As I Lay Dying: Emergence of Faulkner the Southern Modernist

SHIN Moonsu

When something is new and hard and bright, there ought to be something a little better for it than just being safe, since the safe things are just the things that folks have been doing so long they have worn the edges off and there's nothing to the doing of them that leaves a man to say, that was not done before and it cannot be done again.1
     This somewhat philosophical statement generated by Darl's voice, the most articulate and disturbingly penetrating of the fifteen different voices narrating As I Lay Dying, seems to reveal the emotional climate in which William Faulkner wrote it. On the one hand, Faulkner seemed to be reassured, after writing The Sound and the Fury, which had given him both the ecstasy of writing and confidence of his talents, that he was doing something "new and hard and bright," creating a genuinely original work of art, but on the other, he seemed to worry about the risks and hazards such an innovative enterprise might incur, as is hinted at by Darl's final incarceration in an insane asylum after suffering misunderstanding and alienation. As a matter of fact, Faulkner had every reason to nurture such a concern at this time. He had just married a divorced woman with two children, and his new novel, Sanctuary, intended as a potboiler to get him out of financial difficulties, was turned down by publishers. Although The Sound and the Fury, published immediately after his marriage, had won some favorable reviews, it did not garner him the public recognition he desired and its sales record were disappointing. Faulkner's anxiety was further aggravated by the Wall Street crash of 1929, which happened at the moment he started writing As I Lay Dying.
     Faulkner's own retrospective account of the novel as "a book by which, at a pinch, I can stand or fall if I never touch ink again" ("Introduction" 709) suggests that he also faced the crisis as a vocational challenge. Still a marginal writer hardly recognized by the public even after The Sound and the Fury, he may have been under continuing pressure to demonstrate his talents as a professional novelist, and also of showing that his fictional region, Yoknapatawpha County, was worth writing about. Most modernist writers at that time such as Eliot and Joyce, whom Faulkner emulated, presented their works inspired by high metropolitan culture and cosmopolitan sensibilities. Disengaged from the net of their native places and provincial cultures, modernist writers including such acclaimed American expatriates as Fitzgerald and Hemingway have pursued transterritorial, autonomous art with little national or regional ethos. As Malcolm Cowley has described in Exile's Return, the modernist writers belonging to the Lost Generation were "homeless citizen of the world ... adhering to a theory of art which held that the creative artist is absolutely independent of all localities, nations, or classes"(Cowley 206). Against this trend which emphasized the self-imposed exile from one's native soil as a prerequisite for creative art, Faulkner decided to turn back from the cosmopolitan and urban cities like New Orleans to his "own little postage stamp of native soil" in backward Mississippi. He may have felt more strongly than ever that his works should vindicate such marginalization and periphery he deliberately imposed upon himself. As I Lay Dying is, I think, his answer to this particular challenge-a product of his eagerness to demonstrate that his Yoknapatawpha was as resourceful a mine for digging up a supreme art as Eliot's London, Joyce's Dublin, or Hemingway's Paris.
     In Sartoris and The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner dealt with the decadent aristocratic class of Yoknapatawpha , and now he wanted to go down the social scale to the poor whites, stretching his fictional realm and displaying his versatility. Turning to the redneck South in As I Lay Dying, Faulkner came to understand Southern culture more deeply and open his eyes to the richness of its cultural capital, especially the Southern storytelling tradition kept alive largely through the South's historical narratives about the lost past and a variety of talltales,2 and this made his fictional world change substantially again after The Sound and the Fury. What is interesting is that Faulkner rediscovers southernism not despite modernist art, but through it, and succeeds in forging his own version of a great "local" art. As I Lay Dying marks the emergence of Faulkner's unique aesthetic of Southern modernism, which, initially inspired by Joyce or Eliot, comes to formulate itself in the process of the vital interplay or confrontation between the experimental and the traditional features of art. In what follows I want to address such an interplay between modernism and southernism as it is inscribed in As I Lay Dying, focusing my attention mainly on the technique of multipersonal narration and also additionally on such problematic issues as Addie's posthumous act of speech and the inconsistency between character and narration.


