some quotes of hers spraypainted on a Chicago overpass and was dismayed to find his travelling companions had no idea who she was.

  3. Marly, thanks for the Endicott studio link. I leave The Palace to search for the complete Wendy McVicker poem(April 1 postcard). It so reminds me of my students' recent renaming poetry.

  4. Greetings, ladies three:

    Lady B. Q.
    Yes, some of it seems to apply more and more, doesn't it?

    Lady Jarvenpa
    Is the pitbull fictional? Somehow I thought that the bookseller would have a hairy dog to leave threads on the squashy bookstore chairs. Our (Mike's, truly) dog is very good at eating books. The first book she ever ate was a brand new Diana Wynne Jones hardcover that I'd bought for R... She also devours dog beds.

    Lady Connie
    Renaming poems? Oh, I need to check out those ten thousand colors and see what's up!

  5. No, pitbull is far from fictional. I have two dogs pretending to be bookstore cats, and two cats who are really cats, at the bookstore. Pitbull is Champ, a rescue from the street (nerve damaged leg). I thought he was a shepherd. My vet laughed heartily. Other dog is Buddy, an aged & devoted yellow (now whitening) lab. I also have a homebound overly protective rottweiller/shepherd cross named Mai (her mom was a rescue who presented us with 5 puppies...another story).
    Champ the pitbull adores tough young men (but also gets all puppy and squishy faced over small children, and has been told since we carried him inside, that care of our youngest is his duty. We told youngest that care of Champ is his duty. It works out.)
    My doggies do not eat books. Thank heaven.

  6. I thought it was snow in summer the first time Hanna (Susquehanna) disemboweled a book. Jaws like iron.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.