All right, let's see if I can do this in one sitting, no leaving the typer, a thousand words on Faulkner, should be a snap.
Faulkner, wait, Hemingway. Why does (or did) anybody, even as a joke, ever consider Hemingway the or even a greatameritwentiethcentury (four wds. or one?) literary whatchacallit? Don't know, I'm talking vis-à-vis Faulkner, wait, what am I saying, it's easy to figure: an easy read; macho content.
Okay, well, yeah, Faulkner is a tough read, tougher when he wants to be than Gertrude Stein and Robbe-Grillet put together. (If he was easier to read he'd probably have gotten lynched.) But as far as macho goes, Hemingway's writing itself, his narrative presence, y'know, language-spew, structure, general bombast ... for macho he's ofttimes a very sissyprissy guy. Never leaves a mess. Picks up after himself like a writing class teacher's pet g-g-g-goodboy. Everything in place. His slip, er, his writerly dirty underwear is never showing. And unless you're, I dunno, Tolstoy or Nabokov or something, that sort of writerly anti-oompah is a waste of life, ink, breath, sweat and fingers.
good prose is dense brush
no more than clearings.
— " 'Prose Is Better' Says Dr. Sez,"
William Carlos Williams
Whereas what Faulkner was about, more so than just about anybody else who ever had chops, i.e., could actually write, was writer-side mischief — if you're gonna write, why not commit some? Get away with as much as you can, do it in bulk, leaving editors (and, yes, although only secondarily, readers) gasping in your take-no-guff wake. Can you imagine, for inst, what it must've been like for some suit-tie officeprofes-sional to encounter, professionally, the manuscript for The Sound and the Fury in 19 — whatever it was — 28?
First hundred pages are "told," first person, by Benjy the Idiot Boy (who is also mute). Two people from his p.o.v., a he and a she, with no explanation, no conceivable explanation, are both called Quentin. And for every switch in type, from roman to italic and back, which occurs like every other page or so, you get a nonpredictable (and only occasionally comprehensible) shift in time frame — back?, further back?, forward?, ??? — through 30 yearsworth of forcibly ersatz idiot recall. A hundred pages of this then surprise, wow, Benjy's tale is done, relief, so you sit back and, ha, 'cause the worst is yet to come. Next hundred, told by Benjy's brother at Harvard (!), is one of the nastiest, most tortuous what-gives? obstacle runs in American so-called prose: one obnoxiously "challenging" bulk hunk of lit. With a payoff, natch, if you've got the patience and stamina to collect it, like sitting through ten showings of Last Year at Marienbad before being told by an angel you'll live to 600 — but if you get up for popcorn and miss it, what the hey.... It's truly amazing, incredible, forget about even the ostensible storyline (incestlncestlNCEST), that such a book saw the light of print in this here silly land in '29.
In Light in August, three years later, he uses these nonhyphenated composites like stumppocked, boardflat, longdrawn and hookwormridden, does it for maybe 150 pages and then no mo' — changes his mind. Changes — from then on it's hyphenates or separate words or whatever — but doesn't go back and edit everything consistent, and why should he? (Why should anyone?) Or he'll spin a narrative line, let it go as far as, y'know, to the limits of its linear narrative capacity, and then he'll respin it, totally retell it, recast it, again without seemingly altering a previous syllable, in the process doubling (in some instances tripling) his page count, ultimately presenting a record, in paper qua stone, of the Act of Writing (qua writing) in EXISTENTIAL WRITER'S TIME, i.e., not reader's time, not editor's, nor even fictive eternity's. Way to go!
Stone: granite: Absalom, Absalom!, written four years later, reads in many places not even as language, as linguistic record, but as geologic record, if it even is a record, or some such. You need tools, goddam picks and sledges to poke, peck and chip at the fucker, and even with (and even with muscle) there are no shortcuts, no options to strip-mine; and dynamite would just, well, destroy it, so read/chip slugslowly on. The storytold this time (Incest vs. Miscegenation: who will win?) runs almost like a tape loop, over and over, maybe one small new piece of info every 40-50 pages... only William Burroughs has ever been more gleefully, systematically repetitive-isn't-the-word.
