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.”
5 thoughts on “About This Blog”
I came across your blog after seeing your comment on Patheos.com, in response to an article on “The New School”. I had never been to that site, but Elizabeth Scalia was cited in a response to another article on Pope Francis and the “Theology of Women”. I liked her response and found the site where you commented.
I clicked on your name and when I saw that you mention Hans Urs von Balthasar, and then even more so, that you mention acedia, I was moved because of all the reading and re-reading I’ve been doing of the work of Dr. Conrad Baars. I wanted to tell you about it because I know how helpful it is to everyone who has come across it. It’s also a very helpful way to know more about the truths of, as well as feel the goodness of, the Theology of The Body.
Dr. Conrad Baars along with Dr. Anna Terruwe, his colleague, furthered the understanding of the anthropology of St. Thomas Aquinas, particularly regarding the integration of the emotions with the intellect and the will. I’m sure you would like what he wrote very much.
When I came to your blog after trying to write directly through the Patheos site, I saw the image you have of the peacock and I immediately thought about also mentioning Flannery O’Connor, but now I can see you already know so much about her. In fact I was just thinking about her works this morning after seeing a very tragic news story that reminded me of her writing.
I’m glad you also are familiar with Edith Stein. It was through Dr. Conrad Baars’ work again that I found out about her writings on the vocations of being men and women.
It seems you already are interested in so much that I couldn’t not tell you about Dr. Baars!
Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment and your suggestion about Dr. Conrad Baars. Anyone who writes in the spirit of Balthasar, O’Connor, and Edith Stein is very intriguing to me, and the topic of acedia in particular has (personally) interested me for some time. I look forward to learning more about his work.
Since reading your comment, I have done a few internet searches about Baars and am reminded strongly of Dr. Viktor Frankl, the famous author of Man’s Search For Meaning and founder of the logotherapy school of psychological thought. His experience in a concentration camp during WWII very much shaped his exploration of suffering as well–as I believe it also shaped Baars.
You may know of this work already, but I think you would really appreciate He Leadeth Me by Father Walter Ciszek, SJ. He writes about his twenty-plus years living in the horror of Soviet prisons and how it affected his spiritual life. It is very beautiful.
As O’Connor says about her own suffering: “I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.”
Thank you for your reply. It’s so good that you have such a strong interest in reading great books!
I think that while there are differences between the authors you mention and Dr. Baars, his writing is no less profound, being based on the anthropology of St. Thomas Aquinas. That is significant because the teaching of St. Thomas about our emotions’ interaction with the intellect and the will is in fact not as rightly understood or as well known as you might expect. The great work he was Providentially to undertake for the Church and the world was really missing.
I spoke to someone who entered the religious life with the Franciscan Friars of The Renewal, (you may know about Fr. Benedict Groeschel who founded the Order) and he told me that they are first reading the book “Born Only Once”, then “Feeling and Healing Your Emotions”, and essays from “I Will Give Them A New Heart”, as part of a class dedicated only to the anthropology of Aquinas, Baars, and Terruwe! I was so glad to hear that. It makes sense.
I hope that this is also taught in seminaries, and I wish it would be read in Catholic Schools and in families. His and Dr. Terruwe’s work was praised as a “great gift to the Church” by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II. I think it’s so needed today!
Of course because of the lack of clarity regarding the topic of the emotions in general, other misunderstandings follow which you may recognize as being so common, even despite St. Thomas’ unique place in the Church and Dr. Baars’ great contribution. So, to help clarify this, some other topics which he writes about include: “Anger and Forgiveness”, and “The Psychology of Obedience”. (These two essays are in the book “I Will Give Them A New Heart” which I mentioned the Friars are reading.)
Thank you for mentioning Dr. Frankl. I’ve read “Man’s Search For Meaning” and I thought it was very good. It’s also a memorable book. I’ve heard about Fr. Ciszek, but I haven’t read anything he wrote. I’m glad that you heard about him, read his book, and like his writing.
If I’m going to start reading the book you mention though, I will have to pace myself. That’s because I may tend to use what I’m reading in it, given the topic, as a way of imagining the worst, almost without realizing that that’s in fact what I’m doing. I may even think that I am somehow being prepared for my future and becoming courageous and insightful, even loving, while in reality all I would be doing to myself is spending energy on striving to protect myself from others precisely by imagining the worst. The very things I would imagine would stimulate the emotion of fear, maybe without realizing it. Then emotional striving, over time mistaken for growth in maturity, would be the reply to that fear. I would be caught in a vicious circle.
Until I read Dr. Baars I didn’t realize this!
Just read a piece (3 in fact) that you did on Edith Stein and JP II. I’m a Domer, taught at Bishop Dunne in Dallas, all my best buddies are ACErs. I’m in formation as a lay Carmelite and would love to chat with you. Kelly.email@example.com.
Having just read your line from Flannery O’Connor on suffering (“I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.”), I was reminded of a similar line by Philip Rieff in his book The Triumph of the Therapeutic. He was criticizing scientism’s method of cutting out whatever bits of reality don’t fit into a particular biologist or chemist’s view of the world. But, he admitted, “I too aim to see clearly, like a rifleman, with one eye shut.”