Monday, August 24, 2009

Faulknermania!


For the second summer of my rapidly receding life I have immersed myself in reading the novels of William Faulkner. The first time I did this was the Summer of Woodstock (1969). I read about ten Faulkner novels, Faulkner poetry and a play (I think). This summer I waded in to four novels (so far): "Go Down, Moses" and the "Snopes Trilogy": "the Hamlet", "the Town" and "the Mansion". These books are totally mindblastingly involved and gnomic. "Go Down, Moses" in particular, confounds one's sense of what's a novel? what's a narrative? Here's a Southern guy in Mississippi writing in more thoroughly inverted, complex, irridescently personal style than anyone who was then (20's - 50's) living on either side of the Atlantic. Oddly compelling prose, I'd say.
One thing he does is write from many points of view, using multiple voices in a single book. So, multiple narrators - stream of consciousness. That's already a lot of balls to keep in the air at one time. So, there's generally one story line, but like prismatic views of that story, rendered in the personae of the various narrators.
Another thing he does is assemble several independent pieces into one novel - independent, but related and pieces of the same pie. This is really a lot of cognitive dissonance in one integrated whole.
Oh, and there's the continuity thing - all of his books (save a couple) are parts of the same, bigger story about the fictionalized county he writes about. He wrote some 20+ novels and about a zillion short stories that are pieces of the same fictional continuity. So, when you're reading Faulkner, there's a lot of familiarity from one book to the next, but the whole think is resolutely new each time. Faulkner never really faltered or eased up on his thorough-going sense of creativity. Its all pretty challenging, newly realized and fresh. The guy was a regular mind-bender. You know, Americans are pretty cantakerous and stubborn. We have that "I'm me, Goddamit!" think going on. Boy, does Faulkner ever have that.
Oh, and another thing - the writing often consists of long, long twisting sentence that make you feel that you have wandered into a room, taken a lots of turns and twists, and now you don't really know where you are. You know who you went into the room with, you know where the room is, but you don't know where you wound up or how long you have been there or exactly what has happened and what is going on. The language can be sometimes almost Shakespearian or Keatsian and then switch to "ignorant redneck-ese". Its very very involved.
So, this guy absolutely fascinates me. There is so much there. Like you can wade into what I call the Big Four: "The Sound and the Fury", "As I Lay Dying", "Absalom, Absalom" and "Light in August" and prepare to have your consciousness altered forever. These books are tough-reading, tough to interpret. Multiple narrators, time shifts of years at a time, stream of consciousness, decaying society, Southern gothic scenes. Nobody ever wrote four more high-concept novels in a 4 year period. And this is just a fraction of what the guy wrote. These four books are just astonishing as an accomplishment. At the same time, he was writing copious amounts of short stories and working on movie screenplays. Its just a towering accomplishment.
Anyway, this is something I have going on - I'm reading as much as I can before my mind capsizes. I'm hoping to re-read the Big Four next, then read a bunch of other novels like "Sartoris", "the Unvanquished", "the Reivers" and as many short stories as possible. Yeah, I guess I'm obsessed over here.

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