Archive | January, 2013

A Review of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood

21 Jan

Wise BloodWise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was my first by O’Connor.

Story and theme aside, there is something about her style that is very addicting. I found myself speeding through this book in two days. Her prose has a no-nonsense directness that is amplified by the occasional (cunningly apt) metaphor, and by her darkly human characters – grotesque, self-serving, dishonest, indifferent, cruel, desperate.

Much is made about the author’s religious views, but in O’Connor’s uniquely questing artistry, what comes to the fore is not doctrine, but rather the tangled root of her beliefs, which really reflect a universal problem of seeking meaning.

Our protagonist is Haze Motes (a name which I learned references a Biblical passage regarding judgement – “do not remove the mote from your neighbor’s eye without first removing your own”). This allusion to eyes is part of the central concern of the book, that of vision (and blindness). Haze’s eyes are described like a sacred mystery by the young girl who is fascinated by him, eyes that “don’t look like they see what he’s looking at but they keep on looking.” Haze is constantly looking, but rarely and reluctantly at the external world.

What he is looking for is a truth that the Church no longer provides him. A derelict veteran, he finds a calling to become a vocal anti-theist, even while his conflicts and behavior show him to have an indelibly “religious” persona in spite of his denouncements – a backwards nihilist monk, committed to his own special mission. He becomes an anti-preacher, trying to open people’s eyes to the needlessness of their moral suffering, yet really projecting his own sense of being lost. He is reactive and materially indifferent. And he occupies his own world, inwardly focused on his concerns for redemption and truth. Other characters try to penetrate this world, to see what is behind those eyes, attracted to his suffering. The last quarter of the book brings the author’s ideas together beautifully in a suddenly tightened knot that left me feeling a touch breathless.

Flannery O’Connor is brilliant at layering symbolism and exploring an idea from seemingly casual, tangential angles. Her depth catches you suddenly and off-guard, like realizing you’ve tread too far from the shore. I am looking forward very much to exploring more of her work.

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The search for a better normal.

11 Jan

Kicked off the new year with a flu.  I had all these January ideas to start exercising regularly, writing regularly, finding regular employment, eat more regular meals – apparently it was to be the year of regularity.  Instead I watched six seasons of Frasier on Netflix and constructed monuments of phlegm out of kleenex.

I didn’t even read very much, which is the only plus-side of the bedridden scenario.  Only two books were finished – Everything Matters by Ron Currie Jr. (a highly recommended new author) and Nabokov’s The Defense, one of his early Russian novels with a chess motif and a stunted, phlegmatic protagonist (just what I want to read about in this condition).  The Defense was not as tight or probing as Nabokov’s later English-language novels, but the spark is there, and there are moments of beautiful prose that could only be his.  And I’m an on-and-off chess lover, so I appreciate the metaphors.  Next on my list is Nabokov’s Pale Fire, along with Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea.  I’m challenging myself this year to read 52 books in 52 weeks – a modest goal, not so much to read more, but to read more regularly.

And there’s that word again.  Regular.  Everything lacking in my life, according to me, seems to boil down to a lack of routine.  What is it about our identities that we think our true and better selves can be molded if we just find the right regimen, the right techniques?  As though our lives were slabs of marble that we hammer at with an array of chisels.  I wrote last year about “discontentment” as a necessary creative force.  To quote myself:

“When people talk about the “human condition”, what immediately comes to my mind is our perpetual discontentment.  This might sound like a negative thing at first, but actually it’s what makes everything move forward; culturally, scientifically, politically, artistically.  With our tremendous capacity for conceptualization, we can’t help but analyze and reinvent everything around us – tearing down and building up.  It drives our achievements, and the fulfillment of that urge, the attainment of satisfaction, means a slow, mediocre death for progress.  The constant restlessness of humanity is both essential and inescapable – the bane and the boon of our existence.” (April, ’12)

It’s a tidy, romantic little argument.  But now it’s 2013, and discontentment hasn’t gotten me anywhere.  I’ve been unemployed for longer than I care to admit, and besides an uptick in my writing, I have very little to show for 2012.  Why is this?  We see ourselves, and we see the selves we’d rather be, yet we struggle, and self-help quacks make billions off of our self-inflicted paralysis.  When I was younger and knew everything, I mocked this as a first-world problem of the soulless consumer class, who had lost the ability to embrace passion and possibility, to embrace the freedom attached to their mortality.  We’re all going to die, I’d think, and very little matters in the mean time.  “It’s only life” I’d announce in the face of crisis, wise as Zarathustra.  I wasn’t wrong, really.  It is only life, and we certainly take much of it too seriously.  But perhaps inevitably, I find my fear returning as I age.  What have I actually done?  What do I have time left to do?

As this sickness fades off, I look out on the cloudy world and think about the years.  I am not satisfied with what I have done with them.  I think many people aren’t.  Is there any worse feeling than to contemplate the vacuum left by each lost chance?  Instead of regularity this year, maybe there’s something else I need.  Openness.  A return to fearlessness, without the self-inflicted pressures of an imagined perfection.  The guts to love who I already am, and to make a life that can never be perfect, but that is wholly and inimitably mine.


“Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.” – Emily Dickinson