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Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

I haven’t seen James Franco’s As I Lay Dying yet, but I want to so bad I can taste it.

Now it looks like James Franco is going to tackle The Sound and the Fury. That’s awesome. I am 100% in favor of as many Faulkner adaptations as possible. Bring all of them to the screen! I will watch them all.

Neither As I Lay Dying nor The Sound and the Fury are among my favorite Faulkner novels, but a not-favorite Faulkner is still like a billion times better than most everything else. Hopefully HBO will get around to making everything else.

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This looks like it will be absolutely everything I have been hoping it will be. I am incredibly stoked.

Incidentally, the music that’s playing at the beginning of the trailer is “Moving On” by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, from the soundtrack to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The cool thing is, I listened to that soundtrack while reading As I Lay Dying last year, because I thought it had just the perfect atmosphere for the book. Apparently someone else thought so too.

Also, true story: I have a Google Alert set up for “William Faulkner.”

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And I said, “Is truth, therefore nothing, because it is not diffused through space–neither finite nor infinite?”

And you cried to me from afar, “I am that I am.”

-Augustine, Confessions 7.10.16

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“I’m sorry. But please-”

“Speak on, dear heart.”

“Shall I ever be able to read that story again; the one I couldn’t remember? Will you tell it to me, Aslan? Oh do,do,do.”

“Indeed, yes, I will tell it to you for years and years.”

-C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

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A few months ago (probably on a Literary Friday, because that’s when I really tend to go overboard with this kind of thing) I got the idea into my head that I wanted a picture of William Faulkner to hang on my wall. So I Googled pictures of him for about thirty seconds before I fixated on this one. I’m not completely sure why–maybe it’s just the great light/dark contrast, or maybe it’s because Faulkner appears to be outside and unmistakably (stereotypically even!) in the South, which is fitting for an author whose work is so inseparably rooted in Place–but in any case, I liked this particular photo and I decided I wanted it on my wall (at home? In my office? I confess I had not got that far yet).

My first inclination was to ask my mother to draw it or me. For years she did portraits for everyone we knew for Christmas, and she even painted a portrait of my beautiful and sexy wife and me on our wedding day.

But then it hit me: Shit, I thought, I can draw. I should just draw it myself.

So I got started, and I worked on it here and there throughout August and September while I read Go Down, Moses, which turns out to be just a fucking amazing book and without a doubt one of the most powerful novels (and it definitely is a novel, not short stories) he ever wrote, second quite possibly to only Absalom, Absalom!.

I took my time, but when I realized today was William Faulkner’s birthday, I knew it was time to buckle down and finish it. So I did. And here it is.

Copyright by me. Don’t steal. But I hope you like it; I’m awfully proud of it.

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No one is without Christianity, if we agree on what we mean by that word. It is every individual’s individual code of behavior by means of which he makes himself a better human being than his nature wants to be, if he followed his nature only. Whatever its symbol — cross or crescent or whatever — that symbol is man’s reminder of his duty inside the human race. Its various allegories are the charts against which he measures himself and learns to know what he is. It cannot teach a man to be good as the textbook teaches him mathematics. It shows him how to discover himself, evolve for himself a moral codes and standard within his capacities and aspirations, by giving him a matchless example of suffering and sacrifice and the promise of hope.

-from an interview with Jean Stein in 1958

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I finished Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter quite quickly (it’s a pretty short novel, after all) and I’m still sort of mentally unpacking it. In retrospect, I don’t thin there’s as much to warrant a comparison with Agee as I had assumed. They’re both Southern novels with narratives around a dead person, but honestly that’s about it. Oh, and they both won Pulitzers. And neither of them has much in common with As I Lay Dying, either (although As I Lay Dying and A Death In The Family are interesting because of the ways they approach the death of a parent through the eyes of a child as a kind of secondary or tertiary POV). But like I said, I’m still chewing on it.

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I finished Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust and volume 2 of Shelby Foote’s Civil War yesterday. A conicidence, really, since I have been plodding through volume 2 of Foote for something like nine months.

