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“Incarnational Art”: Thing Theory and Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood

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AbstractFlannery O’Connor’s fiction confounds contemporary critics and readers with its combination of grotesque, violent imagery, and a deeply consistent, thematic concern with religion. This article argues for a new methodology of reading O’Connor that will enrich this seeming incongruence, by first examining the role of objects, such as those in Wise Blood, through the lens of thing theory. Heidegger’s idea of the thing and Bill Brown’s thing theory offer readers a mode of interpreting objects that expands the traditional sense of symbolism and encourages a broader understanding of the multiple layers of significance—both the functional and metaphysical—encompassed in things that play a major role in Wise Blood, such as the car, gorilla suit, and mummy. Through a close reading of Wise Blood, the author demonstrates thing theory’s potential as a tool to account for O’Connor’s incarnational aesthetic, and to overcome the tendency to relegate her fiction to purely religious or secular spheres.

Affiliations: 1: Brookline, Massachusetts


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1. Brown Bill "“Thing Theory.”" Critical Inquiry 2001 Vol 28 1 1 22
2. Giannone Richard Flannery O’Connor and the Mystery of Love. 1989 Urbana IL University of Illinois Press
3. Heidegger Martin Hofstadter Albert Poetry, Language, Thought. 1971 New York Harper & Row
4. Kessler Edward Flannery O’Connor and the Language of Apocalypse 1986 Princeton NJ Princeton University Press
5. Kreyling Michael New Essays on Wise Blood 1995 New York Cambridge University Press
6. O’Connor Flannery Fitzgerald Sally , Fitzgerald Robert Mystery and Manners 1975 New York Farrar, Straus & Giroux
7. O’Connor Flannery Fitzgerald Sally The Habit of Being. 1999 New York Farrar, Straus & Giroux
8. O’Connor Flannery Wise Blood 1969 New York Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
9. Pinkerton Steve "“Profaning the American Religion: Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood.”" Studies in the Novel 2011 Vol 43 4 449 469
10. Srigley Susan Flannery O’Connor’s Sacramental Art. 2004 Notre Dame IN University of Notre Dame Press

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