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August 23, 2010


I love Faulkner, specifically how reading a Faulkner novel messes with your head: you have to let go your notions of narrative, language, identity, and sanity to "get inside" his stories. The Sound and the Fury literally blew my mind, like Emily Dickinson's remark that you know something is a poem because it blasts the top of your head away.

It's always amazed me that Absalom, Absalom was published in the same year (1936) as Gone with the Wind. What two radically different depictions of slavery and the South!

Lorianne, thanks a lot for the comment! (I'm worried Peter and I will be talking to ourselves here.) It's great to meet another Faulkner fan, and we both hope you'll weigh in here again because you've probably read (and maybe taught) more of him than either of us.

The only Faulkner novel I've taught is As I Lay Dying, which was challenging for my students. I can't imagine how high-school students would even begin to comprehend The Sound and the Fury, which is so much more mind-blowing, in my opinion.

I read Absalom in a graduate class called "Writing the South," and we used it to contextualize a lot of the issues we talked about in other texts. As much as the novel highlights issues of race, for instance, it also highlights issues of gender, with the whole notion of racial "purity" being tangled with Southern notions of "ideal" womanhood and the patriarchal structures that claim to "protect" it.

I grew up in the Deep South and now live in New England. Absalom, Absalom was my 1st and only experience reading Faulkner--required reading in a 20th Century American Literature course for my undergraduate degree.
I never read another novel by Faulkner, yet as an author and human I greatly admire and appreciate his perceptions of writing, writers, and society as revealed by his essays. And most particularly his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. It is scarily predictive of our current obsessions and fears, especially the "When will I be blown up?" line. Oh, my.
I was fascinated to read your commentary here.

Well, hold on tight, Margaret, because we probably won't be able to stop for a while! Thanks for commenting and please come back with more insights/observations about the South as we go along, we'd love to hear what you have to say.

Lorianne, I think I had the same experience reading The Sound and the Fury. I read it the week after reading Sartoris -- SF was a real "break-out album" from that perspective. (I love Sartoris, too.)

I've never tried teaching Faulkner to my ninth graders. I think some eighth or ninth grade teachers around here teach "A Rose for Emily." His short stories generally don't require the letting-go you describe, I don't think -- not enough runway to get us up on the kinds of head trips the more tragic novels take us on. So many of the short stories are wonderfully approachable. For novels, maybe Intruder In the Dust for high school? Kind of an In the Heat of the Night murder mystery / Southern race relations novel. I read The Reivers in high school, though it made me think Faulkner was nuts (a good kind of nuts).

margaret, to start with Absalom, Absalom! I don't think I could have done it. And I really like his acceptance speech, too. I heard a recording of him reading it a month ago.

As for the issue of racism in the south, does anyone else remember the old saying, and I am paraphrasing: "In the South, they don't care how close blacks get, just as long as they don't advance. In the north, they don't care how advanced blacks become, they just don't want them close." They, being whites, of course.

Hi Kathryn, welcome, and thanks very much for commenting! I've never heard that saying but it has a lot of truth to it, at least so far as the northern side goes (which is all I can speak to from personal experience.) Another reader, a native southerner now living in New England, wrote me an email about these posts saying that she had never experienced anything as vicious in the south as the riots over bussing in Boston. And I know many communities, on Long Island for instance, where the whites moved out rather than have black neighbors when blacks began to move into those suburbs.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.