Media, Ideology, and the Role of Literature in Pylon
Hagood, Taylor, The Faulkner Journal
Despite the great variety of style and theme in William Faulkner's oeuvre, his novel Pylon remains strangely unclassifiable, bizarre, mysterious, different.1 It broods in the very heart of his canon and seems as aloof, unapproachable, and recalcitrant as its author in his most introverted moods. Although undeniably an aberration, Pylon is important in the ways in which it resembles Faulkner's other works even as it differs from them. For while the novel neither examines the history of the United States South nor focuses on the intersections of the past and the present or even hints at the existence of Yoknapatawpha County, it nevertheless shares one important thing with Faulkner's other mature novels: it traces and interrogates the origins and appropriations of narrative. Just as Absalom, Absalom! chronicles the development of narratives and exposes the ideologies inherent in them, so Pylon focuses on the ways the actions of a group of barnstormers will be narrated and how the narratives that develop reflect and promote ideology. But where Absalom, Absalom! primarily focuses on oral narrative, Pylon investigates the ways that media create and empower narratives for capitalist culture and its consumers. In so doing, Pylon raises questions not only about media but also about the role of literature itself in a world filled with media. Faulkner's concern in the novel, and the dilemma that arises, is that of whether or not literature-which purports to be a form of expression that might question and subvert the values of a dominant ideology-can actually escape the values of capitalistic ideology and the hegemonic forces that empower it.
The functions of media and their connections to ideology have been the topic of much critical discussion.2 Through images, words, sounds, and other elements, media serve and promote ideologies and their value systems by naturalizing them. As Bill Nichols writes, ideology "uses the fabrication of images and the processes of representation to persuade us that how things are is how they ought to be and that the place provided for us is the place we ought to have" (I).3 This creation of the sense of how things "ought to be" results from a maneuver in which media as representation usurp the material they allegedly represent in what Jean Baudrillard calls the "hyperreal." In his essay, "Simulacra and Simulations," Baudrillard discusses what he sees in the late 1970s as an "age of simulation," the space of which "is no longer that of the real, nor of truth ... [and which] begins with a liquidation of all referentials" (167). This "age" is unusual because whereas "representation tries to absorb simulation by interpreting it as false representation, simulation envelops the whole edifice of representation itself as simulacrum" (170). Therefore, simulation "is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal" (166). The representation thus precedes the real, or, as Baudrillard puts it, the situation is one of "precession of simulacra" (166). And media stand as the prime contributors to this hyperreality, at least in the United States: Mary Cross points out, for example, that advertising "has become our culture's primary visual reference" (Introduction xii).
The result of hyperreality's usurpation of material reality through media is that the ideologies that media both reflect and promote assume the status of nature. Where material (what Baudrillard would regard as the "real") may exist as an empirical presence devoid of meaning and thus awaiting ideology to place it within a matrix of signification, the hyperreal would negate material altogether and can emerge already ensconced within an ideological framework, already endowed with meaning and significance. In this manner, simulation may function in much the same way that Roland Barthes describes myth as functioning-as a sign that plays the role of signifier in a later system of signification so that the "signifier of myth [which is "the final term of the linguistic system," has a meaning that] is already complete, it postulates a kind of knowledge, a past, a memory, a comparative order of facts, ideas, decisions" (117). …