As I Lay Dying, often paired with The Sound and the Fury, has long been cited as an exemplary modernist text which provides a critical ground for placing Faulkner along with Eliot, Joyce, and Proust in the tradition of modernism. Certainly we see in it a variety of narrative experiments and innovations such as multiple voices and viewpoints, stream of consciousness, the disruptions of logical or temporal sequence, juxtapositions, repetitions, elaborate speculations on language, sophisticated rhetorical complexities-all easily found in the works of modernist writers. Perhaps the most audacious, and thus frequently noted as the most notably modernistic, among these technical innovations, is Faulkner's use of the multiplicity of voices. There are as many as fifteen different narrators who serve to orchestrate the fifty-nine divided sections into a workable pattern of meaning. These narrators work not only to move the action of the novel forward but also participate as characters in the main action of the novel, the funeral journey of the Bundren family, providing the novel with singular depth and intensity. Each of the sections headed by the name of the narrator alternates kaleidoscopically and reveals information about the characters, actions, and events of the novel. However the information provided is so scanty and often conflicting that the reader experiences extreme difficulty in obtaining a clear picture of what is going on. The reader, for instance, is not able to understand what should be considered the crucial part of the story-the motivations behind Addie's last wish of being buried in her kinfolk's graveyard at Jefferson forty miles away and much of her important relationship to her husband and children, let alone her character-until he comes to her only section, apparently narrated after her death, two-thirds of the way through the novel.
     Thus the way Faulkner's multipersonal narration works in As I Lay Dying, roughly outlined so far, indeed, seems to lend itself to the claim that it shares the modernist's metamorphic impetus, if in a more radical way. However, Faulkner's management of the polyphonic narrative strategies, on closer inspection, takes on a quite different aspect, which can hardly be explained through the prism of the European cosmopolitan paradigm of modernism. The technique of multipersonal presentation, as Erlich Auerbach explains in Mimesis, was originally devised as an attempt to approach (inner) reality "from many sides as closely as human possibilities of perception and expression can succeed in doing so"(Auerbach 536). The emergence of this narrative technique coincided with the pervading sense of the disintegration of the stable social order and the strong doubts about an objective reality after World War I. Its extensive use was directly linked to the consequent shift of the writer's concern from the meaningless outer social reality to what Virginia Woolf calls "the flickerings of [the] innermost flame which flashes its messages through the brain" (Woolf 214). In Woolf's The Waves, for example, where the multiplicity of narrating voices is used as in As I Lay Dying, each monologue serves primarily to reveal the innermost self of the narrator which is complemented by the thoughts of each one about the other five narrators. This is not the case with As I Lay Dying. Here Faulkner is concerned not so much with exploring the full range of the inner reality of his characters as with capturing their intensely charged emotions or thoughts. Faulkner seldom goes down into his character's fluid unconscious mind as Woolf or Joyce does. Even Darl's monologues, which seem closest to stream of consciousness passages, seldom suggest the workings of the unconscious mind; when he is intensely preoccupied with his own thoughts, he always looks out at the world around him; as a result, his thoughts always sound objective, and even detached from his own mind. His narration sometimes ranges freely in time and space, but it is occasioned less by his introspection at the unconscious level than by his heightened consciousness.
