Academic journal article The Mississippi Quarterly

"If I Could Say": Voice and Community during the Summer of Faulkner

Academic journal article The Mississippi Quarterly

"If I Could Say": Voice and Community during the Summer of Faulkner

Article excerpt

INCREASINGLY LOST IN REMEMBERED, OR IMAGINED, CONVERSATIONS, Quentin Compson spends his final day alive considering various paternal bromides, not least among them, "tragedy is second-hand" (Faulkner 74). Transported into another context, the statement from the second section of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury could help explain the emotional appeal of Oprah Winfrey's Summer of Faulkner in 2005. Yet in addition to its affective resonance, the senior Jason Compson's platitude refers both to the novel's genre classification and to the nature of storytelling, two aesthetic aspects upon which Oprah's empire, and her Book Club in particular, depends.

Indeed, though recent critical investigations of the original and reincarnated versions of Oprah's Book Club (OBC) have analyzed the political, affective, and economic dynamics of Oprah's literary choices and her interactions with her audience, its formal dimensions as they relate to reading as a social practice have been overlooked.1 In this essay, I will analyze the open-access section of Oprah's Summer of Faulkner website devoted to The Sound and the Fury to argue that it parallels the novel's most characteristic structural feature: its focus upon the voices, rather than the bodies, comprising the Compson family. (2) The website's various sections highlight the fecundity of narrative silences and gaps in order to encourage Oprah's ideal reader to view the novel as an opportunity to speak or, more accurately, to write. Yet Oprah's reading of The Sound and the Fury remains far from glib. Though the website figures the narrative's absences as questions for debate, the debate remains open-ended and fundamentally irresolvable. In keeping with her (in)famous peddling of personal disclosure as therapy, then, Oprah's website constructs the personal voice as central to one's identity, and yet not as a means to an end. Speech, or the virtual representation of speech in the context of the website, is constituted as without telos: it is an end in itself, a part of a larger story of messy belonging and alienation. Each individual voice becomes a part of a polyphony of voices, stitched together by the common endeavor of struggling with Faulkner's difficult prose. Oprah's website for The Sound and the Fury replicates the text's methods, producing voices that circulate amongst each other but not necessarily with each other. Despite its byzantine connotations, attention to this formal dimension of the work and the website as they reflect upon each other promises new methods for understanding community and belonging, as well as the aesthetic transportability of certain texts across time. Oprah's website leads us to this rethinking of the hegemonic structuring of community in mass society through the logic of loss. In mirroring the conventions of one of Faulkner's bleakest novels, Oprah's website fails in the same way that The Sound and the Fury fails: in both cases, we are left with a collection of voices ringing out, but responding only to themselves.

Voice in The Sound and the Fury

Suggesting that Oprah's open-access website for The Sound and the Fury parallels the actualization of voices in the novel itself entails, first and foremost, close attention to the role of voice in the novel and its relationship to the novel's various communities. By voice, I refer to the written representation of internal thoughts, memories, or observations in The Sound and the Fury and on Oprah's website. My choice of the term is intended to invoke its fetishization as a marker of presence as well as its claims to authenticity. Indeed, the intricacies of the spoken and written word in The Sound and the Fury are often cited as a central crux of the text, with Quentin, Benjy, and Caddy receiving the most attention. Since the Cold War, the role of the voice and interior monologue in The Sound and the Fury have been of central importance to discussions about the novel. Here I will consider several critics who, despite differing methodologies and scholarly allegiances, prove emblematic of this focus, as well as those, most notably feminist critics, who have broken with this tradition. …

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