Book Review: The Incarnational Art of Flannery O’Connor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is just phenomenal. Christina Bieber Lake is amazing in this book. She is interesting and keeps you moving through the book. She brings in philosophers and authors to shed light onto O’Connor’s writings. She frequently references books that O’Connor read or underlined and often does so in the context of O’Connor having read that book while writing a particular novella or short story.
She reveals O’Connor’s view of this world through explanations of her works, often tying whole chapters to one or two stories. She brings great insight to Wise Blood, The Violent Bear it Away, and several other stories. I read this immediately after reading Jonathan Rogers’ biography of O’Connor, The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O’Connor, and while reading The Complete Stories. I’m going to follow this up with Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South.
One of the things about this book, a kind of warning for you bibliophiles out there, is that it makes reference to so many other great works and thinkers, you are sure to increase the size of your Amazon Wishlist–or decrease the size of your wallet.
I especially like this particular point:
Maritain writes in a passage O’Connor underlined [which means I have to highlight whatever follows!] that “art endeavors to imitate in its own way the condition peculiar to the pure spirits: it draws beauty from ugly things and monsters, it tries to overcome the division between beautiful and ugly by absorbing ugliness in a superior species of beauty, and by transferring us beyond the (aesthetic) beautiful and ugly (Lake, 166).
O’Connor, famous for using the “grotesque” to make significant points, redemptive points, in her writing, is teaching us something about God Himself. God, the perfect being, in the incarnation, Himself takes on the grotesque. Not that humans are grotesque, but relative to the perfect God, we are. Christ Himself is grotesque in taking on humanity. The Triune God draws beauty from ugly things (the relatively grotesque human) and by that act overcomes the division between beautiful and ugly, absorbing us into a superior species of beauty, transferring us beyond these aesthetic categories. Thus, the grotesque in her stories often become Christ-figures. Remembering this can help us as we seek to understand her writings, as we seek to be artists ourselves.
* Matt Bianco is a PCA elder, the homeschooling father of three children, a result of his marriage to his altogether lovely high school sweetheart, Patty.