Intruder did not disappoint, but neither will it go down on my list of favorite Faulkner. It’s not an easy read, and I’m not sure the payoff is as big as Faulkner’s other really difficult reads (i.e. The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom!) although I will acknowledge that maybe there’s substance to it that I missed that would multiply my appreciation of the book. I must remember to use my brother’s JSTOR password to cruise some articles about it and see what’s there to grapple with.

The quote about Pickett’s charge that I cited the other day, and indeed that whole passage of the book about the eternal Is of the past and all time, was, of course, magnificent. And certainly the book wrestled fiercely with the South’s complicated race issues, but did it do so in a way that was fundamentally different from any of Faulkner’s other race-focused books? I guess so–the perspective of a teenage boy and his relationship to an older black man is certainly a different lens through which to examine race in the South than we get in, say, Light in August. Light tackles the question of what is race and why is it so fucking important through (in part at least) the racially ambiguous Joe Christmas, whereas Intruder focuses on this white teenager who has inherited the South’s racial legacy and no matter what he does–even saving Lucas Beauchamp’s life–he has absolutely no chance of getting out of it.

I want to give some thought to the differences between the Chick Mallison/Lucas Beauchamp relationship in Intruder and the Lucius Priest/Ned McCaslin relationship in The Reivers. Just a thought.

Foote almost needs no commentary. I started out strong with volume 2 (I read volume 1 last year over the course of 5 or 6 weeks), but I was so emotionally exhausted by the chapter about Gettysburg (“The Stars in Their Courses,” which is also published as a standalone book) that for the most part I could only half-heartedly engage with the rest of the volume (other than a brief afternoon of riveting excitement as I read about Chickamauga). I wrote about Gettysburg a few weeks ago on its anniversary so I won’t tread that ground again here (although to be honest, I feel as if I will always be treading that ground) except to say that the battle has a profound and glorious and sad hold over me, and Foote’s account of it is masterfully crafted. I hope to pick the momentum back up through volume 3.

Last night after I got off the bus (the bus on which I finished Foote and Faulkner) I was locked out of my house, so I sat on the steps for awhile getting started with Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter, which was nice to read on the front porch on a hot July evening, even in Chicago. I like it, and whatever else I get out of it, I will probably spend some time mulling over how it compares and contrasts with Agee’s A Death in the Family, which I read earlier this year.

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I read Carson McCullers’s The Heart is A Lonely Hunter last month, but it’s taken me some time to sit on it and stew over it. It’s not an obvious book. I’m not going to summarize it here.

The imbalanced relationships between the main characters (Singer and Antonapoulos and each of Mick, Jake Blount, Biff Brannon and Doctor Copeland and Singer) are the heart of the narrative. The close friendship between Singer and Antonapoulos is demonstrated from page one, but are they really close friends? Is Antonapoulos even capable of the kind of relationship that Singer projects onto them (with an actual projector even!), or is Singer really just doing to Antonapoulos what the others do to Singer? Singer imagines a deep and fulfilling relationship with Antonapoulos that is in fact not really mutual at all: the handicapped Antonapoulos is as incapable of understanding what Singer says to him as the deaf Singer is incapable of truly understanding what any of the others say in turn to Singer. Nevertheless, just as all four fiercely believe and cling to the notion that they have a unique and powerful connection with Singer, Singer believes his only real friend is Antonapoulos.

Thus we are faced with the terrifying true nature of relationship and mutuality, the extent to which we are inevitably and fully alienated by our inability to really know what the Other is thinking, and we are shown the resulting despair. Nobody’s ending is happy. Everyone dies alone.

There are a lot of other things going on in the novel–definitely a lot sexuality and innocence and hate and race and class and Marxism, but all of it is primarily explored through this fundamental lens of alienation, the loneliness that results from our fundamental inability to know or be known by other human beings.

Hand in hand with this theme of loneliness and alienation is a related theme, and the two are tied together in the novel’s title. Each of McCullers’s main characters is yearning for something, and although they try to express this yearning (futilely!) through connection and relationship, relationship is the impossible means to the impossible end, not the end itself.

