Faulkner's A Fable -- Something Left by the Unknown Soldier --
Kyoto: Apollo, 2007.


    A Fable has been considered "a failure" and neglected by many critics although Faulkner himself called it his "magnum opus", which he took more than ten years to complete. The aim of Kanazawa's book is to reconsider the evaluation of "Faulkner's great failure".
The reasons why the novel has been underappreciated are, according to Kanazawa: 1) its theme is unfamiliar to Faulkner's literary world; 2) its allegorical function makes it different from the traditional novel; and 3) its confusing, difficult style. These characteristics, however, give Kanazawa a foothold in his unique interpretation: the meaning of the theme "World War I"; the meaning of the difficult style (in general regarded as "in vain"); and the function of "a novel" versus "an allegory." The book is composed of three parts: Part 1 "Faulkner and A Fable" (Chapter 1 "A Road to A Fable", Chapter 2 "A Song of Resurrection", Chapter 3 "Behind the Fame"); Part 2 "A Survey of A Fable" (Chapter 1 "Comments by Faulkner", Chapter 2 "A Survey of Its Criticism"); and Part 3 "Interpretation of A Fable" (Chapter 1 "A Fable as a World War I novel by Faulkner," Chapter 2 "The Style of A Fable," Chapter 3 "The Principle of Repetitions in A Fable").
   Part 1 refers to his life dating from the 1930's to 1943, when he had not yet started A Fable. It reveals the picture of Faulkner as a man, a householder and an artist, who, irritated with his lack of success, sought "money" and "women" to compensate and was ambivalent towards the war. Understanding Faulkner's complicated state of mind gives a key to Kanazawa to understanding A Fable.
   Chapter 2, focusing on the years 1943 to 47, examines how a synopsis for a movie, "Who?", developed into Faulkner's novel A Fable, and why he had much concern with the story. Faulkner interpreted the story in his own way, which was supposed to be one of the Hollywood propaganda movies during the war, and showed his unique interpretation in A Fable in two ways. First, Faulkner translated a patriotic fable into a criticism of war. The grave of the Unknown Soldier is originally used as a device which elevates patriotism. But, Faulkner showed that if the Unknown Soldier represented Jesus Christ in his novel it also could signify that human beings buried their only hope by having a war. Secondly, he overlapped Christ with himself in that an ideal artist for him should be anonymous. A Fable, for Faulkner, gradually came to be the symbol for his own fate as A Fable increased in scale beyond his expectations.
   Chapter 3 examines what happened to Faulkner from 1949 to 54. Due to the increased pressure of having won the Nobel Prize, increasing personal problems (his intimate relationship with some women, quarrelling his wife, dependence on alcohol etc) and gaps in his memory, writing A Fable came to be his sole purpose in life. Part 1 discloses that A Fable symbolizes Faulkner's difficult times as a man and a writer, settles these difficulties down, and expresses a hope for his own resurrection and eternity overlapped with hope for all human beings.
   Chapter 1, Part 2 analyzes "A Note on A Fable" (1953), and his interviews in Japan and at the University of Virginia (1955, 1957-58), and finds three key concepts to appreciating A Fable. Kanazawa's first concept is that Faulkner's remarks about war, which were considered by previous critics to represent his cold-war like idea of "evil for evil," can be reconsidered as his criticism of war. The second concept is that his remarks have much to do with the theme of A Fable. Although his sense of social responsibility seems to be low in public, the novel represents his sense of crisis for human beings who are repeatedly making foolish mistakes. The third concept is that his remarks have the pattern of repetition, which is also the principle of the novel's structure.
   Chapter 2 classifies the previous criticisms into five categories: biblical influence; style; view on human beings and war; characters; and others, and indicates what is to be made of: the relationship between A Fable and World War I; the significance of the USA in A Fable; and taking a new theoretical approach to A Fable.
   Part 3 shows Kanazawa's interpretation of A Fable. Chapter 1 is an attempt to portray it as "a novel of World War I". In order to disclose why the setting of the novel is World War I by examining historical facts at that time he shows the intrinsic characteristics of the war: 1) for the first time in history, nations all over the world were involved in the war; 2) the machine, the outcome of a developing civilization, gives a foretaste of human destruction; 3) the USA acts in a decisive role; 4) frequent rebellions demonstrate antagonism between individuals and the state represented as the army; and 5) men killed in the war were consecrated and the war was justified. Kanazawa's attempt is to show what these features connote in the novel.
   1) Focusing on the image of Senegalese mobilized from colonies, Kanazawa shows the novel uses the image of war as a drama, and the image of Senegalese as the "fool" in a drama. The Senegalese, who obey headquarters, have a conflicting meaning in that they can resist the authority they obey and overthrow the order, but they do not.
   2) The novel shows not the binomial oppositions between human beings and the machine, but the criticism of machines, and absolute trust for the foolishness of human beings. The machine is not opposed to human beings. It represents humans themselves, who are eager to act like robots, roaring with nationalism during the war. Although foolish human beings are threatened with extinction by machines, they invent new machines owing to their foolishness, but survive after all.
