Mobile Home: Pragmatism and the Hamlet
Evans, David H., The Mississippi Quarterly
THE REINSTATEMENT OF PRAGMATISM, ESPECIALLY THAT VERSION associated with William James, as an essential factor in the development of the culture of American modernism is by now well underway. (1) Rather than debating the causes of this increased interest, one might better wonder why the preeminent intellectual movement in America in the first part of the twentieth century had been forgotten in the first place, and why it played so small a role in the standard critical narratives of the career of modernism. There are, no doubt, many reasons for this, ranging from the eagerness of some of the most influential literary modernists to shake the domestic dust from their feet as quickly as possible and to assimilate themselves to grander European traditions to the fact that the establishment of modernist works in the academy in the years after World War II happened to take place at a time when the intellectual and political mood had become distinctly hostile to pragmatism's supposed amoral instrumentalism. It has, seemingly, required a revival of pragmatic ideas, this time with a self-proclaimedly postmodern cast, to remind us of a pragmatism that was a fundamental element of modernism all along.
Hitherto, however, the primary beneficiaries of this development have largely been writers who, like Gertrude Stein, were either directly connected with William James, or who, like Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, and T. S. Eliot, were part of an intellectual network of which Harvard in the first decade of the century was the vital center. Modernists whose geographic and philosophical proximity to that center is less obvious, on the other hand, have been somewhat neglected. I want to respond to that neglect by arguing that pragmatism provides an equally essential context for the understanding of America's greatest modernist novelist, William Faulkner, by way of a consideration of his most pragmatic novel, The Hamlet.
A pragmatic approach to Faulkner opens up promising possibilities of interpretation for two reasons, epistemological and cultural. In the first place, pragmatism's redefinition of truth poses a challenge to what could be broadly described as the hermeneutic bias of most received versions of the modernist project, the assumption that what united the collective enterprise of artists and thinkers was a commitment to dis-covery, of penetrating the surface of threadbare custom or unexamined convention to a deeper reality which only the sufficiently strenuous and radical investigator of the new age was capable of bearing. (2) In this sense, hermeneutic modernism, despite the revolutionary rhetoric that generally accompanied it, did not really represent a break with the fundamental opposition that had defined the European philosophical tradition--the division of surface and depth, of appearance and reality, of opinion and truth. What constitutes pragmatism's originality is its circumvention of that opposition by what William James called a new "conception of truth," which defines truth not in terms of the discovery of an object by a subject, but rather as a human process whose relative success or failure is to be measured by the broader criterion of satisfaction. "Throughout the history of philosophy," he complains, "the subject and its object have been treated as absolutely discontinuous entities" (Essays 27). This discontinuity--what James describes as an "epistemological chasm" (Essays 33)--is in effect at once the meta of metaphysics and the theater of theory, the division that puts the mind above and beyond the world, making possible its transcendent apprehension, but only by recourse to a gap-clearing intellectual "salto mortale" (Essays 33) whose desperate heroics are, for James, but the symptom of philosophical despair. (3) To this "saltatory" model of cognition James proposes an "ambulatory" one, according to which mind and world are not separate entities occupying different ontological registers but the termini of a continuous and irreducibly temporal process (Meaning 79-80).
This redefinition of truth leads to some of pragmatism's more notorious consequences. First, there can be no singular and objective "truth" insofar as truth is just a name for the various and individual connections we make between ourselves and other parts of the world, and there are as many truths as there are effective connections. To assert a single truth is, in effect, to impose an imperial and paradigmatic allegory, making all the multiple narratives of the world tell a single story. (4) Further, since what makes these connections effective is the extent to which they satisfy individual purposes, truth is inextricably, and legitimately, entangled with human desire and interest. James's tenacious personal commitment to the efficacy of desire can itself be seen as an example of this principle in action; it would lead him to perhaps his most philosophically controversial claim, that our beliefs in fact can be said to shape their objects, and that we do not so much observe the world as create it--an argument that James's adversaries did not hesitate to compare to a kind of philosophical confidence trick. (5) But it would be a mistake to interpret, as antipragmatists often appeared to do, this affirmation of the power of belief as a naively arrogant and all too typically American attempt to reify the world as an agreeable intellectual commodity. If the world "stands really malleable, waiting to receive its final touches at our hands," it is also true that this process of remaking the world is an endless one, so that James can declare that "for pragmatism [reality] is still in the making ... [the universe] is still pursuing its adventures" (Pragmatism 123). Any apparent stopping point is inevitably provisionary and revisionary, and the greatest error is the rationalist delusion that we can ever step outside of the flux and rest in what he refers to as "an inert static relation," in secure "possession" of the truth (Pragmatism 96).
