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Mark

Wise Blood

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Don't mean to sound high 'n' mighty, but are you saying I'm supposed to be amused by the racist attitudes on exhibit in the first chapter or two? If so, was that sort of "humor" considered acceptable when the book was written?

Of course not, Christian. I don't think O'Connor ever meant for those scenes to be taken as funny. But that's already been pointed out. I also don't think this would have been considered as humorous among the literary circle that took O'Connor's writing very seriously, either. Like Mark said, Haze is the one who comes off looking terrible during his encounter with the porter.

I will say that this aspect is *very* troubling (as it well should be) and led to a bit of hesitation when I recommended the book. It also caused some worry when I started to reread, so I'm glad we're addressing this now. I grew up in Birmingham, so my history of this city has made me well aware of the time and place O'Connor described, and her portrayal of the times seems deadly accurate, sadly. It's certainly upsetting. I have some older relatives who make me uncomfortable because they still hold these views, so yeah, I'm also quite aware of how offensive it is.

Flannery is, of course, condemning racism (and she does so more forcefully in some of the short stories ... I can look up which ones, if you're interested).

Revelation and Everything That Rises Must Converge immediately come to mind.

By the way, what I find so humorous is the social satire and the sheer weirdness of so many of her characters.

Just to give you a brief idea of how central this book has been to my life, here is a photo of the grille I used for several years on the 1963 Olds wagon I bought in rural Georgia, during a pilgrimage to Flannery's grave in Milledgeville (A Bird Sanctuary).

[attachmentid=245]

WHOA. That is just too cool!

By the way, here's the thread on the film version. Beware of spoilers1.gif !

Oh, I think I'm going to have *so* much to say once we dive in.....

Edited by Diane

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I have finished reading "Wise Blood". I'll go ahead and post some initial impressions:

The book presents a world of black and white, very little color, in its imagery or in its characters. The descriptions of the landscape and of the people are stark and really make me picture this world. It's depiction of religion is definitely not "seeker-friendly". It's a world that I would never want to live in, but there's enough of a darkly comic touch to make this book oddly compelling.

In a number of ways I see this book as a satire on Southern culture and Southern Fundamentalism in its time. As a Catholic, O'Connor could observe this culture as an outsider, and see both the sincerity of its adherents as well as its lack of love.

Some ways that the novel twists aspects of Fundamentalism that I see:

- The idea of the "Wise Blood" could be a statement on determinism/hyper-Calvinism.

-When the old preacher tries to blind himself to prove his faith, this seems to be a reverse form of "faith-healing".

-Hazel's preaching of the "Church without Christ" is a twist on traditional soap-box evangelism.

-When Enoch steals the gorilla suit in Chapter 12, he becomes "born-again" into his new nature as the gorilla, and is happy. Kind of a twist on the Evangelical "conversion" experience.

-Onnie Jay's preaching of his own version of the anti-religion for monetary gain, could be a parody of TV preachers begging for money.

Though I don't like the racism, I think that O'Connor is able to use dark comedy to show how ridiculous these attitudes are.

In

Hazel's inability to escape the "Hound of Heaven" that pursues him throughout, as well as his single-minded faith in his "Church Without Christ" and ability to recognize Onnie Jay's impostor version

, there must be a glimmer of true faith in here somewhere. I'll have to think some more about where to find it, as well as trying to figure out what the ending means. smile.gif

I'm looking forward to discussing this more. ABP's questions have made me want to reread some scenes again

There is a kind of Flannery O'Connor "blog", made up of comments she made during her life. In it, there is an entry about her views on free will and determinism, though attributable to another story, seems to have some relevance to Wise Blood as well.

http://flanneryoconnor.blogspot.com/2005/0...m.html#comments

Edited by Crow

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As a Catholic, O'Connor could observe this culture as an outsider, and see both the sincerity of its adherents as well as its lack of love. 

I skipped the blacked out text, but this sentence caught my eye. I feel the same way sometimes about Catholicism, as I observe it from my own "outsider" perspective.

