The title of this blog is inspired by the words of Flannery O’Connor in her essay “The Teaching of Literature.” She says,
“It is the business of fiction to embody mystery through manners.”
“The fiction writer is concerned with mystery that is lived. He’s concerned with ultimate mystery as we find it embodied in the concrete world of sense experience.”
Flannery has taught me to read literature this way, and to read the world this way. I am trying to teach my students to do the same.
Hence, for English teachers like me:
“The teacher of English is a sort of middle-man, and I have occasionally come to think about what really happens when a piece of fiction is set before students. I suppose this is a terrifying experience for the teacher.”
Yes, it is.
“The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation. If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction. Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.” (From a letter she wrote to an English teacher in 1961. Full text here.)
For more of my own thoughts on Flannery and the teaching of English literature, see my post “Sacramentality and the Short Story.”