The Fantasy of Orality in Absalom, Absalom!

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Four years after the publication of the first edition of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!, Wallace Stevens described a modern aesthetic form which necessarily acted against its own status as a (fixed) form1. "What will [temporarily] suffice" in "Modern Poetry" would replace, as the mind's object, what is--or, perhaps more faithfully to the modernist vision, what used to be. The poem of the motion of the mind in time would replace the poem of permanent meaning.

The fundamental difference between present and past, the breakdown of static forms, and the necessity of temporal flow all inform Stevens' aesthetic, which works towards a dynamic experience in time, as a substitute for the communication of truth independent of time. I think an understanding of this (self-subverting) form has some important and complicated implications for a reading of Absalom, Absalom!, especially in terms of the relationship of historicity to orality in the novel, and of its distinctive and relatively homogeneous prose style. Ultimately to be found in these themes are the novel's fantasies of its form and of its reader.

The new aesthetic defines itself in relationship to an implied old one which, because of some historical break ("Then the theatre was changed/to something else"), no longer works. If Absalom, Absalom!, formally and thematically, offers a substitute for a now-inadequate "souvenir," it may be necessary to begin its exploration with the souvenir itself: namely the communication of positive historical truth in fixed form.

Many critical interpretations of Absalom, Absalom! move towards the common conclusion that the way narrative works in the novel makes impossible the passing of meaning from one subject (teller or author) to anot...

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...ncredulous Narration: Absalom, Absalom!" Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. New York: Knopf, 1984. Rpt. in Modern Critical Interpretations: Absalom, Absalom!. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! The Corrected Text. New York: Vintage, 1986.

Guetti, James. "Absalom, Absalom!: The Extended Simile."The Limits of Metaphor: A Study of Melville, Conrad, and Faulkner. Ithaca: Cornell, 1967. 69-108.

Matthews, John T. The Play of Faulkner's Language. Ithaca: Cornell, 1982.

Porter, Carolyn. "William Faulkner: Innocence Historicized." Seeing and Being: The Plight of the Participant Observer in Emerson, James, Adams, and Faulkner. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1981. Cited as rpt. in Bloom.

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