French Faulknerian scholars have often claimed, and with convincing evidence, that they recognized Faulkner’s creative genius long before their colleagues across the Atlantic began to appreciate what was happening in north-central Mississippi. After the publication in French of As I Lay Dying and Light in August, Maurice Edgar Coindreau, Faulkner’s sympathetic and intelligent translator, reassured Americans in his 1937 essay entitled “France and the Contemporary American Novel” that any fears they might have concerning the image of America Faulkner and other fiction writers portrayed in their stories and novels were unfounded. Encouraged not only by such sage enthusiasm but by the philosophical support of Camus and Sartre, the French read Faulkner carefully and placed him quickly among the deities in their literary pantheon. Within the last ten years, French scholars have deftly probed Faulkner’s imagination by placing him under the critical microscopes of Freud, Lacan, and Genette, and with each examination Faulkner has emerged sound, healthy, and surprisingly human. Professors Andre Bleikasten, Michel Gresset, and Jean Rouberol have been in the forefront of Faulkner scholarship in France, and their books, based on their doctoral dissertations, reveal the scope and depth of presentday research being done in France; most of all, their methodological approaches show that they do not follow any specific school of thought but rather rely on and employ, respectively, Bleikasten’s Parcours de Faulkner, Gresset’s Faulkner ou la fascination: Poetique du regard, and Rouberol’s L’Esprit du Sud dans f’oeuvre de Faulkner. critical ideas that best fit such a distinguished American author.
For the Francophone student wishing to enter and explore Faulkner’s South, Professor Rouberol’s book provides a detailed overview of Yoknapatawpha County: he discusses in sequential order Faulkner’s historical and literary roots, the fate of the Choctaws and Chickasaws, the interaction of the pioneers and planters, the Civil War, and the problems faced by Southerners from the time of the Civil War to World War II.In addition to stressing various literary archetypes in Faulkner’s fiction, Rouberol places special emphasis on the notion of fear, the significance of the blacks, and the place of the oral tradition in the South. Unlike many Faulkner critics, Rouberol does not describe Faulkner’s growth as a writer in a linear, chronological way; he prefers to show the universality of this world, as C.Hugh Holman often noted, by pointing out its inherent variety and contradictions.
With the symmetrical imagination of L’Enfant planning Washington, Rouberol highlights the expansive, circular dimension of Faulkner’s world, beginning with the courthouse and environs, modeled in various ways on Faulkner’s familiarity with Holly Springs, Ripley, New Albany, Pontotoc, as well as Oxford; he naturally emphasizes the jail in his discussion which, as Intruder in the Dust and Requiem for a Nun dramatize, serves along with the courthouse as the axis mundi where personal stories, historical records, law and order converge. Cecilia Farmer’s name scratched on the jail window seems the almost perfect emblem of Faulkner’s fiction since one can look inside and see the signed fears and doubts of Lucas Beauchamp and Nancy Mannigoe or outside and view the local folk whose stories, though rooted in the red clay of the region, are universal in scope. In surveying this territory, Rouberol demonstrates that Faulkner was neither a misplaced ecologist nor a conservative agrarian; the land around Jefferson had been held in trust from time immemorial, though once Ikkemotubbe realized that he could grant parcels of property, the land ceased to be his. And later, due to the careless stewardship of the Compsons, part of their land was sold to help pay for Quentin’s studies at Harvard, the scene of his suicide. Yet all of this was not without some recompense; the Southern gentleman became the inheritor, not only of the Cavalier spirit, but of the comportment, virility, and sense of honor so prized by Southern Indians.
