Thomas F. Haddox
Thomas F. Haddox is professor of English at the University of Tennessee. He is the author of Fears and Fascinations: Representing Catholicism in the American South (Fordham University Press, 2005) and of Hard Sayings: The Rhetoric of Christian Orthodoxy in Late Modern Fiction (Ohio State University Press, 2013), and he is also the coeditor, with Allen Dunn, of The Limits of Literary Historicism (University of Tennessee Press, 2011). He has served on the Editorial Advisory Board of The Flannery O’Connor Review since 2018.
Looking primarily at O’Connor’s novel The Violent Bear It Away, I will be considering how O’Connor engages not only with disability, but also with political and medical discourses (including eugenics and public health) that seek to define, predict, and control human life. My discussion will be informed by the work of Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben on biopolitics.
Why Flannery O’Connor?
According to Sam Kriss, “We are living in an age of ambient unwellness.” O’Connor knew intimately the suffering caused by chronic illness and disability, but she was just as attuned to the “ambience” of the way we speak about them and to the way this ambience lends itself to politicization. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken by governments to limit its spread (lockdowns, mask and vaccine mandates), O’Connor’s thinking about disability, biopolitics, and ambient unwellness is especially timely.