     Of course it cannot be denied that the narrators of As I Lay Dying possess their own distinct identities, each with his own self-centered demands and obsessions. Although they are connected with each other as family members or neighbors participating in the communal funeral ritual, each often appears to be closed off in his or her own "secret and selfish thought" (155) and hardly able to communicate with the others. Bewildered by their mother's death, Darl, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman in particular within the Bundren family are so preoccupied with their own minds that their journey itself may be seen as a constant confrontation with their troubled consciousness. Nevertheless, they show the persistence of shared attitudes and similar mentalities. For example, the sound of Cash's sawing is likened to "snoring" by four different narrators. Cora and Peabody as well as Darl take note of Addie's eyes before her death, metaphorizing them into the "flames" momentarily flaring up before they are gone. As Stephen M. Ross asserts, the articulation of these common metaphors "does not individualize the speaker's consciousness so much as it individualizes a manner of talking" (Ross 126). Despite their distinctive individuality, these collective perceptions confirm that they belong to the same social group which shares a common set of values and beliefs. Perhaps the most comically conventional figure among the novel's characters, Cora Tull, habitually justifies her thought and behavior in the name of God. For Cora, religion means a spiritual investment for a rainy day here as well as after death. Jewel, apparently a stark foil to Cora, also appeals to God in a similar way when he secretly desires to monopolize her mother:

If it had just been me when Cash fell off of that church and if it had just been me when pa laid sick with that load of wood fell on him, it would not be happening what every bastard in the country coming in to stare at her because if there is a God what the hell is He for. (13-14)
     Noting that characters who look different as individuals often share a common perception and mindset, Warick Wadlington argues that the "I" in As I Lay Dying exists " intersubjectively, as a set of relationships between physically separate subjects, or individuals"; in other words, "each person's specific individuality exists dynamically, in the distinctive way each lives out the cluster of relationships." (Wadlington 45). In As I Lay Dying, no one is given essential properties. Characters may show distinctive qualities, but only in relation to others. They come to resemble and mirror one another in their often jarring and yet inescapable social relationships. For instance, Jewel is regarded as the most agile and the most passionate of the Bundrens, but his character as such becomes manifest only when matched against Darl's cool and detached manner. In much the same way, Darl's madness is fully revealed when opposed to Cash's practical sense and reasonable thinking. Much of Darl's sense of uprootedness and skepticism comes from his recognition that there is no fixed center around which he organizes and gathers himself. As his Hamlet-like soliloquy, "I dont know what I am, I dont know if I am or not"(72) attests, he is a mad philosopher who seeks the absolute, the fixed identity. As much pronounced as Darl's sense of dislocation are his efforts to verify his own existence as well as others in terms of intersubjectivity: "Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is" (72). Darl's retreat into his consciousness, thus, more poignantly throws into relief the fact that he is caught in the net of social interlockings. In this respect, Darl is quite different from a modernist hero, who colonizes everything into a cosmos of his own mind. By contrast, at the center of Darl's consciousness is an emptiness, or more correctly, an empty gaze, which will finally turn him into a mad self-voyeur.3
     Faulkner's functional application of the vernacular also ascertains that what is ultimately at stake in the novel is not isolated human consciousness but social existence interconnected with others. Throughout the novel, Faulkner keeps quoting the rural dialect of the narrators, providing their voices with regional flavor and thus magnifying the reality effect. However, his representation of their utterances slightly varies with the situations in which they take place. For example, when Anse's speech is quoted by town people like Peabody or MacGowan, it is expressed in heavily dialect, whereas when quoted by his kin or his neighbors, it is less so. In the world of As I Lay Dying, as Stephen M. Ross puts it, "voice is personal, yet also separated from person, to be heard always in relation to others" (Ross 125). Faulkner's South, after all, is built on ties of blood and community and heritage, so that everyone in it affects everyone else.
     Once asked whether Anse is a villain or not, Faulkner answered that "if there is a villain in that story it's the convention in which people have to live" (FU 112). The world of As I Laying is one in which, as James A. Snead puts it, "sayings create realities that persist, and what people say often becomes what people expect" (Snead 46). Characters in Faulkner's novels are, with almost no exception, prisoners of social conventions, of the past, and more broadly, of society itself. Of course, most of them struggle to get out from under the grip of these constraints, but none of them succeed. Entrapped in the net of the prevailing ideologies, Faulkner's characters, whether the princes like the Compsons and the Sartorises, or the peasants like the Bundrens, are never allowed to live their own self-directing life. They are enmeshed and circumscribed by social prejudices, long-cherished conventions, and limited visions which have defined their society. Anse, for example, although appearing cunning and most practical, is never free from the dark determinism and helplessness which the "Bible Belt" culture must have nurtured. Addie, who is empowered to hold the family together even in death, is nevertheless doubly victimized by her society's patriarchal regime as well as Southern Calvinism, the tenet of which may be summarized by her father's dictum: "the reason for living is getting ready to stay dead" (162). Townspeople like Moseley and MacGowan are not exceptions: Moseley's self-righteous indignation at Dewey Dell's request for pills or MacGowan's wily trick on her innocence all shows the typical urban prejudices against the countryfolk like the Bundrens.