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Commenting a bit late here, but Christian, I'd say the book is comic in the ironic sense. When we speak of something being comic, we don't always mean it is humorous in the laugh-out-loud way. Irony is comic, but it is also painful to witness at times, and that's what we've got here in Wise Blood. Although there are a few humorous scenes, most of the comedy is what scholars call the comedy of the grotesque: fraught with irony and very easy to misunderstand. Eerdmans, a few years back, put out a book about the grotesque in literature. I'd give you the title, but it's buried in a box downstairs and I'm lazy. smile.gif

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Some thoughts about theme that occurred to me while reading deeper this weekend.

One of the things I love about O'Connor is the way she depicts a pecking order for outcasts. All her characters are outsiders, grostequeries - and yet, instead of finding solace in each other, they answer to their own hierarchy.

So on the train she has the haughty Eastern women looking down on everyone, and Haze condescending to the black porter, oblivious to the fact that Haze himself is considered a step or two below the porter. Off the train, Haze brushes off Enoch (a great comic character) when Enoch tries to befriend Haze out of loneliness.

Also love the whole theme of pursuit running through the early chapters - Haze chasing Lily, Asa chasing Haze's soul, Enoch chasing Haze's friendship. And the intro to Haze's non-faith faith has a raggedy Jesus hiding behind trees in pursuit of Haze - becoming, in Haze's mind, a satanic figure trying to steal his soul by tempting him to salvation.

My favorite chapter 1 passage:

The boy didn't need to hear it. There was already a deep black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin. He knew by the time he was twelve years old that he was going to be a preacher. Later he saw Jesus move from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark where he was not sure of his footing, where he might be walking on the water and not know it and then suddenly know it and drown.

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Great observations, Mark.

Also love the whole theme of pursuit running through the early chapters - Haze chasing Lily, Asa chasing Haze's soul, Enoch chasing Haze's friendship. And the intro to Haze's non-faith faith has a raggedy Jesus hiding behind trees in pursuit of Haze - becoming, in Haze's mind, a satanic figure trying to steal his soul by tempting him to salvation.

This one, in particular is a very strong one. And it shows up prominently in O'Connor's other (later) novel, also ... The Violent Bear It Away ... where the young Tarwater is hounded by both God and Satan.

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Finished reading this a little bit ago and was left a little perplexed to say the least. I think that's what bugged me the most was that most of the time I was just like 'what on earth is going on'. Especially coming from a godless and practical northern town in the UK whose citizens would probably react to the characters in this book by saying 'ooh don't be so daft' or 'can't be doing with that kind of nonsense, dear'. It was a world removed and pretty darn difficult to find any semblances of similarity to mine.

I respect her talent, I respect that it's got interesting ideas, I get 'the comedy' but I just gosh darn didn't like it - it's too clever, and I honestly never thought I would say those words, and I just couldn't appreciate it because of this. Perhaps it is the ironic tone, which is so unrelenting, or perhaps its because as she states in the introduction that there is only one way she intended it and it really isn't possible to read it in any other way. One thing along these lines that really, I mean REALLY, got my goat was how the chapters were devised. They were all so short and tightly compacted to fit into a space that contained a narrative/character/thematic development that I found it almost insulting.

I suppose this ability to manipulate language is a sign of a good writer but I felt that she just left no room for the reader. I am, however, reading some literature around her to try and see if maybe I have missed something. Having said all this, I would be more willing to read her other works - particularly the short stories because from what I've read so far she seems ideally suited to that format - than I would most other writers. At least there are clear signs of a brain at work here. I suspect though, that it's a conflict in writing styles and am unlikely to come round.

I did like the short section that discussed Haze's past & experiences of the war, and there were moments that were almost painted - that darn hat, and the passage where he first steps into his erm... not-really-lover's room. She captures light wonderfully.

And that's all I got for now.

Edited by gigi

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I enjoyed reading your thoughts, gigi, and I'm glad you weighed in.

I'll have to jump in when I can. Swamped right now, but I'm really appreciating the conversation here.

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I'm back....

Finished reading this a little bit ago and was left a little perplexed to say the least.  I think that's what bugged me the most was that most of the time I was just like 'what on earth is going on'.  Especially coming from a godless and practical northern town in the UK whose citizens would probably react to the characters in this book by saying 'ooh don't be so daft' or 'can't be doing with that kind of nonsense, dear'.  It was a world removed and pretty darn difficult to find any semblances of similarity to mine.

