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Faulkner and Race

Faulkner and Race

Copyright Date: 1987
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    Faulkner and Race
    Book Description:

    The essays in this volume address William Faulkner and the issue of race. Faulkner resolutely has probed the deeply repressed psychological dimensions of race, asking in novel after novel the perplexing question: what does blackness signify in a predominantly white society? However, Faulkner's public statements on the subject of race have sometimes seemed less than fully enlightened, and some of his black characters, especially in the early fiction, seem to conform to white stereotypical notions of what black men and women are like. These essays, originally presented by Faulkner scholars, black and white, male and female, at the 1986 Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, the thirteenth in a series of conferences held on the Oxford campus of the University of Mississippi, explore the relationship between Faulkner and race.

    With essays by

    Eric J. Sundquist

    Craig Werner

    Blyden Jackson

    Thadious Davis

    Pamela J. Rhodes

    Walter Taylor

    Noel Polk

    James A. Snead

    Philip M. Weinstein

    Lothar Houmlnnighausen

    Frederick R. Karl

    Hoke Perkins

    Sergei Chakovsky

    Michael Grimwood

    Karl F. Zender

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-806-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    Doreen Fowler

    Faulkner is one of America’s greatest writers, and one of his central subjects is race. But can Faulkner, a white Southerner, the great-grandson of a slave owner, or, for that matter, can any white man enter a black consciousness or render accurately black lives? Opinions vary. On the one hand, Faulkner has created unforgettable black characters like Dilsey Gibson, Faulkner’s own favorite character, whom Faulkner described as “much more brave and honest and generous than me.”¹ And, with characters like Joe Christmas, a man who can never be categorized as either black or white, and Charles Bon, a seemingly godlike...

  4. Faulkner, Race, and the Forms of American Fiction
    (pp. 1-34)
    Eric J. Sundquist

    “Jazz, like the country which gave it birth, is fecund in its inventiveness, swift and traumatic in its developments and terribly wasteful of its resources. It is an orgiastic art which demands great physical stamina of its practitioners, and many of its most talented creators die young.” Ralph Ellison’s remarks in his essay on Charlie Christian are pertinent as well to American literature, in particular the literature of race. If the wealth of resources for invention available to both white and black writers in America has not been so clearly wasted, nor claimed such a high personal price, as in...

  5. Minstrel Nightmares: Black Dreams of Faulkner’s Dreams of Blacks
    (pp. 35-57)
    Craig Werner

    Each generation, of course, re-creates great writers in its own image. This is partly a matter of critical response, more profoundly a matter of literary impact. What I want to argue is that the Afro-American literary response to Faulkner, like Faulkner’s greatest works themselves, pushes us to excavate the premises of our history, to focus not on the “eternal verities” that can be carved on the walls of libraries but on those aspects of our experience that we least understand.¹ The irony here is that if Faulkner understood something adequately, the next generation can simply incorporate that understanding into its...

  6. Faulkner’s Negroes Twain
    (pp. 58-69)
    Blyden Jackson

    It is anything but an environmental fallacy to attribute to Faulkner, in his conception of the South and its inhabitants, a decided impact from the Mississippi of his youth. He was born, as all serious Faulknerians know, in 1897. The War Between the States, to use a now no longer widely vaunted phrase, was then still very much alive, even unto the presence in the flesh of Confederate veterans who had yet to join, within a warriors’ Valhalla, their already vanished comrades-in-arms. There was then, also, a version of the Old South, as fine a civilization (according to its entranced...

  7. From Jazz Syncopation to Blues Elegy: Faulkner’s Development of Black Characterization
    (pp. 70-92)
    Thadious M. Davis

    Listening to W. C. Handy’s 1916 blues song “Ole Miss,” recorded by jazz pianist James P. Johnson in 1922, I am reminded of the way in which blues and jazz intermingled in the music of that period. Southern-born Handy, called “the father of the blues,” and Northern-born Johnson, father of the hot piano, did not single-handedly invent the music that they composed and performed; instead, for creative inspiration, each drew upon traditional black music, secular and sacred, during a time when, following Scott Joplin’s successful ragtime compositions at the turn of the century, black American musicians laid claim to all...

  8. Who Killed Simon Strother, and Why? Race and Counterplot in Flags in the Dust
    (pp. 93-110)
    Pamela E. Rhodes

    Horace Liveright’s criticism was not encouraging, especially as Faulkner had been confident that this would be “the damdest best book you’ll look at this year.”² Later readers have, on the whole, been more generous and, while granting the weaknesses, have enjoyed the thousand loose ends as evidence of the abundance to come, the eye finding the missing projections and dimensions in the topography of Yoknapatawpha. Even so, Liveright’s strictures are, I think, worth more consideration; for if, as Jean-Paul Sartre suggested, that, in terms of craft, the novel is a place where Faulkner betrays himself, where “we catch him redhanded...

  9. Faulkner’s Reivers: How to Change the Joke without Slipping the Yoke
    (pp. 111-129)
    Walter Taylor

    Americans, Ralph Ellison commented in 1958, create their self-image in terms of “a joke at the center of the American identity.” That joke was a masking joke: a ritual of disguise whose central figure was “a smart man playing dumb.” Ellison saw the principle operating in our great men. Franklin had “allowed the French to mistake him for Rousseau’s Natural Man”; “Lincoln allowed himself to be mistaken for a simple country lawyer.” It had descended to his contemporaries. “Hemingway poses as a non-literary sportsman, Faulkner as a farmer.” It was so deeply embedded in the American grain, Ellison concluded, that...

