Flannery O’Connor, Believing in Nothing, and the Threat of Logical Positivism
Flannery O’Connor identified logical positivism with atheism and nihilism in its denial of objective status to moral values or religious beliefs. Yet to read her work as a straightforward exercise in Christian apologetics is to miss the ways that her aesthetic strategy flirts with the very positivism and nihilism that it seeks to combat. O’Connor’s references to logical positivism and the fact/value problem conform to a larger “crisis of belief” in post-1945 fiction, represented in works by Allen Tate, Wallace Stevens, Mary McCarthy, Ronald Sukenick, Philip Roth, Iris Murdoch, Walker Percy, and John Updike. What O’Connor describes as the “negative appearance” of her work results from her refusal to represent a positivist aesthetic or religious view of the world. O’Connor’s aesthetic strategy focuses the readers attention on what is there in order to represent what is not; her aesthetic negativism insists, with Wittgenstien, that what we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.
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