Speaking of which — wds. — we've got, time out, let's see, 720, 21, if you count the epigraph, 741, and including this paragraph, 763. So we ain't done yet. Of the eight, make that seven Faulkner novels I've already read, I'd have to put Sound and the Fury a notch ahead of Light in August, just a tad, really almost a tie, then a full notch down, heck, if we're gonna do this, rate them all, let's do it vertically:
- The Sound and the Fury
- Light in August
- The Wild Palms
- Absalom, Absalom!
- Go Down, Moses
- As I Lay Dying
As I Lay Dying, which prob'ly the most people read because it's the shortest, is as low as it is because it's the shortest, and because there really isn't much payoff until maybe 40 pages from the end (the fire; comic drugstore sex scene; when pop whatsisname ends up married to a new one in the last line of the last page) — a disappointing follow-up to The Sound and the Fury. Wild Palms, on the other hand, is as high as it is because not only is it Faulkner's most romantic (per se) major work, it's also his most thematically idiosyncratic major (no incest or miscegenation) (unless my memory serves me wrong), without much doubt the great American abortion novel. Go Down, Moses starts more promisingly than just about any of 'em, any but Sound and the Fury, and in spots it's just totally overwhelming, but it's too wildly variable and ultimately, structurally, it just doesn't work — which can happen when you try to build a novel around a bunch of already existent short stories. (It's also his toughest, most annoying, to peg for auteur p.o.v.) Sanctuary, his longest extended act of admitted pulp, mere pulp, what today you'd call exploitation — whatsername gets raped with a corncob — ends o.k. but is otherwise barely even a major.
Best ending I've ever seen is the last paragraph, last sentence, last three-four words of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock — you should read it — but Faulkner's certainly up there with his quota of top-tenners. Aside from As I Lay Dying there's the last line of Wild Palms (" 'Women shit!' the tall convict said") and that chapter tacked on at the end of Light in August, after it's all over, where the furniture guy tells his wife about these two adorable hitchhikers w/child he'd picked up en route to Tennessee. Knight's Gambit, a pretty good Faulkner story (110 pp.) from the late '40s, ends lousy — PEARL HARBOR plays a hand in resolving etc. - but it does have one of the great sentences, one of the truly great fragments-of-sentence in all of, well, I haven't memorized it, let me get it: "...the voice which talked constantly not because its owner loved talking but because he knew that while it was talking, nobody else could tell what he was not saying." The two greatest paragraphs in the English language, lemme get up again, are the one in Sound and the Fury (Modern Library College Editions, p. 219 to 222) where you find out, just before he goes out to kill himself, that Quentin Compson didn't really fuck his sister; and the one in Wild Palms (Vintage Books, pp. 323-24) where the lovelost abortion guy decides he won't kill himself (because between grief and nothing he'll take grief).
Which has gotta be at least 1000, count it, Jesus, 1300 and change; let's go for 1500:
— Not only is Faulkner's a more thoroughgoing, take-no-prisoners "stream of consciousness" than that of his immediate predecessor James Joyce, but as phenomenologist (per se) he's no slouch either, giving Husserl and those boys a run for their money in isolating the meat of, and micro-honing in on, what exactly people think when they're thinking, what they experience when they experience.
— In the same sort of way that Burroughs once he gets hopping can go from the third person to the first person and back w/out missing a beat, Faulkner when he's on has a knack (and proclivity) for slipsliding into fictive outbacks where it isn't certain or even especially clear, yet it doesn't on any level matter, whether the hand as ongo-ingly dealt consists of dialogue or inner monologue or objective description or subjective description or authorial parenthetical rant, or precisely who (if they're speaking) are speaking, in what sequence, or even when... doesn't matter!
— Most fully defined mixed-race character (or, rather, the most interesting nongratuitous racial mix) in all of the literature is Sam Fathers in Go Down, Moses: half Chickasaw, three-eighths white, one-eighth black.
-Most brazen return appearance by, whoops, we're at the limit... we're outta here.