Faulkner and Formalism

Faulkner and Formalism: Returns of the Text

Annette Trefzer
Ann J. Abadie
Ted Atkinson
Serena Haygood Blount
Martyn Bone
James B. Carothers
Thadious M. Davis
Taylor Hagood
James Harding
Arthur F. Kinney
Owen Robinson
Theresa M. Towner
Ethel Young-Minor
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 240
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    Faulkner and Formalism
    Book Description:

    Faulkner and Formalism: Returns of the Textcollects eleven essays presented at the Thirty-fifth Annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference sponsored by the University of Mississippi in Oxford on July 20-24, 2008. Contributors query the status of Faulkner's literary text in contemporary criticism and scholarship. How do scholars today approach Faulkner's texts? For some, including Arthur F. Kinney and James B. Carothers, "returns of the text" is a phrase that raises questions of aesthetics, poetics, and authority. For others, the phrase serves as an invitation to return to Faulkner's language, to writing and the letter itself. Serena Blount, Owen Robinson, James Harding, and Taylor Hagood interpret "returns of the text" in the sense in which Roland Barthes characterizes this shift his seminal essay "From Work to Text." For Barthes, the text "is not to be thought of as an object . . . but as a methodological field," a notion quite different from the New Critical understanding of the work as a unified construct with intrinsic aesthetic value. Faulkner's language itself is under close scrutiny in some of the readings that emphasize a deconstructive or a semiological approach to his writing. Historical and cultural contexts continue to play significant roles, however, in many of the essays. The contributions by Thadious Davis, Ted Atkinson, Martyn Bone, and Ethel Young-Minor by no means ignore the cultural contexts, but instead of approaching the literary text as a reflection, a representation of that context, whether historical, economic, political, or social, these readings stress the role of the text as a challenge to the power of external ideological systems. By retaining a bond with new historicist analysis and cultural studies, these essays are illustrative of a kind of analysis that carefully preserves attention to Faulkner's sociopolitical environment. The concluding essay by Theresa Towner issues an invitation to return to Faulkner's less well-known short stories for critical exposure and the pleasure of reading.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-257-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. IX-XXII)
    Annette Trefzer

    Faulkner scholarship is constantly shifting in search of new models of reading and interpretation. In the late 1940s, when Faulkner began to experience national recognition as a major writer, literary scholarship in the U.S. was dominated by the New Critics.¹ Insisting that the author’s intentions were neither available nor desirable, the New Critics broke away from biographical, sociological, and historical analyses that had dominated literary study until then. Instead, they argued for a turn to the text itself and the practice of what they called close reading. The “objective status” of the work was at stake, and literary critics fervently...

  4. Note on the Conference
    (pp. XXIII-2)
  5. Flags in the Dust and the Birth of a Poetics
    (pp. 3-19)
    Arthur F. Kinney

    One of the most memorable moments for us in the life of William Faulkner—memorable for what it did, memorable that it even happened—was that time in November 1927 when he sat down for weeks in a room in New York with his literary agent and friend Ben Wasson to writeThe Sound and the Furywhile, next to him, Wasson was truncating Faulkner’s third novel,Flags in the Dust, which would be retitledSartoris. That there is an important lesson represented by this unlikely combination of tasks is what I propose became the secret of Faulkner’s success.


  6. “In Conflict with Itself”: The Nobel Prize Address in Faulknerian Contexts
    (pp. 20-40)
    James B. Carothers

    On 10 December 1950 William Faulkner read an address to the Swedish Academy accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature. No one heard him; his voice was soft and Southern, he spoke even more softly as he went along, and he was distant from the microphone. Upon publication immediately afterward, however, the speech was greeted by widespread popular acclaim, with special emphasis on Faulkner’s assertion that writers should ground their work in “the old eternal verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed—love and honor and pity and pride and...

  7. Faulkner’s Figures: Speech, Writing, and The Marionettes
    (pp. 41-55)
    Serena Haygood Blount

    “The ability to write great poetry is an excellent preparation for the writing of great prose,” Willard Huntington Wright wrote in 1917.¹ Whereas the “greatness” of William Faulkner’s rather rough and obscure verse is doubtful, his attempts at it were certainly excellent preparation for his later work. It would seem prudent for the serious scholar to begin tracing Faulkner’s artistic ambitions through careful study of these efforts; certainly it was Faulkner’s opinion that the early work should count.A Green Bough(1933)—following publications ofSanctuary, The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, andThese13—can be...

  8. “That City Foreign and Paradoxical”: William Faulkner and the Texts of New Orleans
    (pp. 56-76)
    Owen Robinson

    William Faulkner’s fiction is primarily associated with his apocryphal Yoknapatawpha County, the principal setting for all but five of his novels and many of his short stories. But the intricate construction of this rural, troubled, northern Mississippi world is balanced by engagement with similarly complex others, perhaps the most intriguing of which is New Orleans. The physical fragility of this city is famous, of course—indeed, Hurricane Gustav is approaching the Gulf Coast literally as I write—and with its complex colonial history and position at the cusp of the Caribbean and mainland North America, its identity likewise has a...

