This is the first entry in our series on writers of the South.
Faulkner’s Top Ten
by Will Hubbard
The man wrote some doozies. Strings of modifying clauses that never end and, eventually, never seem to have begun. Four, five adjectives to describe a single noun. Entire hundred-fifty-year genealogies before the sentence is even predicated. And on top of this, a gross disregard of traditional punctuation and paragraphing techniques.
Simple sentences do just fine for surface; Hemingway, for example. Faulkner’s subjects, mostly male and entirely Southern, have no surface — that is, they are rather a complex phenomenon of myriad contradictions communing so disastrously all at once that a quantum event occurs at the interstice, emitting a flash of bleary light that is the mere apparition of a human being.
Myriad, interstice, apparition. This is the lexicon of Faulkner. Also: fecundating, attenuation, vanquishment, interminable, eunuch, engender. (I wish someone would do a tag cloud.) The earth is usually astonished, the darkness always wild, and abstractions like knowing or grieving can remember. Here are ten to stand by:
10. “She told me about the store and I realised what we had got into, that the starving was nothing, it could have done nothing but kill us, while this was worse than death or division even: it was the masoleum of love, it was the stinking catafalque of the dead corpse borne between the olifactoryless walking shapes of the immortal unsentient demanding ancient meat.” (The Wild Palms)
9. “She watched the final light condense into the clock face, and the dial change from a round orifice in the darkness to a disc suspended in nothingness, the original chaos, and change in turn to a crystal ball holding in its still and cryptic depths the ordered chaos of the intricate and shadowy world upon whose scarred flanks the old wounds whirl onward at dizzy speed into darkness lurking with new disasters.” (Sanctuary)
8. “When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old man-servant – a combined gardener and cook – had seen in at least ten years.” (A Rose for Emily)
7. “It had a ruthless sound, as the voices of all men did to him yet, since he was too young yet to escape from the world of women for that brief respite before he escaped back into it to remain until the hour of his death.” (Light in August)
6. “It was of the men, not white nor black nor red but men, hunters, with the will and hardihood to endure and the humility and skill to survive, and the dogs and the bear and deer juxtaposed and reliefed against it, ordered and compelled by and within the wilderness in the ancient and unremitting contest according to the ancient and unmitigable rules which voided all regrets and brooked no quarter; –the best game of all, the best of all breathing and forever the best of all listening, the voices quiet and weighty and deliberate for retrospection and exactitude among the concrete trophies — the racked guns and the heads and skins — in the libraries of town houses or the offices of plantation houses or (and best of all) in the camps themselves where the intact and still-warm meat yet hung, the men who had slain it sitting before the burning logs on hearths when there were houses and hearths or about the smoky blazing piled wood in front of stretched tarpaulins when there were not.” (The Bear)
5. “But I ain’t so sho that ere a man has the right to say what is crazy and what ain’t. It’s like there was a fellow in every man that’s done a-past the sanity or the insanity, that watches the sane and insane doings of that man with the same horror and the same astonishment.” (As I Lay Dying)
4. “I could just remember how my father used to say that the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time. And when I would have to look at them day after day, each with his and her secret and selfish thought, and blood strange to each other blood and strange to mine, and think that this seemed to be the only way I could get ready to stay dead, I would hate my father for having ever planted me. I would look forward to the times when they faulted, so I could whop them. When the switch fell I could feel it upon my flesh; when it welted and ridged it was my blood that ran, and I would think with each blow of the switch: Now you are aware of me! Now I am something in your secret and selfish life, who have marked your blood with my own for ever and ever.” (As I Lay Dying)
3. “Sometimes I could put myself to sleep saying that over and over until after the honeysuckle got all mixed up in it the whole thing came to symbolise night and unrest I seemed to be lying neither asleep nor awake looking down a long corridor of gray halflight where all stable things had become shadowy paradoxical all I had done shadows all I had felt suffered taking visible form antic and perverse mocking without relevance inherent themselves with the denial of the significance they should have affirmed thinking I was I was not who was not was not who.” (The Sound and the Fury)
2. “From a little after two o’clock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that–a dim hot airless room with the blinds all closed and fastened for forty-three summers because when she was a girl someone had believed that light and moving air carried heat and that dark was always cooler, and which (as the sun shone fuller and fuller on that side of the house) became latticed with yellow slashes full of dust motes which Quentin thought of as being flecks of the dead old dried paint itself blown inward from the scaling blinds as wind might have blown them. There was a wisteria vine blooming for the second time that summer on a wooden trellis before one window, into which sparrows came now and then in random gusts, making a dry vivid dusty sound before going away: and opposite Quentin, Miss Coldfield in the eternal black which she had worn for forty-three years now, whether for sister, father, or nothusband none knew, sitting so bolt upright in the straight hard chair that was so tall for her that her legs hung straight and rigid as if she had iron shinbones and ankles, clear of the floor with that air of impotent and static rage like children’s feet, and talking in that grim haggard amazed voice until at last listening would renege and hearing-sense self-confound and the long-dead object of her impotent yet indomitable frustration would appear, as though by outraged recapitulation evoked, quiet inattentive and harmless, out of the biding and dreamy and victorious dust.” (Absalom! Absalom!)
1. “In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I dont know what I am. I dont know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he is and he is what he is not. Beyond the unlamped wall I can hear the rain shaping the wagon that is ours, the load that is no longer theirs that felled and sawed it nor yet theirs that bought it and which is not ours either, lie on our wagon though it does, since only the wind and the rain shape it only to Jewel and me, that are not asleep. And since sleep is is-not and rain and wind are was, it is not. Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am emptied yet, I am is. How often I have lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.” (As I Lay Dying)
Will Hubbard is the contributing editor to This Recording.
“So Sorry (One Mic Remix)” – Feist (mp3)
“Fightin Away the Tears” – Feist with Mocky (mp3)
“My Moon My Man (Grizzly Bear Remix)” – Feist (mp3)
“Lover’s Spit (Redux)” – Broken Social Scene (mp3)
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
We say sorry.
You magnificent bastards.
Legend of Georgia Hardstark.