Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

"Aint None of Us Pure Crazy": Queering Madness in as I Lay Dying

Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

"Aint None of Us Pure Crazy": Queering Madness in as I Lay Dying

Article excerpt

William Faulkners As I Lay Dying (AILD) enters into the realm of psychological instability and madness as one of the main characters, Dari Bundren, begins the novel as the most prolific narrator but ends on a train to an insane asylum after he attempts to burn a neighbors barn which contains his dead mothers coffined body. Due to Dari's eloquent interior monologue, abstract introspection, and enigmatic clairvoyance, much previous criticism exclusively focuses on Dari's internal consciousness, and more specifically, on the question of his insanity. Many take on the role of diagnosing Dari's madness rather than examining the diagnosis in the text itself by means of the surrounding, external context.1 Of course Dari's complex consciousness is crucial to the text, but the question of Dari's madness, like that of Shakespeare's Hamlet, has been too easily accepted by critics as the "vortical subject of the play," (5) as Margreta de Grazia has recently suggested, leaving "the plot as inert backdrop to the main character" (3). In a similar vein, it is important to avoid simply psychologically analyzing Dari in a literary vacuum, and instead investigate the public perception of Dari's behavior within the novel in terms of its significance within the historical and regional context.

Many Faulkner critics investigate the question of Dari's madness without stepping back to explore the undercurrents of the economic, political, and moral milieu, without analyzing the social implications to understand how society uses madness to police certain behaviors. André Bleikasten begins to address the socially constructed nature of madness within Faulkner's textual frame: "the boundary between sanity and insanity is but the arbitrary division mark of a social order, . . . madness only exists as defined by and confined in collective discourse and collective perception" ("Requiem" 192). Faulkner's text highlights the arbitrary and communally created definition of madness, as Dari's expulsion to an asylum serves a sociological purpose, regardless of his mental state. While Bleikasten's examination of Dari in the social framework of the novel furthers previous criticism that concentrates purely on Dari's interiority, I will extend his analysis into the historical, political, and ideological conversation. More fully examining the perceived threat Dari poses to his family and the South in an early-twentieth-century capitalist society will illuminate the conditions that require his removal from the familial and public spheres. Ted Atkinson's recent and original approach to AILD in Faulkner and The Great Depression suggests that Dari is penalized because he represents the threat of social upheaval on the rural community due to his destruction of and disregard for private property (187). But beyond the practical economic consequences of Dari's actions, I posit that only through the lens of gender, sexuality, and queerness can we fully understand the desire for autonomy in a capitalistic society built on the fictions of self-ownership and self-coherence. I will highlight the regional consequences Dari faces for exposing the underlying contradictions and instabilities of gender and selfhood in this social, economic, and political context.

The distinct importance of this historical moment-the New South's reformation post-Reconstruction in the midst of Jim Crow right at the start of the Great Depression-is essential to understanding Dari's position in AILD. Faulkner be-gan writing his self-proclaimed tour de force on October 25, 1929, the day immediately following the Wall Street Crash that spiraled into the Great Depression, posing a compelling intersection between his literary work and the political moment (Blotner 633). But few critics have focused on the historical implications of this text due the novel's transhistorical themes and the absence of Faulkner's familiar focus on overt subjects of race and Southern dynasty (Faulkners; Fujie).2 However, the clear contrast between AILD and the rest of Faulkner's body of work draws attention to the novel's lack of racial conflict or the burden of Southern history. …

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