What? You mean you've never encountered a street preacher standing in the back of a truck yelling that everyone within hearing distance was going to hell? I have. It happened in Florida after a day at the beach.

I just had to share that.

I've also been asked if I've ever done any snake handling, by the way (during a business call I made to someone in, oh, New York, maybe?). That's neither here nor there, really, but it shows how some folks think about religion and the South. For the record: I've never done any snake handling, though I touched one once during a field trip to the zoo.

OK. I'd better go because I'm only rambling now. smile.gif Maybe I can contribute something more meaningful later.

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Snakes are cool. Mhmmm.

I don't live in London, which is about the only place in the UK where people preach (Hyde Park Corner). And oh my the variety of stuff they preach there. But no. Religion is mostly practised quietly here. Have you heard 'God is in the House' by Nick Cave? Kind of like that without the rancour.

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Heh. We have a curious mix here. The church I attend is very traditional and staid, but not too far down the street from where I work, you can pass the "honk if you love Jesus!" man on the side of the road.

Man, I really need to listen to some Nick Cave.... I will say, though, that some songs by 16 Horsepower would work as a soundtrack to O'Connor's world.

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One thing along these lines that really, I mean REALLY, got my goat was how the chapters were devised.  They were all so short and tightly compacted to fit into a space that contained a narrative/character/thematic development that I found it almost insulting.

This may be a function of the fact the several of the chapters were written earlier as stand-alone short stories. You can read them in The Complete Stories. I agree that the short story is where she's at her best. But even considered as merely a collection of related short stories, I would still like Wise Blood.

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Especially coming from a godless and practical northern town in the UK whose citizens would probably react to the characters in this book by saying 'ooh don't be so daft' or 'can't be doing with that kind of nonsense, dear'.  It was a world removed and pretty darn difficult to find any semblances of similarity to mine.

What? You mean you've never encountered a street preacher standing in the back of a truck yelling that everyone within hearing distance was going to hell? I have. It happened in Florida after a day at the beach.

This is a really interesting contrast of cultures. O'Connor is so good at creating a sense of place that it can be very difficult for a reader outside that world to step into it. When Christian and Diane were talking about racism earlier in the thread, this New England boy had to go back and say, "Hmmm ... now, where exactly was the racism?" Once I looked again, it was evident. But it didn't jump at me as it might have if I were from the South and perhaps more sensitive to those issues. So it's not surprising that gigi would have a hard time relating to the characters and place, because they are so specific to O'Connor's world, IMO.

Still, I find the strengths of the story and characterizations more than enough compensation for trying to overcome the cultural differences.

This may be a function of the fact the several of the chapters were written earlier as stand-alone short stories.  You can read them in The Complete Stories.  I agree that the short story is where she's at her best. 

Interesting! I didn't know the chapters were intended as short stories. But yeah, gigi, O'Connor's short stories rock. Try A Good Man is Hard to Find - if you don't like that one, chances are you won't like anything she wrote. wink.gif

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I find it interesting to note how O'Connor portrays modern society and its sheer indifference or hostility toward anything it suspects is religious (including lumping Haze's own anti-religious rants into the category of just another religious fanatic spouting off).

Chapter 1 shows Mrs. Hitchcock answering Haze's accusation that she thinks she's been redeemed with this rather feeble response: She blushed. After a second she said yes, life was an inspiration and then she said she was hungry and asked him if he didn't want to go to the diner. So, brush it off with some sort of feel-good answer and quickly change the subject.

In the diner, Haze sits with the young women and addresses one:

"Do you think I believe in Jesus?" he said, leaning toward her and speaking almost as if he were breathless. "Well, I wouldn't even if He existed. Even if He was on this train."

"Who said you had to?" she asked in a poisonous Eastern voice.

He drew back.

Haze so obviously expects confrontation and an arguement, but when he's met with such indifference, he's left speechless.

I'm jumping ahead a bit, but one of my favorite passages from the book, one that describes this indifferent, blind attitude so beautifully, comes at the beginning of chapter 3, as Haze explores the city.