Aware of the strengths and deficiencies in W. J. Cash’s The Mind of the South and Howard Odum’s The Way of the South, Rouberol does not romanticize Faulkner’s treatment of the Civil War or its aftermath. Although Faulkner cited specific battles, he was more concerned with the plight of individual men and women; the war is indirectly portrayed in some of his best novels, as recalled or remembered either by Quentin, Miss Jenny, or the Reverend Hightower. The same battles are never refought; the same patterns are never repeated. Rather Faulkner reinvested the war with new myths, most comically seen when Old Man Falls tells Bayard that he never really did know why they did fight. The New South, in turn, searched for ways to cope with the old burdens, and the Jason Compsons and the Snopeses are outstanding examples of mankind’s aggressive nature filling a void. To some extent, the McCallum brothers give a counterpoise to Flem, Clarence, and Montgomery Ward insofar as the former show traits of stability, order, and rugged individualism. The Reivers provides a fitting climax to one of Faulkner’s major concerns: the education and development of a young man. Gowan Stevens and Gerald Bland, unlike Lucius Priest, are false to their heritage, and Thomas Sutpen misreads Southern mores in his quest for rapid respectability. In cataloguing Faulkner’s archetypes, Rouberol notes that one rarely sees a happy wife in Faulkner’s fiction, a phenomenon that has led to a good deal of psychobiographical speculation, yet Faulkner’s women are often valiant, even appearing at times like Amazons. Here, too, the range of dramatic portrayals is considerable: the Rosa Millards and Miss Habershams have their shadier counterparts in the Caddy Compsons and the Temple Drakes. Interestingly enough, the mammy-figures of Dilsey, Molly Beauchamp, and Nancy Mannigoe are extraordinarily diverse and reveal Faulkner’s continued reluctance to stereotype his characters.
Rouberol’s choice of James Silver’s book Mississippi: The Closed Society as a sociological analogue of what Faulkner was trying to do in his fiction assists Rouberol in developing his thesis but circumvents making an essential distinction: Silver discusses real people; Faulkner portrays plausible ones. Though Rouberol distinguishes between Horace in Flags in the Dust and Sanctuary and Gavin in Intruder in the Dust and the Snopes trilogy, he does not do so in all cases. Mr. Compson, for example, important in any discussion of Quentin, occurs in three Faulkner works, “That Evening Sun,” The Sound and the Fury, and Absalom, Absalom!, and the portrait we receive of him is not all that sharp; he exists as a despairing parental voice in The Sound and the Fury showing Quentin the way to death while in Absalom, Absalom! he is more the rational father who probes the Thomas Sutpen story and deals with some complex issues in the manner of an investigative reporter. Although it is tempting to view Mr. Compson as a sample study for a casebook in psychology, as is often done, he is more and less both since we know him only after a process of intertextual study has taken place; his character must be kept in proper tension consistent with the structure of the various texts. In spite of this slight reductionist tendency, however, Rouberol has mastered and organized an incredible amount of complicated material in categories which both respect and do justice to the intricacies of Faulkner’s imaginative world.
Having collaborated on the translation of Faulkner’s letters and unpublished stories, in addition to having been responsible for the first Pléiade edition of Faulkner, Professor Gresset looks to Sartre’s Being and Nothingness for his critical inspiration, though he admittedly profits from the writings of Jean Brun, Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, Jacques Lacan, and Jean-Jacques Mayoux. The heart of his book, summarized in a three-and-a-half-page chapter entitled “Théorème,” is as uncomplicated as a glance to understand, yet as disengaging and illusive as when two people look at one another and enter into a physical and psychological—and particularly in this case, existential—conflict to dominate. As the subtitle of this book implies, Gresset explores the act of looking (regard is a more complicated notion than its English cognate precisely because of its use in the French philosophical tradition), and with the introduction in his third section of prestige (akin to our notions of glamor and reputation), he launches into a consideration of his controlling idea, one that he develops in this book (a sequel has already been written) up through the middle part of Faulkner’s career.
