Donald M. Kartiganer and Ann J. Abadie, eds.
Faulkner at 100: Retrospect and Prospect

Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2000. xxix+299pp.


    Faulkner at 100 is a collection of the papers presented at the 1997 Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference. The largest gathering of Faulkner scholars in the twenty-four-year history of the conference commemorated the hundredth anniversary of Faulkner's birth. This volume contains not only the papers read and the responses to the presentations at the meeting but also speeches celebrating the centennial of the writer and the program for the celebration at the University of Mississippi. Accordingly it takes on a different aspect from those published before in the series of the conference.
    Five panel presentations consisting of fifteen papers and five comparatively long essays inserted between the panels discuss the life and work of the writer from various angles. André Bleikasten follows Faulkner studies and criticism up to now, and assesses them in retrospect, in his "Faulkner in the Singular." American Faulkner studies up to the early seventies, according to Bleikasten, were generally influenced by New Criticism and the formalistic tenets, except for the first three book- length studies by Olga Vickery, Michael Millgate, and Cleanth Brooks. Theory introduced from France, classified under the loose label of "post-structuralism," dominated criticism in America in the late seventies and the eighties, when "ideas about language, literature, culture, and history"(205) were changed drastically. American Faulkner studies, bristling with philosophical, psychoanalytical, and linguistic abstractions, became increasingly theory-oriented, and are now based on the French theorists of the sixties and seventies. Bleikasten expresses misgivings that the current dominance of cultural criticism based on questions of race, class, and gender should imprison Faulkner in Southernness once again. Reviewing Faulkner studies in "retrospect," Bleikasten shifts the topic to the "prospect" of the studies. Issuing a warning against reading Faulkner in the light of some literary theory, that is, reading some criticism into Faulkner, Bleikasten tries to exploit the possibility of a new reading of Faulkner in responding "to the prodigious energy and restless inventiveness of Faulkner's language," and listening to the scandalous wisdom of his tales (217). In "Defining Moment: The Portable Faulkner Revisited," Michael Millgate traces the process of the making of The Portable Faulkner by Malcolm Cowley, and recapitulates the compilation, examining its comprehensive emphasis on the writer's Southernness. Cowley's attempt, according to Millgate, retrieved Faulkner's reputation from oblivion and led the writer to win the Nobel prize for literature, but at the same time, there is a possibility that it made Faulkner one of the nationalistic writers and deployed him "as a powerful weapon in the ideological battles of the Cold War" (33). John T. Matthews explores Faulkner's language, especially black dialect, and illustrates how the American minstrel tradition provides the writer with "the means both to search for the long-suppressed black voices composing his world and also to register the kinds of historical interference that complicate the reproduction of speech and experience across a racial divide"(87), reading Faulkner's texts as the product of experiments in modernism.
    Among the first panel presentations under the title of "Who Was William Faulkner?," Lothar Hönnighausen, in his "Faulkner, the Role-Player," pinpoints Faulkner as an artist of wearing masks and role-playing, which assume sociological, psychological, historical, and aesthetic aspects. In "Was Not was Not Who Since Philoprogenitive," Noel Polk attempts to fix Faulkner, "the absent center of all our narrations, the gap we keep trying to fill" (19), examining the narrators and characters appearing repeatedly in the writer's works. "Faulkner's Playful Bestiary: Seeing Gender through Ovidian Eyes" by Gail Mortimer, placed in the following panel, "Why Faulkner," develops an argument that Faulkner makes use of animals in his works to allegorize the impossible divergence between men and women, referring to Metamorphoses by Ovid. The third panel, "The Career of William Faulkner" examines the shape of the writer's career from various angles. Hans H. Skei probes Faulkner's early works before the publication of The Sound and the Fury, and demonstrates the signs of great works in his prolific years. Skei, however, insists on following the writer's career not from the viewpoint of "cause and effect" but through minute analysis of the texts themselves of his early works. Judith Bryant Wittenberg, in "Absalom, Absalom! and the Challenges of Career Design," brings forward a stimulative argument that the reflection of Faulkner's own artistic aspiration can be found in Thomas Sutpen's compelling desire for power. In her presentation, "Reading the Absences: Race and Narration in Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!" placed in the fourth panel, "Faulkner and America," Doreen Fowler explores the otherness of African American people, calling of Toni Morrison in her analysis of the erasure of racial crossing in Faulkner's works. John T. Irwin, in his "Not the Having but the Wanting: Faulkner's Lost Loves," discusses "a recurring aspect of Faulkner's life and art" (154), that is, his preference for a type of romantic attachment in which the object of love is idealized and unattainable. Irwin scrutinizes the close interrelations between the love object and writing, analyzing the number of structures and images; incestuous attraction; the structure or imagery of narcissism; a kind of emotional bisexuality or hermaphroditism; and a sense of art as a means of creating a substitute, narcissistic love-object in the work (156). The presentations of the last panel, "Untapped Faulkner," probe into neglected biographical aspects. In his presentation, "What Faulkner Read at the P.O.," Thomas L. McHaney traces Faulkner's intellectual development through an investigation of what he read or might have read during his post office years from 1921 to 1924.
    Faulkner at 100 attempts to predict the future of Faulkner studies and reflect on the past of those in the anniversary of Faulkner's birth as the subtitle, "Retrospect and Prospect" suggests. Millgate's remarks, "I represent Retrospect," at the beginning of his presentation, however, seem to suggest clearly the difficulty of presenting the "Prospect." Whether the reader can read the future course of Faulkner studies in the book or not, it is bold and instructive not only for new Faulknerians but also for those who are reconfirming their positions in the many years of the studies.

Copyright (c)2002 Hanaoka Shigeru