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A Novel Idea
Once a Week
Writing about the right brain is difficult. It’s kind of like explaining a joke - it takes all the fun out of it. The left brain loves explanations, but the right brain loves experience. This was brought home to me recently while reading Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear it Away on my to and from flights for a dear friend’s seminary graduation.
I have no idea (yet) what the novel means in any analytical, explanatory sense, but O’Connor, who wrote of the “Christ-haunted South”, haunted me with this story. Part of that haunting was the experience of feeling the story’s meaning without understanding it. The finished book was like an undigested steak. It tasted really good, but remained a mysterious mass in my stomach.
Meaning has only come gradually as I ruminated on it for the last week. Unexpectedly, what has settled in my stomach are not answers. What I experienced as I stepped into the story and felt the conflicts of Francis Marion Tarwater and his uncle Rayber were questions: Am I free or am I bound? If I’m bound, what am I bound to, and can I get free? Can anyone really change? No philosophical shortcut can match the gift of feeling one’s way to answers to those questions. The surprising gift O’Connor gave was feeling those questions in my gut, agonizing over the seeming determination of Tarwater’s and Rayber’s demise, and witnessing the gut-wrenching surprise of redemption through violence.
Of course, I am trying to capture my right brain experience with left brain discourse, and limitations abound. As O’Connor explains in the quote below, my feeble explanation is no substitute for the experience itself.
Quotation from Flannery O’Connor
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.
The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience, and the novel, of course, is a way to have experience. The lady who only read books that improved her mind was taking a safe course and a hopeless one. She'll never know whether her mind is improved or not, but should she ever, by some mistake, read a great novel, she'll know mighty well that something is happening to her.
Recommended Reading from Flannery O’Connor
Mystery and Manners - essays and talks that contain some excellent and enlightening instruction on writing and the nature of story.
The Complete Stories - Collection of thirty-one short stories, including twelve that do not appear in the only two story collections O'Connor put together in her short lifetime--Everything That Rises Must Converge and A Good Man Is Hard to Find.
What was the last story or novel you digested thoroughly so that it nourished your mind and heart? Will you share that experience with somone today?
Praying for and laboring with you,