Philip M. Weinstein
What Else But Love?: The Ordeal of Race in Faulkner and Morrison.
New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. xxix+237 pp.

Carol A. Kolmerten, Stephen M. Ross, and Judith Bryant Wittenberg, eds.
Unflinching Gaze: Morrison and Faulkner Re-envisioned.
Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1997. xv+247 pp.


     These two books are thrilling ventures in reading William Faulkner and Toni Morrison intertextually. This activity in search of new critical possibilities for gaining deeper understanding of the works of these dramatically contrastive novelists in the light of their differences naturally involves scholars of American literature with different orientations: the writers of these critical essays consist of scholars whose major achievements have been made in the field of Faulkner studies and scholars whose primary interest lies in the works of African American writers. Philip M. Weinstein, the author of What Else But Love?, is a distinguished Faulkner scholar of long standing while the contributors to Unflinching Gaze, a collection of 15 essays, make a constellation of well-known Faulknerians (including Weinstein) and established and up-and-coming energetic scholar of African American literature. 
     Considering the phenomenon wherein apparent similarities and radical differences between the two novelists are often pointed out and discussions on the subject have been getting more frequent and fervent, especially after the publication of Morrison's fifth novel, Beloved, and that of her sixth novel, Jazz, these two volumes on the analytical attempt of intertextual reading can be called the first harvest in book-form of this critical climate. These writings may well serve as a timely response to the urgent need for theoretical approaches that will elucidate how the texts of this white male writer and of this black female writer intersect in terms of theme and form, and how examining their differences and similarities will offer clues that will open up new perspectives from which to read these two great novelists who have created the vortexes that have brought about revolutionary changes in the 20th century American novel. 
     Regardless of scholarly orientations, it is apparent similarities of the two novelists that first invite critics to try their analytical comparisons, but once an intertextual reading has started, it is the novelists' differences that matter. Analysing those differences and clarifying the cause and effect of them are creative efforts to bring into relief characteristics of Faulkner's oeuvre through Morrison's and vice versa. 
     It is understood that the various similarities in the texts that catch the critical eye basically come from two characteristic tendencies shared by Faulkner and Morrison: they never avert their eyes from the tragedies of racialism, the most serious problem throughout the history of America, and at the same time they have become indefatigable experimental artists of language in their struggles to represent the traumatic effects of racial prejudice on the inner sphere of selfhood, the injurious blows on the identity formation of the characters they create, whose tragedies symbolize the inveterately wounded American society. Absalom, Absalom! and Beloved are the most remarkable proof of both writers' unaverted gaze on the racial theme and their eloquent endorsement of the inseparability of theme and from through the context and language of their works. Taking these basically common attitudes into consideration, we find that such often-cited situational resemblances between Charles Bon and Golden Gray (Jazz), or between Clytie and Circe (Song of Solomon) or between Ike McCaslin in a bear hunt and Milkman Dead in a bobcat hunt (Song of Solomon), or the epochmaking modernist and postmodernist techniques that weave the texture of Absalom, Absalom! and Light in August, or that of Beloved and Jazz offer inviting gateways to various intertextual readings. 
     But whatever each critic's analytical procedure through these gateways may be, it eventually leads his or her attention to how different these two writers are. For example, these critics find how Faulkner and Morrison are opposingly different in their ways of imagining the psychological motivations of their characters' behaviours in similar circumstances, or how they are different in their recognition of the irrecoverability of history, naturally the history of white (male) Americans as subjects to Faulkner, the history of African Americans as subjects to Morrison. Above all, the most significant difference lies in their central concerns and emphases in dramatizing individual racial tragedies. Needless to say, the common understanding of the writers of these critical essays is that these differences inevitably owe to the novelists' different positionings in terms of race, gender and cultural background. 
     Thus, what should be noted is that both similarities and differences between Faulkner and Morrison keep their (American) intertextual readers and critics under high tension. Both novelists' unflinching gaze on the theme of race compels readers and critics themselves to reexamine their private and social realities concerning race, gender and culture which are the base of their positioning. In fact, as the author of What Else But Love? and the editors of Unflinching Gaze honestly confide to us, the painful act of self-reflection and that of confronting the cacophonous disputes or turmoils of their racialized society which often surface in controversial classroom discussions are unavoidable in the process of reading and teaching the works of these two writers at the same time, one who is a white male descendant of the southern aristocracy and one who is a black female writer who is a descendant of the African slaves in the South. This immediacy of the American racial situation permeates the above two books and makes them vivid and magnetic to a nonAmerican scholar of American literature like myself, whose knowledge of American racial dynamics is not founded on personal experiences and therefore whose neutral vacuum tends to make the activity of intertextual reading of these writers a less personal and less immediate intellectual game. The humanistic love and concerns which are the origin of the two great artists' creative passion and which the titles of these books on them emphasize seem to be shared by the writers of the essays. The introductions of both books make clear that the essays are intended for more than a professional audience. 

