Saturday, August 4, 2007

Absalom, Absalom

On William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom. There is something about this book that puts me in mind of the movie The Three Faces of Eve, or of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces and the question of how identity is related to perception. Who is Thomas Sutpen? Is he the desperate child clawing his way out of poverty? the heartless husband whose only need of a wife is to help him breed a dynasty? A man driven by self-hatred or driven by ambition to prove that the past never mattered? Is Sutpen his own worse enemy or is fate? If Sutpen only exists in memory, whose memory truly keeps him?

And on Quentin....what hell must it be to be the keeper of another man's soul? A man he hates but who represents the South...a South he claims to love. Suicide seems like a no-brainer.

Related (at least in my way of thinking): "MEMORY likes to play hide-and-seek, to crawl away. It tends to hold forth, to dress up, often needlessly. Memory contradicts itself; pedant that it is, it will have its way.

When pestered with questions, memory is like an onion that wishes to be peeled so we can read what is laid bare letter by letter. It is seldom unambiguous and often in mirror-writing or other disguised.

Beneath its dry and crackly outer skin we find another, more moist layer, that once detached, reveals a third, beneath which a fourth and fifth wait whispering. And each skin sweats words too long muffled, and curlicue signs, as if a mystery-monger from an early age, while the onion was still germinating, had decided to encode himself.

Then ambition raises its head: this scrawl must be deciphered, that code cracked. What currently insists on truth is disproved, because Lie or her younger sister, Deception, often hands over only the most acceptable part of a memory...." (Grass, Peeling the Onion)


Anonymous said...


I won't be commenting on this for a bit. Won't read it either. Not 'till I'm done with AA, which should be just prior to 9/1.

Books r Us said...

I jotted this here so I would keep it in mind. I finished yesterday and started Sound and Fury today.

Of course that opens up a whole new line of questions for me.

Anonymous said...

My favorites:

Go Down, Moses
Light in August

I take it you like Faulkner.

Books r Us said...

Tell the truth, I don't know if I like him yet. I had forgotten that I had already read The Sound and The Fury until I was in the middle of AA and began to be struck by a sort of self-referential irony on the part of Faulkner and realized that I wasn't remembering Quentin Compson from one of the short stories, but from SF.

Quentin's telling of the Sutpen tragedy takes on a whole new meaning in light of his own.

So, I find myself re-reading SF before I re-read AA...plenty of time before September, you know.

Anonymous said...

Not for me. I will have my hands full this month with AA. I still have notes on Poisonwood that I may put up at Elba just to torture everyone.

The thing that hooked me on Faulkner was his ability to recarve paths in my thinking.

Some authors make me see. Some make me feel. The very best make me remember. I've come to realize and believe this only recently.

But Faulkner restructures my thinking.

I don't mean to say he gives me ideas (though he does) or that he persuades me (though he does that too).

I just seem to start thinking in a way completely different than I am used to. I've known no other author who has that affect on me.

Books r Us said...

Restructuring: I think this must be Faulkner's intent and it seems to arise in two ways. First, without chronology, there is a struggle to understand. I found I began to let the narrative wash over me, but as I puzzled it out, I was drawn into a more active participation, following Faulkner's cadences, falling into companionable rhythm.

Second, reading this novel is like being sucked into an eddy. In order not to get tired out too quickly and stay afloat, you must not thrash about but rather fall into Falkner's rhythms. When you do this, there is a definite shift in thought patterns.