12 January 2013

Faulkner’s Narrator on the Floating Signifier

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 1:27 pm

“It’s just incredible. It just does not explain. Or perhaps that’s it: they don’t explain and we are not supposed to know. We have a few old mouth-to-mouth tales; we exhume from old trunks and boxes and drawers letters without salutation or signature, in which men and women who once lived and breathed are now merely initials or nicknames out of some now incomprehensible affection which sound to us like Sanskrit or Chocktaw; we see dimly people, the people in whose living blood we see ourselves lay dormant and waiting, in this shadowy attenuation of time possessing now heroic proportions, performing their acts of simple passion and simple violence, impervious to time and inexplicable — Yes, Judith, Bon, Henry, Sutpen: all of them. They are there, yet something is missing; they are like a chemical formula exhumed along with the letters from that forgotten chest, carefully, the paper old and folded and falling to pieces, the writing faded, almost indecipherable, yet meaningful, familiar in shape and sense, the name and presence of volatile and sentient forces; you bring them together in the proportions called for, but nothing happens; you re-read, tedious and intent, poring, making sure that you have forgotten nothing, made no miscalculation; you bring them together again and again nothing happens: just the words, the symbols, the shapes themselves, shadowy inscrutable and serene, against that turgid background of a horrible and bloody mischancing of human affairs.”

– William Faulkner, Absolom, Absolom!, 1936



  1. I’m pretty much a linguistic realist. When I write that “the cat is kneading the blanket on the footstool,” I’m referring to something that’s happening in the world to which I’m bearing witness. At the same time I’m skeptical about the relationships between language and the unobserved. I can speculate about why the cat is kneading the blanket, but I can’t know whether I’m right. The narrator in Faulkner’s tale is trying to describe what happened decades ago, but he has to acknowledge that he cannot explain these events: their causes, motivations, their meanings. He seems to attribute the mystery to a lack of information: the degradation of eyewitnesses’ memories; loss of access to the subjects under scrutiny, all of whom are long dead. But are causes and motivations and meanings any clearer in the present? People can talk till they’re blue in the face without coming to a real understanding of one another. I’m not a total skeptic about understanding why people do what they do, but there remains an uncertainty that cannot be resolved by evidence or talk, by introspection or intuition.

    Let’s pretend that great novelists have deeper insight into the human mind and heart than does the ordinary Joe. Still, in his novel the writer is not describing actual people and events; he’s just making things up. The novelist’s insights into his fictional world might well be more accurate, more reliable than his understanding of the real world: after all, who can refute the author’s assertions about what he has conjured in his imagination? But if the novelist wants to be a linguistic realist about his fiction, doesn’t he have to acknowledge that even he himself is mystified by much of the imagined world he describes and interprets in his text?

    Writers of weird fiction are skeptical even at the observational level of the correspondence between the words and what they purport to represent. So you get someone like Lovecraft explicitly writing that something he’s describing is indescribable or unspeakable. For me, when I write, the move to the weird isn’t fueled by pessimism as to the relationship between appearance and reality, or between language and appearance. For me, the weird is more directly an acknowledgment that what I’m writing isn’t real, that I’m just making things up, that their reality exists only inside my imagination. I assert that there is at least a degree of correspondence between what I imagine and the words I use to describe my imaginings. But do I know what these imaginary things mean, even to me? Not completely.


    Comment by ktismatics — 13 January 2013 @ 5:50 am

  2. I can see why you would have chosen this excerpt to focus on. I read it several times yesterday and it would not come back in memory, interesting as it is. In reading Absalom! Absalom! which I would have to say is for me the greatest ‘stand-alone’ of Faulkner’s many, many great novels (the Snopes trilogy is so great that it may be greater still just by being three of them, to channel Gertrude Stein’s ‘cute —-‘—–), followed by ‘Light in August’, which is powerful from beginning to end, without any weakness anywhere I could identify.

    So that what occurred to me was that I wouldn’t have paid much attention to that in reading the whole novel, which was maybe 12 years ago. You’re still interested in the characters for whatever reason. Since the narrator is also fictional, he can be saying it, and that’s also Faulkner musing, who can change his mind. Of course anything that represents isn’t exactly the ‘real thing’, most obvious being a photograph. Even a journalistic report of mass murder isn’t the thing itself. I don’t think about things like this very much, I guess, at least in this form. But recently, I forced some conventionally ‘prosaic’ things into some recent poetics, a thing on which someone and I disagree fundamentally, so it’s a kind of built-in war, which has to be fought in a ‘peace form’. My own ‘real life’ was viewable as a fiction that entertained the other person, but his highly conventional, purely non-poetic financial statements could not. Or if they were, then they still weren’t. Such are the ways in which somehow there has come this division of finance and money from all other matters. But the aporia is not impermeable. I can do it. I did it. Or I have finally got a good start on it. The only reason I took so long to really get started on it was that it caused bad temper and also because these ‘bank poetics’ are not ‘pretty’. But I am not going to pay the bill to entertain someone because my life is so much more exotic than his is. And he does live vicariously through me to some degree. And I used to think it worth the ‘friendship’ to live these adventures that his over-mothering won’t allow him.

    So there are myriad relativities to take into consideration. As I saw some of the characters names in the excerpt, I saw that I didn’t remember ‘Judith’ very well, and might remember ‘Bon’, but it was a character that I remember as well or more than the others–a languid New Orleans male prostitute–although you didn’t even read the book if you don’t remember Sutpen, who IS the book. But Rosa Coldfield and Ellen Coldfield Sutpen I have often thought about, because I have a cousin and her spouse who resemble Sutpen and Ellen in some ways, although my relations are not nearly so dramatic and sinister as is Sutpen (although there’s a strong streak) and the cousin is not so frigid-hysterical, but loves the money just like Ellen does.

    I’ve mentioned Katie Roiphe’s ‘In Praise of Messy Lives’ which is popular right now, and I had time to read about half + of it. There’s an excellent chapter on how modern male novelists really are feministically politically correct in their sex scenes, and the ones she excerpts are very anticlimactic to say the least. She herself deplores the loss of the Faulkners, the Mailers, etc., who let the mess or glory of sex be shown, rather than be so boringly constipated, as in examples she gives of David Foster Wallace and Michael Chabon. It’s the best of the essays in the book I read, I think, and was the one way I felt some lack at not being able to bring myself to read these authors had been rectified (although not fully, but enough for me–i’m not trying to be a prof. at NYU and raise babies as a single mother, etc.) And Faulkner can make Sutpen’s lust come alive just by writing around it as if around the evil eye of some hurricane that is forced nightly, but not the tranquil eye. You get the feeling Ellen is raped every night even though she is Sutpen’s wife, and makes up for it in ‘fiddle-dee-dee’ days looking through fine fabrics, fingering them.

    I don’t really like nearly all of Roiphe’s book, though, but it’s still the one book which has caught my attention this year.

    “Iike Sanskrit or Chocktaw”

    This was marvelous, and I don’t notice such violently distant juxtapositions in other people that much. Most would say ‘Sanskrit or French’ or ‘Sanskrit or Finnish’, etc. I like to do that kind of extreme polarization too, as once, in discussion of musical theater productions of all kinds at the ballet board, I made the poles to be ‘Waikiki Wedding’ (with Martha Raye) and ‘Parsifal’. You’ve done it to some degree as well by writing about Faulkner and then Lovecraft. I don’t think I myself actually am capable of writing ‘weird fiction’, because my life is too ‘weird fiction’ at times for me to see any division between the fiction and the ‘reality’.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 13 January 2013 @ 9:17 am

  3. Why Sanscrit and Chocktaw? Polar contrast and obscurity as you say, but also… Sanscrit is the Hindu liturgical language, like Latin, nearly extinct as a spoken language. And Wikipedia informs me that the Choctaws were the residents of Mississippi when the Europeans first arrived. They were the first tribe pushed West out of their home territory according to terms of the Indian Removal Act, signed by Andrew Jackson in 1930. Sutpen buys his 100 square miles of land in the early 1930s, so he likely was an immediate beneficiary of the Choctaws’ removal. A hundred years have passed by the time ancient Rosa tells the story to young Quentin; by then the Choctaws would have been long gone from Mississippi. Invoking Sanscrit and Chocktaw places Sutpen’s story into the deep past of legend, almost Biblical in its mystification. Sutpen = King David, Judith = David’s daughter Tamar, Bon = Amnon rapist of Tamar, Henry = Absalom, son of David and brother of Tamar and slayer of Amnon — at least that’s how it seems to be fitting together about a third of the way through the novel.

    From the beginning language already separates Sutpen from the folk of Yoknapatawpha (a Choctaw name?) County, since Sutpen and his “wild Negroes” spoke to each other in French or possibly in Creole. But here are Rosa and Quentin speaking plain English to each other and still they can’t understand. The excerpt comes just after Rosa described the engagement of Bon and Judith. It doesn’t make sense: they hardly knew each other; he never courted her.