For Gresset, the act of looking has various modalities. When enthralled by something glamorous, for example, we tend to become paralyzed by its presence, so much so that like a vampire it can empty us of our substance and leave us dispossessed. Faulkner believed deeply that what was aweful was in the eye of the beholder, as dramatized most successfully in the final, lofty reverie in Sartoris: “The music went on in the dusk softly; the dusk was peopled with ghosts of glamorous and old disastrous things. And if they were just glamorous enough, there was sure to be a Sartoris in them, and then they were sure to be disastrous.” The histories and personalities of the Sartoris ancestors are reborn with each evocation of them, and Faulkner in his fiction often records how a narrator recounts the past so that “pure” history is replaced by vain heroic deeds. Thus, rhetoric becomes, as it did particularly for Quentin in Absalom, Absalom!, the substance of life, and since language can take various shapes, it can be transformed, for example, into the watch that Quentin receives from his father, a symbol of the futility of man’s efforts at defending himself in this life. Faulkner had the capacity to make words spiral forth in baroque patterns in an attempt to fill the void, to give the magical illusion of past events which flatter death and create, as Dali did so well, the marvelous structures of art in the vast desert of the spirit. Glamor and reputation can be good, no doubt, but for the Sartorises, they are signposts pointing the way to the cemetery.
If looking to the past is associated with prestige, the opposite end of this spectrum as the object of our regard is honte, linked with Faulkner’s notion of “puny” and close to our experience of shame or disgrace. Byron Snopes, for example, spies on Narcissa and in doing so replaces sentiment with obsession, dialogue with blackmail; his experience of disgrace leads him to acute frustration, just as a loaded gun, when held in a reverse position, leaves one defenseless. Faulkner’s world is filled with such voyeurs (Quentin, Darl, Popeye, Joe Christmas, the Reporter, Henry Sutpen, and Otis), so much so that one could well ask with Gresset whether or not they constitute the object rather than the subject, of Faulkner’s works. In dealing with this phenomenology of perception, we as the reader see characters looking at one another, and, in the very act of doing so, define themselves, often in radical ways as when one hypnotically stares at an onrushing tidal wave. Faulkner is not a painter filling in some predetermined shapes, but someone who gets the painting started and looks at what is happening. His people activate themselves and thus determine their own worlds.
In Flags in the Dust/Sartoris, Faulkner presents one of his foyers tragiques, where Bayard, having seen his brother jump from a plane, returns home and enters this tomb to fill it with his own bones. Bayard’s future is spelled out, and his tragedy is that he cannot live either in or away from this foyer since he has felt deep horror and shame because of what he has seen. Though not predestined to a specific end, he is nevertheless traumatized to act as he does. Like young Bayard, Horace, too, lacks a center of focus, though in this case Faulkner more directly associates women and nature with evil. The mirror Horace looks into in Sanctuary is a trap, and just as Adam and Eve discovered their nudity and shame by looking at one another, thus this mirror functions as a type of serpent allowing the Fall to happen each time someone repeats the process: “And I was smelling the slain flowers, the delicate dead flowers and tears, and then I saw her face in the mirror. There was a mirror behind her and another behind me, and she was watching herself in the one behind me, forgetting about the other one in which I could see her face, see her watching the back of my head with pure dissimilation.” In much the same way, Temple in Sanctuary is secretly dismayed and fascinated by what she sees. Looking is a function of possession and is ultimately linked to desire; the evil eye freezes life and thus can render it immobile.
Just as water can purify, so too in Faulkner’s world it can be a source where evil is discovered. In schematizing Soldiers’ Pay, Flags in the Dust/Sartoris, and the two versions of Sanctuary, Gresset sees three repeated structural patterns: 1. Time and Place 2.Sight and Sound 3.The character who surprises and those surprised, and the consequences of such an encounter. The opening of Sanctuary serves as a crucial paradigm for Gresset’s argument:
From beyond the screen of bushes which surrounded the spring, Popeye watched the man drinking. A faint path led from the road to the spring. Popeye watched the man—a tall, thin man, hatless, in worn gray flannel trousers and carrying a tweed coat over his arm—emerge from the path and kneel to drink from the spring. *********
He saw, facing him across the spring, a man of under size, his hands in his coat pockets, a cigarette slanted from his chin. His suit was black, with a tight, high-waisted coat. His trousers were rolled once and caked with mud above mud-caked shoes. His face had a queer, bloodless color, as though seen by electric light; against the sunny silence in his slanted straw hat and his slightly akimbo arms, he had that vicious depthless quality of stamped tin.
