Faulkner and World Literature*

OHASHI Kenzaburo
Trans. HIRAISHI Takaki

      It is indeed a great honor for me to be elected the first president of our Faulkner Society of Japan.  Actually, though, I am a little too old to participate fully in any future Faulkner research, and so I now take this opportunity to hand the reins of leadership to the capable younger generation.  But please remember that what I have been in the habit of saying on the general subjects of literature and culture is true for the study of literature as well: namely, that historical continuity, or tradition, on the one hand, and its lack, or innovation, on the other, are equally important and inseparable. The delicate role of intermediating, or bridging the gap, is imposed upon people of the older generation like me.  I would like to play that role briefly here.

      I would also like to add that the topic given to me today is the same as that which will be discussed at the symposium in Hiroshima, where we are having our first general conference, in October, 1998. But as I don't want to influence the speakers at the symposium in any way, my speech today will be restricted to nothing but casual remarks on the topic, which I hope may also function as my inaugural address.

     Now, when we think of the phrase, "Faulkner and World Literature," we usually associate it with Faulkner's impact and influence on writers all over the world. I don't pretend to have exhaustively studied Faulkner's world wide influence; I have only delved into the topic of Faulkner's initial impact on French authors and his later influence on Latin American writers (especially García Márquez of Columbia), on R. K. Narayan of India, and on several novelists of our own country.  It seems to me worth stressing here again that, as far as these writers are concerned, what we find is not just influence, but various types of creative continuation of Faulkner's literature. Márquez, for instance, as well as Mitsuharu Inoue and Kenji Nakagami of Japan, makes up a Yoknapatawpha of his own; but what he did is not a mere act of simulation, but rather something similar to our traditional technique of honkadori, or creative quotation in tanka, in which he borrowed Faulkner's idea of a mythical country in order to establish a space for his own creation of something new and different from Faulkner's.  That their mythical territories are all in liaison surely reminds us of the original Yoknapatawpha; but their respective countries differ from Faulkner's in their historical, and particularly cultural-geographical, perspectives.

      I remember here how Márquez once said that Faulkner's tremendous impact made him "dog-tired" and even that his problem now was "not to imitate Faulkner but to destroy him"; meanwhile, Mitsuharu Inoue, Márquez's coeval, went so far as to write: "To receive influence is nothing easy. It is to stab deep into the person of influence, who may contrarily stab you back and you must be prepared for it . . . these words may sound too Japanese, or yakuza-like. For that, I apologize. But I believe, to put it differently, that real influence begins only when you are in the posture of Jose, the Jose who stabbed into García to win Carmen." They knew very well, just as Faulkner did, that they had to create a different cultural-geography while accepting modern and Western ideas.  The world thus spreads in a multi-layered fashion; an important question for us in this context would be to make clear its mechanism and its process of growth.

     On the other hand, we also notice that my title "Faulkner and World Literature," when taken literally, simply juxtaposes two elements without any implication of the temporal order. This prompts us to also take into consideration the question of the impact of world literature on Faulkner: how he reacted to it. The question seems too easy to answer, because we have his own confessions on record. He said repeatedly that he read at least once over a period of a few years Shakespeare, Moby-Dick, Brothers Karamazov, Madame Bovary, Conrad, Don Quixote and the Old Testament. Numerous echoes of these works, and often direct references to them, are actually found in his own writing.

     The most important and striking example in this respect would be Macbeth's famous soliloquy beginning with "To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow?" A portion of it, as you know, appears in the title of The Sound and the Fury---let's note here that Faulkner modified the original phrase to suit his own purposes to The Sound and the Fury. Moreover, another portion, "life's but a walking shadow," exactly corresponds to the life of Quentin Compson, for whom, it seems, the image of the shadow never fails to follow wherever he goes.  Furthermore, another phrase from the soliloquy, "a tale told by an idiot," can be said to anticipate the very method of Faulkner's novel, which begins with Benjy's narration.