    “You see?” there they are: this girl, this young countrybred girl who sees a man for an average of one hour a day for twelve days during his life and that over a period of a year and a half, yet is bent on marrying him to the extent of forcing her brother to the last resort of homicide, even if not murder, to prevent it and that after a period of four years during which she could not have always been certain that he was still alive…”

    This is but one of several anomalies that Rosa summarizes here: “It just does not explain.” I might have skipped over the excerpted paragraph too, this reflexive perplexity of the storyteller, except that I was reading this part of the book aloud, trying to feel the rhythm of the syntax, and so I was more intently focused than usual.


    Comment by ktismatics — 13 January 2013 @ 11:28 am

  4. The Choctaws were concentrated in the West of Alabama, and so would have had many in Mississippi as well (just looked.) The 4 main ones we were taught were the Choctaws, Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Creeks (or Muskogee) in elementary Alabama history course, although there was mention of ‘Alabamo Indians’, given the name. But in my SE area, there is a Choctawhatchee River, fairly decent sized and beautiful sultry according to where you cross it, this is about 15 miles from us. Some of the Choctaw country would include that area I drove through to Mobile last May. There are Choctaw counties in both states, I didn’t know that. My area was mostly Creeks.

    Just looked at the wiki synopsis. I’d forgotten so many things, I see how differently my memory works now. The effeminate boy in New Orleans is not mentioned, but that’s a very ‘idolatry-coloured’ section, and he’d be descended of Charles Bon, I think.

    I’d forgotten about Shreve at Cambridge too. There’s a section about Cambridge either toward the end of AA or in The Sound and the Fury, and Faulkner is another one with an extraordinary sense of place. Wiki calls it a ‘Southern Gothic novel’, which I find tacky and inaccurate, even if it’s got elements.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 13 January 2013 @ 12:04 pm

  5. I have no idea what tribes populated my homeland. The three junior highs in town were Algonquin, Chippewa, and Iroquois: maybe there was some historical accuracy to the names. Then of course there must have been the Illini as well. Your memory is always far better than mine for these books and movies. I read The Sound and The Fury maybe a dozen years ago but I remember nothing about it now other than the style.

    I see that Roiphe wrote another book called Uncommon Arrangements. Bon had one with his octaroon mistress, quasi-sanctified in “a morganistic ceremony — a situation which was as much a part of a wealthy young New Orleansian’s social and fashionable equipment as his dancing slippers.” I had no idea. According to Faulkner the pretty mixed-race nearly-white girls of New Orleans would be groomed from an early age to become nearly-married mistresses of rich white men. They would be well set up in houses, have well cared-for children, yet still remain the property of the men who bought them, presumably for a high price. And the man who was widely known in society to be a participant in a morganistic arrangement was still recognized as free to marry a nice virginal high-bred white girl.


    Comment by ktismatics — 13 January 2013 @ 3:44 pm

  6. Faulkner is describing the convergence on Oxford Mississippi at the beginning of the Civil War of families and sweethearts and servants…

    …drawn all of them, rich and poor, aristocrat and redneck, by what is probably the most moving mass-sight of all human mass-experience, far more than the spectacle of so many virgins going to be sacrificed to some heathen Principle, some Priapus — the sight of young men, the light quick bones, the bright gallant deluded blood and flesh dressed in a martial glitter of brass and plumes, marching away to battle.

    I was surprised and pleased by “redneck” here.


    Comment by ktismatics — 14 January 2013 @ 5:15 pm

  7. Yes, so was I, since was struck by it before reading your remark.

    And what celestial sentence. Nearly impossible to have written, the ‘Priapus’ and ‘Principle’ now embodied in itsel(ves), which makes it ‘sexist’ and not-sexist at the same time–the virgins’ sacrifice only in passing, not happening. It reminds one of marching bands and graduation ceremony attire, but way, way beyond. Glorious, glorious. “The light quick bones”–it takes your breath away.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 14 January 2013 @ 5:46 pm

  8. In looking at a commentary on Absalom Absalom I learned that the most famous sentence in the book is the last sentence I excerpted in the post, the sentence that begins “They are there, yet something is missing”. I wrongly attributed the passage to Rosa, whereas in fact it’s Mr. Compson, Quentin’s father, who’s speaking there.

    In Rosa’s second stint at the microphone she has some observations about a tombstone, its solid continuous immutable is-ness denying the definitive was-ness of he whom it is meant to commemorate. She also talks about helping to carry Bon’s coffin downstairs from the bedroom in which he was carried after he is shot to death. Rosa, who loved Bon, had never laid eyes on him neither alive nor dead, so she kept trying to take the whole weight of the coffin onto herself to feel his substance. Still she had a sense that the box might just as well be empty, that Bon whom she loved might never have existed. These reminiscences carry again the impossibility of remembrance, as if the past were speaking to us in Sanscrit or Choctaw. But it seems also metaphorical or metonymic, with Bon standing in for the whole antebellum South and the subsequent nostalgic mourning for a world that was neither experienced nor remembered, that may never have existed, the reality of which is effaced by the odes and monuments dedicated to its memory.


    Comment by ktismatics — 17 January 2013 @ 3:00 pm

  9. subsequent nostalgic mourning for a world that was neither experienced nor remembered, that may never have existed, the reality of which is effaced by the odes and monuments dedicated to its memory.

    The ‘may never have existed’ is a commonplace having mostly to do with exaggeration. In fact, it did exist, and was unique in the U.S., but obviously wasn’t as magnificent in terms of the network of plantation families and their ‘great culture’ as would seem to be indicated by sentimentalists. The grand homes are proof that there was a kind of ‘American-style aristocracy’, which means not at all comparable to older societies,. notably English and European. But the North had no European-style aristocracy either, and didn’t get its stride on style until the late 19th and early 20th century, when New York became really great. Boston was always a has-been, but is still considered very precious, and indeed Beacon Hill is rather an amazing conservative aristocracy of place (I like the Upper East Side a LOT better.) Probably the grandest Southern house is the Biltmore, built by Vanderbilts after the War, and even praised by Prince Charles, but even it is no Windsor. The largest number of examples of these plantation grand places is in Louisiana, because it was largely spared the war destruction.

    Even W. J. Cash in his ‘Mind of the South’ grudgingly admits there were these ‘minor squire’ types, and indeed the Old South was pretty much Anglophilic. But of course, there wasn’t really the time to develop that particular mode into some true ‘great culture’. Where Cash is wrong, though, is in saying there is no unique true Southern Culture, because there is: It’s just that it’s really almost exclusively New Orleans, which is unique. It has the grand Anglo homes and the French and the Creole and the Cajuns. Savannah and Charleston are gorgeously picturesque, but are pretty much ‘house and garden’, at least until the recent advents of Spoleto Festivals, etc.

    The exaggeration is about how there was really a ‘culture’ in the plantation life itself, and there was a superficial rococo culture of manners and codes, and that was perhaps quainter than in the other regions of the U.S. (the Deep South plantations are definitely more charming than Newport or Chatawqua or Winterthur), but there wasn’t any U.S. culture to speak of, except in literature, anywhere in the U.S. until the 20th century. Maybe except in New Orleans and New York, where various kinds of musics did get started in the late 19th.

    The ‘mourning’ is because there definitely was a ‘way of life’, but it looks like the North got rid of slaves first and decided this wouldn’t do, or whatever the other real reasons for not allowing secession. Industrializing was in the North and not in the South, so it would have continued this England-imitating agriculture ideal. England was very involved with the slave trade, of course, and Southern racism and bigotry is definitely just a cruder version of the obvious bigotry of the
    English. What a stupid country they’ve become! Stripped of their assets, they have to pride themselves on ‘no longer being imperialist’, as if they wouldn’t if they could halfway decently.

    I had pretty much agreed with Cash on the lack of a ‘real authentic Southern culture’ until I went back to New Orleans in 2005. And he’s just wrong. It’s just like Hollywood is a ‘true authentic culture’ too, and there’s nothing in Europe even vaguely comparable, so it doesn’t all depend on whether you have famous composers and painters. Although in terms of ‘world culture centers’ in the classical sense, in the 20th century, of course, New York is beyond Europe in terms of most cultural institutions, though not in antiquities, etc., of course. There’s no comparable city to Los Angeles, not by a long shot. And in 20th century development, there’s no culture center anywhere in the South that is that comprehensive–no greatest orchestra, no greatest art museum, no great ballet company at all, and no major opera house. But New Orleans with its jazz is not nothing. To a lesser degree, Nashville is also unique, although the town itself is not much, is not a ‘culture’. But New Orleans really is.

    Had been thinking about how truly deeply Faulkner hated Hollywood. He hated it with all his heart and soul. He would, you know. He’d have to. His ‘The Golden Land’ is, I think, a short story, about Hollywood, and he had to do time doing screenwriting there. There was a PBS adaptation of it that was very good back in the early 80s, I believe.

    Lots of Southerners have this sentimental attitude about ‘southernness’, though, and tend to exaggerate it as culture. I guess it’s most modelled on England, but England is old and has everything truly cultural to greater or lesser degrees just like the other Western European giants, of course, as well as ‘gracious living’ numbers.

    Still, there may be something more organic about those old Southern mansions that isn’t quite there with San Simeon and other giant American eccentricities.

