Obscurity's Myriad Components: The Theory and Practice of William Faulkner

Obscurity's Myriad Components: The Theory and Practice of William Faulkner

Obscurity's Myriad Components: The Theory and Practice of William Faulkner

Obscurity's Myriad Components: The Theory and Practice of William Faulkner

Synopsis

"William Faulkner, America's greatest modern novelist, wrote no "defense" of his art, but discussed extensively the source, language, form, and purpose of fiction in interviews and dialogues, speeches and letters, topical essays and reviews. That seemingly incoherent mass of nonfiction writings yields, on close scrutiny, a set of congruent ideas founded on the writer's view of language: a potent but treacherous medium that word-transcending form must overcome. On that paradoxical premise, Faulkner's theory addresses the writer's dilemma of having only the inadequate word to surmount itself; and the practice in fiction seeks to vanquish the enemy, not in the wordless, as it is often denoted, but in silence past the word." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

William Faulkner produced a large number of literary works, but not a single essay in “defense” of his art. the subject, however, engrossed him. He spoke or wrote extensively on the source, language, form, and purpose of fiction in interviews and dialogues, speeches and letters, topical essays, sketches, and reviews. Readers have drawn from this large mass a passage or two to support one or another critical view, but the pronouncements of a writer notorious for willful distortion and inconsistency remain suspect. Unlike the finely articulated theory of Henry James or T. S. Eliot, Faulkner appears to have left nothing but incoherent commentary.

A comprehensive study of the nonfiction materials, however, discloses their common ground, the view that language, the writer's essential medium, “kill[s]” experience while recording it (espl 187). the word mediates but also obstructs thought, art, and human relating. Yet the writer has no other means to conquer his enemy but language itself. That paradoxical premise underlies Faulkner's theory of language and narrative, whose primary articles address the problem of giving voice to the imagination with the duplicitous word. He overturns canons of narrative to convert language into word-transcending form. the writer's distrust of language is widely noted, but the solution he expounds in theory and practices in fiction is generally unnoted. Faulkner overcomes the word, not in wordlessness, as it is often denoted, but in silence where the word resonates beyond discourse.

To subdue the word so “the thunder and the music of the prose take place in silence” (lg 248), Faulkner finds he must subdue time. “There isn't any time. … I agree pretty much with Bergson's theory of the fluidity of time. There is only the present moment, in which I include both the past and the future, and that is eternity. in my opinion time can be shaped quite a bit by the artist; after all, man is never time's slave” (lg 70). Faulkner shapes time in myr-

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