Away from the noise of the highway, these two strangers surprise one another in a primal encounter. It should be noted that Popeye does not originate with this scene; he has existed for some time, but not for Horace since Popeye’s reality is felt for the first time during this encounter. We are given an outrageously privileged perspective from which to see these two, and though the sympathetic point of view falls on Horace, the scene shows to what extent he has entered an evil world.
When Addie Bundren in As I Lay Dying, on the other hand, finally closes her eyes, her neighbors are scandalized. Darl, le porte-regard, cannot cope with what he sees; he possesses Dewey Dell by divining her situation, though he does not put his insights into words. In turn, Dewey Dell experiences herself as an object when she realizes what Darl has perceived. More cruelly, Vardaman gouges out the eyes of the fish in an attempt to see what is going on inside. In general, Faulkner is quite graphic when he shows how some of his characters, such as Cash, Gowan, Joe Christmas, and Henry Sutpen, react to scandal: they vomit. We are never ready to encounter evil; for Faulkner we are doomed, though not necessarily damned. To write is to be condemned to the status of the voyeur; yet narration is not life, and the act of writing is a death only in the aesthetic sense. Man’s moral consciousness is “the curse he had to accept from the gods in order to gain the right to dream.”
In arriving at Faulkner’s sense of the absolute, Gresset has not forgotten to trace in detail the development of the early Faulkner. He stresses in particular “The Hill,” “Nympholepsy,” “Carcassonne,” The Marble Faun, and The Green Bough. Faulkner desired that his works be aesthetically and temperamentally bold, austere, and tragic, yet personal and rooted in his native soil, as he dealt with the real and aspired to the ideal while all the time relating the “eye” of the artist to the “I” of the self. Pierrot and Pan, stylized figures attractive to a poet (manqué) having read Mallarme, Keats, Swinburne, Housman, and Verlaine, as well as Joyce and Eliot, become double metaphors for the artist searching for the untouchable woman as he struggles with his marble-bound condition. The emerging vagabond soon begins to feel the development of his inner powers as he creates a more natural landscape and a more human mindscape.Soldiers’ Pay reveals that Faulkner needed a more expansive genre to portray sexual frustration and death. And while Mosquitoes expands the themes of love, time, and art, it is not a satisfying book because it dances around sexuality without dealing with it honestly; the space between the desire and the act leads to frustration, an experience more dynamically structured in Flags in the Dust and later novels. Gresset’s study is highly original, releasing an energy and using an optique littéraire not found in any other critical appreciation of Faulkner’s works. He deals in great depth with each work he discusses, savoring meticuously the nuances of the ideas he proposes and exploring each variation he finds to its logical conclusion, all the time respecting the weight and specificity of the text.
Professor Bleikasten, long recognized for his two perceptive books on Faulkner, The Most Splendid Failure: Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury,” an adaptation of the second section of his dissertation, and Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying,” an evaluation which parallels in many ways and adumbrates some of the ideas presented in the third section of his dissertation but does not actually constitute a translation of it, has written a work which will set the standards for Faulkner criticism for years to come. His discussion of As I Lay Dying in Parcours de Faulkner emphasizes the Hegelian notion of the family where the burial of one of the members of the family is a primordial task, though in this novel Addie inverts this scheme by making plans for her own funeral cortege. The Bundrens form a family unit, ironically, as they band together in intimate disunion. Reflecting the family relationships found in The Sound and the Fury (Darl and Quentin originate from a similar concept of a character), Faulkner fragmented the novel by introducing 15 different narrators. To counteract this sense of dispersion, Addie in her coffin gives the novel a simple story line with great unity of action, space, and time. The storytellers are everywhere and nowhere as they hide behind their narrative voices; the chorus often gives a retrospective point of view while the family comments on one another as the rather macabre events gradually unfold. Unlike Quentin and Jason in The Sound and the Fury, Darl’s metaphysical speculations and the analogous heightened language of Vardaman prefigure the complex voices in Absalom, Absalom! and create a new, bold musical spectacle.
