Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

Masculinity, Menace, and American Mythologies of Race in Faulkner's Anti-Heroes

Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

Masculinity, Menace, and American Mythologies of Race in Faulkner's Anti-Heroes

Article excerpt

-No, Henry says.-No. No. No.

Now it is Bon who watches Henry; he can still see the whites of Henry's eyes again as he sits looking at Henry with that expression which might be called smiling. His hand vanishes beneath the blanket and reappears, holding his pistol by the barrel, the butt extended toward Henry.

-Then do it now, he says. . . .

-You are my brother.

-No I'm not. I'm the nigger that's going to sleep with your sister. Unless you stop me Henry.

(Absalom, Absalom! 285-86)

Henry Sutpen, the young heir in Faulkner's novel Absalom, Absalom!, is confronted with the necessity of killing his mixed race half brother, Charles Bon, who is about to marry Judith Sutpen, their sister. While Henry's desire to prevent the marriage might reflect his wish to prevent an incestuous union, it also might arise from his knowledge that his half brother, Charles Bon, is part black. What is interesting here is not that Henry would try to prevent the marriage on the basis of either incest or miscegenation, but that his action is presented precisely as an either/or choice. Faulkner presents Henry's struggle with the ideas of incest and miscegenation not as multiply compounded but as mutually exclusive, asking of Henry that "which [he] cant bear," as if incest and miscegenation cannot be simultaneously enacted (AA 356).

Of course, a simple explanation can encompass Bon as both half brother and racially mixed-he is Thomas Sutpen's illegitimate progeny with a woman of mixed Haitian descent.1 This obvious explanation, however, does not inform the logic of the narrative, nor does it mitigate the action. This failure of the obvious to register with the logical is the result of the split in the ideological. For what Faulkner is representing at this climactic moment of Absalom, Absalom! is a split in cultural constructions of racialized sexualities taking place in the first decades of the twentieth-century. This moment is emblematic of the cultural split in configurations of racialized masculinities where the refusal to choose between Bon's transgressions is equivalent to the refusal to recognize distinctions of either race or gender.

The system of illogic Faulkner offers as Henry's choice is a direct result of the consistency of Bon's sexual object choice: Bon desires Judith either as her brother, making this desire incestuous, or as a "nigger," making this desire miscegenistic. This "as," meant to delineate the type of desire, is precisely that potential which our dominant fictions structuring desire foreclose. Male or female, black or white, our desires are assumed to be different because the source of desire is taken to be the body; thus a man's desire for a woman is assumed to be different than a woman's desire for a woman. We have no way to specify a man who would desire a woman "as" a woman does-i.e., a man desiring as a lesbian. As Foucault argued in The History of Sexuality, sexual subjectivity came into being as an embodied identity at the end of the nineteenth century with the invention of the homosexual. Within this model the subject becomes viable as his or her desire affixes itself to an object. Those who desire an object of the opposite sex are heterosexual, while those who desire an object of the same sex are homosexual. Thus, homosexuality and heterosexuality arose as new modes of "being" and, through this distinction, a systematic decoding of the subject is supposed to arise from an examination of his/her sexual object choice-an entire system in which desire is always already a desire "for" something/one rather than a desire "as" something/one.

This move toward a notion of homosexuality represented a shift from the earlier sexological models of inversion that focused more closely on sexual roles than on object choice.2 Furthermore, the shift in the production of sexual identities, taking place between the 1880's and the 1930's, was contemporary with the discursive restructuring of racialized identities. …

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