Ikuko Fujihira, Noel Polk, and Hisao Tanaka eds.
History and Memory in Faulkner’s Novels
Tokyo, Shohakusha Publishing Company, 2005.x+303pp.

Patrick Samway

     When Faulkner scholars met at Chuo University in Tokyo in June 2004 on the occasion of the second International Faulkner Symposium in that city, an event that traces its origins back to March 1980, when the late Michel Gresset of the University of Paris VII and I organized the first such symposium in Paris, they paid tribute to William Faulkner, whose three-week visit to Japan in August 1955 left an indelible mark not only on the literati, such as Yasunari Kawabata and Shohei Ohoka, but on emerging faculty, such as Kenzaburo Ohashi, whose honed analytic skills prompted young Japanese students to see Faulkner’s global appeal. In 1978, the Japanese Faulkner journal, William Faulkner: Material, Studies, and Criticism, started appearing on a regular basis and lasted for seven years. Interest in Faulkner culminated in the founding of the William Faulkner Society of Japan in May 1998, which published both a printed Faulkner journal and an English version on the Internet. Continuing this impressive scholarship, History and Memory in Faulkner’s Novels presents the papers of seven Japanese and of five non-Japanese scholars given at Chuo University, dramatically witnessing to the hermeneutical cross fertilization that has taken place over the years.
     In her fine introduction, co-editor Ikuko Fujihira places Faulkner’s visit in its historical perspective, grappling, above all, with a significant question: Who is Faulkner for the Japanese? To a great extent, the Japanese, it seems to me, are trying to locate and relocate the works of Faulkner as both they and Faulkner’s texts travel back and forth across the Pacific (and Atlantic, for that matter), altering the ever-changing nature of the intercontinental literary landscape and mindscape. Let me focus briefly on three of these excellent essays. In Part One of this collection, which includes essays by Hisao Tanaka on “History, Memory, and ‘Rememoration’: Faulkner’s Civil War Spectrology and Quentin Compson,” Toshio Koyama on T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and Flags in the Dust; and Michael Zeitlin on the uncanny and the opaque in Faulkner’s historical memory, Hee Kang, of Daegu University in South Korea, centers her argument in “Memory and the Past in The Sound and the Fury: Narrative of Loss, Desire, and Death,” on “memory as a subjective reservoir of the past,” which deals with the unfulfilled desires of the three Compson narrators in particular, leading in Quentin’s case to an excruciating and cataclysmic loss—and ultimately his futile death. The past and present offer Quentin no solace, only torment and darkness, as poignantly portrayed in the scene in which he holds a knife to Caddy’s throat, attempting a death pact for both of them. Quentin’s inconsolable self in the process of dissolution ironically becomes, when all is said and done, the novel’s authoritative source.
     Of the four essays dealing with reading history in Part Two, including Takuya Niiro’s on Thomas Sutpen’s morality; Eiko Owada’s on history and memory in “Carcassonne” and “Black Music”; and Takaki Hiraishi’s on Darl Bundren and Quentin Compson as clairvoyant narrators, Noel Polk, editor of the Library of America texts on Faulkner, among his many scholarly achievements, amplifies in “Reading Blood and History in Go Down, Moses” a corrective interpretation of the ledgers in this novel that he and Richard Godden first articulated in the spring of 2002. In considering Isaac McCaslin’s role in this novel, particularly the renunciation of his birthright, one should not discount the homosexual aspects of this text—some not so apparent, as in the actions of Uncle Buck and Uncle Buddy, while others, as in the case of Percival Brownlee, are more obvious. Like a good literary detective, Polk allows the evidence in the ledgers, often cryptic and ambiguous, to emerge and establish patterns that lead to reasonable and considerate analyses that disclose the novel’s marvelously unsettling dynamism.
     The last essays in Part Three, dealing with collective memory, include Takako Tanaka’s on funeral processions in As I Lay Dying and Go Down, Moses; Thadious Davis’s on “The Race for Memory: Raced Property as Monument in Go Down, Moses”; and Ikuko Fujihira’s on the theater for forgotten scenes in Requiem for a Nun, in addition to Nicole Moulinoux’s on “The French Architect as lieu de mémoire: The Circulation of the Memory of History in “Evangeline,” Absalom, Absalom!, and Requiem for a Nun,” which deftly traces one of Faulkner’s more elusive (and inoperative) characters. Professor Moulinoux, President of the William Faulkner Foundation in Rennes, France, notes that this architect “crystallizes the tensions in French history between two successive yet conflicting periods”: the French colonial past leading to the 1789 French Revolution (alluded to in Absalom, Absalom!) and the extension of Napoleon’s empire (part of the apperceptive background of Requiem for a Nun). A visitor to France in a formative period of his life, which provided the conceptual basis of A Fable, Faulkner, as Moulinoux notes, created this architect to serve his own narcissistic urges, as he dreamt of military and artistic grandeur.
     Faulkner, I secretly think, would have been delighted to see how his 1955 visit to Japan provided the catalyst for the eloquent literary discernment as expressed in this volume of 12 essays.

Copyright (c)2007 Patrick Samway