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Old 03-03-2017   #41
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Re: The Ending of True Detective

Quote Originally Posted by bendk View Post
I am always at a loss when people like Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor, who recognize the worst aspects of humanity, blather on about some positive 'spiritual' meaning. You read their work and it's all death, madness, and corncobs, but then they talk about 'prevailing' and 'grace' and other infantile fantasies. Give me a break, for ####'s sake.
Nothing positive or "spiritual" about "A Good Man Is Hard To Find." One of the most grim and nihilistic pieces of "straight" fiction I've ever read.

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Old 03-03-2017   #42
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Re: The Ending of True Detective

Quote Originally Posted by T.E. Grau View Post
Quote Originally Posted by bendk View Post
I am always at a loss when people like Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor, who recognize the worst aspects of humanity, blather on about some positive 'spiritual' meaning. You read their work and it's all death, madness, and corncobs, but then they talk about 'prevailing' and 'grace' and other infantile fantasies. Give me a break, for ####'s sake.
Nothing positive or "spiritual" about "A Good Man Is Hard To Find." One of the most grim and nihilistic pieces of "straight" fiction I've ever read.
The ending of that story is shocking and repugnant, but there is clearly a Christian meaning to it. It reminds me of some of Simone Weil's ruthless aphorisms--for example, this, from Gravity and Grace:

Quote
"The cross. The tree of sin was a real tree, the tree of life was a wooden beam. Something that does not give fruit, but a vertical movement. 'The Son of Man must be lifted up and he will draw all men unto himself.' We can kill the vital energy in ourselves while keeping only the vertical movement. Leaves and fruit are a waste of energy if our only wish is to rise.

"Adam and Eve sought for divinity in vital energy--a tree, fruit. But it is prepared for us on dead wood, geometrically squared, where a corpse is hanging. We must look for the secret of our kinship with God in our mortality."
I hate to invoke M--k S------s here, but he would understand this. Yes, O'Connor's story is shocking and repugnant to anyone who isn't a Christian of a flaying sort, but that's the point of it.

My impression is that Flannery O'Connor had thought through her doctrinal beliefs, and used them effectively in her grotesque fiction, while Faulkner's public comments seemed thoughtlessly disconnected from the best of his writing. I'm reminded of what Richard Kostelanetz wrote about Faulkner in Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes:

Quote
"Faulkner seemed so stupid, in person and at times in print, while conservative critics were predisposed to overpraise his conventional virtues, that we tend to forget he wrote some of the greatest avant-garde fiction of the twentieth century." (Here Kostelanetz mentions The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Absalom, Absalom!)
(Yeah, I'm just a fount of quotes today. Sorry. They're pertinent quotes, you see.)

I can just about imagine Faulkner being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey (hey, Cormac McCarthy did it), but can you imagine Flannery O'Connor being interviewed by Oprah? That wouldn't go well.

Last edited by gveranon; 03-03-2017 at 02:24 AM..
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Old 03-03-2017   #43
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Re: The Ending of True Detective

Quote Originally Posted by gveranon View Post
It reminds me of some of Simone Weil's ruthless aphorisms--for example, this, from Gravity and Grace:

Quote
"The cross. The tree of sin was a real tree, the tree of life was a wooden beam. Something that does not give fruit, but a vertical movement. 'The Son of Man must be lifted up and he will draw all men unto himself.' We can kill the vital energy in ourselves while keeping only the vertical movement. Leaves and fruit are a waste of energy if our only wish is to rise.
Unless I'm misinterpreting it, this quote strikes me as being in keeping with a perceived contrast that is preoccupying me recently, between Daoism and Christianity. This is from page 62 of my A.C. Graham translation of The Inner Chapters:

Quote
Hence, as the ground which the foot treads is small, and yet, small as it is, it depends on the untrodden ground to have scope to range, so the knowledge a man needs is little, yet little as it is he depends on what he does not know to know what is meant by 'Heaven'.
Or, perhaps in more direct contrast, there is the well-known parable of the useless tree:

http://www.mjglass.ca/metaphor/uselesstree.htm

http://www.coldbacon.com/writing/chuang/tree.html

Although the Daoist tree here doesn't give fruit, it's certainly living, and it's not 'straight' or concerned with 'vertical movement'. The Weil aphorism suggests, as much of Christianity seems to, that there is one end goal (the eschaton), and that anything that is not devoted towards that goal is not only of no value, but, like chaff, to be destroyed. The contrast here, of course, that for Daoism, uselessness is good--there's an expansiveness here that contrasts with much of the tone of Christianity.

