Noel Polk and Ann J. Abadie, eds.
Faulkner and War: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha 2001

Jackson: U of Mississippi, 2004. xvi+165 pp.

MORI Arinori

     This book consists of eight essays presented at the Twenty-Eighth Annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference in 2001. Although recent studies on Faulkner have tended to apply critical theories, most of the articles in this book attempt to take traditional empirical approaches to examine the relationship between Faulkner and war. Since Faulkner grew up and lived in the vanquished South, and thus he was psychologically and creatively engaged with the two world wars. Unfortunately, this collection falls short of questioning not only what signification war has to Faulkner but how Faulkner tries to but fails to deal with war.
     The first two essays deal with war as historical backgrounds of Faulkner's literary works. Based on memoirs, diaries and notes about the Civil War written by people in the South, Don H. Doyle's "Faulkner's Civil War in Fiction, History, and Memory" discusses what impact the war experiences have had on Faulkner and his works. James G. Watson's "William Faulkner and Theater of War" examines how the experiences of World War I have influenced on Faulkner's early life as an artist through a biographical approach. Both the essays are important resources to understand the historical backgrounds of Faulkner's creative activities.
     John Liman's "Addie in No-Man's Land" focuses on the mud rampant both in the battlefields of the Great War and in As I Lay Dying. Combined with the nauseating yellow mud in the trenches, the image of Addie Bundren's rotten corpse trespasses the border between life and death and symbolizes the chaotic disorder of the war. In this chaos Liman sees the despair of Faulkner as a modernist about the Great War, and his attempt to redeem the Civil War as a heroic undertaking through artistic creation.
     Paula Mesquita's "Daughters of Necessity, Mothers of Resource: White Women and the War in Absalom, Absalom!" points out how the Civil War gives agency to white middleclass women. Because of the absence of men in wartime, white middleclass women are forced to accept new relationships with their home circumstances, especially with black slaves. This change of relationship, however, brings about white fear of miscegenation. Mesquita sees a possibility of new social relationships beyond this potential destruction of traditional gender and racial standards in the South.
     In "Fraternal Fury: Faulkner, World War I, and Myths of Masculinity", John Lowe analyzes relationships among male siblings in Faulkner's novels through the author's own rivalry with his brothers Jack, who won a scar in a battle and became the war hero Faulkner wanted but failed to be, and John, who gained a reputation as a writer earlier than the eldest brother William. Lowe argues that the competition depicted in his novels is a metaphor of Faulkner's antagonism with his brothers as well as that of war. Lows insists that the novelist's envy to his brothers motivated him to write novels. Lowe's paper is an exceptional success for a biographical analysis in that it points out the competitive relationship among male siblings in Faulkner's works.
     David Madden's "Quentin, Listen!" regards Quentin Compson as the main character of Absalom, Absalom! and gives a typical existentialist analysis to the novel. Paying a special attention to the method of narration, Madden argues that Quentin is rather a listener of the history of the South than a narrator and that Quentin narrates only to escape from that. His consciousness, full of allusion and implication of the Civil War, is replaced by voices of numerous people while he talks with his partners.
     Lother *Honnighausen's "Imagining the Abstract: Faulkner's Treatment of War and Values in A Fable" reads the profound novel as an arena of moral reflections on war and peace, ideals and realities, and hierarchical authority of the military and freedom of the individual. Instead of presenting a typical Christian-allegorical reading, Honnighausen suggests a new possibility of reading the text as a process of reconciliation of the concrete and the abstract. Examining various individual passages, Honnighausen argues that the text expects the reader to "imagine the abstract", that is, to have the reader grasp a metaphorical way of thinking unique to Faulkner.
     Noel Polk's "Scar" is the last and best essay of this collection. Repeatedly quoting Aldous Huxley's famous phrase "A nation is a community organized for war", Polk insists that nations employ all possible means to integrate the individuals into "the body of the nation" for war, requiring them to internalize myths of self-sacrifice. Against the myths of "the body of the nation", Polk protests by emphasizing scars of battles: war victims, their tombs, and those who bear scars. According to Polk, they are "the signs of the death each owes his country, a flag to which each nation pledges allegiance". If the civilization is organized for war, and if "one of the reasons for war is to prevent the burden of overpopulation", then it may be providential that humanity created the military. Against such a view, Polk sets over the figures of Division Commander Gragnon, who resolutely refuses to die a heroic death, and the runner, who appears as a living scar whom the nation bears. As Polk properly argues, they are the signs of vulnerability of human beings and mementoes of the war casualties the nation wants to forget. Polk reminds the reader of those who die for the sake of the nation. Polk knows that the reality of war cannot be easily overcome by the principle of Faulknerian "perseverance". By analyzing Faulkner's own text, Polk criticizes Faulkner's indecisive attitude toward war.
     This book will remind the reader how it is important but difficult to be not only analytical but critical. Criticism does not mean to analyze literary works by borrowing critical terms and concepts. Nor is it criticism, however, unless it has a will to articulate problems which the text and the author reveal/conceal. In this sense, Polk's essay is solely but truly critical in this collection in that it seriously questions what war is, whereas other articles seem to me to examine affinities between Faulkner and wars. I believe that this article is a mustread for every Faulknerian.

Copyright (c)2005 MORI Arinori