Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

Go Down, Moses and Intruder in the Dust: From Negative to Positive Liberty

Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

Go Down, Moses and Intruder in the Dust: From Negative to Positive Liberty

Article excerpt

Various attempts have been made to categorize the general stages in Faulkner's career. Michael Millgate was the first to relegate Faulkner's poetry and first three novels to a "period of apprenticeship." The great or major period that stretched from 1929 to 1936 was succeeded by a "middle period" which drew to a close in 1942. And finally the "late period" that surfaced after World War II began with Intruder in the Dust (1948) and concluded with The Reivers (1962) (102). Other commentators, such as Joseph Gold, have been satisfied with the division of Faulkner's corpus into "two phases, two bodies of work, roughly divided by World War II" (4). Bearing this out, critics such as Judith Wittenberg and Daniel Singal view Go Down, Moses (1942) as one of Faulkner's masterworks, and as the final work of his first or great phase. But they also see it as a work of transition which employs techniques that are characteristic of the later years: an example of which is that it contains the tendency to theorize about social issues-as in the latter part of the "The Bear"-instead of displaying them dramatically (Wittenberg 190, Singal 256). With the exception of the five short stories published after Go Down, Moses, Faulkner remained artistically silent for six years. By contrast with the thirteen novels and two volumes of short stories published between 1926 and 1942, the decline in his productivity, at least, was drastic. For Millgate, when Faulkner did reappear onto the literary scene with Intruder in the Dust, it was with a "polemical tone" that "plainly marked a new development" in his work (84).

Critics generally agree that the later period is characterized by a new-found penchant for exposition, by the ascendancy of the tedious Gavin Stevens (a central figure in five of the final seven novel-length works), by the apparent need to make direct statements on social and political issues, and by the explicit explication of moral alternatives. For Gold, these developments point to Faulkner's move from "the making of myth," which conveys complex meaning through association, suggestion, and images, to the "construction of allegory," which delivers a fixed meaning through the presentation of "disguised ideas" (16). The "increased element of ideation," Wittenberg writes, gives way to the construction of characters who "more obviously represent moral, political, and philosophical stances than they did in the earlier works, where they were, above all, complex individuals struggling to survive" (205). According to Louis Brodsky, these developments are all the more curious since the younger author sought "to avoid preaching at all costs in his writing as well as in social discourse" (88).

In the most general terms, Faulkner's 'shift' from his early to late period is characterized by a turn from a modernist aesthetic to an aesthetic of engagement. During his "period of apprenticeship," he prioritized form and style in his poetry and novels to an extent that antagonized socially-minded critics of the day. Under the influence of romantic, fin de siècle, decadent, and symbolist poetry, the young author identified with a lyrical, aesthetically-oriented tradition. And as a member of the post-WWI generation, he strove to detach himself from mainstream mores and literary conventions. The emphasis on the world of nymphs and fauns, on arcadian gardens and on the notion of a transcendent Beauty (as in Soldiers' Pay), belongs to the attempt to retreat from society and into an aesthetic sphere of experience (Hönnighausen 47). Similarly, his major works in general are grounded on the qualities and principles of European high modernism. Quentin, Darl, Popeye, Benbow, Temple, Hightower, Joe Christmas, and Henry Sutpen can be identified as the modernist "decentered" or psychologically troubled subject who is assailed from within by unconscious forces, and by a hostile ever-changing modern world from without. Faulkner demonstrates the way in which "the everyday life of commercial society is forced to reveal its darker, nocturnal side as the self is unraveled through tropes of intoxication, violence and perversity" (Nicholls 42). …

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