Obscurity's Myriad Components: The Theory and Practice of William Faulkner

By R. Rio-Jelliffe | Go to book overview

3
Absalom, Absalom! Story as Self-Deception

there is that might-have-been which is the single rock we cling
to above the maelstrom of unbearable reality

—Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!


I

FAULKNER OVERCOMES THE DUPLICITOUS WORD WITH DUPLICITY. HE violates the canons of form and verisimilitude, yet claims for “fiction” a credible “lie.” In Absalom, Absalom! (1936) Miss Rosa reprises his distrust of language, while Quentin Compson reformulates two of his main strategies against the false word: assault diachronic progression with synchronic “true duration” and frame with antithetic elements a discontinuous form; then weave through the fractured tale the line of causality and gain belief for a falsehood. The word turned to voice or, in this work, to intermingled voices and points of view and other configurations of temporal concord constitute form that designates one thing but signifies another. As paradoxical as its deceitful yet compelling medium, the novel enacts a central precept of Faulkner's theory: convey through disjunct and incredible form a credible silent story of human action and consequence. But there always remains a residue of disbelief or, perhaps with a writer bold enough, of wonder.

Miss Rosa stipulates the intractable nature of the word: “There are some things for which three words are three too many, and three thousand words that many words too less.” Even “three thou sand sentences” leave only unanswered whys (166–67/134–35).1Even less inferential of thought or intention than the sounds which a beast and a bird might make to each other” (154/124), words render only a semblance of reality. Yet, Grandfather Compson points out, only the “meager and fragile thread” of language may

-74-

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Obscurity's Myriad Components: The Theory and Practice of William Faulkner
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 4
  • Contents 7
  • Preface and Acknowledgements 9
  • Abbreviations 13
  • Introduction 19
  • 1: Theory of Language and Narrative 26
  • 2: Light in August 52
  • 3: Absalom, Absalom! Story as Self-Deception 74
  • 4: The Sound and the Fury 86
  • 5: As I Lay Dying 103
  • 6: The Unvanquished 118
  • 7: Structure and Meaning in Go Down, Moses 132
  • Conclusion 149
  • Notes 154
  • Bibliography 178
  • Index 193
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