    But Cash gets a lot of things wrong. He ends up accusing Faulkner of the same kind of Southern sentimentality that’s in Gone With the Wind. Priggish and academic, but good in some ways. Southern claims about ‘great culture’ are no stupider than Newt Gingrich’s about ‘Greatest American culture’.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 17 January 2013 @ 6:52 pm

  10. “These reminiscences carry again the impossibility of remembrance, as if the past were speaking to us in Sanscrit or Choctaw. ”

    Yes, I knew I was forgetting something, and I noticed it when you first posted the excerpt. So different from Proust’s belief in the benediction of remembrance. I also don’t believe Faulkner didn’t believe it, except for his naturally tendencies to moroseness. Something I read recently about how he wanted to be only remembered as ‘what is printed in the books’. Which made sense unless we take this excerpt as if emblazoned on steel. In that case, none of the material printed in the books would have the substance of the things they’re reaching so hard for. Definitely on the moody side, that Faulkner was. I think, generally, I agree with Proust on this matter. Remembrance won’t re-provide everything always, but sometimes it will, which is about the best that can be said of anything. I watched on old sex movie today on vhs, thinking nothing could be more retro and counter-productive–only to find how much better I thought it was than I used to.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 17 January 2013 @ 7:27 pm

  11. I don’t think that Faulkner could achieve such success in his oblique and poetic recounting of the story if he didn’t have the core of it firmly in mind from the beginning, a kind of objective memory referent at the center of the free narrative play. Everything swirls around and around, with different narrators revisiting again and again the same incidents — the return of the repressed — sometimes elaborating on what came before, sometimes contradicting, but I still get the sense of moving toward an abiding truth that underlies and transcends each narrative perspective. There’s an ambivalence in play between this circling convergence on the truth counteracted by a centripetal spinning away into an irreconcilable subjectivity that at times verges on psychosis. The early perplexity comes gradually into focus, but what emerges are the wild passions, the irrational contradictions, the stubborn persistence of human bodies and hearts. It’s brilliant. I’m at the halfway point now, where Quentin begins talking to his roommate Shreve.


    Comment by ktismatics — 17 January 2013 @ 8:25 pm

  12. “saying there is no unique true Southern Culture, because there is: It’s just that it’s really almost exclusively New Orleans, which is unique. It has the grand Anglo homes and the French and the Creole and the Cajuns. Savannah and Charleston are gorgeously picturesque,”

    Maybe that’s why Faulkner has Bon hail from New Orleans. He returns from the war only to have his friend Henry shoot him dead on the threshold of the Sutpen mansion. And why? Because Bon refuses to renounce his New Orleans decadence before marrying Henry’s sister Judith. Earlier we learn that the Mississippi locals regard New Orleans as a foreign city, perhaps indicative of a self-alienation of the South from its own cultural Mecca. And then we have Rosa’s and Judith’s mystification of Bon’s corpse, coffin, gravestone: they had loved him but not known him; it was as though he had never really existed. Bon, the bearer of true Southern culture, survives the Yankees only to fall at the hand of his Southern friend, a friend who loves him but who renounces him as corrupt and who destroys him. Southern culture isn’t killed by the North; it’s killed by the South.

    I’ve not read far enough yet, but it’s suggested that Sutpen too has ties to New Orleans. He’s got a French connection in his past somewhere: that’s how he came by his twenty wild Negro slaves. Sutpen too is regarded as a foreigner by his Mississippi neighbors; he too is potent yet corrupt; presumably he too will have to die at the hands of a Southern white man.


    Comment by ktismatics — 18 January 2013 @ 10:17 am

  13. Another short passage on memorial agnosticism: “he could see it; he might even have been there. Then he thought: No. If I had been there I could not have seen it plain.”

    “Quentin looked at three identical headstones with their faint identical lettering, slanted a little in the soft loamy decay of accumulated cedar needles, these decipherable too when he looked close, the first one: Charles Bon. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Died at Sutpen’s Hundred, Mississippi, May 3, 1865. Aged 33 years and 5 months. He could feel his father watching him.”

    Bon (“good”) as Jesus figure, born around Christmas, dying around Easter; Quentin vicariously identifying with Bon, pilgrimaging to his tomb under the Father’s gaze.


    Comment by ktismatics — 18 January 2013 @ 5:51 pm

  14. I loved Absalom, Absalom, but I can’t really remember a lot about it – more than 20 years now – time I re-read it.


    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 27 January 2013 @ 6:50 pm

  15. “Don’t say it’s just me that sounds like your old man,” Shreve said. “But go on. Sutpen’s children. Go on.”

    Shreve addresses this remark to his roommate Quentin, the overall compiler and editor of this long story centered on and swirling around Sutpen. In the preceding chapter Shreve was blathering on about it all, and Quentin told him that he, Shreve, sounded like his, Quentin’s, father. Now Quentin is the one blathering; evidently he too sounds like his own father. But Quentin’s father sounds like Rosa, the first narrator of the story. Even Sutpen, when finally we hear his voice in this chapter, sounds like Quentin’s father, and like Rosa. Shreve’s interruption reads like Faulkner’s self-awareness as writer: all of my characters sound the same: they all sound like Quentin, the narrator; they all sound like me, Faulkner.


    Comment by ktismatics — 1 February 2013 @ 10:14 am

  16. Now the overarching unnamed narrator is telling us that, in discussing Sutpen with one another, Quentin and Shreve, despite differences in accent and phrasing, sound the same:

    …it might have been either of them and was in a sense both: both thinking as one, the voice which happened to be speaking the thought only the thinking become audible, vocal; the two of them creating between them, out of the rag-tag and bob-ends of old tales and talking, people who perhaps had never existed at all anywhere, who, shadows, were shadows not of flesh and blood which had lived and died but shadows in turn of what were (to one of them at least, to Shreve) shades too…

    It’s a gnostic legend, with Sutpen as archetypal hero and his diverse scriptural narrators redacted together into archetypal Witness.

    …(and besides, your father said that when you have plenty of good strong hating you don’t need hope because the hating will be enough to nourish you)…


    Comment by ktismatics — 6 February 2013 @ 4:04 pm

    • “were shadows not of flesh and blood which had lived and died but shadows in turn of what were (to one of them at least, to Shreve) shades too…”

      I don’t even know what he means by ‘shades’, but at least he qualifies the difference. I don’t even know why he wrote this like this, and think his attempt to make Shreve anything at all is the weakest thing about the book (I didn’t notice it till your excerpt.) The whole POINT is how different ‘Southernness’ and such Sutpen/Coldfield fantastic-horrible monstrous legends could be made only there. A fucking CANADIAN? Jesus. I don’t think Faulkner believed it either, just believed in higher education, and that’s where, if you go to Harvard, you may room with someone like Shreve, who has NOTHING in common in the sense of Faulknerian lore with Bon, Sutpen, Rosa, Quentin, the rest. Shreve can’t ‘go all the way’ with Quentin, who is the one suffering from the Southern ‘entrapment’, the tyranny of the Southern ethos, just because he’s an intelligent grad student, etc. Quentin is like what I’ve been through with this Southern vs. ‘the rest of America’ thing, and believe me, I have. You have to either kill yourself, go back and try to live it like they do and be an inferior, or walk a highwire, and see if you may finally balance some of it (enough of it, not all of it has to be perfect.) Shreve is just happenstance, and also happens to be intelligent enough and interested enough, it could have been anybody intelligent in Massachusetts. But a Canadian with any kind of remotely similar experience to a Deep Southerner? FORGET IT. Didion may have something in the California experience, especially since her ancestors came from the Donner Party that managed to get out before the cannibalism, but it’s still not that old, old only for California. And she does get credit for just going to Louisiana and Alabama and Mississippi and studying it for two months way back in the 60s or 70s–the South, she said, saw itself drenched in blood, whereas California saw itself as never having seen blood at all to speak of. But Canada? Gawd. Beautiful, but hardly a place where dramas took place. And even if some of the Southern dramas were exaggerated, they were based on real ones that did take place, or they wouldn’t have even been embellished. Anyway, we know the South does have a mystique. In other words, Quentin would like to escape that insular South (I know that feeling well, and have gone to just the right places to get the total bipolar OUT–Tahiti and New York and Paris and Los Angeles will do a lot for you), and he can’t. I think it’s in the Sound and the Fury that he feels that total aloneness and isolation it is to be ‘one of those old Southerners’. I know that feeling well, and it may well be impossible to ever escape it. But Shreve? He doesn’t know SHIT about such things. Canada is way too healthy and characterless, unless you’re into pelts and big game fisherman’s lodges, and that’s not drama material. I do love it the way people try to pretend that the ‘South was not that great’. Well, greatness had nothing to do with it, necessarily, even if it was sometimes. It was different and had charisma. That’s why people have been endlessly fascinated with it. It’s a thousand times more interesting than most of the Midwest, all of the Northeast except New York, and more than New England, which I’ve never bothered with but in one trip, which was pleasant but not esp. distinguished. Only the West has a comparable mystique of regions in this country. And perhaps the West has more, because it opens OUT, whereas the Southern ethos/mystique is insular and stranger than fiction, IS fiction, but in ‘ingrowing’, is still probably not quite as well-known to the world as the West, which is unprecedented in its hugeness and grandiosity.


