Peter Lurie
Vision's Immanence: Faulkner, Film, and the Popular Imagination
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 2004.

NAGAO Satoru

Vision's Immanence is an in-depth study of visual images in Faulkner's fiction of the 1930s, focusing particularly on the influence of cinema and popular culture on his modernist writing. The author, Peter Lurie, suggests that Faulkner's canonical high-modernist works reveal traces of popular culture, particularly of film, even when he appeared to be critical about it. This book, applying Adorno's cultural theory, sheds light on Faulkner's complicated engagement with the cultural milieu of the 1930, when he reached maturity as a southern modernist writer. Several book-length critical studies on Faulkner and film have been published until today including Bruce Kawin's Faulkner and Film, but Lurie's approach to this theme is not as biography-oriented as these previous studies. The book covers these four novels, Sanctuary, Light in August, Absalom, Absalom!, and If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem, and demonstrates that Faulkner's modernism was indeed born not only "inside the protected jail cell" but also through "the ugly or troubling realities outside it."

The first chapter compares the original text of Sanctuary with the revised one, arguing that the revision manifests Faulkner's awareness of highly commercial popular culture. Faulkner wrote the novel in 1929 and, after the process of revision, he published it two years later. These two years, Lurie notes, are the important period during which Faulkner experienced the turning point as a modernist writer and started including more elements of popular culture in his fiction. As a result, the revised text combines popular and high cultural elements and shows a unique version of modernism. This chapter engages in a detailed discussion of visual imagery in Sanctuary and offers an inspiring reading of the novel.

The book's discussion on Light in August is developed in the second chapter. According to Lurie, central to Faulkner's thirties fiction was the fact that popular cultural experiences of "vision" played a role in structuring attitudes about race as well as gender. Light in August, for example, presents Joe Christmas through the scrutinizing look of other characters, especially white men, and such a strategy resembles the camera work employed by D. W. Griffith and other Hollywood movie directors. Moreover, the description of Joe Christmas might reflect the stereotypes of black behavior in film and popular fiction in the period when Faulkner was writing Light in August. Lurie inspiringly gives a detailed explanation of textual strategies in the novel but does not fully argue how such strategies are related to the novel's theme, Christmas's racial identity struggle.

In the discussion of Absalom, Absalom! in the third chapter, Lurie maintains that Faulkner's modernist representation of southern history resembles the practices of commercial cinema. Whereas most critics discuss cinematic elements in the novel by focusing on Quentin's and Shreve's narrative, Lurie interestingly demonstrates how Rosa's narrative reflects the narrative techniques and ideas of commercial movies in the thirties. Specifically, Rosa's romanticizing monologue functions as a parody of a melodrama movie's approach to southern history. Lurie then notes that Quentin's and Shreve's recounting and examination of Rosa's narrative signifies Faulkner's critique of the nostalgic representations of the South by Hollywood movies. Faulkner, in this sense, criticizes and even disdains Hollywood's stereotypic representations of the antebellum South, while he admits the tremendous influence of cinema on other forms of art.

The fourth chapter analyzes Faulkner's final novel of the thirties, If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem, and sums up his interaction with the cultural landscape of the decade. The novel, which consists of two novellas, "Old Man" and "The Wild Palms," and alludes to a range of cultural models such as silent film, pulp pornography and film melodrama. Lurie insists that the description of river flood in "Old Man" is analogous to silent film's manner of representing natural disasters. "The Wild Palms" shapes a plot of family melodrama, and Harry Wilbourne's eroticizing of his wife's memory in his prison cell is a parody of pornography. These "cinematic" elements in the novel do not reflect Faulkner's reconciliation with popular culture; rather, they suggest that his tone toward it became increasingly bitter as the decade proceeded. According to Lurie, the scene of Harry in the prison cell is the critical metaphor of popular cultural industry in which readers and Faulkner himself are "imprisoned." In this sense, "Old Man" and "The Wild Palms" respectively provide Faulkner's critical reflection on films and popular cultural models in the thirties.

Overall, this book develops an insightful argument on Faulkner's usage of visual imagery by analyzing key scenes in details and also referring to the American film industry in the 1930s. Lurie's discussion provides us with a somewhat different perspective on Faulkner's novels of the thirties as well as his biographical aspects. Yet, the book tends to depend heavily on Adorno's cultural theory, and some of the biographical details are fuzzy and remain matter of speculation. It seems necessary for critics to examine whether or not Lurie's point in discussion fits in every one of Faulkner's thirties novels.


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