Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

A Masculinity of Faded Blue: V. K. Ratliff and Faulkner's Creation of Transpositional Space

Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

A Masculinity of Faded Blue: V. K. Ratliff and Faulkner's Creation of Transpositional Space

Article excerpt

I think that the worst perversion of all is to return to the ivory tower. Get down in the marketplace and stay there.

William Faulkner

Man will disappear into the sphere of the Other, explore it, and, ultimately, become it-that is, her.

Alice Jardine

THE REVISION OF CONVENTIONAL MASCULINITY lies at the center of Faulkner's corpus. Throughout the novels, characters whose compulsions to follow traditional but outdated attitudes of gender, whose role-playing, usually driven by historical and cultural prescription, distinguishes them as old-fashioned "men," anxious and wary of everything female, inevitably occupy a prominent place in the narratives. Just as inevitably, these Faulknerian idealists are also doomed to failure or death, or both. In the early days of Faulknerian criticism, readers typically focused sympathetically on these failures. For these critics, the idealism of these men, their ineffectual attempts at chivalry, their desire to detach themselves from the harsh realities of modern life following the First World War, to retreat to a sanctuary-an "ivory tower" -seemed to represent some sense of retained honor, some admirable integrity in the face of worsening times. These traits may never have saved the Faulknerian male, but, whatever their opinion of them, critics typically allowed such attitudes to define the novels' idea-and apparently ideal-of masculinity.

More recent opinion has, quite rightly, and as we might expect, bucked this tendency. Buoyed by contemporary theories of gender, critics such as Minrose Gwin, John Duvall, Daniel J. Singal, and others now recognise these depictions as the basis for the critique of nineteenth-century neo-Platonic and chauvinistic Victorian attitudes that they undoubtedly are. The focus of such readers has consequently shifted to a number of alternative models. We now have studies of the "unheroic heroes" of the novels and Faulkner's gay men. Critics point to the later novels and the increased attention they show to the subjectivity of blacks and lower-class whites. They promote the virtues of those men who help to form the novels' "marginal couples." Masculinity as performances) dominates.

Generally speaking, however, despite this conspicuous shift in attention, one critical legacy remains. Whatever their specific approach, analyses of these newly addressed characters and the alternative masculinities they may perform remain largely based on what are fairly straightforward notions of mimesis. Cleanth Brooks's influence may have waned, so too Myra Jehlen's, but even sophisticated readers continue to treat characters mainly as characters, as if they were exclusively-or at least primarily-fictional representations of actual men and women. Such approaches have, without doubt, produced insightful and, at times, provocative ways of thinking about Faulknerian constructions of masculinity. They have taken us far beyond the politically conservative depictions of Faulkner himself that simplistically identified the creator of Yoknapatawpha County with just that sense of perversion that his opening imperative condemns. Yet, as the quotation from Alice Jardine suggests about the actions of "Man" generally, masculinity in Faulkner is as much, if not more, a formal matter as it is an issue of gender construction. It is a question of figurative, not physical, space.

To understand the way in which the novels revise their "spheres" of gender, we therefore have to take what in critical terms may seem initially like a reactionary step back. We have to attend to the forms and figures of the novels, to the novels' literariness. We have to treat Faulkner's figures of gender rhetorically, as formal figures (Rogers 97100). When we do, when we accept the view that Faulkner thought in images, we discover that the novels do not simply replace old constructions of masculinity with new ones. They do not leave the focus of their formal attention to changes in the critical wind. …

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