      Comment by Patrick Mullins — 6 February 2013 @ 7:19 pm

  17. http://www.gradesaver.com/absalom-absalom/study-guide/section6/

    This is very good, except for one idiotic sentence: “Shreve comes to not only understand the South, but America as well”. Tres pourri…


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 6 February 2013 @ 7:57 pm

    • http://voices.yahoo.com/dueling-consciences-quentin-compsons-deliverance-7461596.html

      This is good on Quentin, who commits suicide, although I think that is in ‘The Sound and the Fury’, which is some 6 years earlier. I had remembered the incest in the Sound and the Fury, but also that he had a niece named Quentin as well. The Sound and the Fury is written in less straightforward prose, and is not as enjoyable to read by a long shot. The utter filth of Rosa and Quentin’s discovery at Sutpen’s Hundred is quite amazing, as had been Sutpen’s fury at getting only a daughter, and then the wrath of Wash Jones. Salman Rushdie tried to write about white trash Southern types in The Ground Beneath Her Feet, but he’s too smug and jokey. I heard him at B & Noble in 2002, he was all right, talked about Hitchens a good bit. Just before invasion of Iraq.


      Comment by Patrick Mullins — 6 February 2013 @ 8:12 pm

  18. Shreve hasn’t come to understand “not only the South but America as well;” he’s turned Quentin’s family story into an epic that transcends place and time, no longer a Southern story but a universal one, like the ones he reads in classical literature at Harvard. Shreve regards Sutpen and his kin as shadows of shades because, for Shreve the outsider, these people have receded into myth. Immediately after this passage Shreve starts referring to Sutpen’s first wife, Bon’s mother the French-Haitian woman whom Sutpen abandoned as not race-pure enough to fulfill his dreams, as “the old Sabine,” the legendary founding Mother of Rome, with Sutpen as Romulus. It’s a great passage, following immediately after the “hating being enough to nourish you” quote ending my last comment, which refers to the Sabine being fueled by her unquenchable rage at Sutpen:

    …the old Sabine (not so old yet, but she would have just let herself go in the sense that you keep the engines cleaned and oiled and the best coal in the bunkers but you dont bother to shine the brightwork or holystone the decks anymore: just let yourself go on the outside. Not fat: she would burn it up too fast for that, shrivel it away in the gullet between swallowing and stomach; no pleasure in the chewing; having to chew just another nuisance like no pleasure in the clothing; having the old wear out and having to choose the new just another nuisance…

    Then there’s this about Bon, the lounge-lizard son, disowned but rich, acceding to the mother’s insistent desire that he abandon his octaroon wife and child in order to matriculate at the U. of Mississippi where he will — where he must — befriend his father’s “legitimate” son and thus fulfill his mission as avenging angel. Bon goes along with the plan, wearing on his face…

    …that expression which was not smiling but just something not to be seen through. Because you cant beat them: you just flee (and thank God you can flee, can escape from that massy five-foot-thick maggot-cheesy solidarity which overlays the earth, in which men and women in couples are ranked and racked like ninepins; thanks to whatever Gods for that masculine hipless tapering peg which fits tight and glib to move where the cartridge-chambered hips of women hold them fast)…

    The piece you linked about Quentin is informative also about this book, in which Quentin must see his own situation foreshadowed in that of Sutpen’s “legitimate” son Henry protecting the virginal honor of his sister Judith from the incestuous advances of his doppelganger half-brother Bon. In Absalom Absalom Quentin doesn’t often step forward from the shadows of the story he’s telling, but you get the sense of his having a kind of pre-adolescent sexuality, attracted to the nearly-naked, nearly-hairless body of his roommate.


    Comment by ktismatics — 7 February 2013 @ 4:47 am

  19. “Now I want you to tell me just one thing more. Why do you hate the South?”

    “I dont hate it” Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately. “I dont hate it,” he said. I dont hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it


    It is finished.


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 February 2013 @ 10:55 am

    • My brother, who’d read even more of the novels than I have (neither of us has gotten through ‘A Fable’) once told me about this. It’s very overrated, and means little. For one thing, Shreve is as I said. His interpretations are interesting because he stands as a kind of juxtaposition against ‘extreme South’, but he also really is just some student. The only interesting aspect of their relationship is that that is all Quentin seems to have found to relate this gloriously monstrous story to, and that he never gets ANY of it through to him. Shreve’s remark about ‘hating the South’ is the typical ‘non-Southerner’ attitude that any Southerner troubled by his history has gone through, but what is true is that Quentin is telling the truth: He DOES NOT hate it.

      You could compare this to a number of conflicting cultures and situations. Two that come to mind are the Ireland/England conflict (I say ‘England’ on purpose, Wales and Scotland don’t have a thing to do with it, not to mention no power to mention of their own–this is particularly unfortunate in the case of Wales, in my opinion, which seems ‘least British’). What I mean here is that the ‘non-Southerner’ is assumed to have the ‘truer’, that is to say,. more ‘rational perception’, and the Southerner is just a mass of torment. That’s bullshit. Go meet some upstate New Yorkers, who would make the same remark. They are bores without name and without distinction. The England/Ireland thing came up on a Lehrer NewsHour during the Thatcher or Major years, with the IRA and nail bombs, maybe. Lehrer interestingly said something about ‘Britain always being right’, since by now, if you exclude all history, IRA nailbombs are quite wrong, and Thatcher milked one in London like there was no tomorrow, caressing wounded children. And then the Brits always say ‘well, there’s the Protestant majority in N. Ireland, and if the preference or majority changes toward wanting to be a part of the Irish Republic, then naturally we would respect that.

      The second example that comes to mind is my relationship with Christian, a Swiss, half-Prussian and half-French-Swiss. This is not the everyday nationality combo to become one of one’s best friends, since I no longer am in touch with my once-close Parisian friends. Christian is even pinkish and nearly hairless like Shreve (maybe not so hairless, just blonde), but I do get through to him,, and have worked through the same syndromes Quentin is trying to but can’t. I have way surpassed Quentin in this quest, or otherwise I would say ‘His defensive screams means he MUST love the South’, very Lacanian, of course. But it’s because he is really saying he really doesn’t hate the South, but wonders why he’s got such a lot of trouble with it. Or one could say he’s not sure whether he hates the South, but at least he thinks he ‘doesn’t love it’.

      Why would anybody hate the South in particular? It’s far more picturesque than Israel. In other words, I did go through a period when I thought I ‘hated the South’. This kind of thing comes up with unique cultures that have been extreme, and the Deep South definitely qualifies. But Shreve is mere smug glibness, he’s just enjoyed a long tale, might have been the same ‘Gothic novel’ as described by wiki. At that point, Quentin thinks he’s ‘superior’ somehow, the way I used to think middle-class Jewish liberals on the Upper West Side (some of whom still DO Twitter, by the way) used to be right, when they were perfectly ignoble themselves.

      Since such obnoxiousness is considered to be good sense, it deserves a lot of flogging. Shreve is not even a half-developed person, that’s Faulkner asking himself that, and he definitely did not hate the South. He definitely DID hate Los Angeles. Maybe that explains some of it.

      If the South did not have such a colourful history, such things would not even come up. Also, if it had somehow won the Civil War, there would be no reason to ask this question anymore than ‘Why do you hate Paramus, New Jersey’ or ‘Why do you hate Babylon, Long Island?’

      Shreve is saying ‘You hate the South because of its insularity and your inability to communicate it to anyone, including me. But that’s not going to stop me from saying I DO understand what I don’t”. But the only reason Quentin ‘hates the South’, insofar as he does about halfway, is that all these various vilenesses occurred in a land that was DEFEATED in a war, and that’s the only reason. The North is equally loathsome, and surely less characterful as a region.

      After the Civil War, the South developed a defeatism in some realms, although not nearly all. I know many rich Southerners who don’t have the slightest inferiority complex, although they don’t push it all that hard when they’re in New York or San Francisco, bastions of cheap political correctness.

      Shreve is a kind of character that always finds its way to a character like Quentin, and without doing any of the work, will ‘win’ the game, just as an Englishman will almost always ‘win’ the game over an Irishman. Although the latter is probably worse, because Ireland had some recent prosperity for the first time in centuries, and even that’s lost. Britain is still prosperous by comparision, although I find both totally unattractive by now. The South still has a lot of poverty, but the best example if Texas, very Southern, but very atypically Southern, and also Southwestern: They’re mercenary and interested in going to the top, and were never defeatist, even though there’s piss-poor Texans on some of that godforsaken land I drove through in Wichita Falls and into New Mexico, flat for hundreds of miles, and tumbleweeds in front of the car provide the excitement.

      Of course, Quentin is confused and ambivalent in his feelings, when Faulkner writes him this overdone, florid response, but he somehow refused to let on that Shreve asking the question was getting to an important point of ‘the Southern experience’, but was also doing it to be an asshole–like all lacanians when they want to make a quick profit.