Just as the title taken from a quote in the Odyssey is not complete yet demands a response, so too the novel defies any quick desire to find a category for it since a process of metamorphosis constantly takes place. Addie becomes a fish, a scandalously strange eucharistic symbol; she is changed by the forces of air, fire, water, earth and at times has shown that she has been both mother and father to her children. Her voice has the impact of a Lazarus who tries to communicate the relationships between love, experience, sin, language, and the family. Yet ironically Anse, her husband, has been touched least of all by this; he, in turn, starts a new family, and though the duck-shaped woman is a grotesque caricature of Addie, we know that Cash and Jewel might fare well, though we have doubts about Dewey Dell and Vardaman, and can only sympathize with poor Darl whose final cosmic laugh has no object, no limits. In Addie and Darl, we discover the world’s folly and understand in an American sense Sartre’s distinction between en-soi and pour-soi. We never do witness the origin of evil in this novel, but we do see its effects in disorder and outrage. Death and folly bear eloquent testimony to its existence, and a dead body may be the perfect sign of its final presence. Faulkner sees through it, portrays it, but does not question it or analyze it.
Bleikasten’s treatment of Sanctuary is the most sensible and sensitive one written to date. He points out that because Faulkner wanted to attract a wider reading audience and sell more of his books, he looked to a more traditional novel form, even one that had a sense of melodrama. The revisions of Sanctuary clearly show, however, that Faulkner was preoccupied in this book with aesthetical problems, particularly in his emphasis of Temple and the secondary role of Horace, though from one perspective this novel could be read as Horace’s nightmare. The desire to please by shocking and upsetting his audience serves as an alibi for a more imaginative approach to evil than he previously portrayed. The novel backs the reader into a corner, and his reaction is a highly physical sense of amazed stupeur. As with Gresset, Bleikasten stresses the importance of the novel’s opening scene, the viol optique of Horace by Popeye. Homo homini lupus. We quickly begin to feel the weight of each moment as time rushes blindly to its disastrous conclusion. Temple knows that something is going to happen to her; she anticipates the future, so that when the final curtain is lifted, we get a sense that all has been played out and there is nowhere to go. Each present instant is a blind moment of exchange, a furtive moment that leads to an unspecified destiny.
The Old Frenchman’s Place, Memphis, and Jefferson, three sanctuaries, provide no one with rest or refuge; in fact, they do just the opposite. Neither the crib nor the Grotto are what they seem to be either. In fact, neither Temple nor Horace knows what really is going on either inside or outside these sanctuaries. Temple is never far from a door, an important symbol in this book, since she knows that Popeye can transgress her space without hesitation. When Temple does seek refuge, she learns that doors really protect no one, and that each exit is but an entrance into a further experience of evil and uncertainty.
Sanctuary is, par excellence, a novel of transgression; the bordello in Memphis and the clandestine bootleg-whiskey operation at the Old Frenchman’s Place, though socially unacceptable but economically profitable, house those who are out of place in normal society. Temple’s flirtatious spirit cannot protect her puritan sense of respectability, and her subsequent passivity renders her deathlike until she becomes a double of the child in Ruby’s kitchen. She moves in a constricted space and she assumes more and more a fetal position as a dislocation takes place between her body and spirit. Like the door, the expression of the mouth becomes another dominant symbol; it provokes, attracts, and dissimmulates, yet can reject, repudiate, and vomit. Pap, the blind Teresias, whose androgynous name cleverly demonstrates that the forces in this novel converge on a child-adult, fed by others, who neither sees nor understands what is happening as he remains unchanged by the events around him.