His second night in Taulkinham, Hazel Motes walked along downtown close to the store fronts but not looking in them. The black sky was underpinned with long silver streaks that looked like scaffolding and depth on depth behind it were thousands of stars that all seemed to be moving very slowly as if they were about some vast construction work that involved the whole order of the universe and would take all time to complete. No one was paying any attention to the sky. The stores in Taulkinham stayed open on Thursday nights so that people could have an extra opportunity to see what was for sale.

And then, jumping ahead again, there's this answer from the advice columnist to Sabbath:

"...I think your real problem is one of adjustment to the modern world. Perhaps you ought to re-examine your religious values to see if they meet your needs in life. A religious experience can be a beautiful addition to living if you put it in the proper perspective and do not let it wharf you. Read some books on ethical culture."

Such delicious and biting social commentary! Witty, too.

Edited by Diane

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I find it interesting to note how O'Connor portrays modern society and its sheer indifference or hostility toward anything it suspects is religious (including lumping Haze's own anti-religious rants into the category of just another religious fanatic spouting off).

{ snip}

Such delicious and biting social commentary! Witty, too.

Diane,

I agree with all that you wrote here. FOC's wit is such that, even when I (in this example, because of being a Protestant, in other cases because of being a car fanatic) end up on the pointed end of one of her barbs, I have to laugh out loud. My favourite is when

Hazel assures Mrs. Flood that his "Church Without Christ" is not Catholic:

Oh, no ma'am ... it's Protestant.

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OK, folks, I'd like to hear your opinons on Enoch Emery, who remains one of O'Connor's funniest and strangest characters. Why do you think O'Connor titled the novel as she did (Enoch always claims he has "wise blood")? Do you think his name holds any particular meaning (I'm thinking of Enoch of the Bible)? What do you make of his ritualistic practices? The way "his blood communicates with itself"? The fact that he brings about an event that shows Haze exactly what he's reducing mankind to? Is he crazy? Or is he being used by God for a purpose? (Heh, he might be both.) What are we to make of his ending, as he

sits alone in the ape costume overlooking the city

? Is he, as one commentator has noted,

just a physical representation of the illogical decisions that Haze makes

?

Yep, Enoch's always intrigued me.

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I don't know if it's appropriate to ask this question here, but has anyone seen John Huston's film adaptation of this with Brad Dourif (Wormtongue in LoTR)? It's a very striking film I own on VHS and would be willing to loan out to anyone who's interested. If I wasn't so busy and with Flickerings coming up, I'd try to read the novel and join the discussion, but it's going to have to wait a bit.

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OK, folks, I'd like to hear your opinons on Enoch Emery, who remains one of O'Connor's funniest and strangest characters. Why do you think O'Connor titled the novel as she did (Enoch always claims he has "wise blood")? Do you think his name holds any particular meaning (I'm thinking of Enoch of the Bible)? What do you make of his ritualistic practices? The way "his blood communicates with itself"? The fact that he brings about an event that shows Haze exactly what he's reducing mankind to? Is he crazy? Or is he being used by God for a purpose? (Heh, he might be both.) What are we to make of his ending, as he

sits alone in the ape costume overlooking the city

? Is he, as one commentator has noted,

just a physical representation of the illogical decisions that Haze makes

?

Yep, Enoch's always intrigued me.

Diane,

Thanks for some very good and probing questions about Enoch Emery. I may be too influenced by multiple viewings of the film version, but my initial reaction was always to identify somewhat with Enoch Emery. I took seriously his quasi-prophetic gift of "wise blood" just as one is forced, I think, to take seriously the "mark" which "some preacher" (his grandfather) put upon Hazel.

It shocked me the first time I read something by Flannery herself (sorry, I don't have the reference) on the subject of Enoch Emery -- she was quite harsh in her critique of him. It took me aback. She apparently wasn't trying to instill him with any redeeming features at all. Enoch's main theme seems to be the loneliness and isolation of mankind.

He's been in the big city of Taulkingham for 2 months, and folks ain't friendly there. Gonga is not friendly. Even when he "becomes" Gonga, he does not become popular. He makes a monkey of himself, but gains nothing.

Yet, Enoch is a prophet (in my view) -- he does have wise blood. I think you are right to say that he is both "crazy" and he is being used by God for a purpose - he is a messenger of prophetic warning to Hazel. An example:

Enoch recalls having seen Hazel years earlier, in Melsy. Hazel denies it. It is an exact mirror of Hazel's own "accusation" of having seen the porter on the train, years earlier, I think also in Melsy.

