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Faulkner and Postmodernism

Faulkner and Postmodernism

John Barth
Philip Cohen
John N. Duvall
Doreen Fowler
Ihab Hassan
Molly Hite
Martin Kreiswirth
Cheryl Lester
Terrell L. Tebbetts
Joseph R. Urgo
Philip Weinstein
Copyright Date: 2002
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    Faulkner and Postmodernism
    Book Description:

    Since the 1960s, William Faulkner, Mississippi's most famous author, has been recognized as a central figure of international modernism. But might Faulkner's fiction be understood in relation to Thomas Pynchon'sGravity's Rainbowas well as James Joyce'sUlysses?

    In eleven essays from the 1999 Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, held at the University of Mississippi,Faulkner and Postmodernismexamines William Faulkner and his fiction in light of postmodern literature, culture, and theory. The volume explores the variety of ways Faulkner's art can be used to measure similarities and differences between modernism and postmodernism.

    Essays in the collection fall into three categories: those that use Faulkner's novels as a way to mark a period distinction between modernism and postmodernism, those that see postmodern tendencies in Faulkner's fiction, and those that read Faulkner through the lens of postmodern theory's contemporary legacy, the field of cultural studies.

    In order to make their particular arguments, essays in the collection compare Faulkner to more contemporary novelists such as Ralph Ellison, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, Walker Percy, Richard Ford, Toni Morrison, and Kathy Acker. But not all of the comparisons are to high culture artists, since even Elvis Presley becomes Faulkner's foil in one of the essays.

    A variety of theoretical perspectives frame the work in this volume, from Fredric Jameson's pessimistic sense of postmodernism's possibilities to Linda Hutcheon's conviction that cultural critique can continue in postmodernism through innovative new forms such as metafiction. Despite the different theoretical premises and distinct conclusions of the individual authors of these essays,Faulkner and Postmodernismproves once again that in the key debates surrounding twentieth-century fiction, Faulkner is a crucial figure.

    John N. Duvall, an associate professor of English at Purdue University, is the editor ofModern Fiction Studies.

    Ann J. Abadie is associate director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-036-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xvi)
    John N. Duvall

    Relating William Faulkner to postmodernism is a task complicated by the plethora of ways that postmodernism has been defined and periodized. There effectively are in play three distinct versions of postmodernism—the philosophical, the cultural, and the aesthetic. And while the time frame of the latter two can be reconciled to some extent, it does not square with that of philosophical postmodernism. Jürgen Habermas’s philosophical modernity, for example, begins with Descartes’s belief in the self-sufficiency of reason and continues through Kant and the Enlightenment; Habermas’s postmodernism begins with Nietzsche’s attack on reason. There is, therefore, at least a three-hundred-year gap...

  4. A Note on the Conference
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. The Privations of Postmodernism: Faulkner as Exemplar (A Meditation in Ten Parts)
    (pp. 1-18)
    Ihab Hassan

    Let us enter through the stately portals, the titular conceit of this conference, for that is our mandate. Let us commence with a quick commentary on its three key words.

    The name “Faulkner” offers a reasonably stable reference, though his works are continually read, reread, and misread. “Postmodernism” is another matter: it is not only read or misread, it also unreads itself before our very eyes. (More of this later.) Then there is that slippery conjunction “and,” that teasing connective, promising us untold conceptual miseries. How, then, proceed?

    I imagine that I have been invited to this conference on the...

  6. Postmodern Intimations: Musing on Invisibility: William Faulkner, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison
    (pp. 19-38)
    Philip Weinstein

    Three modern novelists of race relations: what in their work begins to appear—within our contemporary optic—as implicitly postmodern? How does their representation of the “invisible” racial subject intersect with a later postmodernism’s more wholesale deconstruction of the subject? That is my question, and—since I plan to be critical myself—it may be best to begin on a cautionary note. Critics invested in postmodernism can be remarkably simpleminded about modernism. Their most strident remarks often have a déjà-vu quality, indicting modernism with the very naivetes that modernism used (a generation earlier) to indict realism: the centered subject, a...

  7. Postmodern Yoknapatawpha: William Faulkner as Usable Past
    (pp. 39-56)
    John N. Duvall

    In his famous essay, originally published in 1967 and titled “The Literature of Exhaustion,” John Barth speaks of the way that the modernist thematic of alienation may have played itself out; this did not mean, however, that the novel as a genre was exhausted. Barth uses two writers to illustrate this point—Samuel Beckett and Jorge Luis Borges. Beckett’s empty stages and late novels represent, as Barth puts it, the used-upness of modernist alienation; moreover, Beckett’s turn to silence may be the last best representation of the failure of language to ever say what one means. Borges, however, takes that...