     The narrators' visions are predetermined, biased, and so limited in their scope that they are unreliable. Their perceptions and judgments frequently turn out to be mistaken or guilty of errors of fact. In Cora Tull's assessment, among the Bundren children, Darl has the most natural affection for Addie, but the subsequent monologues by other narrators reveal that this is not the case. The similar conflicting accounts about Darl and Jewel's lumber loading errand confuse the reader, floating the text in a succession of indeterminacy. Darl reports that he himself urges his father to allow them to go, saying twice, "It means three dollars" (15, 18). However, according to Tull, it is Anse, not Darl, who makes this statement, and again in Cora's account which quotes her husband Tull, "Darl almost begged them on his knees not to force him to leave" (19). In As I Lay Dying the reader continually encounters these kinds of confusions and contradictions of detail in the course of reading it, so that if he wants to follow the narrative, he must be alert and continue to interpret the information provided carefully. The reader becomes progressively enlightened about the story by the insights gained from a number of different viewpoints as he reads; however, since none of the narrators possess final authority, he never gets out of the maze of uncertainty. The reader's situation is not much different from Cash's at the end of the novel, where he finds it difficult to differentiate between the rational and the absurd, truth and lie, and even life and death: "But I aint so sho that ere a man has the right to say what is crazy and what aint" (221). It is true that the particular situation of the central character, Addie, who is not present or is not felt as present even when still alive, also contributes to the sense of haziness surrounding the reading experience; what each of the narrative voices generates is, after all, its memories, fantasies, or hearsays about her "is-not," and this kind of conjectural language plays a part in building up uncertainty and indeterminacy. Consequently, the internal logic of text yearning for an intelligible order and significance calls for another speech and discourse again and again. This paradoxical cycle consisting of a longing for truth and the inability of language to grasp it partly accounts for the polyphonic form of this novel. In order to get closer to the truth, events, actions, and remarks should be reviewed and reexamined over and again, and so theoretically, as many points of view as possible are demanded. In other words, the unreliability of the narrators caused largely by their alignment with the reigning social prejudices leads, and even forces, the writer to pick up the form of multiple narration, not vice versa. Early in the 1970s, Myra Jehlen, in Calss and Character in Faulkner's South, already posed the problems in placing Faulkner's novels only within the paradigm of literary modernism. Arguing that Faulkner's formal and linguistic problems in defining the Yoknapatawpha world are inextricably ideological, Jehlen emphasized that "in The Sound and the Fury with respect to the aristocratic South and, in a parallel way, in the redneck As I Lay Dying, Faulkner explores the limits of perception and the language precisely because like Melville's Ahab he is driven to pierce false masks, the myths which he is coming more and more to realize have distorted Southern reality" (Jehlen 42). Faulkner cares so much about perception in these novels, Jehlen continues, because there is something he wants to see clearly but can't. Thus, the multipersonal narration with which Faulkner continually experiments in his major novels was in fact one of his strategies for making sense of the complex realities of the South. It might not be wrong, then, to assume that the fragmentary, polyphonic narrative form employed in As I Lay Dying is not necessarily transplanted from Europe but rather abstracted from the particular social condition of the South.