There is a second reason for locating Faulkner in the context of the emergence and development of pragmatism. Pragmatism has many genealogies, but one aspect of the family tree that is impossible to ignore is its close connection with the social and cultural developments of the first half of the twentieth century. Pragmatists, of course, celebrated its potential contributions to the resolution of the most pressing social problems of its time; in turn, historians and critics, from Lewis Mumford on, have been eager to reverse the equation, arguing that the emergence and evolution of pragmatism cannot be understood in isolation from its historical, and specifically American, situation. Pragmatism thus offers the prospect of relating Faulkner to some of the pressing national cultural debates of the twentieth century. I want to consider two such debates in particular. The first, beginning in the period in which the action of The Hamlet is situated and continuing through the first quarter of the century, arose from the fundamental transformation of capitalism that resulted from the emergence of the corporation as the dominant economic structure, and from the attendant reconceptualizing of the notions of selfhood and agency which that transformation entailed. The second, which took place in the years when the final version of the novel was being written, reaching a climax of sorts in 1940, the year it was published, was concerned on the surface with the nature and goals of university pedagogy but at a more profound level expressed a conflict over conceptions of knowledge and culture in the modern world that has continued to determine the fault-lines of the American intellectual landscape to this day.
Focusing on the pragmatic aspect of Faulkner offers a challenge to his enduring image as a fundamentally conservative author, a nostalgic champion of a traditional communal order that has either been lost or is rapidly disappearing. It is an interpretation that owes most to the patriarch of Faulkner studies, Cleanth Brooks, for whom the subtending theme of the Faulknerian oeuvre is a vindication of the values of a "true community" whose "old-fashioned order" is being undermined by the corrosive economic and social forces of modernity (Brooks, Yoknapatawpha Country 368). The Hamlet played a key role in his demonstration of this argument: not only could the matter of the Snopeses be said to span almost the entire period of Faulkner's major phase, from its first intimations in the unfinished sketch "Father Abraham" in 1926/7 to the full blown realization in the published novel of 1940, but it also provided an almost diagrammatic allegory of Brooks's thesis when read as the story of the conquest of the settled, traditional community of Frenchman's Bend by the unscrupulous Snopes clan, who embody the rootless and mercenary spirit of the modern world.
But a return to Faulkner's texts, as a number of anti-Brooksians have argued, makes the notion that Yoknapatawpha is appropriately described in terms of an organic community governed by time-tempered custom problematic at the least. (6) The world of Frenchman's Bend, in particular, offers a rather dubious example of the "true community" projected by Brooks; even before the appearance of the Snopes clan, in fact, it has far more in common with James's vision of a restless reality "still in the making, and await[ing] part of its complexion from the future" (Pragmatism 125) than with Brooks's stable and essentially timeless order. The hamlet's history as described in the opening paragraphs of the novel, for example, offers less the composed vision of a settled tradition than a spectacle of violent disruptions, alterations, and evictions. The plantation that will give the settlement its name is originally hacked out of the "cane-and-cypress jungle," only to be "gutted" during the Civil War. In the aftermath, both land and house are ripped to pieces: the former "parcelled out now into small shiftless mortgaged farms," the latter torn apart by the "heirs-at-large" who have been "pulling down and chopping up--walnut newel posts and stair spindles, oak floors which fifty years later would have been almost priceless, the very clapboards themselves--for thirty years now for firewood" (4). It would be a mistake, however, to settle for the observation that the hamlet exists in a permanent state of impermanence; each succeeding order also represents a ceding of authority, from the "first master" to Will Varner, "present owner [and] chief man in the county" (5). In the most literal of senses, then, the grounds of the community have been constantly up for grabs. (7)
Indeed, it is tempting to see "Will Varner" not simply as the latest in a series of otherwise anonymous expropriators but as the allegorical incarnation of the successive agonistic wills that constitute the restless motor of history under a thin varnish or veneer of legality. It does not seem quite accurate, however, to describe the legitimacy of Varner's authority as superficial, a verbal superstructure that covers and conceals a base of material force; Varner's authority is his description, the vocabulary and system of beliefs that he succeeds in passing into circulation. As Faulkner presents it, his status as owner and proprietor is identical with his position as the author of the language games that prevail in the discursive world of Frenchman's Bend, orchestrating its behavior not directly, by legal prescription, but indirectly, by "advice" and "suggestion": he is
the fountainhead if not of law at least of advice and suggestion to a countryside which would have repudiated the term constituency if they had ever heard it, which came to him, not in the attitude of What must I do but What do you think you think you would like for me to do if you was able to make me do it. (5-6)
Frenchman's Bend, in other words, looks rather like the sort of consensual community described by Richard Rorty, according to whom the "founders and preservers of ... society," like Will Varner, are the successful propagators of what becomes the generally accepted vocabulary--" the acknowledged legislators of ... language and thus of ... morality" (Rorty 61). (8) Will's authority is therefore twofold: he is at once sole owner and proprietor and author of the language that legitimates his own preeminence, that makes his ownership proper. To the extent that the plot of The Hamlet can be described as an extended battle of "wills" between the elder Varner and his three aspirants to the position of "chief man in the country"--Jody, Ratliff, and Flem--it can also be described as a battle over language.
