The Positive Negative
"I believe love to be efficacious in the loooong run."
Flannery O'Connor's letter to "A" (Betty Hester), 28 August 1955
Points of Reflection
The Bible: Acts 4:32-37 & 5:1-11
1. the early Christians appear to have shared their resources regularly, concerning themselves more with one another's good than with accumulating possessions. Many idealists have envisioned such equality, including Sir Thomas More in his Utopia (1516) and the British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his vision of a "Pantisocracy" (in America) in which "Virtue calm with careless step may stray (l.6). Does such a society really seem possible?
2. does the writer of Acts provide enough detail for the reader to understand--and perhaps sympathize with--the apparent duplicity of Ananias and Sapphira?
3. does this tale require extensive, imaginative elaboration to reconcile with the notion of God as loving and patient? Why include such a frightening, enigmatic tale in a history of the early church?
Flannery O'Connor's letter to "A" (Betty Hester), 28 August 55
1. O'Connor begins by refuting Hester's assumption that O'Connor must not believe in the power of love given the relative absence of kind, gentle behavior in many of her stories. O'Connor holds that her fiction is not "fascist"--that it appears pessimistic because she has in mind a reading audience hostile to the idea of religious conviction, or faith. Like St. Thomas Aquinas, she expresses matters aggressively, even violently, because she feels it necessary in order to wake up a sleeping, uninterested public. Her fiction is not, she maintains, fascist or totalitarian, but "tolerantly realistic" (O'Connor 948-49). Do you agree with O'Connor's conviction that sometimes abrupt, aggressive art is more effective than comfortably familiar and soothing art at orienting a hostile audience's attention towards a given problem?
2. O'Connor claims that America in the 1950s breaths in nihilism on a daily basis, and that she would have become a logical positivist if it weren't for her faith (O'Connor 949). Why might she connect nihilism to the philosophical position that "reality" is limited to what can be logically explained and empirically verified?
3. are you familiar with any of the authors O'Connor has read (O'Connor 950-51)? What do you make of those authors whose names you recognize? Are their works pleasant to read?
4. O'Connor notes that one of her college majors was sociology; what attitude does she take towards "social-science" in this letter (O'Connor 950)?
5. one of the challenges of a reading a letter in isolation like this--a letter written to a new penpal and fellow writer curious about Christianity--is that we don't know exactly what "A" (Betty Hester) wrote which prompted this letter. One has to read between the lines a bit. When O'Connor concludes with "I have more to say about the figure of Christ as merely human but this has gone on long enough and I will save it" (O'Connor 951), to whom should we attribute the notion that Jesus of Nazareth was "merely human"--O'Connor herself, or Betty Hester?
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "A Musical Instrument" (1860), PDF
1.why employ a recurring sestet so reliant on repetition of "Pan" and "river"?
2. why might lines 1-4 open, not w/ pleasant iambic feet (unaccented, accented), but with more aggressive dactyls (accented, unaccentd, unaccented) and trochees (accented, unaccented, unaccented)? Isn't this, after all, a poem about sweet music?
3. is the Greek god depicted here malevolent or altruistic? Does Pan's arrival alter the environment permanently?
4. why might EBB describe the water from which Pan pulls the reed as "limpid" (l.9)?
5. in what way is this deity "great"?
6. does the reed retain any of its native qualities after it has been fashioned into an instrument (ll.13-24)?
7. why might Pan laugh (ll.25-26) while justifying his actions (ll.25-27)?
8. does Pan's music compensate for the destruction involved in creating his instrument (ll.31-36)?
9. what does this poem suggest about the cost of Art?
10. how does Pan's reaction to humankind's suffering differ from that of "the true gods" (ll.37-40)?
Robert Browning's "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister' (1842), 89-92
1. where in the monastery is our narrator, and what is he up to while delivering this dramatic soliloquy?
2. is this another Brownian monodram (dramatic monologues) that has an intended auditor/audience?
3. what supposed desires does the narrator assign to Brother Lawrence, and how does the narrator rhetorically counter these wishes (ll.1-8)?
4. are the meal-time topics identified by the narrator introduced by someone other than himself (ll.9-15)?
5. with what tone do you think stanza three (ll.17-24) is delivered? Does the opening "Whew!" (l.17) limit our options in determining tone?
6. why does the narrator think it wrong to call Brother Lawrence a "saint" (ll.25-32)? What does his observation unwittingly reveal about the narrator himself?
7. what does the narrator's claim in stanza five (ll.33-40) tell us about the nature of his religious practice?
8. what various strategies does the narrator mull over in his hopes of getting Brother Lawrence sent to hell (ll.49-70)?
9. why might the narrator dislike Brother Lawrence so much?
10. does the narrator get the Angelus (Hail Mary) prayer right (l.71-72)?
Salvador Dalí's "Woman with a Head Full of Roses" (1935)
1. does this painting appear determined to either empower or delimit its female subjects?
2. are the starkly white hands gripping, or caressing, the rightmost figure?
3. what might the distant lion represent in Freudian symbology?
4. are these women either delectable or detestable, alluring or repulsive?
5. how does the coloring, construction, and positioning of each object contribute to the work?
"Woman with a Head Full of Roses" (1935)
Dr. Paul Marchbanks