Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

The Radiance of the Fake: Pylon's Postmodern Narrative of Disease

Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

The Radiance of the Fake: Pylon's Postmodern Narrative of Disease

Article excerpt

Pylon has long been claimed as Faulkner's most overtly modernist text, the spiral of spiritual and physical degradation that determines the course of the novel's action interpreted in light of the traditional alienation and dispossession characterizing the modern Zeitgeist-in which case the echoing and bodiless amplifier voice that resounds in the background of the Mardi Gras air show is a perfect trope for that dispossession:

The amplifier filled rotundra and restaurant even above the sound of feet as the crowd moiled and milled and trickled through the gates onto the field, with the announcer's voice harsh masculine and disembodied; then at the end of each lap would come the mounting and then fading snarl and snore of engines as the aeroplanes came up and zoomed and banked away, leaving once more the scuffle and murmur of feet on tile and the voice of the announcer reverberant and sonorous within the domed shell of glass and steel in a running commentation to which apparently none listened, as if the voice were merely some unavoidable and inexplicable phenomenon of nature like the sound of wind or of erosion. (P 791 -92)

Karl F. Zender, who has also asserted that Pylon is the novel in which Faulkner "most frequently anticipates the concerns of his later career," identifies the amplified voice of the air show's announcer as Faulkner's "central metaphor for the dehumanizing and alienating power of modern culture" (19). Certainly this voice, "apocryphal, sourceless, inhuman, ubiquitous and beyond weariness or fatigue" (P 801), chisels a gap between those who hear it and the carnivalesque strangeness of their immediate surroundings. However, while Zender and others see this voice as the unmoored consciousness of modernity, we might also view it as the alienated/alienating godlike voice of artistic creation itself. At one point, the amplifier voice is described as possessing a generative and godlike authority, "profound and effortless, as though it were the voice of the steel-and-chromium mausoleum itself talking of creatures imbued with motion though not with life and incomprehensible to the puny crawling painwebbed globe" (793). The function of the announcer, after all, is a uniquely narrative one not unlike the disembodied voice of a traditional omniscient narrator: to recount whatever he sees to an audience unsure of his location, identity or even presence-under, I might add, the same obligation of accuracy, reliability or at least verisimilitude in his reportage. In this sense, the voice of the amplifier is the voice of anxiety that underwrites postmodern communication: the voice, like the reporter's own, is one that speaks from out of an empty shell in a volume that is disproportionately large for its source, delivering information that is distorted by modulations beyond the vocalizer's control-or beyond his desire for control.

Beyond this dispossessed voice, Pylon has also been cemented in the position of Faulkner's modernist "waste land" by its explicit salutes to T.S. Eliot-especially the likeness of Faulkner's awkward and absurd protagonist (the reporter) to Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock. Surface level similarities include the reporter's gaunt appearance as an "etherised patient" (788) and a Lazarus figure (797). More significantly, however, what Prufrock and the reporter share is the desperate need for successful communication. Prufrock's attempt to climb the stair and put himself (balding head, thin legs, and all) on display for a woman he barely knows is at heart a kind of modernist Sisyphean endeavor to connect with another person-a failed endeavor that is met with the woman's repeated refrain "That is not what I meant at all. That is not it at all." Whatever Prufrock had thought about the relationship between them, he was mistaken: she had not meant to communicate what he thought she communicated.1 These lines of awkward miscommunication are recognizable in the reporter's own attempted connection with the female protagonist Laverne, who, as the polyandrous spectacle parachutist, is the object of all male attention in the novel. …

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