The Violent Bear It Away
Flannery O’Connor’s famous short novel is a ruthless confrontation with the root of violence. But beyond the usual contexts of literary criticism, a political theological reading is very much possible. Not simply because the prevention or abolition of violence is a (the?) basic legitimation demand, in Bernard Williams’ terms, but because it is often forgotten that the subject of the title – the ‘it’ – refers to the kingdom of God. It has been a matter of controversy how Jesus thought about this kingdom, or how his thinking developed, but on any interpretation, we must bear in mind, as it were, that what is being done, or born away, has a foundational importance for every form of human association, including the political community. The violent may be the powerful, the rich, the intelligent, but also the powerless, the poor, and the ignorant. The rather claustrophobic atmosphere of the novel helps us reduce our political imagination to the most basic relations: city versus nature, inclusion vs exclusion, intrusion vs secession, science vs ignorance, love vs hatred, childhood vs adulthood, evil vs good, violent death vs violent birth. The sheer amount of these contradictions, often buttressed by the similarly overwhelming metaphors (water vs fire, silence vs shrieks) is almost suffocating, but at the same time revealing. It tells us about our unquenchable metaphysical thirst, something that neither political moralism nor realism has been able to cope with. My purpose is to explore this dimension by help of O’Connor’s insights, supported by her essays on politics.