     What Else But Love? explores "the drama of identity formation" in the works of Faulkner and Morrison by means of examining how the racial and gender norms in American society influence individuals in their formative processes. The exploration is carried through three aspects vital for this drama of human development, namely, "mothering," "fathering" and "inheriting" through which children absorb the norms and values of the society in which they are destined to live. It is not only the identity formation of the characters in the works of both novelists that the author examines. Wanting to know the role race and gender as cultural resources and as limitations in forming the positionings of the novelists who create those characters and those of readers who read their works and respond to their characters from their own perspectives formed by their cultures, their own concepts of race and gender, Weinstein starts his book with reflection on his own boyhood in the South under the loving care of Vannie, a faithful female servant of long years, similar to Callie in the Faulkner family. He tries to examine how his closeness to her and his love for her made his partial understanding of this black woman possible, and how his privileged status as a white male prevented him from knowing and imagining Vannie as a whole person. The racial boundary did not allow him to see Vannie in other aspects of her life than that of being a maid for the white family and kept the chasm between his "self" and her "otherness" uncrossable. 
     The examination of his personal experiences leads Weinstein to an insightful consideration of Faulkner's representation of Dilsey modeled on Callie. Taking as a contrastive example, the characterization of Dilsey and Nancy on one hand and that of Pauline (The Bluest Eye) and Ondine (Tar Baby) on the other, Weinstein argues that, unlike Morrison whose positioning as a black woman enables her to see black women from all aspects of their lives and enter their subjectivity, Faulkner's relational positioning as a white male only allows him to see them partially, mainly observing them in the role of mammy for white children or that of servant. The role of mother to their own children in Morrison's subjectified black women is the most important element in her representation of black women characters. Applying the same argument to Morrison's white male characters such as Bodwin in Beloved, Weinstein calls their nonuniversal angle of vision "relational positioning." Weinstein's point is not to denigrate the limitations of each writer's inevitable relational positioning but to say that they see "truths of relational seeing," rather than the obsolete fiction of "universal truths." It seems that he sees "the drama of self-other dynamic" in such truths of relational seeing and does not completely deny the possibility of the artists' imaginative power to transcend boundaries between self and other in order to enter the subjectivity of other in spite of and because of their relational positionings. 
     Weinstein's analysis of male characters in Faulkner's and Morrison's novels in their struggles to achieve manhood or in search of a father throws light on how their attitudes are different toward the concepts of fathering and manhood based on the Oedipal/patriarchal model in Western traditions. As Faulkner's white male characters are burdened with history and fettered by conventions, unable to imagine any other way of attaining manhood than inheriting the code and value of their society, the dysfunction of the culture that invalidates the fathers' bequeathment of legacies and the sons' inheritance of them is fatal. These legacies are supposed to secure for them "the proper, propriety and property," the conditions for manhood defined by Weinstein according to the Lockean premise for a man with natural, inalienable liberty under the law of Nature. What Faulkner's white male characters mostly do is to grieve about the impasse they are driven to or about the loss of innocence and purity through the recognition of the sins of their fathers. On the other hand, Faulkner's mix-blooded males try to assert their manhood on the grounds of the white male paradigm represented by their sires. 
     Morrison's black male characters cannot afford the griefs Faulknerian white male characters indulge in. Deprived of those conditions for manhood, "the proper, propriety and property" from the moment of birth, and excluded from the dominant culture's frame work and denied self-esteem, the constant concern of Morrison's black make characters in this racialized society is to survive any kind of danger and traumatic humiliation and still find a way to recover their injured manhood. Weinstein points out that, ever since the creation of Cholly Breedlove in The Bluest Eye, who becomes a dangerously free man as the result of his failure in identity formation  due to the devastating circumstances often inevitable to black adolescence, the ordeals of Morrison's black male characters have never ceased to authenticate how Western patriarchal concepts for manhood preclude black men and disfranchise women of any colour and thus manifest the author's refusal of those concepts. 
