Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

Faulkner and Ideology: Reflections on Critical Subjects

Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

Faulkner and Ideology: Reflections on Critical Subjects

Article excerpt

For me, this issue of The Faulkner Journal completes a cycle that began as I set out in earnest in 1988 to write my dissertation-an ideological analysis of Faulkner and his fiction. I realized during that process that ideological analysis had come late to Faulkner studies-at the time I had only Myra Jehlen and Carolyn Porter to serve as suggestive models-and I confess I was somewhat surprised by that. Faulkner's work is so immersed in history, and it ranges so broadly across the social spectrum that an analysis of the various ideological perspectives registered in it seemed obvious to me. I did not know then, as I have come to understand at various points in my career, that there has been a general resistance to this approach within Faulkner studies. This resistance is documented in the proceedings of the 1992 Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, Faulkner and Ideology. Various critics at the conference, especially André Bleikasten and Louis Rubin, registered a suspicion of, and in Rubin's case even an amazed indignation about, the theme of the conference. The very idea of ideological analysis, however, comes full circle for me with this issue. To assert the authority and authenticity of a literary text-as Rubin did in 1992-is much more clearly seen now as simply a rhetorical and political gesture. Claiming that certain critics see the art object more clearly than others simply because of their critical approach is now much less interesting than the various reflections generated by many approaches. Like the multiple exposures in the photograph on the cover, the essays in this issue indicate that the art object itself changes over time and that a reflection of (and on) that object can approximate its authenticity. They indicate the extent to which the theory of ideology produces rich, provocative, and original close readings of Faulkner texts, and they put into practice the beliefs that have inspired my own work from the beginning: the theory of ideology allows us to see Faulkner in new ways; it opens our eyes to aspects of Faulkner we may not have even noticed before; and it deepens, rather than denies, our appreciation of the complexity, ingenuity, and efforts of the artist who still fascinates us all.

The reasons for the resistance to ideological approaches to Faulkner are definitely complicated. Resistance stemmed, on one hand, from the ways in which Marxist critics first read Faulkner, and on the other, from the close connections between Faulkner's literary reputation and the tenets of New Criticism and the New York intellectuals.1 Early Marxist critics-perhaps best epitomized by Maxwell Geismar-sought to use literature solely as an instrument of social and political change, and they saw Faulkner as directly opposed to those ends.2 Whether one identifies with the political agenda or not, one can understand how these critics came to be called ideologues (or simply poor readers). As revealed by Ted Atkinson and Cheryl Lester in essays somewhat sympathetic to the spirit of those early readings, ideological analysis has come a long way: it sees the connection between literature and politics in the literary text itself and understands the significance of this connection by situating it in a historical context, not by linking it to some predetermined political agenda. Resistance to ideological analysis stemming from Faulkner criticism's connection to New Criticism stems from a basic disagreement about the nature of art itself.

To rehearse a familiar history to some, New Criticism and most high modernists asserted a complete separation between art and politics, art and history. On one hand, artists were granted a special stature, that of genius, and this genius allowed them to transcend the so-called limitations of history and enabled them to tap into universal truths of the human condition. On the other hand, art itself was granted a special and near sacred status among social enterprises, and its representational qualities were seen as less significant than its formal and structural features. …

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