Hans Urs von Balthasar's Theological Aesthetics Applied to the Fiction of Flannery O'Connor
Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics Applied to the Fiction of Flannery O’Connor confronts the grotesque beauty of Flannery O’Connor’s stories through Balthasar’s Christological aesthetics. Chapter one examines preliminary aesthetic themes for both Balthasar and O’Connor, followed by a brief survey of O’Connor criticism. Chapter two focuses on theological background, noting similar influences on Balthasar and O’Connor. I give a short history of neo-Thomism and its impact on O’Connor’s thought, then I trace her interest in la Nouvelle Théologie. The next section of the chapter goes over Balthasar’s relationship with Scholasticism and la Nouvelle Théologie, and finally his dialogue with Karl Barth on analogy. The chapter closes with a reading of O’Connor’s story “The Displaced Person” according to a Balthasarian Christological aesthetic. Chapter three deals with issues of authorship and character. It opens with O’Connor’s ideas about authorial intention and continues with Balthasar’s notion of divine authorship from the first volume of Theo-Drama, examining scenes from The Violent Bear it Away in light of Balthasar’s theology of vocation. A final section compares O’Connor’s grotesque characters, especially Hazel Motes from Wise Blood, with Balthasar’s “holy fools.” In Chapter four, I discuss Balthasar’s treatment of classical tragedy in its relation to plot. Balthasar considers the theological milieu of ancient drama is a precursor to Biblical revelation, and the tragic figure of the suppliant, especially in Sophocles’ plays, prefigures Christ. I examine O’Connor’s story “Parker’s Back” with regard to its re-enactment of a Christological plot. Chapter five considers the story “Judgment Day” in light of Balthasar’s theology of suffering. I then question the relationship between beauty and O’Connor’s vision, ending with a reading of the story “Revelation.” A sixth chapter concludes the dissertation with suggestions for the future of Balthasarian criticism and a final look at O’Connor’s vision of moral beauty. Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics Applied to the Fiction of Flannery O’Connor adds Balthasar’s voice to the many theologians spoken of alongside her fiction. The study also represents another step toward the greater recognition of Balthasar’s interest for literary scholarship.
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