Joseph R. Urgo and Ann J. Abadie, eds.
Faulkner in America

Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2001, xxxvii+193pp.


     Regarding the ten essays (here offered in paperback form) from the University of Mississippi's 1998 Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, Joseph R. Urgo, one of the collection's editors, notes that they ask "what is the relationship between Faulkner and America and where in America is Faulkner?" and that they address questions of how Faulkner confronts American issues and how he "articulates in the national voice."
     In "'The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives': Faulkner and the Greening of American History," the third essay in the volume, Noel Polk begins by developing a fascinating "butterfly effect" metaphor and goes on to examine how Faulkner views American history. Like the Founding Fathers, who attempted to create a new history for themselves in the New World, the founders of the town of Jefferson, as well as Sutpen and Ike, also attempt to disrupt the flow of history, but in their case the effort is in vain, as it was for Faulkner himself similarly in the early 1950s. Polk demonstrates that history for Faulkner is "some kind of resistance to the force that through the green fuse drives." The author's effective use of metaphor in general and of a passage from Dylan Thomas in particular make this insightful interpretation of Faulkner in America the most striking essay in the collection.
     Peter Nicolaisen's "William Faulkner: Dialogue with Thomas Jefferson," which follows Polk's essay in the volume, includes moving tributes to Faulkner and Jefferson. In a discussion of Go Down, Moses and A Fable, the author demonstrates a significant commonality in the visions of America held by the two men, particularly with respect to issues of law, race, and freedom. The essay is a highly enlightening guide to understanding where in America these two men stood.
    Catherine Gunther Kodat's "Writing A Fable for America" is especially convincing in showing a warm and abiding love for A Fable and for its author, while at the same time acknowledging the difficulty of actually reading the novel. The work displays, Kodat argues, the conflict between modernism/high-culture and mass-culture/consumer economy, while illustrating the ultimate loss of high modernism. A Fable is further analyzed from the viewpoints of Sentimentalism and Fraternity, two other essential concepts in American history, and the novel is identified as "Faulkner's fable for Americans."
     Another discussion of A Fable is offered in Urgo's "Where was the Bird? Thinking America through Faulkner," the title of which is based on the fact that while Faulkner refers to James Street's novel as the source of a passage (about a hanged man and a bird) in A Fable, the bird itself does not appear in Street's book. It is here that Urgo finds crucial clues to Faulkner's literary methodology and to his place in America. When the old general tells the corporal in the novel that facts are to be made up like literary representations, his speech is emblematic of the creation of the United States and Yoknapatawpha through the performative power of language (that of the Declaration of Independence and of Faulkner's own writing).
     Hortence J. Spillers, in her "Faulkner Adds Up: Reading Absalom, Absalom! and The Sound and the Fury," analyzes various scenes in the novels and the repetition of spoken words and deeds, and in the process she devises stimulatingly fresh interpretations. Some readers (lazy enough to be) unfamiliar with recent theories may, however, find her closely described analyses a bit overdrawn.
     Richard Godden's "Comparative Idiocy: A Phenomenological Reading of The Hamlet as a Rebuke to an American Century" examines the behavior of Ike, Armstid, and the other idiots, both through the lens of recent scholarship and through a more classical approach to reading the texts. He does so by placing each of the stories in the material conditions of their time and place. With its lucid rendition of the idiots' language and deeds, and with its application of both theoretical principles and traditional critical practices, this essay provides an excellent model for future literary scholarship. It is ingenious of the editors to have chosen this essay to serve as the opening article of the volume.
     Charles A. Peek, in his "'A-laying there, right up to my door': As American As I Lay Dying," places As I Lay Dying in the context of the American south in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the increasing conflict between materialism/Capitalism and spiritualism/Puritanism seriously disturbed the thinking and the lives of American farmers. The author's view of Faulkner's farmers of the period, while undeniably tinged with a certain sentimentality, is perceptively empathetic as well. In "Go Down, Moses:: Faulkner's Interrogations of the American Dream," Linda Wagner-Martin offers an astute account of the relationship between Faulkner's "own bereavement" and the creation of "the most eloquent evocation of human pain," as represented by Rider. The author also effectively employs an analogy between an outraged and corrupted New World and the world of such ineffectual men as Ike, Lucas, and Ross.
     Charles Reagan Wilson, professor of history at the University of Mississippi, provides an image of Faulkner at the peak of his career, when a conflict between the idea of the American Way of Life and a contrasting idea of a "Southern Way" bore down on the South. His elaborate essay, "Our Land, Our Country: Faulkner, the South, and the American Way of Life," shows Faulkner himself standing apart from contemporary issues during these years, and provides, as well, a vivid description of the author in his final years. The volume ends with "The Portable Eclipse: Hawthorn, Faulkner, and Scribbling Women," in which Kathryn B. McKee describes in detail a number of female writers, contemporary to Faulkner, who grappled with serious, gender-related issues. The author's arguments are insightful and contribute effectively to her demonstration of a new and enlightening interpretation of Faulkner's women. In the end, Faulkner, by confronting a region and its hist! ory in much the same way as had Hawthorn before him, extends his vision beyond all regional limitations.
     This collection of essays presents a variety of approaches to his sweeping literary themes that is, in its range, both a fitting tribute to Faulkner's work and a thought-provoking reference for further scholarship.

Copyright (c)2003 Ikeuchi Masanao