Then again, not in contrast, but in apparent agreement with the Daoist tree, big, 'useless' and alive, we have this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parabl...e_Mustard_Seed

Or the hairs on one's head being numbered, and no sparrow falling without God's care, etc.

"人生夢幻耳" - 高井鴻山
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Old 03-03-2017   #44
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Re: The Ending of True Detective

Quote Originally Posted by gveranon View Post

The ending of that story is shocking and repugnant, but there is clearly a Christian meaning to it.
I don't mean to be dense, but what is the Christian meaning to it?

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Old 03-03-2017   #45
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Re: The Ending of True Detective

Quote Originally Posted by T.E. Grau View Post
Quote Originally Posted by gveranon View Post

The ending of that story is shocking and repugnant, but there is clearly a Christian meaning to it.
I don't mean to be dense, but what is the Christian meaning to it?
I had the advantage (or disadvantage) of knowing a few things about Flannery O'Connor, and of having reading some of her other stories, long before I read "A Good Man is Hard to Find." So my preconceptions certainly led me to a Christian reading of it.

But say I had been trying to avoid all previous knowledge, expectations, etc., as I read the story (as D. F. Lewis evidently tries to do, in headlong flight from the Intentional Fallacy ). The grandmother and the Misfit talk at some length about prayer, Jesus, goodness, etc., before the Misfit shoots here. What is one to make of this? After all that earnest Jesus-talk, the Misfit just coldly shoots her anyway, thereby demonstrating the futility and impotence of notions of religion and goodness--a nihilistic ending? Is that how you read it?

I think in order to read it as an expression of ultimate meaninglessness, and a repudiation of the very possibility of the goodness the characters had just been talking about, one would have to either disregard or misunderstand the Misfit's statement "She would have been a good woman, if it had been someone there to shoot her every minute of her life." And by "misunderstand," I mean not see those words in the context of the conversation he and the grandmother had just had.

If I had known nothing about Flannery O'Connor, I can imagine seeing the story as a possible parody of Christian concepts. A deftly-presented reductio ad absurdum aimed at Christian moralizers. See, if you actually follow the logic of what you say you believe, it isn't all nicey-nice like your Sunday School teacher pretends it is; it's actually quite depraved. But I think that would be a misreading, too. As the Christian themes are presented toward the end, I think the most natural reading is that the author takes them seriously, and wants to confront the reader with this understanding of life, goodness, grace, etc., which is so at odds with the worldly way of seeing things.

Anyway, I just found this, which I hadn't seen before--Flannery O'Connor herself explaining what she meant in the story: http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/lewiss/Oconnor.htm Intentional Fallacy alert! (Though she does say that there are other ways in which the story could be read.) O'Connor's explanation includes details and considerations I hadn't thought of, and she takes it even further than I would have expected her to, saying, "I prefer to think that, however unlikely this may seem, the old lady's gesture, like the mustard-seed, will grow to be a great crow-filled tree in the Misfit's heart, and will be enough of a pain to him there to turn him into the prophet he was meant to become." Wow.
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Old 03-03-2017   #46
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Re: The Ending of True Detective

Thanks for the reply, and the link, gveranon.

Before I click and read it (not sure I want to - ignorance can often be bliss), and in reply to your question: Yes, I read it as the randomness of brutality, and how a simple country drive with the family can turn into mass murder, based on blind chance. To me, it showed O'Connor painting a very bleak universe, where men, women, children, and the elderly can be slaughtered at any moment, anywhere. Because people are just plain bad ("Nome, I ain't a good man," The Misfit said after a second as if he had considered her statement carefully, "but I ain't the worst in the world neither."). I also found it to be quite humorous in parts (Red Sam road signs, repetition of "We've had an ACCIDENT!" etc.), as with many of her stories.

The entry-level Christian-speak of the grandmother struck me as accurate dialogue, considering the character, the time period, area of the country where she lived/was most likely raised, and most notably, the situation. Many, many people, even the most faithless, cry out to god/Jesus when facing their demise. I never would have surmised that this ridiculous old woman was somehow a vehicle for religious teaching, inspiration, and eventual salvation.

All that said, regardless of the author's true intent, the feelings of dread and horror gifted to me by that story remain potent, and powerful. I adore it.

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Old 03-03-2017   #47
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Re: The Ending of True Detective

Don't be too hard on Faulkner. Writers who can't pen uplifting and treacly sentiments seldom win Nobels. Everyone wants a nice speech. And most authors would kill for an award.

