Tuesday 24 August 2010

Flannery O'Connor on writers

Some timeless wisdom from Flannery O'Connor, on creative writing courses: "Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them" (Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, 84).

People are drawn to creative writing courses because of an urge to express themselves, to unburden themselves of their deepest feelings. But self-expression is the deadly enemy of fiction. It is a thick bog in which the capacity for fictional imagination is captured and drowned: thus the need for universities to exercise preemptive stifling.

If self-expression attracts people to fiction-writing while simultaneously killing off the object of study, might there be any rough equivalents in theological study? Does our own discipline need a bit of preemptive stifling once in a while?


Unknown said...

My first time reading your blog - great stuff!
I find as a tutor in Theology that my job is more to draw students out than stifle their embryonic offerings. When a student myself I used to find God's words to Jeremiah very encouraging - that He is a God who tears down and builds up, who uproots then plants. As I found my ideas deconstructed over the course of study as an undergraduate, it was a good reminder that it was God Himself who was overseeing, or even initiating, this process. But equally "the greater the death, the greater the resurrection", and that this applies to the death of my old, small, self-centred ideas, as God brings to life new, exocentric ways of thinking and feeling and experiencing Him. I suppose, to sum up, stifling is only safe if it's God's Spirit doing it, not me!

Pamela said...

Should the Bible be treated as a privileged source and exempted from the usual critique of source materials? Applying human reason to the resolution of theological problems involves self-expression doesn't it.

Peter said...

In the arena of self expression I wonder whether theologically one of our biggest issues in the disturbing notion of worship as expressing ourselves before God. So called 'worship leaders' who express their faith through song, dance, art, prayer, even sermons justifiying what is done as their self expression before God that other congregation members become spectators or consumers of. Whose role is it to do some pre-emptive stifling of here?

Paul said...

I think seminaries should stifle self-expression in preaching: "Today's Gospel text reminds me of something my wife said to me once..."

Seth said...

I think many Christian writers approach the scripture with the attitude of "I'll tell them how I use the bible" instead of them "I'll invite them to see what the bible says." The first is so tangled in its own politics and power-structures the other is an invitation to study together.

Both "How I use the bible" - theologians and "How I feel" - fiction writers fail to approach the object up for contemplation or enjoyment on its own terms. You don't create stories to preach, unless you are writing parables or value-tales. And you don't write theology to "arm" like minded people.

Good fiction lets the world of the story open up on its own and doesn't demand that it fit an ideological conclusion. (Case in point: read Atlas Shrugged and then The Lord of the rings. - Only one is telling you a story.)

The same is true in theology. Good theology lets the book speak on its own terms.

Jesus had it right. The question "What do the scriptures say?" must always come before "How do you read them?"

Unknown said...

Oh, hell yes.

And also what Peter wrote above — to which I'd answer his last question with a question: I thought that was Scripture's role? (but whose interpretation, you ask? Well, mine, of course!)

roger flyer said...

I just read a collection of Flannery's short stories during my week at our cabin. Yikes! The woman is brilliant, but her stories are so sad.

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