This essay argues that the representation of race in O’Connor’s short story “The Artificial Nigger” (1955) owes a debt to the continental tradition of phenomenology. Rather than being an abstract philosophical position, this debt signals O’Connor’s self-positioning within the postwar institutions facilitating the production and consumption of literary fiction. In particular, O’Connor’s engagement with the phenomenological tradition and her use of irony are interrelated attempts to negotiate her position within the creative writing institutions of the postwar literary marketplace. O’Connor’s story thus uses irony and philosophical self-inquiry as attempts to disentangle the narrative from the systems and norms of the program era. How should we understand O’Connor’s attempts to negotiate the institutionality of her fiction? And what are the racial politics of using an “artificial” stereotype as a symbol for artistic self-reflexivity? By addressing such issues in O’Connor’s work, this essay in turn poses questions for the discipline and institutionalized procedures of literary criticism.
Flannery O’Connor, the Phenomenology of Race, and the Institutions of Irony
Benjamin Mangrum is assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Michigan and holds a fellowship with the Michigan Society of Fellows. His scholarship focuses on twentieth- and twenty-first-century fiction, with particular interests in intellectual history, environmental studies, and political theory. He is the author of Land of Tomorrow: Postwar Fiction and the Crisis of American Liberalism (2018).
Benjamin Mangrum; Flannery O’Connor, the Phenomenology of Race, and the Institutions of Irony. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 September 2019; 65 (3): 237–260. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-7852075
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