  10. Man in the Middle: Faulkner and the Southern White Moderate
    (pp. 130-151)
    Noel Polk

    William Faulkner wroteIntruder in the Dustin the winter and early spring of 1948, seasons during which the Mississippi Democratic party geared itself for a vital confrontation with the national Democratic party at the summer convention in Philadelphia, over the report of President Truman’s Commission on Civil Rights. Truman was urging Congress “to adopt his civil rights program embodying voting rights, employment opportunities, and other provisions destined to draw fire from Southern Democrats.”¹ Governor Fielding Wright called a meeting of Mississippi Democrats for February 12, Lincoln’s birthday, in Jackson. All members of the legislature attended, hoping to find some...

  11. Light in August and the Rhetorics of Racial Division
    (pp. 152-169)
    James A. Snead

    In William Faulkner’s novels, race must be discussed, but not in the sense of Hippolyte Taine’srace, temps, milieu—or the “essence” of a particular collection of people. Neither is Faulkner primarily concerned with the suffering of blacks. Rather, race enters Faulkner’s texts as a practice whereby, through segregating a certain group of people from the category of “whiteness,” Yoknapatawpha society finds the chief proof of its authority, integrity, and communal identity. Racial division, racial segregation, and the mythologies surrounding it, collectively try to outlaw all interracial contiguity, cohabitation, and consanguity. Faulkner’s black and white characters, in short, live under...

  12. Marginalia: Faulkner’s Black Lives
    (pp. 170-191)
    Philip M. Weinstein

    Let me begin neutrally, with Webster, who defines marginalia in three related ways: “marginal notes,” “extrinsic matters,” and “nonessential items.” Each definition works by way of a stabilizing opposition: we understand the marginal by opposing it to the central, the intrinsic, or the essential. In what follows I want both to contest and to uphold the claim that the role of black lives in Faulkner’s work is marginal.

    To contest it because, as Jacques Derrida has eloquently argued with respect to “the supplement,” the center does not merely “permit” the margin to exist at its side: rather it is constituted...

  13. Black as White Metaphor: A European View of Faulkner’s Fiction
    (pp. 192-208)
    Lothar Hönnighausen

    The story too fine and too simple to have been invented by a white imagination is that of Reverend Hightower’s grandfather, and one of the major symbolic leitmotifs ofLight in August. The grandson’s glamorized vision of his ancestor’s ride through Jefferson and its attribution to a black narrator aptly illustrate our theme—the metaphoric transfer between white and black experience, and Faulkner’s sophisticated use of characters as images. In foisting his dream of a glorious past on the innocent Cinthy, Hightower attempts to enhance its imaginative richness and power (“too fine,” “too simple”). In doing this he is reemploying...

  14. Race, History, and Technique in Absalom, Absalom!
    (pp. 209-221)
    Frederick R. Karl

    Nearly everyone is agreed that Faulkner’s public views on race are both difficult to determine and contradictory in what they propose: sometimes enlightened, at other times painful to read.¹ Scholars and critics agree, however, far less on which racial views they should stress, particularly whether the attitudes should be those Faulkner presented as public statements or those he embedded in his fiction. If the former, then we must discriminate among contradictions, ambiguities, fears and hopes; if the latter, in his fiction, then we must seek his racial attitudes amidst a plethora of other, equally forceful, stands on caste, class, social...

  15. “Ah Just Cant Quit Thinking”: Faulkner’s Black Razor Murderers
    (pp. 222-235)
    Hoke Perkins

    When Faulkner revised the episode he had published in 1950 asNotes on a Horsethieffor inclusion inA Fable, he excised an interesting passage, one that elucidated the bond between the New Orleans lawyer and his mulatto servant:

    . . . between whom and himself there was a rapport not of mere man to man since flesh is constantly fluctuant or of mere soul to soul since the soul may be beat and battered until it no longer has value even as a negotiable symbol but of I-Am to I-Am: the presence the aura which is the sum of...

  16. Lucas Beauchamp and Jim: Mark Twain’s Influence on William Faulkner
    (pp. 236-254)
    Sergei Chakovsky

    Any discussion of William Faulkner and Mark Twain, regardless of its specific purpose, seems to vacillate between the poles of two strong opinions expressed by Faulkner at the beginning and towards the end of his literary career. In 1922 he described Twain as “a hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked a few of the old proven ‘sure fire’ literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.”¹ In 1958, however, Faulkner cited Twain among “the masters from whom we learned our craft” and called him quite plainly “all...

  17. Faulkner and the Vocational Liabilities of Black Characterization
    (pp. 255-271)
    Michael Grimwood

    When William Faulkner bought Greenfield Farm in 1938, he entered the role of a latter-day plantation master, a role that placed him at the very center of his cultural heritage as a Southerner. His “plantation” was only a mule farm, but soon after he acquired it he could enjoy representing himself to an interviewer as a “country squire,” who “bosses his cotton plantation near Oxford, Mississippi.”¹ A local friend would characterize him as “a plantation man. That’s what he was. That’s what he was trying to do.”²

    Lewis Simpson, inThe Dispossessed Garden, defines the plantation heritage as a self-doomed...

  18. Requiem for a Nun and the Uses of the Imagination
    (pp. 272-296)
    Karl F. Zender

    It is scarcely an exaggeration to say thatRequiem for a Nunposes more severe problems for interpretation than any other novel by Faulkner. This is so for both thematic and formal reasons. Thematically, the novel resists interpretation because of the odd character of its central action. To suggest, as Faulkner apparently does, that Nancy Mannigoe can only preserve Temple Drake’s marriage by murdering her youngest child commits an outrage, in Michael Millgate’s words, “not simply upon our moral sensibilities but on our credulity.” Yet to attempt to overcome this outrage by interpreting Nancy as a murderess rather than as...

  19. Contributors
    (pp. 297-302)
  20. Index
    (pp. 303-311)