  9. Sanctuary’s Reversible Bodies
    (pp. 77-91)
    James Harding

    The title of my paper, “Sanctuary’s Reversible Bodies,” may, at first, appear something of a conceit. As it will become clear, the majority of the following arguments focus less on physical bodies than on what might be termed “textual” ones. Yet the conceit within my title aims to bring what I shall characterize as an implicit relation between textual and physical form into focus. Put differently, this work seeks to assign a musculature to Faulkner’s textual practices and, by so doing, highlight the vital, and often difficult, intersections of text and body that occur in Faulkner’s work. Readers and critics...

  10. The Secret Machinery of Textuality, Or, What Is Benjy Compson Really Thinking?
    (pp. 92-106)
    Taylor Hagood

    I would like to return to a text that is one of the sacred cows of William Faulkner’s canon—the first section ofThe Sound and the Fury“narrated” by Benjamin “Benjy” Compson.¹ It has received a great deal of strong textual analysis, and yet there are certain questions that have not been asked regarding it. I want to ask some of those questions—uestions about just what it means that Faulkner employs a mentally challenged narrator, about what exactly this narrative does, what its functions are, and, most importantly, what Benjy may be up to in his narrative and...

  11. Visualizing Light in August: Text, Author, Textuality, Authority
    (pp. 107-128)
    Thadious M. Davis

    The opening scenes of the animated Disney filmWALL-E(2008) with its abandoned canyons of debris and rusty skyscrapers of molded trash reminded me not so much of some futuristic sci-fi film world, but rather ironically of William Faulkner’s several descriptions of the waste left behind at abandoned lumber-clearing sites, such as that projected of Doane’s Mill’s future inLight in August(1932).¹ The description Faulkner provides there is arresting, especially in the context of the futuristic deserted landscape in 2700, resulting from the “Buy and Large” mentality touted in the filmWALL-E, where, for instance, the humans have long...

  12. The Impenetrable Lightness of Being: Miscegenation Imagery and the Anxiety of Whiteness in Go Down, Moses
    (pp. 129-143)
    Ted Atkinson

    At one point in William Faulkner’sGo Down, Moses, Ike McCaslin engages in a lengthy and intense dialogue with his older cousin Cass Edmonds over the familial history contained in the ledgers kept by the family patriarch, Lucius Quintus Carothers McCaslin. Ike tries to justify his intention to repudiate his inheritance of the McCaslin estate on the grounds that “this land is, indubitably, of and by itself cursed.” Cass responds not with words but with a simple gesture: lifting one hand in defiance of Ike’s claim. The narrator goes on to explain that “as the stereopticon condenses into one instantaneous...

  13. Intertextual Geographies of Migration and Biracial Identity: Light in August and Nella Larsen’s Quicksand
    (pp. 144-162)
    Martyn Bone

    This essay provides a comparative analysis of William Faulkner’sLight in August(1932) and Nella Larsen’sQuicksand(1928). My starting point is that Faulkner and Larsen have more in common than one might assume if reading them only as exemplars of the Southern Renaissance and Harlem Renaissance respectively. More specifically, reading Faulkner alongside Larsen may help to resituate Faulkner’s “Southern” writing about race in wider national and transnational contexts.

    InDirt and Desire: Reconstructing Southern Women’s Writing, 1930–1990, Patricia Yaeger makes the parenthetical observation that “Nella Larsen’s reflections on the South inQuicksand(1928) andPassing(1929) offer still...

  14. “I Sees De Light, En I Sees De Word”: Black Female Transcendence of Racial and Gendered Boundaries in The Sound and the Fury and “That Evening Sun”
    (pp. 163-177)
    Ethel Young-Minor

    Langston Hughes’s 1956 comment that it is difficult to clarify why William Faulkner “says what he says” about race continues to ring true; in spite of Noel Polk’s pronouncement that the majority of Faulkner’s canon is comprised of works that are not specifically about race, Faulkner’s portrayals of African American characters and culture generate energetic and contentious textual debates among historians and literary critics.² While we will never definitively answer “why” any writer constructs particular characters and content, examining Faulkner’s racial discourse in the first half of the twentieth century can yield new and meaningful ways of understanding how some...

  15. The Weird Stuff: Textual and Sexual Anomalies in Faulkner’s Fiction
    (pp. 178-192)
    Theresa M. Towner

    I bring you tidings of great joy: The text is back.

    For ten or fifteen years now, some scholars of Romantic and Renaissance literature have been offering up ideas about studying poems to discover the sources and structures of their beauty. In other words, they have rediscovered aesthetics—the study of the beautiful—and recovered the third of Aristotle’s broad categories of human endeavor—poiesis, the process of making the beautiful, or as Martin Heidegger called it, the “bringing forth,” an evanescent yet undeniable moment of transformation. Dubbed “the New Formalism” and making its way through the academy, this “movement”...

  16. Contributors
    (pp. 193-194)
  17. Index
    (pp. 195-201)