Of the three, the biological son is disposed of most quickly. Jody's critical weakness is his inflexibility; just as he dresses in unchanging black and white, exuding an "air not funereal exactly but ceremonial" (8), so he hobbles and immobilizes himself with static names and fixed ideas which impose a monochrome pattern on his world. Like James's intellectualist, entranced by the notion that "truth means essentially an inert static relation" (Pragmatism 96), Jody s so spellbound by the image of his certain triumph over the Snopeses that he in effect steps right out of time:
"Hell fire, we wont even need to do that; I'll just let him find a couple of rotten shingles with a match laid across them on his doorstep the morning after he finishes laying-by and he'll know it's all up then and aint nothing left for him but to move on." ... They stared at one another. To one of them it was already done, accomplished: he could actually see it; when he spoke it was out of a time still six months in the future yet: "Hell fire, he'll have to! He cant fight it! He don't dare!" (13).
In the event, Jody's certainties collapse before Flem's unwillingness to assume a fixed position. Flem is hardly present in his exchange with Jody; when Jody asks, "You're Flem, aint you? I'm Varner" he responds noncommitally, "That so?" (24). He remains virtually silent, so that Jody in effect outbargains himself, offering Flem an ever-increasing series of bribes, including his own place in the store, and requiring nothing in return except the phantasmatic appeasement of his own phantasms:
"All right," he said. "Next fall. When he has made his crop." He had never been certain just when the other had been looking at him and when not, but now he watched the other raise his arm and with his other hand pick something infinitesimal from the sleeve with infinitesimal care. Once more Varner expelled his breath through his nose. This time it was a sigh. "All right," he said. "Next week then. You'll give me that long, wont you? But you got to guarantee it." The other spat.
"Guarantee what?" he said. (26)
Ratliff, on the other hand, is a far more serious contender. Indeed, if language in Frenchman's Bend is power, he might seem to be Will Varner's natural successor, for it is he who most clearly uses his rhetorical prowess and narrative skills to become the hamlet's very medium of communication. In a potent pun, Faulkner describes him as "retailing from house to house the news of his four counties with the ubiquity of a newspaper and carrying personal messages from mouth to mouth about weddings and funerals and the preserving of vegetables and fruit with the reliability of a postal service" (15). Ratliffis simultaneously "retaler" and "relater," whose tales and relations are the yarns that tie the various parts of the community together, making connections, offering explanations, and providing the hidden links that join characters and events. In effect, Ratliff gives rise to the community in the very act of telling stories about it, generating a social world whose substance is as much narrative and linguistic as it is material. The point of Ratliffs retaling however, as the reiterative prefix suggests, lies less in the finished product than in the activity itself and its effects in a specific context. He constantly shifts and revises, resisting a single definitive version. (9) Throughout The Hamlet, his greatest resource is his mobility--at once his capacity for bodily movement and his discursive shiftiness, his sense of the provisional and revisional character of his stories and relations. Like his body, his voice is constantly in motion: "You fellows don't know how good a man's voice feels running betwixt his teeth" (88).
