Karl F. Zender
Faulkner and the Politics of Reading

Louisiana State U P, 2002.


Karl Zender is well known not only for his previous book, The Crossing of the Ways (1989), but also for his excellent review (1978-82, 85) in the Faulkner chapter in American Literary Scholarship. Zender is undoubtedly one of the most distinguished Faulkner scholars.
     Interestingly, there are characteristics common to The Crossing of the Ways and Faulkner and the Politics of Reading. Both have six chapters; each chapter highlights an important Faulknerian motif and then examines its use in a single novel or a related group of novels. Also, Zender focuses on the Faulkner novels from the middle to the later period of his literary career (Regrettably, the earlier Faulkner is left unmentioned.)
     Zender's intent, however, is to have one major difference between the two books. While the main purpose of The Crossing of the Ways is "to analyze the effect on Faulkner's art of the disappearance of a traditional South and of the emergence of a modern, deregionalized America," the ambition of Faulkner and the Politics of Reading is "to draw together the accepting and the resisting halves of my response to the new methodologies."
     What Zender seeks to express in the latter book is a "middle-of-the-road" style of reading. He mentions, "The middle, no less than the center, is suspect terrain in today's world." Indeed, he may be criticized for his stance as a traditionalist whose methods and outlook were formed in 1960s, during the rise of New Criticism. Nevertheless, Zender is struggling to find ways of reading to mediate between text and context, pleasure and power, New Criticism and postmodern criticism.
     How is it possible to fashion such a style of reading? According to Zender, postmodern critics--his shorthand for those who espouse feminism, ethnic studies, post-structuralism, and cultural materialism--have revolutionized the discursive practice of Faulkner criticism, repeatedly finding "gaps and absences" where readers before had believed there to be only "plentitude"; but in so doing, they have also created "gaps and absences" of their own, for the hermeneutic circle can never entirely be closed. It is these new "gaps and absences" that Zender, in this book, turns his attention to and tries to draw out the possibilities of a new interpretation.
     Take chapters 3 and 4, for example. As Michael Kreyling makes clear in Inventing Southern Literature (1998), the interests of Southern women writers or African-American writers and the survival of the orthodox canon do not walk hand in hand. In the time of multiculturalism, it should not surprise us to find that Faulkner, the major figure in the canon, is criticized for the restricted range of his representations of women and African-Americans. Zender, seeming to accept this limitation of Faulkner, goes in the direction of considering how to interpret and judge the representations that Faulkner does provide. Chapter 3 shows that although Faulkner creates a voice for Caddy Compson in If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem's Charlotte Rittenmmeyer, many feminist critics, reading against the grain of this book, demand the existence of "other, more hopeful plots than Faulkner's." What Zender urges in this chapter is a return to mimetically oriented and tragic interpretations of Faulkner's representations of modern womanhood.
     As well, in chapter 4, he examines postmodernist critics'--Philip Weinstein's, for example--extremely skeptical view of the accommodation Lucas Beauchamp reaches with the plantation social order, then he advances an alternative to that view. By discovering "a valuable and liable, even desirable, politics for southern blacks" inside the represented world of "The Fire and the Hearth"--rather than only in its margins and silences--Zender, in this chapter, tries to mount a defense of Lucas Beauchamp's behavior.
     These two chapters, which take up what Zender calls "the volatile issues of Faulkner's representations of women and of African Americans," show enough to make his intent clear. That is, to raise the question of right or wrong of the new methodologies. And this position--or Zender's methodology--is most clearly suggested in the final chapter of the book, where he first examines the issue of referentiality and then explores Faulkner's disinclination to represent "the quotidian realities of southern life" and "the more painful aspects of his own psychic life" in the postwar Yoknapatawpha novels. In brief, his criticism is based upon the biographical material, which makes much of mimesis.
     Undeniably, the new methodologies have arrived full-blown on Faulkner's doorstep. Today, they are the dominant approach to Faulkner's text. Zender's book, which does not blindly conform to, but critically responds to, these methodologies is powerfully argued and highly successful in updating Faulkner criticism.

Copyright (c)2004 MOTOMURA Koji