The Sound and the Fury and The Crying of Lot 49
It is fitting to discuss the recollection of the past in an age advancing to an unknown futurity and whose memories are increasingly banished to the realm of the nostalgic or, even worse, obsolete. Thomas Pynchon and William Faulkner, in wildly contrasting ways, explore the means by which we, as individuals and communities, remember, recycle, and renovate the past. Retrospection is an inevitability in their works, for the past is inescapable and defines, if not dominates, the present.
Pynchon maintains an optimistic, Ovidian view of the past - we recycle our cultural memories into another, perhaps better, form. The resulting disordered array of culture, one as much filled in by the glut of contemporary television channels as by 17th-century revenge dramas, is organized by some supervisory principle. Much as the postal system orders geography into specific postal codes and zones, Maxwell's Demon in The Crying of Lot 49 "connects the world of thermodynamics to the world of information flow" (106); it applies a controlled, scientific objective to the sprawling, aesthetic subjective.
But Pynchon's culture is not one haunted by the ghosts, except for the ghosts in Hamlet and Scooby-Doo. Faulkner's landscape is tortured by the tragedy of the South. In his view, the land is cursed because of two of the white man's presumptions: that he could own other men, and that he could own the land. Focusing on the microcosm of the fallen Compson family, Faulkner details the extent to which various family members are saddled by past loss and how they confront their searing memories. In what has canonized The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner recreat...
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...ntence. Some critics read the title of Faulkner's novel as a challenge to the reader, in that, as "a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing," the book defies traditional literary understanding. Faulkner ends the novel with Benjy howling, fulfilling the line from "Macbeth," but after that has an image of order. The form of narrative, and not the content of life, is the only chance for order in the world. A new framing device of literary technique replaces the conventional teleological frame. The novel moves from Good Friday to Easter, from the innocence of Benjy's opening section to the omniscience of Faulkner's (or Dilsey's) concluding section. While Perry Mason and Benjy's howl seemingly signify nothing, the precision of authorial control reveals the deep material of the past in each novel from which we can attribute meaning.
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