Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

Bear, Man, and Black: Hunting the Hidden in Faulkner's Big Woods

Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

Bear, Man, and Black: Hunting the Hidden in Faulkner's Big Woods

Article excerpt


Faulkner's "big woods" (GDM 257) might better be called "small," such is the rate of their contraction from the moment of the Bear's death in December 1 883. By June 1 885, Major de Spain has sold the timber rights to a Memphis lumber company (234), thereby translating common-land use rights, common at least for the purposes of hunting,1 into property rights. Postsale, extant forestation exists as a commodity about to happen, whose residual form, circa 1942, will be that of a memorial park, "reserved" (243) and marked to protect the resting place of Sam Fathers and Old Ben's paw (235). It might be objected that I have telescoped a gradual process, seeing 1942 all too imminently in 1883. Yet the paratactic organization of Go Down, Moses (1942) sets disparate times side-by-side as a matter of course: parataxis involves propositions, phrases, or clauses that have been placed in sequence without any grammatical indication of their coordination or subordination to one another. The structure of Go Down, Moses may usefully be spoken of as paratactic insofar as any coordination of its parts depends upon inferences cast across pauses and changes in narrative direction, instigated by the gaps between the stories themselves. To experience temporal parataxis (a compounding of déjà vu with the uncanny) is to reach for an explanatory focus, though the nature of the form may render such explanations elusive, since, in Adorno's phrase, the paratactical tends "inherendy [to] elude subsumption under ideas" (134).

Isaac McCaslin's final account of the miniaturization of the woods is useful. In "Delta Autumn" (set in 1941), perhaps for the last time, Ike (aged 74) is driven to the annual December hunt-the woods are two hundred miles from Jefferson, rather than thirty:

He had watched it, not being conquered, destroyed, so much as retreating since its purpose was served now and its time an outmoded time, retreating southward through this inverted-apex, this V-shaped section of earth between hills and River until what was left of it seemed now to be gathered and for the time arrested in one tremendous density of brooding and inscrutable impenetrability at the ultimate funnelling tip. (253)

I am tempted to label the iconic triangle "virgin" and move on, but Faulkner's geometric emphasis on "funnelling" draws a hairline from the treeline and renders the "tip" vaginal, or, more properly (given "density" and "impenetrability"), hymeneal. So, guiltily, I deface my text . . . " (ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)" . . . with a mark which contradicts the figure's point by rendering "scrutable" and "penetrable" a territorial pudendum previously lacking vaginal entry. My scratch makes likely the loss of that which the original figure sought to preserve (permitting "destiny" to slip from "density").

Later, Faulkner will imagine Ike, or more exactingly his death, at the "tip" of this "inverted-apex." Unable to sleep on the first night of the camp, Ike recognizes "why he had never wanted to own any of it. . . . It was because there was just exactly enough of it" (261). On the basis that he and the woods are "coeval," belonging to the same period, he visualizes their "two spans running out together":

not toward oblivion, nothingness, but into a dimension free of both time and space where once more the untreed land . . . would find ample room for both-the names, the faces of the old men he had known and loved and for a little while outlived, moving again among the shades of tall unaxed trees and sightless brakes where the wild strong immortal game ran forever before the tireless belling immortal hounds, falling and rising phoenix-like to the soundless guns. (261)

That Ike's "spans," arboreal and human, should end in a prose version of a Keatsian frieze (transposed from "Ode on a Grecian Urn") is perhaps unsurprising, given that in section 4 of "The Bear" McCaslin Edmonds reads Ike the entire poem, prior to interpolating Old Ben as the "She [who] cannot fade" (220) of stanza two. …

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