      Comment by Patrick Mullins — 10 February 2013 @ 3:26 pm

      • otherwise I would say ‘His defensive screams means he MUST love the South’,

        I meant ‘his defensive screams means he MUST hate the South’. See, there’s another exampls someone would glibly say was a ‘Freudian slip’, and that’s total bullshit. I meant ‘does hate the South’, but he’s just lonely and telling his story to a cardboard bore.
        Faulkner used that for Big Impact, but he didn’t have the power to tel you you couldn’t figure it out beyond that if you could.

        Just occurred to me how amusing it would be, if Quentin weren’t so troubled, to ask Shreve ‘Why do you hate Canada?’ These days, there’d be a lot of things to say, banality of all kinds comes to mind. This, despite the fact that the most beautiful northern nature landscape I ever saw was an hour across Labrador, when a Finnair jet had to land at Goose Bay because a passenger had had a heart attack, and that was the closest. And that I’ve seen the exemplary sterilities of Toronto, and the near-sterility of Montreal, and they’re both impressive and have good steaks. Joan Didion overtly hates Toronto, and says she never wants to go there (had to on a recent book tour), but it’s not hateful or hatable, and is very admirable in some obvious ways. It’s just banal. I’d take it over Detroit, which isn’t banal, but is deadly. Whatever.


        Comment by Patrick Mullins — 10 February 2013 @ 3:35 pm

  20. That last chapter does go for the big Southern Gothic ending. Though Clytie was a very different sort of servant I pictured the crazed Mrs. Danvers preserving the memory of Rebecca and setting Manderley ablaze. The “I don’t hate the South” closing speech seems overwrought and unwarranted: I never had the sense of Quentin hating the South or any of the characters in his story. Shreve takes the reins as narrator and does an admirable job, the explicit idea being that Shreve and Quentin are channeling Bon and Henry. We learn nothing really of Shreve’s Canadian-ness, but it is important that he not be Southern — he could just as easily have been from the northern US. But there is nothing exotic about Shreve’s foreignness, nothing comparable to Bon’s New Orleans.

    I don’t get the sense from Anne or her kin of any sort of Southern torment. Certainly the Virginians note their distinction from the Deep South, but it’s plenty Southern from my perspective. And it’s still a big deal when somebody moves away and stays away — a lot of pressure from interlocking extended families to keep the traditions intact. Much of the celebrated storytelling strikes me as mostly gossip, but Anne’s mother’s father had all sorts of intriguing stories about his eccentric bachelor brother, the hired hands who used to live in shacks on the farm, and so on. The others would groan when I’d ask him to recount some of these tales: they had heard the stories a million times, plus he was a gruff old tyrant, but I got a great charge out of him. I’m a Shreve figure I suppose, a Northern outsider entertained by the quaint foibles and fables who can never fully understand. Then there’s Anne’s father who came from the hills of Tennessee, and he has a whole other set of stories about moonshiners and shotgun shacks. Put them together and it’s Sutpen’s life story in outline, though the acreage is much smaller than Sutpen’s hundred square miles and they raise cattle. There is a whole set of black maids and handymen who have worked for Anne’s family for at least three generations; I don’t know if went all the way back to a master-slave arrangement. My father and his wife live in North Myrtle Beach, but that doesn’t really count as the South. Charlottesville was more Southern when I was in school there; now it’s almost part of greater DC.

    I’m tempted to reread Part Two of The Sound and the Fury, in which Quentin is narrator. I’m not sure I’ve got it in me to read the whole book again.


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 February 2013 @ 8:58 pm

    • All very fine stuff, and I wouldn’t reply if you weren’t dead wrong about one thing: You are NOt a Shreve character and neither is Christian, or at least I’ve broken him of being able to be one My point was that the Shreve character USED to be the more distinguished one of the two pitted against each other. At that point, and since Quentin feels weak, he is, and he is a nobody–which Shreve pickis up even though he is himself a mere blank; he’s just exploiting Quentin. More of a Shreve character are some of the English bloggers, one in particular, who just use the stories as collections like banks collect fees or interest. It has become so mechanized that I’m actually glad I entrusted the one with the ‘bedbug stories’ when they were current, so that I’d find out how he’d use them for the most vicious imaginable exploitation of me, knowing that I idiotically thought I trusted him. This is my shameful naivete, of which I’ve been somewhat cured at an advanced age (it could have been much worse, even though that had been disclosed in an email, and I enclosed a ‘fraud’ and ‘asshole’ epithet in another email a week ago.

      You’re not like that, and have a past, that you never care to develop (at least online) that is colourful and exotic, and all places have these kinds of enclaves of richness; I told you some of your ancestors with the organ-makers and the ancient silver dollar were like Menotti’s New York-setting operas–that’s rich human stuff. but there’s no real reason you should write about it, although it’s very interesting that you find all parts of Anne’s family more interesting.

      A Shreve character is one who is not really interested in the story, but wants to use his zero-ness to profit by it. That answers your question a few weeks ago about why certain personal things, even at my most dissolute, never have gone on the net. Many of the bloggers have no more scruple about the most personal things than Rupert Murdoch did. All gossip-oriented rags, papers and blogs are based on this, and that they are shameless in their trashing of serious human matters is one thing; what’s ridiculous is they expect you to think that ‘that’s just what we do’, even though we well know that scandal sheets and gossip rags are meant to be profitable only, they are not art and they never will be.


      Comment by Patrick Mullins — 10 February 2013 @ 9:22 pm

  21. I should add that Virginians are not a whit less Southern than Deep Southerners, that’s just garden-variety parvenu-ism. What they have is a longer history of the same practices (jefferson’s slaves, etc.) and that that’s where the capital had to be (somewhere in the South), although I can’t remember when that was determinded, since NYC was the capital for a year or two, and maybe some others. D.C. is very Southern in many ways, although I dislike it INTENSELY,, and always have. I can’t think of a more graceless city, and haven’t been back since 1987 or so. I loathe it and think it’s extremely ugly, including the govt. buildings. My father, however, very much a Deep Southerner, said that he thought Virginia and his drives around it were the ‘most beautiful place he’d ever seen!’ I’m sure Va. is gorgeous, but then my father had been to Espiritu Santo and Fiji and New Britain and New Guinea, naturally he wouldn’t have been to fond of any of that, esp. the penis sheaths he saw the New Guinea natives wearing to ward off mosquitoes and other varmints (I LOVE that word, even though it’s more for ‘possums’ and groundhogs and whargrats, I think. Rolande and I used to refer to certain types of subway people as ‘varmints’. When Joscelyn Steel took me out to the Pierre in 2002, I told Rolande about the horrible dissonance when I went home afterward on the subway. She said ‘all that luxury…and then there were varmints…’.)


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 10 February 2013 @ 9:35 pm

  22. “although it’s very interesting that you find all parts of Anne’s family more interesting”

    My family’s past is not present in the same way. My immigrant forebears were so eager to assimilate that they wouldn’t associate with their Polish or Slovak compatriots in the US, maintained no correspondence with family and friends left behind in the old country, didn’t teach their children the old languages. The only Slovak phrases I ever learned from my grandfather were “potato pancake” and “kiss my ass”.


    Comment by ktismatics — 11 February 2013 @ 6:52 am

  23. My great-aunt Irene’s husband Elmer Cinnamon was the bell-ringer at his church, chiming the quarter-hours and playing a few tunes daily according to the schedule. Elmer was short, stocky, strong-featured, but not a hunchback. The bell-ringing job has almost surely been automated by now even for churches that still have bell towers. Irene was the daughter of Val the organ-maker; she and her sister Armanda were the first two women postmasters in Illinois, their other sister being my grandmother Clara. I invited Irene to my high school graduation: she showed up toothless and tipsy and I was very happy to see her. She died soon afterward. Occasionally as a little girl my mother would accompany Irene to the bar; my mother told me she was always thrilled by the adventure of it.


    Comment by ktismatics — 11 February 2013 @ 7:56 am

  24. “should add that Virginians are not a whit less Southern than Deep Southerners, that’s just garden-variety parvenu-ism.”

    Of course, that’s only half-true and I was just being provocative. As the first important settlement in North America, even if it didn’t last, they have a pride in their history. I think mainly I didn’t have time to think through that all the colonial Southern states (as well as the mid-Atlantic ones and New England ones) think of themselves as special, and they are, but not in a way that has ever interested me personally. But Georgia and the Carolinas have some of this too. I mentioned the beauties of Charleston and Savannah (either Figaro or Le Monde called Savannah the most beautiful city in the ‘New World’ sometime back when Berenger’s bestseller was popular) and Virginia does have all those Founding Father places, not a one of which I’ve ever visited nor can even bear the thought of a tour of Mt. Vernon or Monticello. Nor do I care about Charleston and Savannah, although this is one of the specialties of my Georgia sister.