The third contender in this tripolar struggle, however, is by far the most successful, and finally, significant, in spite of his apparently inexhaustible capacity for self-effacement--Flem Snopes. Like Ratliff, Flem is defined by both his physical and existential shiftiness, his ability to turn improvisation into something that looks like providence; but if the traveling salesman seems to represent a rather positive sort of pragmatist--a "happy-go-lucky anarchistic sort of creature" as James calls him in "Pragmatism and Humanism" (Pragmatism 124)--Flem is a rather more problematic consequence of pragmatism. It is as if the character of pragmatism has taken on two faces, each seeming to promise profoundly different possibilities. Seen from this perspective, the character of Flem can appear all-too-ominously the amoral nightmare of pragmatism's critics come to life, his success the product of a plasticity of personality as complete as his indifference to principle. His identity is indistinguishable from the process of constant identification, and he flows into the mold of whatever spaces he desires to fill, assuming the appearance of the Varners in the very act of displacing them. If the elder Varner is the embodiment of pure will, Flem takes the process of abstraction still further, becoming a simulacrum of will, an embodiment of embodiment.
But the strangely unfixable nature of Flem's identity only becomes fully comprehensible when set in the context of the particular historical period in which the events of the novel are situated. The Hamlet, in its own way, is as much an historical novel as any of Faulkner's more overt experiments in the form, and readers have found it difficult not to see the sudden appearance of the Snopeses in Frenchman's Bend in the closing years of the nineteenth century as, at some level, an allegory of modernization and its social and cultural consequences. (10) But one might go farther and suggest that the event of the Snopeses corresponds very closely to a specific transitional moment in the American political economy--the rise of the corporation as the dominant organization form in the marketplace, or what Alan Trachtenberg has called the "incorporation of America." Corporations had gradually become more common through the nineteenth century, but by all accounts the "decisive moment," as James Livingston puts it, in the "transition [from proprietary to corporate capitalism] came between 1889 and 1909" (176), during which two decades the structure of American industry and commerce was fundamentally reorganized as individually controlled businesses were replaced by ever larger and more integrated companies; by 1904, over two fifths of American manufactures were produced by three hundred companies. The financial benefits of this consolidation--economies of scale, compounded capitalization, and suppression of competition--were clear enough, but equally evident to contemporary observers were the philosophical implications that the corporate form seemed to project. What defined the corporation as an organization was its breaking of the relationship of proprietorship from the function of administration; while ownership is divided among an increasingly diffuse and invisible body of shareholders, the actual direction of business is handled by a professionalized group of managers who are themselves employees of the corporation. Insofar as property had traditionally been described in terms of the owner's exclusive power over the owned, the corporation required a reconceptualization of the "traditional logic of property," indeed a conception of "power without property" (Berle and Means, The Modern Corporation 333; Berle, Power without Property). The intellectual implications of this transformation go farther, to the extent that the model of the corporation posed an implicit alternative and perhaps even challenge to the traditional logic of personhood constituted by the unity of an individual identity and an inalienable capacity for self-determination. The corporation offered a concrete instance of the rupture of that unity, the separation of identity and agency, and suggested the possibility that their apparently indissoluble connection of the natural person had never been more than a philosophical fiction in the first place.
The rise of the corporation thus implied a radical reassessment of the meaning of self--and personhood, insofar as it presented itself as a new collective entity which had a kind of existence and agency, a "personality," legally independent of the individuals who theoretically constituted it. The result was "a flood of writing on the subject of 'corporate personality' in Germany, France, England, and America near the turn of the century" (Horwitz 179), as thinkers scrambled to define exactly what the nature of the new organization was, and whether it was to be regarded as a legal fiction or a real entity. The result of this energetic theorizing was the general acceptance of the notion that a corporation was not simply a contractual partnership between a number of shareholders, but represented a being in its own right, "distinct from the sum of its parts," whose personality was "not a mere fiction or metaphor" but "a reality as indisputable as that very material subject of rights and duties--the natural person" (Brown 366, 368, 370). But there was a curious consequence: as the corporate personality became more substantial, the "natural person" became less so, insofar as the very notion of personhood now appeared to be a fluid and conventional category. This was the conclusion that John Dewey drew in an essay that came to be seen as a definitive treatment of the corporate personality question. For Dewey, "what we really need to do is overhaul the doctrine of personality" as such, and to reconceive personhood as a matter of juridical definition rather than ontological status: if the corporation is as "real" as the individual, it is because the individual is as "fictitious" as the corporation ("Historical Background" 658).
