Beauty mirrors panic— each exists within the same, suspended space and is dictated by the response of the character to a stimulous. “In the perception of beauty, our judgment is necessarily intrinsic and based on the character of the immediate experience” (Santayana 20). Beauty as an occurrence is a fundamental, hectic response. It is the silver lining to our collapse within the disintegrating world. It is the part that forms our reveries and daydreams; the value that makes mortality not entirely futile. In Best Word, Best Order, Stephen Dobyns writes,
The perception of beauty is in part the perception of pattern above the randomness of the world where the only constants are human violence and selfishness, while a perfect joining of form and content may become, if not beautiful itself, then a metaphor for the nature of beauty— beauty being concrete evidence of the possibility of perfection. (140)
Beauty illuminates our collapse. A construction and relapse of the parts of our lives that are past, beauty is our longings without end. One will always create; one will always be idealized. The loss of beauty is our reason to mourn. It is our reasonable madness. In Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty, psychologist Nancy Ectoff writes, “Beauty is equal parts flesh and imagination: we imbue it with our dreams, saturate it with our longing. […] Reverence for beauty is just an escape from reality; it is the perpetual adolescent in us refusing to accept a flawed world” (3). Beauty recollected is the creation of our myths. It is the sake of our art and romances with the world.
This idea of beauty does not only occur on the page. It shouldn’t. I would argue that a story does not transcend, does not ultimately communicate, if it does not develop an exchange between the writer, the idea, and the reader. And the character communicates that line. The character is the one point that takes the writer’s idea, deciphers the idea, makes the idea cryptic, translates it, synthesizes it, then passes the idea off to the reader. It’s a game of telephone.
A few years ago, when I first began teaching literature, I met an old professor who loved short stories—loved as LOVE, love not as a scholar who theorize, but as a reader who falls hard for the beauty of images and sentences—as much as I do. Every Friday, he would give me a story to read, and the following Thursday we would meet in my office to talk about the story. One of these stories was Flannery O’Connor’s “Revelation.”
I love Flannery O’Connor. She’s in my top three favorite writers of all time. But like most everyone else in the world, I read her work silently, alone; I read it in my mind. However, there I was, a new teacher sitting in a brand new office with a colleague who’d been there twenty years, who wore hearing aids and spoke with a booming southern drawl, reciting the lines of “Revelation” so loud, the whole floor could hear. And I was panicked. I was more than a little worried that someone would overhear the excerpts and report the bigoted, racist quotes they were hearing.
And that was the point, I think. At least that was O’Connor’s point: to create that tension. To force Southern society to figure out which side of the line they were on.
So even if you’ve read it before, I want you to read Flannery O’Connor’s “Revelation” before you complete this assignment. I want you to:
- Question how it makes you feel
- Why it makes you feel that way
- And how Flannery O’Connor and her character of Mrs. Turpin evoked those feeling from you
- Also, I want you to give close attention to how the narrator is often directed by Miss Turpin’s opinions even though the story is written in 3rd
And for this assignment, I want you to further develop what you’ve already established, thinking about the principles of beauty and urgency. We’ve written 2,400 words so far, and I would really, really love to see a 3,000 word, fully realized excerpt. I know you are both working on chapters in longer works, but I would really like you to think about writing a chapter that can stand alone—that could be published as a short story. One that could ultimately create an interested audience for your work.