    I was thinking along the lines of how we’re taught about the 13 colonies and the Revolutionary War and Boston is at the center of everything for such a long time. Philadelphia is important, and they’ve got the Liberty Bell; I was even forced out to Valley Forge once, but have never paid any attention to Phil. even though it’s only an hour away (I know about the museums in Phil. and D.C.,, and have been to the D.C., and blah blah blah, yes they’re good, but the Met is enough, plus the gallery scenes here). New York was not the ‘patriotic’ city the others were and was more Loyalist, and yet because of commercial reasons, during the 19th century went way past all these big mid-Atlantic and N. Eng. cities. But in our social studies classes, there’s not much to say about New York comparable to the Boston Tea Party, so they did little stories about Peter Stuyvesant’s peg-leg and his ‘villainy’, and then they say something about the port and the commerce and a few other things. But New York was never a truly ‘American town’ in quite the same way, except for the Statue of Liberty, maybe.

    But, to be accurate, hicks in Virginia (I have an aunt by marriage who’s really from the sticks of rural Virginia, and she’s considered most unbearable by nearly everybody, but knows how to ‘wear da pants’) are not quite the same as hicks in parts of N. Florida, many redneck parts of Alabama and Mississippi…although Georgia is quite comparable in parts.

    Also, point being as well that Virginia may hold herself high, but for stiff formal reasons usually (not considering the natural beauty that’s there, but perhaps even more in W. Virginia, totally hick, and isn’t that where Sutpen came from? and Tennessee and Kentucky, which are breathtaking to drive through.) But, again the irony is that the CULTURE center, the one which realized a kind of true Southern Art of the period that is really distinguished is still Louisiana and especially New Orleans. Again, the ‘social studies classes’ talk about Virginia and never New Orleans, but I don’t care about all that period much, including the Revolution, which has always especially bored me in paintings of the Battle of Yorktown, etc. I did go on the tour of the Jumel Mansion in the N. Bronx back in early 2001, which miraculously survives arsonists. That’s something to do with Aaron Burr, George Hamilton, and George Washington had an office in it, there were some French Empire chairs that I mainly remember. It was mildly interesting, with that musty quality you find in St. Paul’s Chapel (the part of Trinity Church that never burned; the main church across from Wall St. is much larger), and which are never as exciting as going to a French church, or even a Catholic Church uptown like St. Ignatius Loyola or the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer, which are newer but truly glories, especially when there’s some big Xmas choral thing in them.

    There’s a kind of redneck speech that is fantastically unmusical–all spondees, every syllable equally accented–which can cause near-hysteria in me when I hear it at the wrong time, and it is even in musical form in some of the hill country Sacred Harp singing, which uses medieval practices which had long been outmoded, and have a moving if harsh and somewhat crude sound; they always sound like a choir of very old tough-bird farm women–light years from the a capella choirs of Tahiti, which have a miraculous smoothness even when they sing the banal Protestant hymns.

    But even this rural Virginia tough one in my family does not have that ‘spondee speech’, like certain redneck cops I’ve heard. You will sometimes hear this in New Orleans, but the greatness of New Orleans is not in being a ‘proper, formal culture’, so the hick sounds don’t matter that much. All the subsequent cities that really made contributions to jazz have something special, although I doubt it made it’s way into the speech of many of them: Memphis, Kansas City, Chicago. Eventually New York became a great jazz town, but it’s more defined by B’way and Tin Pan Alley.

    I imagine my father was talking about the Blue Ridge Mtns.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 14 February 2013 @ 11:56 am

    • Berenger’s bestseller = Berendt. John Berendt, not Tom Berenger. The book was good on atmosphere, but gutless. Berendt even dedicated it to his parents, and the scenes with the rich collector and the hustler sure sound like it too. Too many near-vaudeville characters, too overtly commercial, but it caught the public’s ear. The movie was considered inferior, but I thought it a slight improvement even with banal John Cusack.


      Comment by Patrick Mullins — 14 February 2013 @ 12:00 pm

  25. The novel was okay, I don’t recall seeing the movie. Charleston has some distinctive French-influenced buildings but from casual appearance it’s a sleepy little seaside town. Like most places, even the Midwestern and Northeastern locales you dismiss, one surely has to put in the time to feel the unique character. I’ve always been far more drawn to foreign cities than to American ones, more intrigued by Toulouse than by Toulouse Street.


    Comment by ktismatics — 14 February 2013 @ 12:34 pm

  26. I have no idea whether Alabama and Mississippi feel at all Spanish or French to people living there now. The first Europeans in Illinois were Marquette and Joliet, Illinois was held by the French until 1763, the town I grew up in has a French name, but in my experience the place is no more French than it is Indian. In grade school we learned more about Lincoln and US Grant than about any other local historical influences.

    Of course the parvenu remark could apply to any relative newcomer to any state (not Anne’s family certainly), though clearly it wouldn’t apply generally to Virginia relative to the Deep South. It’s likely that Mississippi and Alabama are more archetypally and insularly Southern culturally than Virginia, which lies just south of Mason-Dixon and which has all of those American Revolutionary heroes to counterbalance RE Lee and Stonewall Jackson and Bull Run. In Charlottesville I lived on Barracks Road, referring not to the Confederate soldiers but to the Hessian mercenaries hired by the British during the War for Independence.


    Comment by ktismatics — 14 February 2013 @ 1:35 pm

    • ‘parvenu’ probably all wrong, more of a ‘parvenu’ place is like Dallas, which always has wanted to be ultra-sophisticated, not super-Texan Western like Houston.

      Yes, the problem with places is having time for them, I was just rushing past some of them, although I truly only dismiss D.C. because I can’t stand to be around all that govt. It feels heavy as lead to be there, although the drive up to Langley CIA Headquarters was indeed quite titillating, hysteria-inducing to me (about 3 weeks of feeling freaky about it),

      There was a recent NYTimes article by Paul Theroux, the much-travelled travel writer, talking all the places he’d still like to go. These are the real travellers. As time goes by, I find I am not interested at all in seeing ‘almost any place’ like I used to be. I’m not even drawn to Rome and Greece anymore, although I think I should be, and that I should have gone to Italy when I lived in Paris. I seem to have lost all interest in tourism, although if it became possible, I’d still want to see lots more of the Pacific. I don’t consider this a good sign. I seem to want to see only remote, obscure places. Theroux wants to go everywhere. I used to like him pretty well.

      That’s right, I had forgotten you did live in Virginia, so you know a lot about it, not just visiting Anne’s folks. I took a train through a huge stretch of it–at night, unfortunately, otherwise only know D.C. and my sister lived in Springfield, another friend in Alexandria, these didn’t interest me, although I’m sure there are lots of nice places. I guess charisma is very relative, both with places and people. Right now, I see hardly any charisma anywhere as I used to, but that’s my problem.


      Comment by Patrick Mullins — 14 February 2013 @ 2:36 pm

  27. Aha, yes. You are somewhat like Shreve.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 15 February 2013 @ 11:40 am

  28. How so?

    I thought I had already approved your prior comment, but evidently I failed to click the crucial button. Now it’s up.

    I’ve been nowhere really over the past five years, other than obligatory annual visits to family. I too have lost the burn for travel, though I think under the right circumstances it could be rekindled. Three years ago I gave serious consideration to moving to Sao Paulo, though I’ve never been to Brazil and speak no Portuguese. I thought I might set up a therapy practice among the US expatriates and revitalize my writing, which had gone dormant. I didn’t go, but the writing came back anyway. My preference is always to go somewhere I’ve never been before. Though I loved France I wouldn’t want to live there again. Inveterate parvenuism, the spawn of immigrants who cut themselves loose from their moorings without looking back, memories replaced by imagined futures…


    Comment by ktismatics — 15 February 2013 @ 11:59 am

  29. Shreve didn’t repulse me the way evidently he did you. Obviously he’s not Southern and not personally enmeshed in the lives being recounted, but he seemed fully engaged in the story, even to the point of narrating part of it, as if he had so enmeshed himself in the lives told to him by Quentin that he could live vicariously through them and tell their stories for them. He did insist despite Quentin’s repeated corrections on referring to “Miss Rosa” as “the Aunt Rosa,” but in fact Rosa’s involvement in the story was due to her being Ellen’s sister and thus Henry and Judith’s aunt. (Northerners don’t customarily refer to ladies as “Miss” like Southerners do, so it would have seemed strange for Shreve to adopt Quentin’s honorific.) By the end of the book Shreve and Quentin are doubled as Bon and Henry, with Faulkner writing about how the two had become four riding back to Mississippi at the end of the War, and then two again: Bon-Shreve and Henry-Quentin. Shreve, also a foreigner, is a kind of arctic voluptuary counterpart of the subtropical Bon, lounging nearly-naked with the winter windows flung wide open. Why do you hate the South? Again, this question seemed out of keeping, but arguably Shreve wondered how Quentin could desert a place that could produce such extravagant characters and dramatic situations, a place by which Shreve had by then become captivated.


    Comment by ktismatics — 15 February 2013 @ 1:13 pm

  30. You didn’t approve my Reply to my own comment, which may not be possible, and it’s still not approved, but that doesn’t matter. I did think it through a little bit more, though, and as I said ‘womewhat like Shreve’, it was fanciful of me to pretend you weren’t. I still don’t think that much, I was just agreeing with your own earlier observation, and seeing how you could be ‘part-Shreve’. That maybe you’d have to be in my perception, except that it’s again not true all that much, because Shreve is not really someone you get through to, and Quentin mostly wants an audience; Shreve is the best he can get, and not stupid. I had never picked up that he was a ‘voluptuary’ even if he feigned student-lounge-lizardism’. He sounded more like the Greek ‘beardless boys’ without the culture.