I have taken this excursus into economic and legal history in order to advance the claim that there is a close correlation between the emergence of the corporate form and pragmatism's reconstruction of the subject. For at the same time that theorists, by their arguments over the nature of corporate identity, were destabilizing the legal difference between natural persons and artificial constructions, James was proposing that the ontologically primary self should be regarded as nothing more than a philosophical delusion. In the seminal essay of 1904, "Does Consciousness Exist?" he mounts an attack on the Kantian transcendental ego, declaring "consciousness" to be "the name of a nonentity [with] no right to a place among first principles. Those who still cling to it are clinging to a mere echo, the faint rumor left behind by the disappearing 'soul' upon the air of philosophy" (Essays 3-4). There is no personal and substantial self that lies behind or underneath experience, outside of time and stable in its identity; rather, all that can be said to exist are particular experiences, linked with one another to form different narrative sequences, so that "a given undivided portion of experience, taken in one context of associates, [plays] the part of a knower, of a state of mind, of 'consciousness'; while in a different context the same undivided bit of experience plays the part of a thing known, of an objective 'content'" (9-10). The individual self, therefore, is ultimately a matter of how particular experiences are grouped and defined, and its unity is the effect of function rather than essence. Put in this way, pragmatism's person looks very much like a corporate personality--an artificial entity constituted by convention. (11) And where the traditional self had been conceived in terms of ownership, its inalienable self-possession, (12) in the Jamesian self, relations of proprietorship have given way to the modalities of management, its unity the result of the way it works.
One reason that Flem Snopes seems such a problematic individual is that he is not much like an individual at all. In fact, it could be argued, he is really a kind of corporation, and his arrival in Frenchman's Bend is in many ways equivalent to the historical "passage of American society from the proprietary competitive stage to the corporate-administered stage of capitalism" (Sklar 33). By this I mean to say something more, and more specific, than the familiar observation that he represents something like "the commercial spirit in its purity" (Brooks, Yoknapatawpha Country 182). The revolution he brings about is, in effect, a managerial revolution, and he single-handedly creates a new class--that of the executive. To the countryfolk, his peculiar position in Varner's store is an innovation of epochal proportions, "since the presence of a hired white clerk in the store of a man still able to walk and with intellect still sound ... was as unheard of as the presence of a hired white woman in one of their own kitchens" (31). Like the new class of managers who were the characteristic structural element of the emerging corporation, Flem is theoretically dependent upon the proprietor but in practice is an increasingly independent professional. (13) With his displacement of Jody, the natural heir, he effectively transforms the store from a family business into something fundamentally different. When Will pays a visit at the end of Flem's first week of employment, he is discomfitted to find that payment is demanded for "his" tobacco; the store has been, as it were, incorporated in his absence. (14)
At a later stage in Flem's financial progress, the spotted ponies episode, he exchanges the position of agent for that of owner, but he continues to operate according to the structural logic of the corporation. This is clearly the culmination of the various trades in horses and other livestock that have punctuated the novel. But there is a crucial difference: where previous trades had served as an assertion of selfhood, of personal prowess in the competitive theatre of the marketplace, Flem here succeeds by assiduous self-effacement and by relentlessly distancing himself from the financial transaction, which is carried out by the eminently professional agent, Buck Hipps. The whole of the tale, its humor and its bitterness, revolves around the separation of "management" and "ownership," to the point where the latter has become effectively moot: "They wasn't none of my horses" (355). This separation, as Daniel Boorstin has observed, meant that property assumed "a new mystery, a new unintelligibility" (Boorstin 416), a sense of which is distinctly audible in the justice's exasperated cry during the case of Armstid v. Snopes: "Does anybody here know for sho who them horses belonged to? Anybody?" (359). The climax of the affair, the escape of the ponies and their headlong flight across the countryside, is less like the personal triumph of one individual over another that caps the standard horse-swap yarn than it is like a general and impersonal calamity on the order of a financial panic--a sudden and catastrophic collapse of a "stock" market, at the center of which stands the silent but stubbornly iconic figure of Eck Snopes's son, Wallstreet Panic.
