Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

Love of Masculinity

Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

Love of Masculinity

Article excerpt

"TALK LIKE A MAN." Even as a suggestion or command to achieve a certain vocal quality (pitch, timbre, nonassibilant pronunciation), the phrase remains true to its construction as a figure, in which, as a simile, sex assignment (man) stands for gender construction (masculinity). It begs the interesting question of how masculinity talks, for which an answer is difficult to phrase if one is trying to give an insider's report. If puberty is the biological stage during which we say that boys become men, in what way does that process figure a move into masculinity? Ceremonies and rites of passage associated with male puberty attempt, among other associated tasks, to figure puberty as the beginning of masculinity proper, a kind of originary time for which there was a fundamental and preparatory prehistory (everything from the mirror stage, to language acquisition and its codes of gender differentiation), but during which one must recognize a future. One heuristic employed for that recognition is the resolution of the Oedipal crisis in which one comes to terms for a relation to the Father. That "coming to terms" marks the originary moment that leaps forth at the threshold of consciousness and language, in which talking "like a man," like the Father, is supposed to begin to take effect in a new unity, a language of masculinity. But that originary moment leaps forth, indeed out of time, for it may be immediate or endless. Nor is it in time as conscious, for it seems only to be made conscious when it is remembered, spoken or written about, tracing it after the fact and in the language whose constitution it initiated. This return to remember allegorizes the originary moment as a continual coming to terms, a re-presenting, a re-producing, of masculinity. Independent of whether the Oedipal crisis is resolved or not, masculinity seems to be by definition traumatic, in that trauma enforces its own forgetting in order to initiate the process of experiencing it at all (Caruth 8). Perhaps the heteronormative prescription for men to reproduce themselves physically has always figuratively "understood" this constitutive dynamic of masculinity, that to produce the heir as the sign of futurity is to make manifest the psychic and linguistic afterlife of masculinity's originary constitution-to make the word flesh.

Theoretically speaking, while masculinity follows a traumatic structure, I would like to take seriously the idea of masculinity as a trauma, as a crisis in the constitution of the self that will seek resolution by returning to re-produce its event in language, seeking a unity of self and understanding. I see this consideration as a central part of the intervention into understanding masculinity performed by William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!, a text obsessed with reproduction and reiteration as the "design" of masculinity itself. For Thomas Sutpen, ostensibly the design is the drive to make a son who will carry on as the father, and on that level the criticism of the text in Freudian and Lacanian modes that takes up the Oedipal crises and the relation to the Law of the Father is informative and expert.1 But perhaps like the grand design that seems to desire the focus of attention, granting such attention often comes at the cost of forgetting or suppressing other productions and kinds of reproductions of masculinity that trouble the design's overarching heterosexuality. Much of the criticism does not explore the effects of gender that are not "normative": economic copulations and other productive relations between men, for instance, anal retention, sodomy, and a fetish with the abject.

Is it not in keeping with the design of Absalom, Absalom! to suggest that the trauma of masculinity puts the self in civil war, which is fought on various fronts: the body and the mind, desire and the future, choice and necessity?2 Furthermore, while Absalom, Absalom! prominently figures such a war within the category of a hysterical reaction, I would rather call it histrionic, idiosyncratically defined within this context as a representation of the crisis of history in the unit of the self. …

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