on two benighted but not unredeemedrnsouls. That bhiek totem is a warpedrnChrist, and as sueh elearlv imphes thatrnthe Afriean-Ameriean in the South hasrnIx-en a Christ-figure at least, erueified onrnthe eross of unreasoning hatred, and eenrnan agent of Cod’s grace. Not one writerrnin die histoPi’ of American literature hasrneer done as much so economiealH’ andrnso rnieannil}’ to make us see the racernbusiness in a new light. Yet diat has notrndeterred Dr. Cordon from suggeshng, oftenrnb quoting others, that there is somethingrnwrong with O’Connor on race.rnShe was not enthusiastic enough aboutrndie ei il-rights movement; not onlv that,rnshe used “the ‘n* word” in her priate correspondence.rnWe have not heard etrnfrom the Re-. Al Sharpton about this, butrnthere are other troubles with Hiis line ofrnattack, the worst of which is the lastrnstep —namely, diat it circles back to thernsubtextual assertion of the moral superiorityrnof Sarah (k)rdon to die sidjject ofrnher biograplu’.rnThere arc other diings I was less Hianrnsatisfied vidi in this book, but dierernis a limit here on space. For one thing,rnthe discussion of O’Connor’s letters eersrnunneeessariK’ but predictabK” into a denigrationrnof die integrih’ of die late Sallvrnf’itzgerald, O’Connor’s editor and biographerrnand a great lady who is sorelyrnmissed. 1 he exercise is crowned with diernclaim that attacks on O’Connor’s personrntliroigh her letters are jushfied in orderrnto aoid reducing her to “pious platitudernor dogmahe exeniplum.” ‘I’liat is anotherrnstraw-man argument. O’Connor herselfrndenied she was a saint, but her “canonization”rnis not die point. The point isrnthat she was a person who impressedrnsome in her lifetime as a saint, and dierernare not nian’ people, and certainly notrnnian’ writers, of whom one can say asrnmuch. Haggling over O’Connor’s lettersrnis sillw The point to make about diem isrnthat tlie- are a wealth of informationrnabout her character and mind, and diatrndie- arc quite possibly the greatest collec-rnHon of letters in the histon,’ of our nahonalrnliterature. But b’ the hme she comesrnto mishandling this exposition, Gordon’srncredibility- is alread shattered by her insistencernon the legitiniae’ and equalit’ ofrne er’ iew of O’Connor, and b’ her nianeiueringrneerything about O’Connor torna point of contention that becomes tedious.rnO’Connor is funny and hauntingrn—but she is loxeless and secrc. Shernis diis, but slic is not that. So \ In’ are wernreading about her, then? The stories werncannot imagine and cannot write are betterrndian the ones O’Connor did, so let usrnimagine what O’Connor might havernbeen like if she had been more like us —rnbut .she was not.rnI think, though nobody asked, thatrnthere is work still to do on the topic ofrnO’Connor. I diink she should be examinedrnas a poet in matters of rhetoric (therernare some good pages on that in Cordon’srnbook), rhtlim, and diction. The wayrnthat O’Connor somehmes ends her storiesrnwith an expansion of sornid andrnrange is quite effective and eould benefitrnfrom some detailed attention. I think,rntoo, that there is yet more to say, as Cordonrnhas also done, about some of O’Connor’srnsoiuces or resomees, elements ofrnher blend. I am thinking not only ofrnChapter XVII of Huckleberry Finn, butrnalso of Chapter VIII oi Maggie, a Girl ofrnthe Streets. I once made an argumentrndiat Stephen Crane was an important influencernon O’Connor, but how could Irnhave omitted sueh an example as the onernI have indicated? To read die bitterlyrnsatirical ])assage as Pete shows Maggie arndime mnseiun (“where rows of freaks astonishedrnher. She contemplated theirrndeformities w idi awe and thought them arnsort of chosen tribe”) is to become alert.rnIn the passage following, we read about arn”nionkev” and “monkeys” and “nimiimies,”rnand then about a naive viewingrnof popidar melodrama on .stage. Changerntlie play to a mo’ie, and we are inrnO’Connor territory, sure enough. That isrninteresting to me, but even if it is not interestingrnto anyone else, at least it doesrnnot invoK’c the moral improvement ofrnFlanner O’Connor but an attempt tornsee a small part of how she did w hat sherndid.rnF.ven so, in the end we must addressrndie phrase or the idea of “The ObedientrnImagination.” It hardly seems to be arnuseful or appropriate handle for thernO’Connor phenomenon, but a cnphemismrnor substitution lor somethingrnelse —”O’Connor’s Idiosiicratic CatholicrnImagination,” perhaps; or “The PoliticallyrnIncorrect Imagination,” even better.rnWas it “obedient” for O’Connor tornlea’e home to seek fnrdier education, forrnexample? Was it obedient for her to gornher own wav, at Iowa Cih’ and at Yaddo,rnrefusing to act out the self-serving role ofrnthe boheniian artist? Was she obedientrnor subserxient or pious or mincing orrnunctuous when she refused to be pushedrnaround bv the editor John Selbv, whornwound up calling her “stiff-necked, uncooperative,rnand unethical”? Was sherndeferential to Mar- McCarthy or even pious,rnwhen she famously .said to her, “If Irndiought it [the Eucharist] was only a svnibol,rnI’d say to Hell with it”? If we rememberrnthat life-direatening illness tiiatrnalone forced her back home to live widirnher mother, we must ask whether it hadrnbeen “obedient” of her to refuse to live inrnMilledgcville as she established her ow nrnidentity? And was it then obedient orrnreverent of her to finish and publish WisernBlood, with its lurid scenes, which werernsuperficial causes of embarrassment atrnhome? Was it obedient of her to continuernher highly indiidual way in writingrnstories of sueh force diat their shock wasrnouK as great as their success, soon acknowledgedrnnationally and even internationally?rnHow was she obedient to anythingrnwhen she said of her second novel,rn”Nobody would liae been caught deadrnw riting it but me”? No, tiiere was no obediencernto be identified but rather the fulfillmentrnof her sense of herself and herrncalling and her faith, a life elected and arnvision to be embodied. There was nornobedience in her distinct modidation ofrndiction and divtiini, in the discipline ofrnpoint of view and circumscription, butrnradier something in die nature of a newrncreation. And O’Connor knew perfecdyrnwell that she was writing in a hostile environment,rneven then.rnHer work exists in an even more hostilernenironment now, although she wasrndie first woman born in the 20th eentur)’rnto be gatiiered into die Librar)- of America.rnWliat a punishment and provocationrnto feminist truculenee and racial grandstandingrndie towering accomplishmentrnof Flanner’ O’Connor lias been and willrncontinue to be! But if diere is an obedientrnimagination or rather lack of imaginationrnto be identified, it would seem to belongrnto Sarah Gordon. If there is one cliche ofrnfeminist blather or contemporary politicalrnpresumption unsounded in her migraine-rninducing discourse, I do not knowrnwhat it might be, nor would I want to.rnThe response to art should be more andrnother art, not the begging of ever)’ question.rnThe response to imposing and unmistakablernpersonal integrit}- should bernat least respect-and better, admiration.rnFrom what Harold Bloom has calledrnthe “School of Resentment,” we havernlearned to expect none of the above —rnand we have not been disappointed.rnFEBRUARY 2001/27rnrnrn