Grace & Necessity Three
"Flannery O'Connor : Proper Names"
Chapter No. 3
Where the last two chapters of 'Grace & Necessity' felt like a comparison of two entities — chapter one comparing beauty vs. truth / chapter two comparing prudence vs. art — this third chapter seemed to be more on the topic of how "The Christian Artist" can accurately portray truth. I struggled with this chapter more than the others ( which is also in part why I've been putting it off so ). I think my inner most being wants to relate to O'Connor's notion that one must always show truth, even if it's ugly or uncomfortable, but there's a disconnect for me. This disconnect has long been engrained in my way of creating that it's hard to deny, but evidently harmful.
The problem is that I agree so profoundly with what O'Connor has to say: "what matters is the search for the internal necessity of a work" ( pg. 97 ) yet perfection relentlessly gets in my way. Even writing this very blog post has caused my focus to be more on perfecting the visuals rather than writing a reflection purely focused on the words and thoughts -- it's a curse. This is something I've recognized and am continually working on, but it begs the question of can we ever accurately portray truth? Is truth revealed, even after influence by curation and perfection? It's a hard question to answer, and one in which Williams uses O'Connor to tackle.
The Christian Artist
OUR OWN LENS
I've expressed before how aiming to show truth is something I yearn for, but throughout the creative process I find myself falling short. I can't help but wonder if this is in part due to the things I surround myself with.. O'Connor talks about how we are, without a doubt, influenced by the very things that surround us: "every artist, like it or not, works with a framework of assumptions about humanity and its world" ( pg. 99 ). We all have our own lenses, we have prejudice about the world and we make art in response to this prejudice.
Contradictory to what many of us are told, O'Connor says that we shouldn't shy away from this when making art and argues that especially Christians should use their own lens to reflect the divine, to reflect truth: "belief, remember adds to vision and does not subtract", "religious belief should be an aid to 'reason'" ( pg. 96 & 98 ).
ON IRONY & GRACE
Now, O'Connor says that first we should use our own lenses to reflect truth & grace, but in turn irony is used: "it is only by such extreme irony that grace can be made to be 'natural'" ( pg. 100 ). But must irony be used? What I often struggle with, throughout my personal experience, is the use of irony. I absolutely hate irony, I have for quite some time. In a way, I see irony as a form of humor, but not in a positive light, as a way of covering up what is really at the core. If O'Connor is so focused on showing truth, why does she say that irony is a necessity? A simple answer can be that of grace.
It is indeed fascinating, the idea that we have to use irony in order to effectively communicate that we have received grace / therefore cannot reflect the divine. We can only grasp a fraction of what the divine is like, and so we express it through our art and through ironic means -- yet something about that idea is not quite satisfying to me. Is there a way in which we can show truth as well as not having to use irony? And then grace comes in, which seems like such a simple word but it holds such complexity. We receive grace, but aren't worthy of it, but still need to accept it, yet it is so hard to comprehend. Once again I am left with more questions than answers.
Below are some notes I took at church today, ironically on the subject of grace. It's quite beautiful when you see integration play out in the different areas of your life.
If you're like me, I often wondered about the title of this chapter while reading it. What does "proper names" mean to you? Feel free to answer this & the other questions posed in the comment section.
"God's freedom must be lured into appearing by testing the moral limits of a situation."
"The event that disrupts and questions and changes the world is precisely what obliges the artist to to try and recreate it from scratch. Irony is going to be unavoidable in this exercise."
"God is intrincsic to whatever is uncovered in the work of writing."
"The infinite cannot be directly apprehended, so we must take appearance seriously; it is the infinite that is being apprehended, so we must take appearance seriously enough to read its concealment and stratagems."
"But the actuality of grace is uncovered in the moment of excess ..."
"Grace is an excess that may make for significance or forgiveness, but needn't."
"And his dispossession opens him to a truth both utterly undramatic and terrifying, 'a chill so peculiar, so light, that it was like a warm ripple across a deeper sea of cold'."
"This must be defensible so long as it is actually a strategy for the truth, not a flexing of the artistic muscles for its own sake."
"The Catholic fiction writer is entirely free to observe."
"Because I am a Catholic, I cannot afford to be less than an artist."