     In As I Lay Dying, the deferral of truth caused by the extensive use of the multiple point of view is the very source of the narrative energy. John T. Matthews has remarked in his discussion of the play of Faulkner's language: "the inability of language fully to embody the absolute, the lost origin, becomes the happy source of the prolonged life of speech" (Matthews 71). However, one must be careful in borrowing this remark for describing the indeterminacy As I Lay Dying yields, since "deferral" not only in this novel but also in Faulkner's work as a whole is raised not necessarily as a metaphysical or epistemological issue, but as a social or psychological problem. As already suggested, the deferral of meaning in As I Lay Dying may best be seen as a problem of the characteristic Southern social governance which binds together its people communally, and it is also linked to the psychology of refusing to accept a loss. The young members of the Bundrens, especially Jewel, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman all show the difficulty in accepting their mother's death. Vardaman's holding on to the dead fish and his drilling holes in her mother's coffin, which all eventually work to turn and twist the rhythm of narrative, are a pathetic expression of the denial of loss. A more poignant case is provided by Jewel. Feeling the most passionate love for his mother, Jewel simply cannot believe her death is imminent, and so becomes enraged at the way people are sitting at her deathbed "like buzzards," (13) as if they are waiting for her death. His refusal to accept his mother's death as a fact motivates his willingness, despite its imminence, to leave for the lumber loading job, which, along with the rigidity with which he masks his love for her, causes Cora and others to have mistaken judgment of him, and all these together function to prevent the reader from grasping clearly the complex tensions and conflicts among the members of the Bundren family. Recalling that the psychodynamics revolving around this denial of a loss in which the Bundren children partake is, indeed, not foreign to Southern culture, one cannot help but conclude that Southern culture itself plays a much bigger part than is generally assumed in marshalling Faulkner's craft of fiction.


     In his monologue Doc Peabody says: "That's the one trouble with this country: everything, weather, all, hangs on too long" (41). Here Peabody foretells not only the rainy weather but also the funeral journey which will be prolonged. Given that Addie remains a powerful presence, exerting a great impact on the lives of her family even after her death, Peabody's remark is equally true of her death. In this light, her posthumous speech, made after her physical death, which has frequently been singled out as another prominent modernist gesture swerving away from the convention of realism, is not so grotesque as it looks. On the one hand, it is not only an execution of the modernist impetus for dislocation of form but also its own parody, that is, a parody of the modernist technique of stream of consciousness in which a chance occasion in the present serves only to bring back the realities of the past from the reservoir of memories. In other words, Faulkner simultaneously asserts himself as a modernist by letting Addie speak after her death and negates it by parodying the modernist technique evoked by it, so that he seems to proclaim silently that his modernism is similar to European urban modernism only in appearance, but different in substance and motivation.
     From the perspective of Faulkner's thematics, on the other hand, Addie's posthumous reminiscence, which casts a shadow over the whole story, seems to symbolize the recalcitrant past, which won't disappear-the imperious past which makes Quentin Compson in Absalom, Absalom! feel "still too young to deserve yet to be a ghost, but nevertheless having to be one for all that" (AA 9). In Faulkner's world, as Gavin Stevens states it in Requiem for a Nun, "The past is never dead. It's not even past" (RN 80). Consider the irony that Jewel loses his precious horse, his mother-surrogate, to bury the dead mother. In the South as well as in Faulkner's fictional world, the past is not simply something alive in our memories, but the "burden" which overshadows, commands, controls, and informs the present, and so which people feel obliged to recapture and exorcise continually. In this sense, the prolonged funeral journey of the Bundrens is not only an act of burial, but actually a ritual of exorcising the overweening past. In short, Addie's speech beyond her physical death can be taken, and justified as well, as a Faulknerian mise en abyme of the spectral past pervading and informing every present moment.
