Edouard Glissant
Faulkner, Mississippi

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. 273pp.


    A novelist and critic born in Martinque, Edouard Glissant has gained popularity with Japanese Faulknerians after his lectures on creole literature and cultures in Tokyo last year. Faulkner, Mississippi (2000) is an English version of Glissant's collection of critical essays originally published in French in 1996. Glissant's is not so much a formal study as a more liberal effort to grasp the Yoknapatawpha Saga as a whole.
    As is often the case with author studies written by the other writers, it is not always easy to follow the wide variety of discussions that unfold here. This is partly because Glissant refers to such writers as Shakespeare, Proust, present-day creole novelists and, of course, Faulkner himself. He also alludes to the distant worlds of the Old Testament and Greek tragedies including Sophocles. Such a diverse range of topics and writers results in discussions that repeat and take the reader on an oftentimes confusing journey along a route that is, so to speak, designed by Glissant's intuitive spirals. Furthermore, philosophical meditations, personal experiences, and impressions of the Caribbean Islands as well as of the American South are interspersed making this book a sort of travelogue.
    Apart from these peripheral topics that deviate from the core discussions, the author's evaluations of the Yoknapatawpha world and the characters inhabiting it are based upon standard tactics of close reading and textual interpretations. To support the discussions, ample quotations from the texts give the readers easy access to the novels treated.
    Glissant believes in the creolization of the world, so he understandably pays particular attention to racial relationships among whites, native American Indians, mulattoes, and Afro-Americans. The author's sympathy towards the minorities in the Deep South is backed up by his own life experiences in the more racially tolerant climate of the Caribbean. Glissant interprets that Faulkner admits the sins that whites have commited against blacks as Gavin Stevens does in The Intruder in the Dust (1948) and regards blacks as a potentially redeeming power. Faulkner suggests that those who survive in Yoknapatawpha will be either the Snopes with rat-like voraciousness, or the enduring blacks.
    The author's conclusions as to the destinies of white and black races are not so fresh, yet his emphasis upon the history of Native Americans will certainly hold the readers' attention. Glissant speculates about the identities of Sam Fathers's alleged three fathers. He asserts that the life of Chickasaw chief Ikkemotubbe and the presence of his blood in Sam's veins presage the white planters and relate to the fate awaiting their landholdings and patriarchy. Certainly, the fate of the Sutpens and the Compson family overlaps with that of the Indians. Both lose their land and witness the collapse of their descendants. It is after the introduction of slavery that the Chickasaws become corrupt and their doom is sealed. Similarly, the mixed-blood Sam Fathers is not endowed with offspring, which puts an end to the orthodoxy of the proud Indians.
    By drawing a continuum based on the keyword slavery, the readers can imagine the places the three races occupy in Yoknapatawpha. At one extreme is located Sam, the descendant of the indigenous people who lost everything because they sold the land over to the whites. At the opposite extreme is found Dilsey (Nancy Mannigoe, if you like) who is eventually regarded as an outgrowth of slavery. Between these two poles wriggle various white characters. The placement of the three races along this continuum reconfirms land acquisition and succession of "blood" as the motifs of the Yoknapatawpha Saga.
    Glissant suggests Faulkner is "mercilessly strict" in depicting blacks. Strictness in Glissant's contexts means that the writer depicts blacks in such a way that can be interpreted as seeming racist to people who are racists; although, it is not clear that Faulkner himself criticizes the blacks. Faulkner's noncommittal attitude towards blacks, according to Glissant's interpretation, is significant of Faulkner's sincerity, yet he does not seem to be fully aware of blacks.
    Of course the most successful example of such a technique is Absalom, Absalom! (1936). Glissant's surprise discussions on Faulkner's masterpiece, Absalom, Absalom! suggest that Sutpen might be Milly's father, that is, he seduced his own daughter to beget a heir to consummate the dream of his own dynasty. It will be subtle whether this interpretation be widely accepted as it is not based upon the reading of the text itself, but on the inference derived from the chronology and genealogy inserted at the end. Is that sort of act really in keeping with Sutpenfs total character? The difficulty to probe into the facts in the fictional world is not limited to Absalom, Absalom! After testing three candidates for Sam's father, Glissant is still unable to reach a conclusion and finally gives up the attempt. Literary techniques are not simply accountable for such a laborious process to confirm facts in Faulkner's novels. Also contributing is Faulkner's own recognition of the difficulty to grasp the truth on earth. His novels are not easy to follow because this recognition he persistently pursues in the Yoknapatawpha Saga. Frequent use of "vertigo" in this study is also emblematic of the difficulty to unravel Faulkner's complicated fictional world. It is expressive not only of the psychological conditions of many characters who cannot but pursue their tenacious thoughts and inferences in the conversations with themselves as well as others, but also Glissant's own ideas. Repetitions of particular phrases and expressions in parallel with "not only, but also" can be explained by the same reason--Faulkner's efforts to press close "the truth."
    Frankly, those who expect new discussions on Faulkner's themes and techniques might not be so pleased with this book. But it is certainly useful for Faulkner enthusiasts to grope for what directions the overall discussions of the Yoknapatawpha Saga might take.

Copyright (c)2002 Sugiyama Naoto