Flannery O'Connor: "A Late Encounter" with Poststructuralism

By Knauer, David J. | The Mississippi Quarterly, Spring 1995 | Go to article overview

Flannery O'Connor: "A Late Encounter" with Poststructuralism


Knauer, David J., The Mississippi Quarterly


The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.(1)

Frederick Crews, in his essay "The Power of Flannery O'Connor," argues for the ineluctable resistance of O'Connor's fiction to various critical depredations. Crews chastises both the disingenuous attempts of poststructural critics to salvage an embarrassingly pious O'Connor by remaking her in their own ideological image, and explicitly Christian humanist critics who ignore or ritually purify O'Connor's patent violence and grotesquery in order to redeem her as a true believer. He also discards O'Connor's own intentionalist drive to limit the interpretation of her work within strict theological boundaries, claiming that O'Connor, like many authors, was a better writer than a reader of her work. After demonstrating the insufficiency of these three interpretive resources, Crews values in O'Connor the radical "indeterminacy" of her fiction, the "mixture of faith and cool professionalism" that allowed her to draw on religious themes while indulging thoroughly her consummate "gift for demolition."(2) Yet for Crews these qualities remain ambiguous, as he defers to O'Connor's "electrifying power" that leaves critics "still grasping at formulas that might explain, or even explain away." Instead, we are told, her works must be judged "on their chosen ground" (p. 55).

In particular, it is Crews's contention that O'Connor remains "intractable as ever to a postmodern, poststructuralist makeover" that I want to challenge. Crews disparages poststructural work on O'Connor as "critical tampering" (p. 50), without defining tamper-proof criticism, and decries "the recent revival of forthrightly ideological habits of reading" (p. 49), without defining ideology-free habits of reading, and implying that less forthright habits might be preferable. His reinvestment of O'Connor's fiction with an unchanging and unassailable "power" effectively denies any reader's power over her text. While Crews superficially values the indeterminacy of O'Connor's work, his essay perhaps better demonstrates the indeterminacy of our own work with O'Connor. The O'Connor passage quoted as epigraph above describes the writer's task as the conscious positioning of oneself within history and locale to discover and, presumably, to narrate their timelessly signifying intersection. Before we, along with Crews, dismiss O'Connor's appeal to "eternity" as quaintly incompatible with poststructuralism, we might examine some of poststructuralism's own eternizing implications. Crews does not consider that the goals of poststructural criticism may not be to dispel O'Connor's difficulties, since poststructuralism regularly disavows master-narratives that "explain away." By recognizing that its work is always incomplete, poststructuralism attends "power" and "eternity" through equally durable notions of lack and deferment. Poststructural criticism is in fact particularly well-suited to the writerly task that O'Connor has described and to the vague "power" that Crews holds apart.

The following three sections locate O'Connor's "peculiar crossroads" at the Civil War in "A Late Encounter with the Enemy" through the post-structural modes of cultural materialism, Lacanian psychoanalysis, and deconstruction. While endemic to the vocation of many Southern fiction writers, wrestling with the cultural inheritance of the Civil War is a decidedly alienating experience in "A Late Encounter with the Enemy." O'Connor remarked on the problematic confluence of familiarity and disconnection, "To know oneself is to know one's region. It is also to know the world, and it is, paradoxically, a form of exile from that world."(3) As the romance, the dignity, indeed the knowability of the Civil War period are inscribed within the character George Poker Sash, they seem to retreat entirely from possession and understanding. Despite all attempts to contain, control, or commodify it, Southern history in O'Connor's story remains uncooperative, inscrutable, and unforgiving. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Flannery O'Connor: "A Late Encounter" with Poststructuralism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.