"Snopes" is thus a rather anomalous entity, the very name somewhere between a patronymic and a standard brand, or a patronymic on its way to becoming a standard brand. Sometimes apparently denoting Flem in particular, sometimes the clan as a whole, it really designates a kind of collective being in which all individuals are subsumed, and it is significant that even Ratliff is forced to admit at one point that he "still cant keep the names straight" (355). Although nominally a familial unit, Snopes has none of the generational depth and accumulated historical density that is the essence of the typical Faulknerian family. Indeed, there seems to be some question about the Snopeses' capacity to generate at all. Flem is childless, and in The Town will be revealed to be impotent; I.O. seems to acquire children by some process of accumulation entirely foreign to the laws of biology (293, 352). Instead, they, or it, spread out horizontally, producing something strongly reminiscent of what Alfred D. Chandler describes as the newly emerging "multidivisional" pattern of corporate organization. (15) Each Snopes, on arrival, takes over some economic sector: Flem assumes control of the store, Eck, the blacksmith's shop, I.O., the school. So standardized is the management of these divisions that when Lump replaces Flem as clerk, he not only occupies the latter's position but becomes a complete replica, another company man in a gray cloth cap (160). Flem, in other words, seems less a corporeal person than a corporate personality. The very features that, from one point of view, can appear the indices of a moral lack--his shiftiness, his opaque superficiality and his seeming ability simultaneously to be everywhere and nowhere--from another perspective indicate that we are dealing with a completely new concept of selfhood, to which traditional categories are no longer adequate. Or to put this slightly differently, we are dealing with personality as reconceived pragmatically.
But the association of the Snopeses with the corporation does not exhaust the relevant historical contexts. The other great economic controversy in American political life contemporaneous with the emergence of pragmatism was the "money question," the debate over whether the United States should switch from the gold standard to one based on bimetallism. At a deeper level, however, it was also a conflict between different conceptions of what the function of money was. For the populists, money was a medium of exchange, enabling a direct and natural balance between commodities. The problem was that the supply of money did not adequately correspond to the quantity of goods in the marketplace, a problem that could be solved by putting into circulation a second metal of natural value, silver. The opponents of the populists, on the other hand, conceived of money principally in the form of invested capital or savings, in other words as the expectation or promise of future return. It was precisely the rarity of gold that allowed it to serve as the theoretical foundation for what was in practice an ever-expanding credit economy, involving the circulation of financial engagements to pay in the future, but which corresponded to no actual material commodities in the present. (16) Putting the matter this way makes clear the parallel between the money question and contemporaneous debates over epistemology. By identifying the current economic crisis as a disjunction between money and commodities, and demanding that the balance be put right by ensuring that the supply of money match the amount of goods actually being produced, the populists betrayed a commitment to what James described as the "copy-view," the notion that ideas derive their meaning by correspondence to their objects. The economic crisis was fundamentally a crisis of representation.
These issues are not foreign to The Hamlet. The social turmoil that accompanies the arrival of the Snopeses is in some sense a version of the conflict between the opposing conceptions of money I have just been discussing, and of the transition from one to the other. At the beginning of the book, Frenchman's Bend appears to be the kind of economy imagined as ideal by the populists: there is an active market characterized by incessant, even obsessive trading, but it is a market in which there is an immediate correspondence between goods and what is exchanged for them. A participant may win or lose in the transaction, but there is never any uncertainty as to who the winner is: it is always possible to make direct reference to the commodities in question, which are as tangible as Old Man Anse Holland's wore-out sorghum mill. So perfect is the system of correspondence that money, the medium of exchange, is hardly necessary. There is a moment in Ratliff's early story about Ab Snopes's venture into horse-trading, however, that intimates the threat represented by the idea of money, a threat which will soon be actualized:
When a man swaps horse for horse, that's one thing and let the devil protect him if the devil can. But when cash money starts changing hands, that's something else. And for a stranger to come in and start that cash money to changing and jumping from one fellow to another, it's like when a burglar breaks into your house and flings your things ever which way even if he don't take nothing. (38)
The problem with money is that it replaces static correspondence with an uncontrollable process of circulation by "changing and jumping from one fellow to another" with a seeming autonomy. It thus creates a chaos worse than criminal, since by "fling[ing] your things ever which way," it makes it impossible to tell whether any exchange is ever in balance. Such an epistemological confusion is far more disturbing than mere theft, which is, after all, only the inversion of correspondence.