The tragic second innocence experienced by Temple, Horace, and Popeye has no redemptive quality about it since children are not children, nor adults adults. Temple seeks a father in Popeye who is not a man at all, and when we do finally see her with her real father, there is a slightly incestuous aura in their relationship. Each of the pairings, Horace-Popeye, Horace-Temple, Popeye-Temple, lacks any natural bonds, suggested most dramatically at the beginning of the novel when Horace sees himself in the water at the same time he sees an image of Popeye. These two men are indissolubly linked, and their relationship assumes the nature of a nightmare lacking weight and density. To be fascinated with the other is to be fascinated with the narcissistic semblance of the self. Though Temple and Popeye form a couple, they are antithetical to one another, and their incompatibility is clear on all levels. All appears to be a series of masks and masquerades; even the law assists not in punishing the guilty but in saving appearances, as is particularly true in Temple’s case. The double irony is that Popeye, a force without law, is condemned for a crime he did not commit and found innocent of a crime he did commit. Yet in this Manichean world, Faulkner does not favor one gender over another, nor does he dole out the punishments equally. And though, like Eurydice, Temple is brought back again, we know what awaits her and all of us: “death”—the last word of the novel.
Unlike the female protagonists in As I Lay Dying and Sanctuary, Lena Grove in Light in August represents an invocation to Venus Genetrix, to Helen, though one might also add to Magdalena (emphasis mine). She encloses within her new life that will be born during the course of the novel, new space that will be filled out by words as she finds the right people in the right time in the right places. As many have pointed out, this virgin mother comes from a Greek background and reminds us that the gods are still embodied in people. Yet the other women, Bobbie Allen, Mrs. Hines, Joanna Burden, and Mrs. McEachern, are not complete; they depend on men for their existence, though we should avoid confusing Faulkner’s concept of Woman with any actual portrayals. Both positively and negatively, women in this novel are associated with images of water, blood, and vomit, and are often linked with sex and food. Lena and Joanna, the Madonna and the Medusa, represent two faces of the same fictive woman.
The men in the novel are often associated with rites of sacrifice and purification, and a subsequent retreat into nature. It is curious that after Joe has killed Joanna, he returns to nature, to the days of his innocence, in much the same way as the final apotheosis of Hightower is an absorption into the world beyond. Though rooted in time, these two men are linked by the notion of the ideal, of death, and destruction. Like Joanna, they are victims of a past they cannot control. Love for them is a fiction, an empty form of life. The idealist never wins his battle with reality, and Joanna knows full well the scope of her alienation.
Contrary to some suggestions made by Cleanth Brooks in his The Yoknapatawpha Country, there is a collusion in the universe of this novel where individual and communal responsibility are shared. Because of the plurality of personal histories represented, no single hero/heroine stands out un-qualifiedly. Jefferson is the focal point where the trajectories of many stories intersect; the community does not provide an ideal norm for behavior but an ideological one. Joe Christmas’ situation deals with a hypothetical racial problem, though granted it has very real consequences. Joe’s problem is not one of race or blood but of the psychological forces operative in his life. He accepts and rejects and thus traps himself in a vicious circle. He is not representative of any group in the South.
In his discussion of sex, race, puritan asceticism, and the novel’s structural features (disjunctions, exclusions, and closures), Bleikasten constantly focuses on the imaginative structure of the text. In his explanation of the Father, for example, he notes how throughout the novel the death of the pariah has a character about it that enriches the text as we see in various ways how past debts are paid. The Urvater rules with pure force outside the touch of anyone. As Dionysius, Adonis, and Christ remind us, rebirth can occur at the moment of death. This only serves to look once again at the final chapter, the coda to Light in August, where a male child might just bring together two adults who seem willing to form a new family unit.