   3) The battle which revealed the Corporal's body is correspond with the attack led by the US army dispatched into Europe. It means that the first battle the US joined openly in Europe broke the armistice brought by the Corporal's sacrifice. General Gragnon, a forerunner of the Corporal, was assassinated by two American soldiers. Considering the historical fact that World War I was the trigger for World War II and then the Cold War, Kanazawa says, these representations of the US in the novel imply that the US led human beings to repeat the same mistakes. In his interpretation, the US can be the executioner of hope for humanity, Jesus Christ. According to Kanazawa, the novel represents Faulkner's criticism of the American role in recent history.
   4) The novel shows two refusals to fight in the field. It is far from a visionary tale. The first refusal in the novel is by the Corporal, and it corresponds with actual rebellions during World War I. The second corresponds with the well-known Christmas truce. The latter especially has the importance of illustrating the untying of the binds to the mother land.
   5) The novel criticizes the grave of the Unknown Soldier as a fraudulent device of nationalism. Kanazawa hypothesizes that the novel depicts motherhood, showing the opposite motifs of the search for a lost son by his motherland and the search by his real mother. But, Kanazawa explodes his own hypothesis step by step, disclosing the fraud of the motherland and then demonstrating the refusal of motherhood which is the origin of patriotic feeling, love for the motherland. Kanazawa's long and winding procedure reflects his attempt not to extract archetypal story from literary texts but to disclose the fraud of archetypal story.
   Chapter 2 examines the style of A Fable, focusing on four features. Kanazawa argues, first, that overly detailed descriptions, which are considered "unnecessary for the story", are actually worth consideration. The exhaustive catalogue-like description of the city hall, for example, is from a bird's-eye view, which is generally objective, but for Faulkner it is biased. The discrepancy between its style and content is parallel to that of allegorical universality and novelistic individuality. According to Kanazawa, Faulkner forced them to be compatible. In addition, the ambiguity of description filled with symbolical imageries is considered to be one of the characteristics of a novel.
   Secondly, Kanazawa notes that there are a lot of reflexive expressions in the novel such as reflexive verbs. These expressions reflect the image of "stop moving by oneself", which represents Faulkner's idea that any existence has opposites and conflicts within itself. This is relevant to Faulkner's view of war and human beings.
   Thirdly, Kanazawa directs his attention to the history and legend of western culture referred to repeatedly in the novel. It covers almost all of the western human history, the Ages before Christ, the Classical Ages, and the Middle and Modern Ages. The references are due to the scope of the narration in A Fable, which attempts to cover all of the western cultural world and two opposites, the Corporal and his father, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies, who are connected beneath the surface much like Christian and Classical cultures.
Finally, Kanazawa focuses on archaic words and meanings. According to Kanazawa, Faulkner uses these archaic words to give the text the depth of history since ancient times
   In Chapter 3 Kanazawa states that repetition is the principle of constructing the novel by showing that Gragnon, Levine, the groom, the Corporal, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies, and the Runner, all are related with the image of Christ, and have complicated relationships with women and their mothers. After appreciating the novel as a whole, a possible interpretation emerged. The novel examines the possibility of the Second Coming in each character and the hope for this possibility in all mankind. This interpretation portrays the miseries and barrenness of men, who reject "anything feminine" and "anything maternal" and run away into "the world of men".
Among these characters Kanazawa pays special attention to the Runner. This interesting character changes from "an excessive talkative artist" into "a living scar", " an immortal artist" as Faulkner refers to him. According to Kanazawa, writing A Fable to Faulkner meant he could create himself as an immortal artist in the form of the Runner. In addition to the Runner, Faulkner also overlaps himself with the Corporal /the Unknown Soldier /Jesus Christ.
   Kanazawa's Faulkner's A Fable approaches the real face of William Faulkner at work on A Fable, reveals the special meaning of the novel to Faulkner, and insists on the importance of the novel to understanding the whole of Faulkner's literary world. In Part 1, primary sources, such as letters; secondary sources, such as biographical studies from Joseph Blotner to Joel Williamson; historical sources about World War I, and everything he can think of are skillfully woven into "the real face of William Faulkner". Part 2, which analyzes previous criticisms exhaustively and locates the questions to be discussed, is useful to scholars who are interested in A Fable.
   It is regrettable that Kanazawa is unable to sufficiently show his own uniqueness in Part 3. Compared with the deliberateness of the previous parts, Part 3 often jumps to hasty conclusions as if the limited space and time forced him to. In the discussion of the style of A Fable, for example, he keenly points out an important characteristic of the novel that the descriptions from a bird's-eye view are not objective but biased. He, however, asserts immediately that it comes from the discrepancy between the novel's style and content. This peculiarity of the descriptions, in my opinion, results from that of the narrative technique of A Fable, and should be discussed in more detail.
   But Kanazawa should not be criticized for this insufficiency because it is an unavoidable consequence of his design, as he rightly states in his introduction and conclusion: "The aim of this book is to prompt critics' interests in A Fable", and "There are more things to argue." Conversely, this urge to ask Kanazawa for something beyond his aim is evidence that his book is much more than a trigger. It is rich with incentive and insightful ideas. Few books have been published on A Fable compared to more famous ones considered to be Faulkner's major works, such as Absalom, Absalom!. Faulkner said once that it would take more than fifty years for readers to understand A Fable. More than fifty years have passed, and now is the time for fruitful discussions. In these, I hope, new essays by Kanazawa will be included.

Copyright (c)2008 SHIGESAKO Kazumi