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The Curran Center for American Catholic Studies



Saturday, March 24, 2012  (2-6PM)
Tognino Hall, Rose Hill Campus, Fordham University

WISE BLOOD has reached the age of ten and is still alive. My critical powers are just sufficient to determine this, and I am gratified to be able to say it. The book was written with zest and, if possible, it should be read that way. It is a comic novel about a Christian malgré lui, and as such, very serious, for all comic novels that are any good must be about matters of life and death. WISE BLOOD was written by an author congenitally innocent of theory, but one with certain preoccupations. That belief in Christ is to some a matter of life and death has been a stumbling block for some readers who would prefer to think it a matter of no great consequence. For them, Hazel Motes's integrity lies in his trying with such vigor to get rid of the ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of his mind. For the author, Hazel's integrity lies in his not being able to do so. Does one's integrity ever lie in what he is not able to do? I think that usually it does, for free will does not mean one will, but many wills conflicting in one man. Freedom cannot be conceived simply. It is a mystery and one which a novel, even a comic novel, can only be asked to deepen.
........................................FLANNERY O’CONNOR
......................(Preface to second edition, 1962)

The passage quoted above was written by Flannery O’Connor, as an introduction to the 10th Anniversary edition of her work published by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. At this point in her career, at age 37, O’Connor had become a minor celebrity in the world of contemporary American fiction as a writer of extraordinary vision and power. That fame was founded, to a great extent, on this, her first book. O’Connor had gone on to write another novel, 32 short stories, and many essays and book reviews, all of which served to increase her reputation. Tragically, O’Connor was also very near the end of her life when she wrote these words. She died of Lupus, the disease which she suffered from for 13 years, on August 3, 1964.

Today WISE BLOOD is recognized as a classic of modern American fiction, and the novel has a special revelance for readers interested in the Catholic Imagination. A life-long Catholic raised in the Protestant South, O’Connor “grew up different” (to borrow a phrase from Garry Wills’ classic essay, “Memories of My Catholic Boyhood”) and she felt that difference keenly. She lived her faith passionately, practiced it faithfully, and read voraciously in spiritual and theological texts in attempt to understand the Mystery at the core of Catholicism. Beginning with WISE BLOOD, O’Connor used her fiction as a means to interrogate Mystery, to explore the darkest aspects of human experience, and to discover evidence of The Incarnation in the flawed and fallen world.

The 60th Anniversary of the publication of O’Connor’s masterpiece provides us with occasion to re-examine the book from the standpoint of 21st-century Catholic readers. This day-long Symposium will consist of two panels, discussion, a book signing, and a reception.

PANEL I will examine the book's genesis, publication, and significance, first from the perspective of its publisher and champion, Robert Giroux (who was a fellow-Catholic), represented by Paul Elie, longtime editor with Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, and now a Senior Fellow with the Berkley Center at Georgetown University. Elie is also the author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage, a literary biography of four influential American Catholic writers, O'Connor, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and Walker Percy.

Susan Srigley, professor, scholar, and author of Flannery O’Connor’s Sacramental Art, will present a paper on O’Connor’s vision of the Sacramental in the novel.

Richard Giannone, O’Connor scholar and emeritus professor at Fordham, will discuss the mystery of blasphemy in O’Connor’s novel.

Panel II will examine the impact of WISE BLOOD in literature and in the larger culture. Southern Catholic novelist Valerie Sayers will present a talk on the influence of O’Connor in her own fiction. Paul Contino, Professor of Great Books at Pepperdine University whose work focuses on Catholicism and the arts, will explore the influence of O’Connor on popular artists such as Bruce Springsteen. Finally, novelist, film-maker and NYU professor Antonio Monda will discuss the director John Huston's classic film based on O'Connor's novel.

This symposium will have broad appeal, attracting Fordham professors and students (many of whom will have read the novel in preparation), O’Connor scholars from New York and other parts of the country, and O’Connor readers and admirers in general.

Faculty have been encouraged to teach the book in their courses, and CACS will screen the film of the novel on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 at 6PM in Tognino Hall.  Refreshments and discussion will follow the film.

The Symposium is cosponsored by the Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies, the Fordham Center on Religions and Culture and Fordham's American Studies Program.


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