Mick’s quest for music, to really get music, to capture whatever-it-is that music makes her feel when she hears it, is the prime example. It’s an obsession, really: Mick hears a symphony and she is certain that somewhere in Music is that Thing that will fill the hole in herself. Blount and Doctor Copeland are both looking for it in the Marxist dialectic (although race creates an inseparable gulf between the two characters that should be able to connect), and Biff, though he doesn’t consciously know it, is looking for it in gender and sexuality, but for each of them is is an aesthetic hunger. A notion that the truly beautiful thing will fulfill them. And with each of them, what they are looking for is elusive–it’s not clear if they could theoretically find what they are looking for, but they certainly are not able to find it through their (non-)relationships with Singer. And, unable to find it, each of them flails around their respecitve existences, trying to find substitutes in sex, alcohol, hate and even death.

In the end, it’s a sad book, but it’s a beautifully sad book.

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I’m about two-thirds of the way through William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust, and few things in the world could make me happer. It’s not my favorite of Faulkner’s novels by any stretch (obviously I like Absalom, Absalom! best, but I also have an immense love for The Reivers, The Sound and the Fury and A Light in August), but just reading anything at all by Faulkner makes me feel comforted and at home. I get lost in it and I resent having to come back out. Reading Faulkner is like holding your head underwater, except instead of water it’s the human experience filtered through the complicated, painful and exquisitely beautiful legacy of the South, deeply rooted in place, and written in hypnotic prose that tastes like river water, blood and a humid summer twilight. And unlike water, you can breathe it. It’s not easy to breathe–it’s heady–but you can breathe it. And it’s insidiously addictive.

I started reading books generally in a more disciplined fashion about two years ago when I began picking up westerns. My rule is that I read no more than one fiction and one non-fiction book at a time (short stories and short story collections don’t count), and I finish the one (or intentionally decide to not finish it, which I have done a number of times) before I pick up the next. This keeps me from meandering through the first thirty pages of book after book with no direction and no sense of satisfaction and never finishing or appreciating anything. It’s been a good system, and as a result I very well may have read probably more books in the last two years than in the ten before that–certainly better books.

Like I said, I started with westerns and enjoyed them immensely, but via Cormac McCarthy I wound up transitioning from westerns to my true love, the Southern literary tradition. Simultaneously, I transitioned from westerns to Civil War obsession, which is deeply and inseparably related to Southern literature, but is a topic for another day. I like McCarthy’s westerns quite a bit (although I think I may prefer All The Pretty Horses to Blood Meridian), but his early East Tennessee novels (Outer Dark, Suttree and The Orchard Keeper; I have not yet read Child of God) captured me and held me under a spell the way the cowboy books don’t. Maybe it’s because I was raised in East Tennessee. Maybe it’s just because they’re good books. Probably both, but for me they are also ghost-haunted and harrowing, and they capture perfectly the stillness and terror and the deep longing I have for those wooded hills. I have ancestors who crawled out of those mountains more than a century ago, and I feel them wriggling in my blood: when I read McCarthy, they are roused and they answer.

But McCarthy also put me in a mood to go back and re-read Absalom, Absalom!, which I had not read since high school, and I was done. It was finished. Since then I have been working my way determinedly through the Southern canon and having an honest to God hard time trying to figure out why I would want to bother reading anything else.

I read nearly everything Flannery O’Connor wrote with grotesque and gleeful abandon. I read James Dickey’s Deliverance while every muscle in my body was tense for nearly the entire read (I had to stop periodically to relax and breathe). I mourned for the loss of William Gay just days after I finished Provinces of Night. I’m slowly working my way through Shelby Foote’s Civil War. I’ve read Carson McCullers and James Agee.

And today I’m reading Intruder. I’m not sure what’s next; I have deliberated re-reading Suttree, but I have a long list of what I want to read and a big bag of used books sitting on a shelf downstairs. And all too often, with whatever I am reading, I just wish I was reading Faulkner instead.

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