    I’ve had the good fortune to go beyond being too much like Quentin, or I wouldn’t be able to get through to Christian, which I most decidedly recently have. He finally listens through the bureaucracy, which is fairly unusual, though. My recent remarks were more about my own dereliction and inaccuracy about Virginia and the Deep South. Frankly, I’ve always wondered why I have no interest in certain places, even when I know they’re distinguished. Virginia obviously is one of these, important in American history and with an identity of its own, but San Francisco is another example, to prove the point, because it’s so different (and also very distinguished.)

    Although I have long had tendencies toward ‘quentinism’, and it’s probably the year in Paris that broke that, even more than all the decades in New York, which is the best place to work on something freely, but it’s still American.

    It’s not that serious a thought, although I was interested in your ‘Dreaming Inside Fiction’, which is similar to some of my post titles and dovetails with them. I liked it. That middle later part of ‘the little text’ with the ‘Dream’ being full of thoughts of movies as reified objects that aren’t ‘motion pictures’ at all was like that: The old freight train in the rurals was much like just managing to get the whole ‘plant’ through after what happened with my famed ‘hostesse’, who hated IDNYC, and wanted to stop it (at least for me personally, and she came very close to succeeding, including very recently, just because of the after-effects, not because she’s reappeared.

    Flannery O’Connor has another Southern boy, very unique, who comes back to the South thinking he ‘can’t breathe that air’ in New York and also thinking he has a fatal disease. This is part of Flannery’s genius, because then he finds out he doesn’t have it. But for a long time I felt that. The ‘double life’ I’ve lived more explicitly in the last 12 or so years is part of that, and it has impossibly painful periods that you just have to live through. I can breatbe the ‘Manhattan air’ by now, and perhaps too well. But you cannot get through to a Shreve or a semi-Shreve until you do. And until you do get the ‘second place to take the first’ and let it be the dominant one, you haven’t done it. In short, I almost lost everything I’d gained by doing IDNYC with that trip to the South last May, and it’s even possible that something Christian/Shreve had to do for me that I wouldn’t have been able to do this. Not certain, but possible. So you’d maybe just be ‘more like Shreve’ and I’d be ‘more like Quentin’. In the old days, the ‘southernism’ seemed much more powerful and possessive, and it destroyed those who tried to move away from it. My way–to work a balance–could still fail too, but that was the best alternative effort, and it hasn’t failed yet. What Faulkner is pointing out with all of that, including the ‘Why Do You Hate the South?’ is very much about the extreme possessiveness that the Southern mystique does have, or has had. Other places with ‘Deep’ in their descriptions, as ‘La France Profonde’ or ‘Deep England’ can be disparaged too,. but it’s not that the Southern ethos was ‘less’ so much (aside from not being that old), it’s because the defeat in the Civil War brought with a reflex of defeatism which is very hard to throw off. Quentin didn’t.

    I never thought about Quentin that much till your recent reading and posts. I always thought about the others, Sutpen, even Ellen, and Miss Rosa’s stench. But no, it is not at all decent of Shreve to insist on ‘the aunt Rosa’ if he’s listening to this story. If Quentin called her ‘Miss Rosa’, he had no right to ‘correct it’, and it’s very rude. But it proves what a ‘pure Shreve’ is. He didn’t really give a shit. And Northerners usually do not do this. I remember when Carter ran for president, and all of the newspeople were happy to call his mother ‘Miss Lillian’. Including Barbara Walters.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 15 February 2013 @ 2:51 pm

  31. All of your comments are up, as far as I know. The only reply to yourself is on comment 26, which is the one I’d failed to post previously but which I remedied per my comment 28.

    “Voluptuary” might just be in Quentin’s repeated attention to Shreve’s near-nakedness; Shreve might just be a big hockey-playing Canadian type who likes to go around shirtless to show how tough he is, how much he can stand the cold. He is surprised that Quentin would want to endure such weather 9 months of the year. I’d guess that Shreve seemed less foreign than Quentin at Harvard; you may have experienced this as well in NYC. I very much enjoyed feeling like a foreigner in France, which might result from my growing up in a not particularly distinguished place. Most of the people I’ve met from Chicago (or from any suburb of any big city for that matter) agree that it’s a good place to be from, but also a good place to leave. This may be true for some Southerners as well, but I really do experience a shallow indifference to place that Southerners never seem to have. It’s odd that fifties-sixties American suburbia infuses so many movies with its nostalgia, though often as not its a precursor to some horror or disaster. In most of my fiction the characters are either constantly on the move or are feeling trapped in one place.

    Why did your “hostesse” hate IDNYC — did it hit too close to home for her, or did it expose things about you of which she had previously been unaware or in denial?

    On a recent trip to Myrtle Beach I went to my father’s doctor’s office to get his opinion about my father’s hearing and memory loss. The receptionist directed me to Miss Lyda, or possibly Miss Lada (I have difficulty parsing the accent sometimes), the doyenne of the office. Somehow I just couldn’t bring myself to use the “Miss” when talking to this woman, and I told her so, acknowledging the ingrainedness of my Yankee speech habits. She was gracious about it and arranged for me to talk with the doctor. So okay, a bit Shreve-like. Maybe after I left MIss Lyda/Lada and the receptionist discussed my rude manners.

    The dream inside the fiction does seem to have broken me through the five-foot glass barrier. Especially today I got a lot written, much of it fact-based fiction describing a specific incident in my not-so-distant past, which sometimes I have a hard time making myself write.


    Comment by ktismatics — 15 February 2013 @ 4:05 pm

  32. She hated it because she only skimmed it, disapproved of Jack’s nude ‘Boy of Avon in the Restored Jackie O Mirror’, but it was less that than her jealous rage at my post on Toni Bentley’s praise of the trilogy, and her obvious beauty. She tried to focus less on that than on ‘how dancers have never read anything because they’re always at the barre’. Neverthless, it was immediately upon reading that first Toni post that she called and really got serious about the trip, offering to pay for it (which she did, and then at the end, demanded repayment). she thought I was ‘getting uppity’.

    She didn’t, of course, read the book closely, just skimmed it, and saw that I had definitely written something ‘outside the South’ as she saw it. As the ‘Southern sense of place’ is now, it’s not nearly the same as even when you saw Paul Newman and Joanne woodward or Liz Taylor (several Southern girls, she was good at them). It’s more Beth Henley plays, or tacky white-trash things like ‘A Coupla White Chicks Sittin’ Aroun’ Talkin’. Southern romanticism as such is dead. Anyway, the real myth is the fixation on ‘Southernism’ NOW. Because they are insisting on something they don’t live in at all, the New South is just as corporate (when it’s not still farmers) as anyplace in the Midwest or East, Atlanta being the perfect example of a near-corporate city . She also had Deep Tropical and only ‘looked at the pictures’. I could shoot myself for giving her one of Christian’s original oils of me as a house gift. So then a week later I’m getting grilled about someone’s fraululent charges? Lovely.

    I don’t know about Chicago suburbs, but no way is Chicago undistinguished, even if not sybaritic enough for me. I’ve never been inside it, but seen it from many angles from some 16 flights. It’s unique for me that way, and it really is built like a brick shithouse. I flew directly over it once, another time over the lake, these were beautiful. New York suburbs aren’t usually characterful either, except college towns like Bronxville, or beautifully situated rich enclaves like Greenwich, Ct. I remember Milton Friedman talking about how ‘beautiful’ he though Chicago was, and his perception would be much like philosophers we’re familiar with whose aesthetic has to do with what capitalism has made of a skyline (I mean very specifically, not that if you stand at a certain corner, the buildings will make a breathtaking pattern.)

    I see what you mean as you reiterate it about the dreams inside the fiction. It’s newer for you than for me, I think. Not only will it be good for your writing, but it is a great source of pleasure, sort of ‘pre-craft’, an originary sensation. That’s why I couldn’t believe that loathsome article by Chabon, but he definitely would hate dreams, now wouldn’t he? I can imagine how pedestrian his are.

    Quentin is so desperate he could be in prison talking to whoever his cellmate was. Yes, of course, anybody could be at Harvard, but their exchange is nothing to do with Harvard, and you wouldn’t find Shreve in Mississippi. Shreve, though, is not a ‘real character’, so to speak, Faulkner contrives him so he will stand in stark contrast, very laid-back about all this drama, even as he momentarily enjoys it as at a play or opera. Then it will be over for him.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 15 February 2013 @ 5:02 pm

  33. I could shoot myself for giving her one of Christian’s original oils of me as a house gift

    I should add that, when I arrived at her primary residence the first day, she didn’t know where the book was, and we found it thrown in a pile of books in the attic by her maid.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 15 February 2013 @ 5:05 pm

  34. Faulkner contrives Shreve as contrast to be sure, but also as fictionalist. By the last two chapters Shreve is the primary narrator of the story, elaborately recounting events about which he could not possibly have prior knowledge. Quentin, who until then has seemingly kept to the historical record as told to him by his father and Miss Rosa, now becomes the listener as Shreve describes in great detail Bon’s childhood, his relationship with Henry, his encounters with Sutpen. And Quentin actively participates in Shreve’s storytelling as together they imagine themselves as Henry and Bon. The saga has shifted decisively from vaguely recalled history into a work of imagination. I presume that, just as Quentin channels Faulkner’s Southern traditional storytelling, so does Shreve channel Faulkner’s speculative and scholarly imaginings. They are stark contrast to one another, but by the end they are more like Jekyll and Hyde.