  8. Modernist Design, Postmodernist Paranoia: Reading Absalom, Absalom! with Gravity’s Rainbow
    (pp. 57-80)
    Molly Hite

    These two famous quotations, the first from a monument of modernist innovation, William Faulkner’sAbsalom, Absalom!, the second from arguably the most important postmodernist novel written in the U.S., Thomas Pynchon’sGravity’s Rainbow, suggest that one way to relate modernism to postmodernism in literary narratives might be to consider the relations between design and paranoia. In Thomas Sutpen’s question in the first headnote, design is the act of a single human agent planning a particular effect. Because the effect is a dynasty, however, the plan involves other human agents—and of course other passions, which in Quentin’s and then Shreve’s...

  9. “I’m the man here”: Go Down, Moses and Masculine Identity
    (pp. 81-94)
    Terrell L. Tebbetts

    The concerns in Faulkner’s fiction often emerge from what we might call a metaconcern for Faulkner—the difficult need of many characters to claim an acceptable personal identity while at the same time handling exterior claims on their identity—particularly those of the past and of the community, including the family. As a modernist, Faulkner maintained an essentialist view on the question of personal identity, with a number of characters claiming a core, an essence, an innate foundation which they want to build their characters on, which they want to live and act in accord with. But much of his...

  10. Revising The Sound and the Fury: Absalom, Absalom! and Faulkner’s Postmodern Turn
    (pp. 95-108)
    Doreen Fowler

    According to the critical consensus, Quentin Compson commits suicide because he longs to escape time and change into a world of timeless verities. It has not always been recognized, however, that Quentin associates enduring values with unquestioned male authority. Quentin looks backward with nostalgia to a time when he imagines that male will held unchallenged sway, a time before the abolition of slavery, a social institution that promoted the myth that power is naturalized in the white male body. Near the end of his interior monologue, presumably as he is about to commit suicide, Quentin personifies death as a patriarch,...

  11. Intertextuality, Transference, and Postmodernism in Absalom, Absalom!: The Production and Reception of Faulkner’s Fictional World
    (pp. 109-123)
    Martin Kreiswirth

    Like many others, I am not entirely comfortable with the term postmodernism. Indeed, it is not a concept or designation that admits of comfort. Its definitional and performative disquiet has now even become part of its signification, or perhaps, of its appeal. Yet, whether at this late date, postmodernism is now conceived, as Richard Rorty has remarked, as the most overrated idea in recent history,¹ or merely vacuous, overdetermined, used “in so many ways that it has been rendered meaningless,” as Arthur Asa Berger has observed,² it has become, willy-nilly, part of our intellectual furniture and we must learn to...

  12. Postvomiting: Pylon and the Faulknerian Spew
    (pp. 124-142)
    Joseph R. Urgo

    Vomiting does not have such a good name in contemporary human communities. The act is associated with eating disorders, over-indulgence in alcohol consumption, and, as a literary trope, with rejection and revulsion generally. It is markedly anti-social. Historically, the act has a pedigree. We may associate it with the decadence of the Roman empire, where the wealthy allegedly retired to the vomitorium and purged in order to continue the feast. Aesthetically, vomiting may signal cosmic or local rejection, a reification of existential nausea, signaling a character who is not at home in the world. Plenty of Faulkner characters throw up,...

  13. Make Room for Elvis
    (pp. 143-166)
    Cheryl Lester

    Alluding to Danny Thomas’s 1950s TV showMake Room for Daddy, with its quirky suggestion that Daddy doesn’t quite fit in, my title is aimed at challenging the commonsensical belief that Elvis Presley and William Faulkner have little or nothing in common. It is strange how commonalities appear, even when you are not looking for them. When I struck upon the title of this paper, for example, I did not realize that Elvis actually had an association with Danny Thomas. At the very least, Elvis Presley appeared with Danny Thomas in order to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research...

  14. Faulkner by the Light of a Pale Fire: Postmodern Textual Scholarship and Faulkner Studies at the End of the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 167-191)
    Philip Cohen

    I begin not withThe Sound and the FuryorAbsalom, Absalom!or some other Faulkner work but withPale Fire, that difficult and delightful triumph of postmodernist fiction by quite a different sort of author, Vladimir Nabokov. Published in 1962, this dazzlingly original collection of puzzles and parodies masquerading as a novel is both a side-splittingly funny and painfully moving meditation on the parallels and differences between art and lunacy, artists and madmen, and artistic creation and schizophrenic projection. Conceiving of both art and delusion as apparently similar but ultimately quite different forms of thievery and transformation,Pale Fire...

  15. My Faulkner
    (pp. 192-195)
    John Barth

    It’s understood, I trust, that I’m with you today not in my capacity as a Faulkner specialist, for I have no such capacity, but merely and purely as a writer of fiction, who will presently read a short passage from a not markedly Faulknerian work in progress. But the great American writer celebrated by this annual conference happens to have been among my first-magnitude navigation stars during my literary apprenticeship, and I’d like to speak a bit to that subject before I change voices.

    In 1947, virtually innocent of literature, I matriculated as a freshman at Johns Hopkins University. I...

  16. Contributors
    (pp. 196-198)
  17. Index
    (pp. 199-203)