Enoch seems to be there as a mirror in which Haze can (always against Haze's own will) see himself. Another such prophetic character is Solace Layfield,

the imitation preacher that Onnie Jay Holy hires when Hazel will not go along with his scam. Solace preaching from the roof of an old purple "shoebox" Ford is, to me, one of the most precious moments of the film version of Wise Blood.

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An example: 

Enoch recalls having seen Hazel years earlier, in Melsy.  Hazel denies it.  It is an exact mirror of Hazel's own "accusation" of having seen the porter on the train, years earlier, I think also in Melsy.

 

Oh, I'm glad you brought that up! I'd forgotten that.

Doug, feel free to join in late if/when you get a chance. I'd love to get your thoughts. I think Darren's still planning to jump in sometime in the future, too.

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I found him somewhat perplexing to say the least. I'd go with O'Connor's analysis, though, no redeeming features. Perhaps his dog-like loyalty that doesn't really do him any credit anyway.

Now that you mention it, the passages that focussed on him particularly riled me. Perhaps it's because O'Connor recreates that logic in insanity so well. He honestly reminded me of a lot of the residents in the mental health charity I used to work at. People that were never afforded a chance and who live on the hazy border that most of us carry on our day to day lives in. They always demonstrated the naive belief in their ideas & were unable to relate them in away way to the world as it actually worked, as does Enoch.

Still. I preferred the book before he came in. There's almost a quality of Steinbeck to the first few chapters.

As for 'wise blood', it always made me think of Haze's grandfather. That idea of turning from what we are, what our past is, finding your own path within the weight of responsibility placed upon you by your forefathers.

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Thanks, Diane. I'll plan to join the conversation in a couple weeks...hope that won't be too late.

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The Shape of the Liturgy in The Heart of the Park

Chapter 5 of Wise Blood is lifted directly from one of Flannery O'Connor's short stories: The Heart of the Park. I believe this little gem of a chapter is able to stand on its own, and for one simple reason: Enoch Emery's actions throughout this chapter mimic the participation of faithful Christians in the traditional Liturgy (Mass).

It is a worthwhile exercise (and one which admittedly easier for Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglicans than for most Protestants) to go through Chapter 5 and see how many similarities can be picked out between Enoch's "daily office" of the Park, and the Holy Communion service in the Christian church. Throughout the chapter, Enoch is telling Hazel what we "have to" do next. Even though he rushes some portions of his usual liturgy, Enoch is not able to take Hazel directly to the MVSEVM --

where the "real presence" of the "new Jesus" is kept ... that is, in the Holy of Holies ... the MVSEVM is akin to the chancel/altar area of a church.

And while Enoch can't make himself totally skip any portion of the liturgy, he does rush some of them, turning them into vain repetition:

"Usually he stopped at every cage and made an obscene comment aloud to himself, but today the animals were only a form he had to get through.

In this light, it is interesting to meditate on what role the waitress in the Frosty Bottle plays in Enoch's daily liturgy. I have my ideas, but will save them for a bit.

I am really enjoying reading this again.

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Fascinating, anglican. I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the waitress.

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Fascinating, anglican. I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the waitress.

I'm trying not to press too hard to force the chapter into my "liturgical" interpretation of it, but here goes:

I think the waitress in The Frosty Bottle represents that part of the litury which deals with the recitation of the Law (10 Commandments), the Confession of Sin, and Absolution. Only, as you'd expect in the Church Without Christ, things are backwards.

In the Christian Liturgy, we hear the Law read (or recite it ourselves), and then declare that we are not clean. The priest, giving us absolution, contradicts us ... telling us that (by virtue of Christ's work alone) we are clean.. In the Frosty Bottle, however,

it is backwards -- the waitress first declares Hazel Motes to be a clean boy. But later, after he gets in her face and tells her "I am clean" she reverses herself, and pronounces him to be dirty as well, just as she knows Enoch is. So, she performs a sort of

reverse absolution -- he comes into the building declared clean, but leaves being declared unclean.

Edited by anglicanbeachparty

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