Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological. That is a large statement, and it is dangerous to make it, for almost anything you say about Southern belief can be denied in the next breath with equal propriety. But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner, who isn’t convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God. Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows, particularly in our literature. In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.
-from Flannery O’Connor, Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction (read it online HERE).
“Ghosts,” says O’Connor, “can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows…”
20 years ago at a party with a bunch of guys a few years shy of legal drinking age, emphasis on legal, I watched American History X. I can only see one thing about that movie in the screen made up by my neurons, and I’ll never watch it again on purpose. Not on purpose, on occasion, I’ll randomly see Ed Norton (whatever character he was playing) curb stomp somebody’s face teeth-first into the concrete. I don’t have to watch it again to prove that it happened. It haunts me.
There are images you can’t kill. There are words you can’t erase. There are stories you can’t unread. They haunt you. Though they are whispy, they are present. They can haunt you to the point of destruction, or they can serve for good.
All this because I’m studying Ecclesiastes 3, and it’s the only way I know to describe what it means that God has “put eternity into man’s heart.”