Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Crystal Clear

            It's no secret that there is a very distinct flavor to Flannery O'Connor's stories that at once entices and repulses, there really is nothing quite like it. One of the most frequent and distinguishing features of O’Connor’s literary style is the pervasiveness of momentum dilucide, the moment of clarity (everything sounds sexier in Latin), wherein a character and/or the reader experience a single moment where certain features of their life and the world are made brilliantly apparent. Analogous to O’Connor’s history as a cartoonist, these moments primarily exist as images, screenshots if you will, that wedge themselves in the minds of both the character in question and the reader himself. These golden instants are hard won by O’Connor’s protagonists after much moral hemming and hawing, and often serve to define the end of the story’s journey, perhaps the genesis of an unwritten one. Likewise, the moment of clarity is designed to haunt the reader as the takeaway image that, though the rest of the script may be forgotten or overlooked, these crucial few seconds will always be remembered and may cause the reader to revisit the story another day.

Although plenty of other stories by O’Connor such as Revelation and Good Country People are known for these moments, her novel Wise Blood demonstrates this concept just as well as any. Consider the end of Chapter 2, where Haze Motes deliberately sleeps with the filthiest prostitute in town to mark the beginning of his quest for unredeemed blasphemy as well as Chapter 13, when the blue-eyed policeman drives Haze’s Essex off into a ravine and Hazel returns to his apartment with buckets of lime and water with which to blind himself. Enoch Emery is a master of such moments, well known for the end of Chapter 5 when he is assaulted by Haze and wakes up staring at his own “wise blood” or the end of Chapter 8 when, despite the warnings of his conscience, he determines that Haze’s “new jesus” is none other than the museum’s mummy and he goes off to retrieve it and store it under his sink. Best of all is the end of Chapter 12, when, after being told to "go to hell" by a man in a gorilla suit, Enoch proceeds to rob that man of his gorilla suit, put it on, accosts a man and woman on the side of the road, and exits the story not as the young man he once was but a confused and dissatisfied gorilla. These moments serve to open the character’s eyes to the reality of their own depravity and the sheer comedy of their lives, gradually moving them to a sense of self-knowledge or redemption – the reader, hopefully, feels something to the same effect.

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