     These instances of parallelism can no longer be regarded as mere matters of influence; they should be understood specifically as a result of simulative or parodic creation.  I have stated above that Márquez, Inoue and Nakagami, while simulating Yoknapatawpha, found their own spaces for creation which contained traces of Yoknapatawpha in them but at the same time transcended it, incorporating both continuity and discontinuity. This is also true for the relationship between Macbeth and Faulkner; in this case he is influenced instead of influencing, but we find here the same structure and principle working in the same way---the structure which shows how two great writers share the knowledge of the unchangeable essence of the modern Western world, which pierces through the three hundred-odd years separating them.

     For other examples, we have only to remember the three mates of the Pequod in Moby-Dick. Faulkner said the three offered a model of the trinity characters in his A Fable---the Jewish pilot, the Quartermaster General and the Runner. In addition, the famous episode in Brothers Karamazov, that of the Grand Inquisitor, gave A Fable an important inspiration. Also from Dostoyevsky, the idiot Benjy seems to be intended as a boldly metamorphosed twentieth-century version of Prince Myshkin of The Idiot, the figure of modern Christ; who, in his turn, is a kind of descendent of Don Quixote.

     According to Professor Taku Egawa's "Nazotoki"(Unriddling) Dostoyevsky series, an idiot-like Christ figure such as Myshkin is traditionally called the "yurodivy," or the Sacred Idiot. Although he does return from the mental hospital to society as a normal person, he becomes an idiot again when faced with the bizarre complexity of reality. The whole sequence of action shows how it is impossible for a Sacred Idiot to become normal any more, how he has to remain as an idiot, thus demonstrating man's inevitable fate in modern history. Taking this into consideration, we will have to say that Benjy, the Idiot of the twentieth century, is the symbolic figure of such a fate. Let us remember here that Dilsey and Benjy in the Black church in the final chapter of The Sound and the Fury are compared to the Holy Mother and Child, and that Benjy's helpless moan in the very last scene adequately symbolizes his historical fate.

     Furthermore, Faulkner seems to have taken in the image of the Sacred Idiot again in his characterization of the nameless reporter in Pylon. The word "Idiot" directed to Myshkin by Aglaya, the last and purest daughter of the Yepanchins, is repeated verbatim by Lavern, who is mysterious enough to have two husbands, the parachute jumper and the race flight pilot, when she turns down the nameless reporter who secretly loves her. Imitation of a character's dialogue, as seen in this instance, shows that the method of parodically inverting an admired authority, in development since Don Quixote, has now reached the last extremity, where the writing itself functions as parodic. It is indeed significant that The Idiot begins with a scene on a train, a symbol of nineteenth century technology, while The Pylon begins with an image of an airplane, a representative of high technology in the early twentieth century---a image made even more threatening by the fact that it is an airplane made for air racing.

     These examples, as I have stated, cannot be explained away as stemming from mere influence: rather, they attest to Faulkner's receptive and creative continuation of World Literature (because Russian Literature was only one of many for Faulkner) by way of simulation or parody, and they tell us how he, while dealing with the American South, had a large enough capacity to accommodate the diverse body of World Literature. The idea of World Literature, first advocated as an ideal by Goethe and others, gradually dissolved into the reality of the tremendous diversity of world literature; but now in the reality of the second half of the twentieth century, that diversity has become a problem again.  This time the problem is the discrepancy, conflict or tension between general and universal ideas on the one hand and the peculiarity of the individual--i.e. that of the nation, the cultural sphere and the person--on the other; like, for example, the United States, the South and Faulkner. And in my opinion, the most important key to understanding this problem is a pursuit of the individual which is firmly based on the general and universal; or rather, deeply soaked in it.