Rightly Bleikasten notes that with Light in August Faulkner explored a latent Romantic strain and included more households, more time periods, more personal histories than he had previously included in any one work. The private voices, too, gradually become in this novel more public so that, like money, words become accessible to all. Faulkner gradually expanded his techniques of writing, becoming an idiot or a woman when it suited his purpose, and knew deep down that words were his tools, and though he was concerned by the real, he was never captured by it. He lived and disappeared in his works. Unlike Velásquez or Vermeer, who could not help but jump into their paintings, Faulkner is there, but so totally absorbed in his fiction as to be unseen. In each dimension of the novels Bleikasten investigates, whether it be textual analysis, thematic studies, or mythic development, he brings a wealth of knowledge to the text and gently allows the text to assume its proper focus. His book cannot be overlooked by any serious student of Faulkner.
One novel not treated by Bleikasten, Gresset, or Rouberol, except in passing, is Faulkner’s chef d’oeuvre, Absalom, Absalom!. This work however has not been slighted in the Francophone world. Professor Christine de Montauzon’s 1982 dissertation for the University of Geneva, “Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and Interpretability: The Inexplicable Unseen,” provides an excellent example of how Europeans deal with Faulkner’s most difficult novel. Using Piaget’s notions of assimilation and accommodation, de Montauzon focuses her attention on a fundamental question: what does it mean to make sense? A search for meaning necessarily involves accounting adequately for all the relationships that exist within a novel since the mind seeks coherence and unity. Yet the fundamental indeterminacy of Absalom, Absalom! presents a series of blocking devices that thwart a desire to achieve a comprehensive, unified interpretation. Critics have stressed various ways to classify this novel, either as a thriller, a tragedy, an epic, a Gothic romance, or some type of Southern mythic parable. Yet these approaches taken either singly or collectively do not merge easily into one controlling device; as a result, we are constantly thrown off balance as we search for a solution to give us the equilibrium we normally expect in reading a novel.
It is likewise a disservice to the magnitude and greatness of this novel to dismiss any gaps we find resulting from awkwardness on Faulkner’s part, as when one feels the need to explain the content of what Henry Sutpen told Quentin, since such an exercise provides a forced assimilation on the text. And even though Faulkner’s periodic sentences, shifting focus, metonymic connections, repetitions, and processes of metamorphosis expand certain words and concepts, we never achieve a total breakthrough, as, for instance, in explicating Miss Rosa’s statement, “I became all polymath love’s androgynous advocate.” Readers have to deal with a spinning linguistic compass where the poles of deep frustration and suppressed desire only serve to keep their thoughts in motion; the mimetic cannot help us as we attempt to transfer the implications of one word to another. Such forms of oxymoron “can then be read as the expression of the language and symbolism of the unconscious betrayed in the incoherence, conflict and emotional disturbance it displays.” From another perspective, the Atreus, Oedipus, David and Absalom myths both reveal and puzzle and leave us with unfulfilled expectations, suggesting that at least on one level, the novel can be read as man’s general desire to create myths.
Picking up from John Irwin’s proposal in his Doubling and Incest/Repetition and Revenge: A Speculative Reading of Faulkner that the meaning of this novel is always deferred, as evidenced certainly in Quentin’s role as listener, de Montauzon explores the text from the perspectives provided by the theories of Claude Bremond, Jean Rousset, Gérard Genette, and Roland Barthes. None of these theories gives us the ultimate open sesame, since many of the “cardinal functions” of the novel (Bon as Sutpen’s son, Bon’s Negro blood, the 1860 Christmas Eve scene, to cite a few) are so interconnected that as one recedes from the spotlight, another emerges, but without the cause-and-effect movement one might hope for. The network of cardinal functions does not get to the meaning of the text, and thus the novel has to be seen as an “infinite regress of never completed interpretations.” While the impulse to structure still remains, one is forced to recognize the “untotalizable free play of meanings that constitutes the structure of this novel.” Each image or sequence provides a mechanism to interpret the text, yet at the same time disrupt it, leading to the final l’oeuvre-cri that marks the end of ever achieving satisfying accommodations.
Since these four works have admirably advanced the level of Faulkner scholarship, one could well ask where we should look next? Germany? Japan? Spain? Undoubtedly so.