Monday, June 18, 2012

The Images from the works of Faulkner

Why do the images from the works of Faulkner stay with me forever? Is it just me? No, I don't think so. There are people who dedicate their lives to studying Faulkner. Of course he's an amazing writer.
So, what I am asking myself here is, "What is it in his imagery that makes it stay with me forever?"
I will talk about a few of the images from my admittedly brief readings of Faulkner. I know, I know, I'm "stalking Faulkner." How could my reading be brief. My answer is, that's how good he is, and believe me, I intend to remedy the fact that I have only read five of his novels. First of all, I have read some of them twice. Secondly, I have some non-Faulkner books on my reading list that I intend to finish but then I plan to get back to my pursuit of reading everything he's ever written.
So back to these images that stand out. One is the image of Mink Snopes trying to farm his little postage stamp of uncooperative land. I can still see him standing there on that plot of land. I'm not sure what he looks like, mainly because his face is so unimportant. He is so unblessed, so--as they say of him in the literary journals--dispossessed. But there is something about him standing there trying to farm that unresponsive dirt that never leaves my mind. So I think I will take a look at that passage again. Here is an excerpt.

The book is called The Mansion. It is part of a trilogy. It turns out I read my copy of The Mansion until it was torn to pieces, a bad habit I have with books I love. I was able to see the first few pages for free on Kindle. The first two sentences immediately jumped out at me. I wonder if this could be part of the reason the image presented later is so unforgettable.

"The jury said "Guilty" and the Judge said, "Life" but he didn't hear them. He wasn't listening."

That sentence is absolutely riveting. What happened? What did he do? Why isn't he listening?

I scrolled down the pages and discovered that page 9, most likely the page that describes that plot of land, is mysteriously and intentionally missing. "Page 9 is not available."

Hmm. Bad luck for me. But I imagine that is the page that has the description of that plot of land, and I can't imagine why it needs to be missing. I know it contains that first description of Mink standing on that plot of land. All I have to use is my vague memory of the description of it that involved something about Mink and his relationship with that God Awful plot of land that he had come to hate, come to resent. It was the only thing he had, and he hated it. He felt more tied to it than grateful for it.

After a bit more googling I am ready to say that the reason the image of Mink and his plot of unfarmable land is unforgettable it is the resentment that Mink felt towards his lot in life.

Another image that stays with me is that of Cady in the tree looking into the house "the night Damuddy died." This image is famous. In fact, Faulkner says The Sound and The Fury is really just a story about a little girl who fell in the mud. She fell from that tree as she stared into the window as life on the plantation let go of the last vestiges of the Civil War, and the Anti-Bellum years in the form of the last living connection to it's regal past. A moment like that has meaning to all of us, of course, as we either imagine or relive the passing of a link to our childhood, our security, and a time gone by, a time of greatness, even if that greatness is long past, or long since tarnished. It was what it was once, and will never be that again. This is one of Faulkner's main themes. Time. And it is the main theme in the book The Sound and The Fury as Benjy cannot even conceptualize it at all, and Quentin tries to stop it with broken clocks, and Dilcey is the only one able to interpret the family clock, which is always set on the wrong time.

The third image that comes to mind immediately is that of the pregnant woman walking the red dirt road from one town to another in search of the man who told her he was going to a town to get a job so he could provide for her. The Light in August starts out with this image which immediately captures the imagination and fills one with questions. What did he do? We know what he did. That rotten scoundrel. That poor woman. What will she do?

In looking at all these images I can see that it is much more than any of his powerful descriptive abilities or impressive vocabulary that create these indelible images in my mind. It is some profound truth, some transcendent meaning that these images contain. It is so amazing that an image can contain such powerful truths. It is the reason I agree with Mikhail Bakhtine that novels contain a unique access to truth that philosophical arguments can never express. It is the reason I left the study of Philosophy to pursue a career as a writer of Novels, even though I knew how difficult it would be to make it in such a field. It is also the reason I refuse to write what sells. I only write what I want to write. Faulkner wrote what he wanted to write; clearly he did, or he could never have produced work like this.