There is nothing in O'Conner's story to justify that reading LOL. I suspect she came up with that interpretation some time after she wrote it. Maybe that was the story she wished she had written.
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Old 03-03-2017   #48
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Re: The Ending of True Detective

The opening pages of As I Lay Dying, where a mother watches her son construct a coffin for her just outside her window, is pretty harrowing stuff for that time, and such a fantastic way to start a novel.

I'll always have a soft spot for Faulkner for that.

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Old 03-03-2017   #49
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Re: The Ending of True Detective

Quote Originally Posted by gveranon View Post
Quote
"Faulkner seemed so stupid, in person and at times in print, while conservative critics were predisposed to overpraise his conventional virtues, that we tend to forget he wrote some of the greatest avant-garde fiction of the twentieth century." (Here Kostelanetz mentions The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Absalom, Absalom!)
Richard Kostelanetz, is it? Never heard of him. But at least now I know I can freely disregard anything else he has to say without missing much.

Who provideth for the raven his food?
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Old 03-04-2017   #50
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Re: The Ending of True Detective

Quote Originally Posted by Druidic View Post
Don't be too hard on Faulkner. Writers who can't pen uplifting and treacly sentiments seldom win Nobels. Everyone wants a nice speech. And most authors would kill for an award.
Kostelanetz's assessment is harsh, but I recognized the truth of it when I started mulling over some of Faulkner's better-known pronouncements. I don't really hold it against Faulkner that he said some foolish things in public. Many authors have said foolish things in public; it's an occupational hazard. It is striking, though, just how incongruous Faulkner's remarks seem when considered in relation to his books. Is this the same guy?

Quote Originally Posted by Druidic View Post
There is nothing in O'Conner's story to justify that reading LOL. I suspect she came up with that interpretation some time after she wrote it. Maybe that was the story she wished she had written.
I think the story is very well done, with the Christian themes handled, and indeed discharged, artfully, but Flannery O'Connor's own interpretation does seem to stretch in places beyond anything that is in the text (especially the bit about the old lady's gesture growing like a mustard seed in the Misfit's heart and turning him into the "prophet he was meant to become"). I can see how that might be a further development of the story and the theological connotations that are already there; it isn't an arbitrary add-on; but the story is more powerful for me if the meanings stick closer to the text.

Quote Originally Posted by T.E. Grau View Post
The opening pages of As I Lay Dying, where a mother watches her son construct a coffin for her just outside her window, is pretty harrowing stuff for that time, and such a fantastic way to start a novel.

I'll always have a soft spot for Faulkner for that.
I haven't read As I Lay Dying.

I love the "Appendix" section of The Sound and the Fury, which Faulkner added sixteen years after the novel's original publication. For me it's an essential part of the novel, but it can perhaps be read independently. Beautiful, stunning, amazing:


I also love the opening paragraph of Absalom, Absalom!, which I quoted here years ago in another thread:

Quote
"From a little after two o'clock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that -- a dim hot airless room with the blinds all closed and fastened for forty-three summers because when she was a girl someone had believed that light and moving air carried heat and that dark was always cooler, and which (as the sun shone fuller and fuller on that side of the house) became latticed with yellow slashes full of dust motes which Quentin thought of as being flecks of the dead old dried paint itself blown inward from the scaling blinds as wind might have blown them. There was a wisteria vine blooming for the second time that summer on a wooden trellis before one window, into which sparrows came now and then in random gusts, making a dry vivid dusty sound before going away: and opposite Quentin, Miss Coldfield in the eternal black which she had worn for forty-three years now, whether for sister, father, or nothusband none knew, sitting so bolt upright in the straight hard chair that was so tall for her that her legs hung straight and rigid as if she had iron shinbones and ankles, clear of the floor with that air of impotent and static rage like children's feet, and talking in that grim haggard amazed voice until at last listening would renege and hearing-sense self-confound and the long-dead object of her impotent yet indomitable frustration would appear, as though by outraged recapitulation evoked, quiet inattentive and harmless, out of the biding and dreamy and victorious dust."
Quote Originally Posted by cannibal cop View Post
Richard Kostelanetz, is it? Never heard of him. But at least now I know I can freely disregard anything else he has to say without missing much.
Yeah, don't strain yourself. I'm sure Kostelanetz would be devastated to hear that "cannibal cop" is now freely disregarding his work.
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