     In discussing The Sound and the Fury, Sartre said, "the past takes on a sort of super-reality; its contours are hard and clear, unchangeable" (Sartre 89). This may be true of Quentin in that novel, but not of Faulkner (neither of the Quentin of Absalom, Absalom!). Although the past exerts a powerful force, it is not unchangeable. Faulkner is not concerned with the past in itself. His primary interest lies in the past reenacting in the present, not as a separate entity but as part of the continuum of time-the past which commands and informs the present, while itself being reexamined, reevaluated, and transformed each moment in this process. This is what Faulkner means by his famous remark, "There is no such thing as was--only is."4 Although the past dominates the present, there is no fixed, original version of it; only the past seen from the vantage point of the present, that is, the past recreated in its relationship to the present and future, exists. This kind of interaction between the past and the present constitutes a part of the psychology of the "Lost Cause," which has gripped the mind of the South since the Civil War. In fact, as historians have now admitted, the past cannot be captured intact in its full complexity; it can be only glimpsed or evoked momentarily, or imagined or constituted not as a whole but only partially. Faulkner's full awareness that the past cannot be recovered as a self-contained narrative sealed off from the present is directly linked to the characteristically fragmentary, discontinuous, and repetitious form of his novels. As such typical "Faulknerian" characters as Miss Jenny and Gail Hightower well exemplify, history comes as always partially or dramatically recollected, rather than actual, events to people in the South; for this reason, it cannot but be rendered in a series of segments and recounted again and again.
     In Faulkner's fictional world, the past comes alive into the present by way of memories, legends, and notably stories. An impressive number of characters in Faulkner's novels are storytellers: Miss Jenny, Mr. Compson, Rosa Coldfield, V. K. Ratliff, Sam Fathers, to name a few. They collect the "rag-tag and bob-ends of old tales and talking" (AA 303) and tell and trade them, as people gathering at Will Varner's store in The Hamlet do, while, as David Minter puts it, shaping them "into new changing patterns that in turn trigger a new round of change and exchange" (Minter 29). Again, what must be emphasized is that stories, as they are told and retold from mouth to mouth, undergo changes and revisions, sometimes unpredictably, sometimes designedly, depending on the narrators and the narrated circumstances. Such a dialectic of repetitions and revisions not only commands Faulkner's narrative forms and styles but also animates the dynamic space between his texts, since he never stopped recycling characters, events, plots, and stories from novels to novels throughout his writing career. His writing is a succession of rewritings: As I Lay Dying rewrites The Sound and the Fury; Requiem for a Nun, Sanctuary; Go Down, Moses, Absalom, Absalom!; The Hamlet, Father Abraham, and so on. Richard Moreland argues that Faulkner's prolific rewritings both enact and criticize the act of retelling history to which the South has held on as one of its crucial cultural practices. According to Moreland, Faulkner's novels repeat "certain dominant structures of thought in the post-Civil War American South and the post-World War I United States and Europe, first to explore and understand their motivations and consequences, then critically to revise certain structural contradictions and impasses that were shared by both these postwar cultures" (Moreland 4).5 As I Lay Dying is a work in which Faulkner most seriously explores the ways of participating in such a project and comes to be assured of its potentialities and possibilities for his art of fiction.
     Like Cash's home-made coffin, As I Lay Dying has a primitive aura with which oral folktales are surrounded, as few other major modernist works do-an element which eventually contributes to mollifying the serious tone of this otherwise tragic story. Certainly the odd combination of the traditional oral storytelling and the radical experimentation of modernist techniques is what makes the experience of reading the novel so disturbing and so fascinating. As I Lay Dying suggests that Yoknapatawpha County is a society in which oral folk tales are widely entertained. One inevitably notes that town narrators like McGowan and Moseley begin their sections in oral narrative fashion, which means that they have already churned the grotesque funeral journey of the rustic Bundrens into a tickling story and circulated it. In addition, the novel's emphasis on community, choice of a public realm rather than a private mind as its setting for narration, its oral rhythms and rural dialect, the proximity of humor and horror, all these show its affinity with the tall tale tradition. Seen this way, the narrators of the novel resemble storytellers, who gather on the porch of a house or around a campfire and tell the stories alternately, and their sections are, so to speak, their own versions of retold tales.
