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The Fantasy of Orality in Absalom, Absalom!

Four years after the publication of the first edition of Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, Wallace Stevens described a modern aesthetic form which necessarily acted against its own status as a (fixed) form1. “What will [temporarily] suffice” in “Modern Poetry” would replace, as the mind’s object, what is–or, perhaps more faithfully to the modernist vision, what used to be. The poem of the motion of the mind in time would replace the poem of permanent meaning.

The fundamental difference between present and past, the breakdown of static forms, and the necessity of temporal flow all inform Stevens’ aesthetic, which works towards a dynamic experience in time, as a substitute for the communication of truth independent of time. I think an understanding of this (self-subverting) form has some important and complicated implications for a reading of Absalom, Absalom!, especially in terms of the relationship of historicity to orality in the novel, and of its distinctive and relatively homogeneous prose style. Ultimately to be found in these themes are the novel’s fantasies of its form and of its reader.

The new aesthetic defines itself in relationship to an implied old one which, because of some historical break (“Then the theatre was changed/to something else”), no longer works. If Absalom, Absalom!, formally and thematically, offers a substitute for a now-inadequate “souvenir,” it may be necessary to begin its exploration with the souvenir itself: namely the communication of positive historical truth in fixed form.

Many critical interpretations of Absalom, Absalom! move towards the common conclusion that the way narrative works in the novel makes impossible the passing of meaning from one subject (teller or author) to anot…

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…ncredulous Narration: Absalom, Absalom!” Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. New York: Knopf, 1984. Rpt. in Modern Critical Interpretations: Absalom, Absalom!. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! The Corrected Text. New York: Vintage, 1986.

Guetti, James. “Absalom, Absalom!: The Extended Simile.”The Limits of Metaphor: A Study of Melville, Conrad, and Faulkner. Ithaca: Cornell, 1967. 69-108.

Matthews, John T. The Play of Faulkner’s Language. Ithaca: Cornell, 1982.

Porter, Carolyn. “William Faulkner: Innocence Historicized.” Seeing and Being: The Plight of the Participant Observer in Emerson, James, Adams, and Faulkner. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1981. Cited as rpt. in Bloom.

Slatoff, Walter J. Quest for Failure: A Study of WIlliam Faulkner. Ithaca: Cornell, 1960.

The Significance of Anti-visual Imagery in Story of the Eye and Un Chien Andalou.

The Significance of Anti-visual Imagery in Story of the Eye and Un Chien Andalou

The faithful alliance between the eye and the body came under severe attack with the oncoming of the first world war. The effects of trench warfare on peoples’ perceptions caused them to question and reevaluate the confidence they had once put into their sense of vision. The experience of trench warfare was characterized by confusion due to not being able to see the enemy, indistinguishable shadows, gas-induced haze, and sudden spurts of blinding light (Jay 174). As a result of this lack of visual clarity, a nationalistic movement in interwar France emerged towards visual lucidity that was evident in the declining interest in Cubism and the subsequent appraisal of Purism (Silver 79). The directive of this movement was to restore a unified sense of vision that would coincide with what was desired for the reemerging postwar society. This attempt to reorganize the shattered sense of perspective, however, encountered dissonance in many of those that were involved in the war.

Many of the Surrealists, including Breton, were forced to participate in the war, and their experiences in it left them disenchanted (Jay 182). The war helped to contribute to their overall feelings of nihilism and to what Breton described as their “campaign of systematic refusal”. Breton elaborated on this “systematic refusal” in his essay “What Is Surrealism?” by discussing “the incredible stupidity of the arguments which attempted to legitimize our participation in such an enterprise as the war, whose issue left us completely indifferent”, and defined their refusal as “against the whole series of intellectual, moral and social obligations that continually and from all sides weigh down on man and crush him.” The eye was not, it seems, impervious to the scope of this “systematic refusal”. Breton and his group of Surrealists perpetuated their ideas beyond the text and into the eye through the use of painting and photography, while at the same time redefining the roles of these forms of media.

“Painting the impossible” is what Magritte liked to call giving “precedence to poetry over painting (Mathews 34)” In his and other Surrealist paintings there was a strong urge to challenge the integrity of the optical experience. For example, the Rumanian-born Victor Brauner had decided to paint with his eyes closed, and Magritte directly challenged speech and thought with the incorporation of his betraying titles.

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