     Weinstein believes that Morrison has continued to grope for new concepts for unpatriarchal fathering concepts for manhood that will make possible for the vulnerable, underprivileged black males, identity formation as whole man; and he also suggests that Morrison's quest has led to the creation of such characters as Paul D, Stamp Paid in Beloved and Joe Trace in Jazz whose malleable imaginations can liberate their spiritual beings from the fetters of the values of the racialized society and keep the inner sanctuary of the soul free from the patriarchal law. The embracing power of understanding they have developed under the inhuman adversity is nonjudgemental, accepting discredited elements beyond the Oedipal law and beyond man's will. And these characteristics acquired through their struggle for survival lead them into maturity in spite of and because of the traumatic humiliations and deprivations Morrison's male characters can hardly avoid. 
     Weinstein pursues the comparative analyses of form in parallel with the detailed examination of content along the theme of identity formation through pairs Faulkner's and Morrison's texts such as Go Down, Moses and Song of Solomon, Absalom, Absalom! and Jazz, and Light in August and Beloved. His argument may be summarized as follows: Faulkner's full practice of modernist techniques in his prime is most effective in representing the bankruptcy of southern patriarchy and the unworkability of its values for successful identity formation in white males in the first place, and consequently, black males, and finally, women. Morrison's much later and modified practice of modernist techniques beautifully combines with her folkloric storytelling techniques rooted in African American oral tradition, refusing to be stranded on the tragic impasse or to allow the obscurity of history to be reduced into the realm of myth and legend where obscurity of history to be reduced into the realm of myth and legend where earlier modernist form tend to lead Faulkner. This formal innovation is all for the reclamation of the repressed history of black people and their culture from underneath white civilization. Instead of blindly accepting Western patriarchal concepts for manhood, her characters must draw on the resources thus retrieved for weaving their coherent identity. 
     In Weinstein's argument, both novelists' stylistic differences are due to the different directions they take to look for solutions for the almost four century continuation of racial tragedies. He points out how Morrison's style turns the vocal chasm in Faulkner's style into a vocal continuum, the chasm between poetic and private voice and the one between vernacular and public voice. This indication is richly suggestive when we think of the alienation of Faulkner's characters from their society and his artistic stratagem to resist easy access by readers, while Morrison's ideal is a "village literature" where call and response between author and reader accomplish a work of art which is shared like in an exciting religious a meeting accomplished between a preacher and his congregation. It seems to me that Morrison's vocal continuum symbolizes her ideal of relation between community and its individual members, which Faulkner's modernism neither targeted nor accomplished. 
     Weinstein closes his book with the question of value of literary works and his tentative answer to it. If there do not exist such truths as universal truths seen from a universal point of view and the "universal standard" which was established by the Euramerican-centered traditions of literature for evaluating literary works is not to be trusted any more in this age of muticulturism, and if the Kantian criterion of formally achieved aesthetic disinterest is not applicable, what common measure could be suggested to decide the values of literary works without falling into the dispute of identity politics or into the isolated tenet of New Criticism? Weinstein suggests a measure based on the idea of "the circulation of social energy," the term used by Greenblatt in his Shakespearean Negotiations, arguing to the effect that aesthetic value inheres in the formal power of the text to represent its social energies in conflict, to subjectify its social, ideological clashes and let them be acknowledged through the subjectivity of readers. Throughout the book the author bears his self-assigned homework in mind, that is, thinking about the role race and gender play in the making and receiving of literature. This way of defining literary value surely supports the meaningful role of race and gender and the relational positioning taken by raced and gendered writers. 

     The fifteen essays in Unflinching Gaze are arranged in four sections: "Intertextuality," "Pairings," "Absalom, Absalom! and Beloved," and Coda. 
 In section I four critics provide comprehensive reviews of the two novelists' careers and outstanding features in their oeuvres and demonstrate potentials for intertextual reading. John N. Duvall, who points out a dialogical continuation between Absalom, Absalom! and Jazz on the theme of quest for a father, assumes a critical stand between Morrison's often-cited and justifiable statement "I am not like Faulkner" and Gates' undeniable assertion "all texts signify upon other texts, in motivated and unmotivated ways." Carolyn Denard argues that mythical consciousness is a common element shared by Faulkner and Morrison. She demonstrates how this unique consciousness not only connects the present moments in their works with the past and the future but also places their human comedy in the mythical perspective of eternity. Adrea Dimino examines the influences that both writers have exerted on American society and culture both as writers and public figures, bringing into relief the revisions Morrison has been making on the Faulknerian representation of race and gender questions through her own literary works and her public speeches and lectures as educator, literary critic, and much sought after opinion leader, a role Faulkner, who called himself a farmer story teller, did not play until late in his career. Weinstein's "David and Solomon: Fathering in Faulkner and Morrison" (a section from What Else But Love?) considers the differences also discussed by Dimino. But he is not interested in how Morrison has been playing the role of Faulkner's revisionist: his interest lies in how cultural and historical differences in the races of the writers have made their works what they are. These four essays form a kind of observatory which commands a general view of the cosmoses the two writers have created, preparing the reader for the intertextual readings of their paired texts in the following sections. 