    Demanded repayment? How tacky. I hate to think what’s become of Christian’s original oil of you.

    It is possible that the dream-inside-the-fiction is opening me up to a kind of writing in which the narrative boundary between historical reality and fantasy continually slides and dissolves. As you note, your books are fiction even when they concern themselves with real people: where is the boundary between fact and fiction. I’ve admired these sorts of boundary-slipping posts when you’ve written them, and it’s certainly what Faulkner does throughout Absalom Absalom and overtly by the end.


    Comment by ktismatics — 15 February 2013 @ 5:38 pm

  35. Shreve’s pivotal role is anticipated in the agnostic lamentation from Quentin’s father that began this post:

    ““It’s just incredible. It just does not explain. Or perhaps that’s it: they don’t explain and we are not supposed to know. We have a few old mouth-to-mouth tales… we see dimly people, the people in whose living blood we see ourselves lay dormant and waiting, in this shadowy attenuation of time possessing now heroic proportions, performing their acts of simple passion and simple violence, impervious to time and inexplicable — Yes, Judith, Bon, Henry, Sutpen: all of them. They are there, yet something is missing… you bring them together again and again nothing happens: just the words, the symbols, the shapes themselves, shadowy inscrutable and serene, against that turgid background of a horrible and bloody mischancing of human affairs.”

    There’s a limit to where memory and facts can take you. You can infer and surmise, but to get past the limits of discovered truth, to make the story complete, you have to start making things up. That’s where Shreve steps in. Since he’s not bound by family and tradition and place and facts, he has more freedom to speculate. In Shreve’s imagination Sutpen can become not just a colorful but vague historical character of some little town in Mississippi but by turns David father of the Jews, Romulus father of Rome, and the old devil. The respect paid to old Miss Rosa can be relaxed; in this story she is the aunt Rosa, plain but young and impassioned. The constraints are loosened and so, in filling in the gaps, in clarifying the vision, it becomes possible for Shreve, and through him for Quentin as well, to spin out alternative scenarios that might explain.


    Comment by ktismatics — 16 February 2013 @ 5:53 am

    • “it becomes possible for Shreve, and through him for Quentin as well, to spin out alternative scenarios that might explain.”

      I don’t buy it. Only if you think ‘spinning out alternative scenarios’ is worth something. I think the story as told is quite enough. If you start going in this direction, it’s much like Lawrence Durrell totally ruining his ‘Avignon Quintet’ by giving us a diagram of how he plotted it. Even the half-a-year Egyptian socialite who can hold affectionately the cobra because she has no fear of this deified vicious thing loses its savour, as the Biblical salt says, when you see how he maps out what he’s done. The story of ‘Absalom! Absalom!’ is much too good as it was told by the handed-down direct characters to need further elaboration–or at least these new ‘alternative versions’ were definitely going to seem diluted and inferior by comparison, NO MATTER WHAT. They will seem contrived and false. Then you are looking at fiction as ‘only fiction’ and not about real people. The beauty of this particular book (and many others, of course) is people like Milly and Clytie and Bon and Bon’s dissolute son and Ellen. Shreve is like the Cinemascope version of Absalom! Absalom! He’s like everything Faulkner would have most hated. And if memory ‘can’t do everything’, then ‘developing new scenarios’ can’t do anything at all.

      Thought overnight about the obvious difference between your ‘Miss Lada’ inability and Shreve’s refusal to say ‘Miss Rosa’. They aren’t the same at all, although it would have been possible to ask Lada what she preferred to be called, and then you wouldn’t have minded calling her ‘Miss Lada’ if she said so. Shreve was doing it on purpose (or Faulkner’s purpose) and it just comes across as laziness.

      In real life, these things aren’t so explicable sometimes. For many years, if in the middle of a huge packed subway, I could not bring myself to say “Getting out!” which is the most appropriate and effective thing to say, but only “Excuse me” which still worked well enough. But I have never figured out why I didn’t want to say “Getting out!”


      Comment by Patrick Mullins — 16 February 2013 @ 10:14 am

  36. Does your ‘Reply’ to a post not get a separate notation at the top? Do you have to write under ‘Leave a Reply’? If so, this is a major flaw in the WordPress, although I’ll watch out for it. This one doesn’t show at the top and the other one I said didn’t show separately (as a ‘Reply’ to a comment of my own) never showed separately either. They’re separate comments and ought to post separately, but if they don’t, I’ll never use that ‘Reply’ underneath the comment again–NOT EVER.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 16 February 2013 @ 10:36 am

    • They do post up top: your reply to #35 is up there.

      “I think the story as told is quite enough.”

      Right, but by the end it’s Shreve telling the story: not Quentin, not Miss Rosa, not Quentin’s father, but Shreve. I don’t mean the last chapter about the house burning down — that’s Quentin — but the one before it, about Bon’s childhood and his being sent to U of Mississippi and Bon’s and Henry’s conversations during the War and Bon’s encounter with Sutpen on the battlefield and Bon’s and Henry’s ride back to the Hundred Acres. This part of the story flows seamlessly from what precedes it, and Quentin does not dispute it — it’s part of “the story as told.” Shreve couldn’t have known these details: he must have been making them up, enhancing the facts. Now it’s possible that Shreve was such an empath that in effect the true story was telling itself through Shreve, like a Delphic oracle. We are repeatedly reminded that all of the narrators sound like each other, as if they’re all tuned into the same Narrator speaking into their ears, repeating what He says word for word.


      Comment by ktismatics — 16 February 2013 @ 11:57 am

  37. Thanks for telling me, I didn’t notice it, and not the first time either. Why doesn’t Quentin dispute it? They’re not doing ‘creative story-writing’ as enfants terribles who do more than the required curriculum. I don’t know why Faulkner has Shreve tell these stories, it ruins the book in a sense now knowing it. It makes Quentin and Shreve the important characters of the book, and they’re not interesting in the way Sutpen and Bon and Rosa and Ellen and Judith are.

    It’s because it’s meant to be ambiguous, since the story interests no one if it’s just a riff by somebody ‘inspired’ by some morbid Southerner sitting in a dorm on an iron bed or whatever. Of course, anyone ‘foreign’ can redo and retell anyone’s story, and they do, people write about places they’ve never been to, Updike never went to Brazil and wrote ‘Brazil’. Your original post is the quote about how we ‘can’t get what happened’, so maybe that’s why Shreve is used for this, to say that his tale is as worthwhile as Quentin’s. Or as worthless. I don’t know. If it’s about ‘telling stories’ and what that means, I hate the whole book. It means nothing. But it could just be Faulkner having a riff or fantasy, and letting Quentin tell it because maybe he was more attuned than I’m giving him credit, he WAS some kind of ’empath’ in the story, or he couldn’t tell the story seamlessly and be accepted by Quentin, unless they were just sucking cock, and saying “Well, you know, look what we’ve got that they don’t got…” Maybe Faulkner having Shreve tell the ‘part of the story as told’ is because it’s so obvious that it would be that way, but it’s not. Or it might not be literal at all, and Faulkner just lets Shreve tell it as if he knew. Quentin’s not disputing the accuracy means the whole point is your OP, which makes the book about how the story is never really told at all, since really just anybody could have told it, a made-up story is just as good.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 16 February 2013 @ 12:12 pm

  38. “Now it’s possible that Shreve was such an empath that in effect the true story was telling itself through Shreve, like a Delphic oracle.”

    Maybe more like a medium than an ’empath’. Not an empath at all, just a means to let the story come through an unlikely source who really did not know it, but Faulkner getting very theatrical and letting Shreve be some kind of Greek chorus just because he was there, and Greek choruses often seem to be much wiser than their heroes and heroines.

    Whatever their relationship, Quentin is still up that way to commit suicide in whatever year the Sound and the Fury is set, even though it’s written before Absalom.

    Basically impossible to believe Faulkner would write a book with so devastating a title, replete with exclamation points, if he didn’t mean the story was what was the truth, if any, and it didn’t matter who was telling it. Maybe Shreve telling the story he couldn’t have known was just a literary device to prove that he was listening to it better than I thought. But making it up? And Quentin not objecting? They were then clearly sucking cock as the second place that takes the first. Quentin had become a Northerner, and he was letting Shreve come in his mouth as payoff for all that tedious Southern melodrama.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 16 February 2013 @ 12:24 pm

    • Come on now, buddy, it ain’t that bad. Having Shreve narrate adds enigma.


      Comment by ktismatics — 16 February 2013 @ 9:19 pm

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