Monday, April 19th, 2004
I started a new book today; Flags in the Dust, by William Faulkner. It is the director's cut of his third novel, Sartoris, with over 40 minutes of previously unreleased Yoknatawpha footage.
I opened to page 1 and was almost instantly swept away by the lushness of Faulkner's imagery -- beautiful! I was seeing the scene inside my head like a movie privately screened, hearing the words like a bicameral narration. And as I read I would slip into and out of this state -- slip into it when I come across a particularly nice image, out of it when I realize I am not really understanding what is going on and I have to back up a paragraph or two to figure out where the story is.
This is a common experience for me when I am reading a good book. Some good books, e.g. House of Sand and Fog, I am in the "cinematic" mode most of the way through, rarely losing the thread. Some good books, e.g. Gravity's Rainbow the first 3 times I read it (well, the fourth time as well to be truthful), interruptions are much more frequent -- there is a lot more complexity and intricacy to the narrative. Both are enjoyable reading experiences; I would venture to say I'm more likely to reread the second type of book.
I am glad to be reading Faulkner again, he is a favorite of mine and I haven't read anything by him for a few years.
Tuesday, April 20th, 2004
Flags in the Dust -- I am trying to pay attention to what reading mode I am in as I read each sentence -- this is an experiment with some potential to disrupt my reading experience and if I find it is doing so too much, I will abandon it. But if I am successful I think this extra level of consciousness about my role in the story will be very useful -- I am trying to achieve a meditative consciousness in reading. My hunch is that Faulkner is particularly well-suited to reading this way.
Wednesday, April 21st, 2004
Looking at the William Faulkner on the Web site at the University of Mississippi I found his address to the Nobel Prize committee in 1950 -- it is a speech I have read before but one well worth being reminded of.
It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.
A difficult proposition for me to affirm but one which I hope and try to embrace.
Friday, April 23rd, 2004
Last night and this morning I read the longest (so far) block of narrative in Flags in the Dust -- Bayard's odyssey: beginning on page 119 he takes Simon for a drive, scares him with speed, leaves him to walk home; then goes on to town where he gets drunk with MacCallum, goes to look at the stallion MacCallum is buying, rides the stallion, is thrown, is bandaged by Doc Peabody; then Hub and Suratt drive him out to Hub's place, where they drink more whiskey, and drive back to town; then he drives back to Hub's place with Hub, Mitch, and some Negro musicians, they get the bottle and drive to a city or town (apparently not Jefferson) where the musicians play and Mitch sings; then drive back to Jefferson (with Bayard going very fast and scaring the musicians, and stopping frequently to drink whiskey). The next bit is told centering around Narcissa but belongs in the same narrative block -- she is having dinner with her aunt and telephones Jenny to see if Bayard got home alright, and Jenny tells her he did not come home; when she retires (after receiving a visit from Dr. Alford), Bayard brings the musicians to her yard to serenade her and then they leave. Meanwhile an unidentified stalker (whom I believe to be Snopes) is lying on the roof of her garage, looking through her window. Wow! 50 pages later and still going strong...
Monday, April 26th, 2004
Flags in the Dust -- the Bayard's Wild Ride section seguéd nicely into a chapter dealing with the return of Narcissa's brother Horace. I am having a little trouble with this chapter. Horace doesn't really seem that concrete or believable a character, at least when he is present and speaking. When his time in Europe is presented as a story, it is interesting and fun, and the high-flown language seems playful; but when he is moving around Jefferson and talking to Narcissa, it is just dreary.
Flags in the Dust -- This evening, as I was reading the scene where Horace is visiting Belle, it occurred to me that Horace is a poseur. And with that understanding, everything his character did started to make more sense. The other characters so far seem by and large to be either unreflective or else withdrawn and unsocial; but Horace is extroverted, and busy with self-consciously projecting a façade to the people around him. His fancy language is tiresome and unnecessary, and he knows this on some level; but he keeps it up in order to maintain a consistent false persona. This is his connection with Belle, who is a bit of a faker herself.
Tuesday, April 27th, 2004
Flags in the Dust -- It occurs to me that I may have given the impression in my last post that I think Horace is a con man. Far from it -- he deceives himself probably better than anybody else. The narration around him is written in the same affected manner he uses when speaking; I did not understand what was going on before since the narration is in the third person, but I think now that he is actually narrating -- and maybe that each scene is narrated by the character who is central to it.
On the web site of the University of Illinois at Chicago, I found an interesting paper, titled Flags in the Dust: A Continuum of Immorality Lost in a Lilac Dream. There does not seem to be any information about the author of the paper except that his first name is Juan. I will try to find out more and post it.
Monday, May third, 2004
Flags in the Dust -- Bayard seems totally dissipated after his grandfather dies. I think this may have been true from the beginning of the book but I was reading with the wrong lenses in my glasses or something; I had seen Bayard as possessed of some depth of character and potential. The moment I really understood Bayard, I think, was during his visit to the MacCallum's place when he undressed to go to sleep and Buddy warned him to wear warmer clothing in bed.
Wednesday, December 19th, 2007
The opening pages of Absalom, Absalom! are great pages. I was trying today to figure out what I could compare them to: they are sort of like a really long shot in film of a scene with very little action or dialogue, with the camera panning and tracking its subjects, taking in every detail of an elaborate set. But what this scenario really brings to mind is the reaction I am always hoping to have (and only rarely actually experiencing) to seeing a great painting. Faulkner is narrating the experience of looking hard, for minutes on end, at a painting of the scene he is describing.
(Also: my memory of this book doesn't have much to say about Quentin Compson; but rereading these opening pages, I am thinking he's a really important element to understanding what's being told. I wonder if after the beginning of the book, Faulkner moves more completely into the world of Miss Coldfield's story. Or alternately if I just missed out on the point of the story, when I read it last.)
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