It is no accident that the arrival of the Snopeses coincides with the introduction of money into Frenchman's Bend and its conversion to a "credit economy." Flem's earliest independent enterprises are ventures into money lending, and he will later issue a kind of money of his own, in the form of the promissory notes he puts into circulation. But Flem is not just the source of money; he and his relatives bear an uncanny resemblance to money itself. Just as "cash money," in Ratliff's words, is always "jumping and changing," so instability characterizes the family as a whole: during Mink's childhood alone, for example, they have passed through "a dozen different sorry and ill-made rented cabins as his father had moved from farm to farm" (261). I.O. seems to exist only as a vaguely incarnated principle of delirious activity, "a furious already dissipating concentration of energy vanishing the instant after the intention took shape" (71), whose very facial features are in a "constant state of flux" (222), like the things flung "ever which way" of Ratliffs prescient metaphor. Flem, however, is the most mobile of them all. The entire novel is really structured by his transitions, physical and social, from his abrupt arrival in the static state universe Frenchman's Bend, through his rapid rise up the local economic hierarchy, to his laconic departure for Jefferson as the novel concludes. His sudden translations invariably leave the audience of Snopes watchers dazzled and disoriented by a mobility that sometimes seems to verge on the supernatural. Jody Varner, for example, visiting the farm he has just leased to Ab, sees Flem for the first time as a momentary face appearing in a window; then suddenly the sharecropper rematerializes like magic in front of him on the way home:
One moment the road had been empty, the next moment the man stood there beside it, at the edge of a small copse--the same cloth cap, the same rhythmically chewing jaw materialised apparently out of nothing and almost abreast of the horse, with an air of the complete and purely accidental which Varner was to remember and speculate about only later. (24)
Flem is repeatedly described as having "passed" Jody (66, 92, 162), and the term is clearly significant. Flem's identity is constituted by passing--passing from place to place and passing for what he is expected eventually to become. Hem "passes" like money, and his compelling centrality in Frenchman's Bend derives from his ability to inspire others to "speculate" uncontrollably, like Jody in the passage cited above, on what he is and, more important, on what he will do--on his future. Such speculations become the common coin of the community, traded in every verbal transaction, and increasing Flem's market value every time.
Flem's association with money therefore represents something entirely other than a personal moral failing like simple greed. What he suggests, rather, is a different conception of personality and selfhood which is constituted not by reference to some static atemporal worth, beyond the vicissitudes of subjective evaluation, but by temporality and futurity, by a process of "passing." Ratliff in fact suggests as much at one point when he turns "Snopes" into a verb, "to snopes" (179). It seems appropriate to call this a pragmatic conception of selfhood, especially when we recall the connection James himself made between the circulation of beliefs and that of bank-notes. It is precisely the currency of currency, its capacity to pass for and pass among, that enables it to serve as the privileged metaphoric model of a reconceptualized identity, a pragmatic self the foundation of whose existence is its own passing.
It is important to emphasize that nothing argued so far should be thought of as a defense of Flem. Still less should it be seen as a critique of pragmatism, any more than that the representation of Ratliff is to be regarded as a vindication of the pragmatic personality. Moral evaluation seems out of place, to the extent that it presupposes the autonomous and atemporal subject that Ratliff and Flem, in different ways, put in question. The insistent parallelism between the two traders indicates that the pragmatic personality will never fit into ethical categories, but invariably winds up, like Flem himself, in two places at once, imposing upon the observer an necessarily double perspective.
In fact, this doubling of perspectives is one way of describing what happened to the image of pragmatism in the discourse of the culture at large, in a series of high profile debates that extended from the last years of the First World War through the beginning of the Second, at the time Faulkner was writing The Hamlet. Randolph Bourne may be said to have fired the first salvo of the controversy with his attack on John Dewey in his famous 1917 article "Twilight of the Idols," in which he traced the origins of what he saw as the latter's tragically misguided support for America's entry into the war back to a disturbing flaw in the very nature of pragmatism, specifically the way its definition of truth in terms of means seemed to rule out the possibility of privileging any particular ends over others. The most general assault was mounted by Lewis Mumford in The Golden Day(1926), which for the first time identified in James the ultimate source of pragmatism's fatal "lack of a world view," its congenital preference for indeterminacy and action over fixed fundamental principles. The intellectual heirs of James did not let this critique go unanswered; John Dewey responded publicly and vigorously to these charges, proclaiming that Mumford was shaping James "to a pattern which inverts his whole spirit and thought" ("The Pragmatic Acquiescence" 50). (17)
If the first critics of pragmatism came from the left of the political spectrum, the camp of the "young intellectuals," the next wave emerged from a position farther to the right. In 1934, Robert Maynard Hutchins, the energetic and charismatic