Return to Good and Evil: Flannery O'Connor's Response to Nihilismby Henry T. Edmondson III, Marion Montgomery
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While Flannery O'Connor is hailed as one of the most important writers of the twentieth-century American south, few appreciate O'Connor as a philosopher as well. In Return to Good and Evil, Henry T. Edmondson introduces us to a remarkable thinker who uses fiction to confront and provoke us with the most troubling moral questions of modern existence. 'Right now the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul,' O'Connor once said, in response to the nihilistic tendencies she saw in the world around her. Nihilism—Nietzche's idea that 'God is dead'—preoccupied O'Connor, and she used her fiction to draw a tableau of human civilization on the brink of a catastrophic moral, philosophical, and religious crisis. Again and again, O'Connor suggests that the only way back from this precipice is to recognize the human need for grace, redemption, and God. She argues brilliantly and persuasively through her novels and short stories that the Nietzschean challenge to the notions of good and evil is an ill-conceived effort that will result only in disaster. With rare access to O'Connor's correspondence, prose drafts, and other personal writings, Edmondson investigates O'Connor's deepest motivations through more than just her fiction and illuminates the philosophical and theological influences on her life and work. Edmondson argues that O'Connor's artistic brilliance and philosophical genius reveal the only possible response to the nihilistic despair of the modern world: a return to good and evil through humility and grace.
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With this lucid, compelling, and important book, Henry T. Edmondson III reveals Flannery O'Connor's prophetic poetry and explains her moral vision. He leads us into the heart of her fiction and exhibits a profound understanding of her intentions and of her theological sources. Moving adroitly among her stories, letters, and speeches--intrepidly tracking her every literary move--Edmondson makes it as hard for us, as it is for O'Connor's characters, to remain in "some halfway position" on moral questions. He demonstrates, moreover, that O'Connor's "Christian realism" is not for the faint of heart. She offers shock therapy for the morally obtuse and hard-edged truths to alarm the easygoing and sentimental. As Edmondson explains, O'Connor's stories show why the Nietzchean effort to expel good and evil, and God and the Devil, is doomed to fail--but she further shows that when this misadventure is abandoned, self-knowledge will return through grace.
Edmondson's considerable philosophical and theological sophistication informs every page of his interpretations of O'Connor's stories. That interpretation is wonderfully intense and nuanced, because Edmondson is convinced that these stories might just be one way we can know the truth. Edmondson's book inaugurates a new stage in the scholarly appreciation of Flannery O'Connor.
To my knowledge, this is the best thing written on Flannery O'Connor. It is extremely valuable, insightful, and beautifully written; like O'Connor's stories themselves, it is hard to put down. It is a splendid introduction to first-time readers as well as a treasure for those who are well acquainted with O'Connor's works. . . . Professor Edmondson leads us to the heart of the stories with gracefulness and directness.
Meet the Author
Henry T. Edmondson III is professor in the Department of Government at Georgia College&State University.
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Return to Good and Evil is a book for, who Mr. Edmondson himself calls, the 'serious dilettante' of O'Connor. His thesis is simple: that evil is so pervasive it has become imperceptible. He uses O'Connor's fiction, most notably Wise Blood, to illustrate how O'Conner fought the popular notion that to believe nothing was an apt platform from which to dive into creative vision. This book was highly instrumental in buttressing my own appreciation for Flannery O'Connor-- perhaps even the philosophy of my own faith. Excellent gateway book to more in-depth O'Connor study.