     From this perspective, the controversial issue of the overblown rhetoric beyond the capacity of the characters, one especially found in the speeches of Vardaman and Darl, is now understandable. In the genre of oral tall tale, exaggeration is a key element of its conventions. In a tall tale, as Carolyn Brown explains, "inspired by real events and circumstances that are somehow odd, incongruous, or extreme, the narrator ... exaggerates the unexpected to make it humorous and even more outrageous," and its exaggeration "ranges over a broad continuum from the mildly improbable, through the physically impossible, to the mind-jarringly illogical " (Brown 23). Tull's remark on Whitfield's flourishing rhetoric makes it more evident that the breach of verisimilitude of narrating voice may be an adaptation of the tall tale convention:

His voice is bigger than him. It's likely they are not the same. It's like he is one, and his voice is one, swimming on two horses side by side across the ford and coming into the house, the mud-splashed one and the one that never even got wet, triumphant and sad. (81)
Of course Tull here implies the hypocrisy and deceit of Whitfield, while incidentally indicating that the separation of speech from identity is not an unusual phenomenon in the South, and perhaps in any society. Many of Faulkner's storytellers, who recount the bygone glorious past nostalgically, habitually cloak their language with a hyperbolic, sentimental rhetoric. Besides, what matters in the tradition of folk tales is the circulation of stories, not who tells them; narrators are nothing other than "vessels," just like Reverend Shegog in The Sound and the Fury, through which stories are conveyed.6 In As I Lay Dying, Darl also, on several occasions, expresses like a ventriloquist what Cash wants to say when he stammers in lack of words, and Darl's speech quoted at the head of this essay is actually one of such cases. Far from being an evidence of Faulkner's careless management of narration or a flaw involved in "haste" writing, as some critics have assumed, the disruption in the correlation between voice and person in As I Lay Dying marks one of Faulkner's serious efforts to revive and revitalize, under the pressure of the imported art of modernism, a crucial cultural practice of storytelling-a practice indigenous to his native soil, and yet forgotten or ignored.
     Faulkner was undeniably willing to share with his contemporary cosmopolitan modernists the demands and passion for technical experiments and their underlying assumptions about language, meaning, or truth, but what eventually energizes Faulkner to experiment with the fictional form, especially at the turn of As I Lay Dying, was his recognition that much of the modernist agenda was already immanent in the various cultural forms and practices of the South. This recognition and his growing concerns, accompanied and deepened by it, with the daunting complexities of the social, political, and economic conditions of the South were combined into the establishment of his uniquely experimental, ambiguous, and fascinating art of fiction. In order to give full credit to these efforts he continually made through his writing, one must say that his version of modernism is not simply imitation but rather re-creation, not innovation but renovation.


1 As I Lay Dying, 117. In the subsequent quotations the page numbers are cited in parentheses.
2 For a general discussion of the genre of the tall tale, see Carolyn S. Brown 1-73, and of its influence on Faulkner, Hugh Kenner 194-210 and Thomas L. McHaney.
3 Cf. Vernon Tull's remark on Darl's penetrating eyes: "He is looking at me. He don't say nothing; just looks at me with them queer eyes of hisn that makes folks talk. ... it aint never been what he done so much or said or anything so much as how he looks at you. It's like he had got into the inside of you, someway" (111).
4 Lion in the Garden 255; a more specific comment on the relationship between the past and the present was given by Faulkner in his talk at the University of Virginia: "To me no man is himself, he is the sum of his past. There is no such thing really as was because the past is. It is a part of every man, every woman, and every moment. All of his and her ancestry, background, is all a part of himself and herself at any moment. And so a man, a character in a story at any moment of action is not just himself as he is then, he is all that made him, and the long sentence is an attempt to get his past and possibly his future into the instant in which he does something" (FU 84).
5 For more readings of Faulkner's work in light of the revisionary project of Southern historiography, see David Minter 1-13, 55-70, and Morris & Morris.
6 In assessing his career later in his life, Faulkner also compares himself to a "vessel": "And now I realize for the first time what an amazing gift I had: uneducated in every formal sense, without even very literate, let alone literary, companions, yet to have made the things I made. I don't know where it came from. I don't know why God or gods or whoever it was, selected me to be the vessel" (SL 380).


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