Through her writing, Flannery O'Connor played the prophet to a world grown blind to evil, says Augusta author Dr. Henry Edmondson III.
Walker Percy, another writer who corresponded with her, once compared the prophetic voice of O'Connor to a canary in the mines.
"When it stopped singing, (miners) knew it was time to go back to the surface and check things out," said Dr. Edmondson, a political science professor at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, Ga.
O'Connor, a Southern literary icon, lived in Milledgeville from her teen years to her death of lupus in 1964. Her personal library is now housed on the second floor of the Russell Library, an easy five-minute walk between Dr. Edmondson's campus office.
Her short literary career produced Southern gothic literature, including Wise Blood (1952), A Good Man is Hard to Find, And Other Stories (1955), and The Violent Bear It Away (1960).
Scholars come from all over the world to pore over her volumes on theology, philosophy and other subjects, pages underlined, margins sprinkled with handwritten notes. Her correspondence, published and unpublished, is also there.
The trip to Milledgeville is more than an academic or cultural visit for them - "they make a kind of a spiritual pilgrimage there," said Dr. Edmondson, who used O'Connor's stories in teaching classes on nihilism and relied on the collection in writing his own interpretation of her work.
Author of Return to Good & Evil/Flannery O'Connor's Response to Nihilism, Dr. Edmondson will hold a book-signing at 7 p.m. Friday at Borders Books, Music & Cafe, 257 Robert C. Daniel Jr. Parkway.
Return to Good and Evil, which took four years to write, outlines the nihilistic view, O'Connor's perspective and the influence of faith on her thought. The book also traces how she used her literature to refute the philosophy, which rejects traditional Judeo-Christian morality.
O'Connor was 39 years old at her death. "She knew she was dying prematurely. So she was writing with as much intensity as she could," he said.
Her novels and stories have a disturbing, dark, even grotesque quality to them - many people don't understand her work, he said. "She once said people don't listen anymore. They have become morally dull and intellectually shallow - so to the hard of hearing, you have to shout, and to the blind, you have to write large and startling letters."
What perturbed her most was the infusion of nihilism into modern life. Nihilism holds that humanity can only advance when it throws off the concepts of good and evil. The phrase "God is dead" came from the writings of 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, a major proponent of nihilism.
Not only did Nietzsche declare God is dead, he wanted people "to hurry up and assist in his 'death', to get his memory, his ideas, his rules and his principles out of the way so we can create our own," Dr. Edmondson said.
In Return to Good and Evil, Dr. Edmondson writes that "nihilism is, in a sense, worse even than atheism: the atheist is content to disbelieve, whereas, the nihilist must 'destroy God' and every vestige of his memory."
Nietzsche saw restraints on sexual behavior "as a denial of life itself," and advocated the "breakdown" of "the Judeo-Christian 'resentment' against free sexual self-expression," Dr. Edmondson wrote.
Nihilism has influenced public education and scientific research and even ordinary life - "people do not talk of 'evil' anymore," he said. "They may say, 'well, that's bad for you, but it may not be for me.' "
People talk of "tolerance" and "being nice," but have no clear idea of what is "good" - that which O'Connor defines as God's grace.
To learn again what is "good," people must come face to face with undeniable, shocking "evil," that is, the absence of good.
Her depiction of evil has a purpose, he said. "O'Connor wants to pull us back to an understanding of good and evil."
For more information, call 737-6962 or see Georgia College's Web site, www.gcsu.edu.
WHO: Dr. Henry T. Edmondson, author of Return to Good & Evil
WHERE: Borders Books, Music & Cafe, 257 Robert C. Daniel Jr. Parkway
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
INFORMATION: Call 737-6962
Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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