On the Critique of Secular Ethics: An Essay with Flannery O'Connor and Hannah Arendt

Abstract

Referring to Hannah Arendt's book Eichmann in Jerusalem, the Southern US fiction writer Flannery O'Connor expressed the effect of the revelations about the horrors of Nazi Germany as "haunting". Taking this comment and her admiration of Arendt as a cue, this article rereads Flannery O'Connor's fictional depiction of secular characters. Usually lauded or critiqued for her entanglement in 'otherworldly' concerns, here these concerns become comprehensible as much as political intervention as motivated by 'religious' belief. O'Connor's frequently humorous use of her fiction as a retort to the secular world was inflected by her reading of Eric Voegelin's contemporary secularization thesis with its criticism of all 'isms'. In this context, O'Connor's admiration for Arendt becomes all the more intriguing (since Arendt's interpretations of the human condition clashed with Voegelin's), and allows one to stage a theoretical meeting in order to explore O'Connor's depiction of the secular in relation to a speculative exploration of how Arendt might have responded to the fiction of O'Connor. Such a staging is accomplished here via a reading of O'Connor's short story 'The Lame Shall Enter First' read against Arendt's concerns, principally those expressed in The Human Condition

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    This paper was published in Goldsmiths Research Online.

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