     Closely related to the problem of diversity is the present situation in which the system of modern industrial society, originally brought about by the modernization of the West, has spread so widely that it now governs not only the Western world but other cultural spheres. The ironical result of this is that, as a counter force, each individual country and region with its own traditional culture gives voice to its diverse characteristics, convincing itself and others that diversity is the very reality of today. World wide modernization has sired modern rationalism, high technology as the apex of modern science, and finally, the system of technocracy. Therefore, its opponents, the traditional cultures of individual countries and regions are, though sometimes conservative and even reactionary, marvelously abundant in the essential qualities of man and nature rather than those of technology:  just as the heart is opposed to the head, to use my favorite phraseology.  They do not try simply to reject technology, which would be an unrealistic folly of course; instead, they can try, and must try, to enter into the psychic depths of technology, as it were, and win back their mental force and values thereby.

     In Faulkner's works is embedded deeply the two-fold and three-fold complexity of the world today, as is described above: he does not come to an easy conclusion as to which of its entangled components will prevail and which will lose, but repeatedly lets them struggle and react against each other, thus bravely accepting as the nature of reality their ultimate ambivalence or ambiguity, while creating a story, a character, or a distinctive image every time he accepts it. He had in his mind, on the one hand, images symbolic of high technology in the twentieth century such as the airplane, around which cluster stories of the ambiguous journey of human love, as I mentioned before; and on the other, images of Nature such as the earth on which Lena leisurely travels on the mule-drawn wagon in Light in August--the wagon almost mingled with the earth--which contribute to still more profound, still more ambiguous stories.

     There is, moreover, The Wild Palms, a singular double novel, in which the flooding father of the water, the Mississippi, in "The Old Man" is juxtaposed with modern metropolitan cities like New Orleans and Chicago. In this novel, by the way, the symbolic image and story of the coal mining district in Utah remind us of Mitsuharu Inoue's similar illustration in Kyushu; while in Go Down, Moses appears in the images and stories of the wilderness of the Mississippi Delta and its personification, Old Ben the bear; while finally, in A Fable, we have the old General, the supreme commander. Situated in World War I, the General represents an image of a God-like dictator who controls everything that makes up today's system of domination based on modern technology, from politics and finance to the army and military commerce. When his bastard son, the corporal as a modern Christ, is confronted with his father-General, the dictator, the two thus embody an image of essential ambiguity and ambivalence remarkably relevant to today's world.

     Diversity and ambivalence as discussed here are found not only in Faulkner, but in the work of many other excellent novelists and poets of synthesizing capacity who appeared successively during the history of Western modernization: firstly Shakespeare and Cervantes; then major writers of "history" and of the epistolary novel in the eighteenth century; major poets of classicism and romanticism; and many others in France, Germany, England and the United States, including Poe, Melville and Whitman; each and every one of them found a special significance in the diversity and ambivalence of the times in his own individual way.

     Faulkner offered a focal point of synthesis in the twentieth century which has been taken up intermittently by writers in Japan and many other countries, as I discussed above. There can be no single perfect way to describe the conditions of the modern world; it is forever ambiguous and ambivalent.  In spite of this fact, however, writers of synthesis did and still do appear in critical moments of history, and they are gradually more and more comprehensive. Such, I believe, is the reality of the literature of the world today.  In other words, the problem of the modern world always begins and ends, and then begins again for each new writer, whose task it is to observe and understand the figure and structure it happens to take at his particular time in history.

     I am afraid I have used too many big and confusing words. The above discussion hopefully offers a broad perspective from my viewpoint, and I should be happy if you have found any idea interesting or usable. This is all I can do for now; for, as I said in the beginning, even if I can explain the general condition of the problem, I will be unable to step into the future of Faulkner studies with you, but I look forward to seeing you do so. Thank you for your attention, and I hope our first conference and symposium in October will be successful.

* This speech is based upon the Presidential Address presented at the Inaugural Meeting of the Japan William Faulkner Society in Kyoto, on May 24, 1998.

Copywright (C) 1999  Ohashi Kenzaburo