     In "Pairings," seven pairings of Faulkner's and Morrison's novels are discussed. Those pairs are as follows: Absalom, Absalom! and The Bluest Eye, Absalom, Absalom! and Jazz, Beloved and As I Lay Dying, Beloved and Requiem for a Nun, "The Bear" and Song of Solomon, and The Bluest Eye and As I Lay Dying. In section III, all the three intertextual readings are given to pairing Absalom, Absalom! and Beloved
     Though topics and approaches in these essays vary, there are three common factors the writers of these essays invariably confront in their intertextual readings: 1) The important role of African American culture pervasive in the works of both novelists. 2) The fact that those silent mask-like black characters kept in the background of Faulkner's novels have been foregrounded and given subjectivity in Morrison's novels, bringing about changes in the map racial relationships, and inviting Faulknerians to read his works from new angles that lead them to revise long accepted, authorized interpretations of his black characters. 3) Both novelists’ use of modernist and postmodernist techniques as means to discover the past from histories which have become irrecoverable and their continuous struggle to find language capable of the task of telling their stories. 
     Concerning the first factor, Nancy Ellen Batty's "Riff, Refrain: Toni Morrison's Song of Absalom" analyze how differently religious and secular black music functions in the novelists' works. The second factor inspires Weinstein's and Dimino's insightful considerations of meanings and differences in both Faulkner's and Morrison's representation of black characters. The third factor is the strong motivation for such essays as Roberta Rubenstein "History and Story, Sign and Design: Faulknerian and Postmodern Voices in Jazz,” Catherine Kodat, "A Postmodern Absalom, Absalom! and a Modern Beloved: The Dialectic of Form,” and Philip Novak "Signifying Silences: Morrison's Sounding in the Faulknerian Void." The last two essays are interesting in that they clarify differences in the two novelists’ attitudes toward absence, loss, desire, and, above all, history through discussions of their different purposes and the effects of their use of similar modernist techniques. 
     The book closes with Patrick O'Donnell's "Faulkner in Light of Morrison" which examines what O'Donnell calls Morrison's influence on Faulkner. Based on Morrison's critical theory of the role of blackness in white imagination in her Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, this essay seeks to define the meaning and the function of the naked body of Joe Christmas caught by headlights in the blackness of night. 
     Except for O'Donnell and Duvall in his examination of Morrison's apparent anxiety of Faulknerian influence, the writers of these critical essays seem to cautiously circumvent the use of the term "influence," standing on the tacit consent that there is no "master text" or "universal standard" by which to evaluate those that come later and that if the term "influence" is applicable at all, it can only grow out of the activity of intertextual reading itself and apply mutually. Still, Toni Morrison has professed to be an admiring reader of Faulkner while at the same time she is a severe critic of this writer's limitations that arise from his relational positioning as a white male raised in the South. Whether by deliberate endeavor or not, there are many seeming rewritings of Faulknerian plots, scenes, and characters in Morrison's novels which the critics refer to with terms such as "reshaping," "revisioning" or "signifying." 
     It is a pity that I am not able to introduce all the fifteen essays in Unflinching Gaze because of limited space. Most are inspiring, suggesting further possibilities of intertextual studies of these two great artists. At the same time the book is as a whole not as intensive or fulfilling as it could be owing to the wide scope of coverage and restricted space given to each topic. This impression is probably due to the fact that I read these two books in the order in which I reviewed them. What Else But Love? has the advantage of being focused on one theme and written by one author. 
     I find both books very pleasurable reading especially because they offer intertextual interpretations the great writers I most admire. On reading these two books, I come away considering how it might be possible to reach, through my own intertextual reading, a new understanding of each writer from my own relational positioning as a Japanese female scholar of American literature. This is no easy task.

Copywright (C) 1999  Yoshida Michiko