Posted by: chartroose | June 16, 2008

Faulkner and the Great Southern Circle Jerk

I posted this on my old blog in 2005.  Since I’m still busy doing the seminar stuff, I believe now is a good time to use this as filler.  I hope you enjoy it!

I can’t stand literary pretensions.  I’ve been out of college for many years, and continue to feel fortunate that I no longer have to deal with those nose-in-the-air literature snobs who would parade around campus in tight little mincing groups and constantly raise their hands during advanced literature classes because they wanted to impress their plebian classmates (including myself) with their erudition.  These superior students would say things like “…It’s obvious that Fitzgerald was using Gatsby as an exemplar, or doppelganger if you will, for his own self-satisfied persona’s moral disintegration and the verisimilitudes that the upper-classes have to face when dealing with their own bourgeoisie ethos.”  After we all clapped and cheered in the face of such brilliance, the professor and said student(s) would engage in a lengthy discussion about the symbolic meaning of the color of Jay Gatsby’s car.  The rest of us would struggle valiantly to keep from yawning every two seconds.

I got my undergraduate degree in the East, and was acquainted with many lit snobs who adored Fitzgerald and lionized Faulkner.  At least once a year I’d have a class with an English prof, usually female, who would wax lyrical about Faulkner every chance she got.  It didn’t matter that the course was on the Romantic Poets; the love-struck professor would find some way to insinuate Faulkner into her lectures.  Having struggled through The Reivers in high school and after attempting to read The Sound and the Fury a couple of times with no success, I was loathe to admit that I thought Faulkner was a terrible writer.  I was afraid that if I talked dirt about the great WF, I would be chased across campus by the aforementioned mincing lit snobs and beaten to death with their copies of As I Lay Dying.  (Perhaps I’d be screaming absalom, absalom! before I slipped into unconsciousness).

I’m sure I’m not the only person who can’t stomach Faulkner.  I’m even more sure that there are pseudo-intellectual scholars out there in academic la-la-land who say they love Faulkner when they really despise his stream-of-consciousness 100+ word sentences.  They just want their peers to think they’re brainy.  Here’s an example of a Faulkner paragraph (Absalom, Absalom! 1936):

“From a little after two oclock 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. “

The second sentence of this two sentence paragraph is around 159 words long, give or take.  Reading something like this is just way too much work.  If I want to work, I’ll mow the lawn.  Reading is for pleasure.  Give me John Irving or Dr. Seuss any day!

By the way, I wonder if Oprah really does read Faulkner.  What do you think?




  1. I laughed my @ss off reading your description of hifalutin literature majors. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve met in my day. Thanks for the walk down memory lane (they are much easier to stomach there).

    On Faulkner… We read Go Down, Moses in an undergraduate literature class. I remember trying very hard to read it with no success. I regretted selling it back to the book store for some reason and bought it again. I haven’t picked it up except to pack it up and move it a few times. In graduate school, I took a wonderful class at an all girl college about the male voice in literature. Light in August was taught and I truly did love it. I’ve read it twice since then. I’m not sure if it was the book or the fact that between these classes I took a course on James Joyce. Joyce may very well have been what turned my light bulb on in terms of stream of consciousness. Then again, Go Down, Moses may just bite. Someday I’ll try to read it again to see.

  2. lol! I know just the type you’re describing. I can’t stand them either.

    I’ve never read Faulkner except for the short story “A Rose for Emily”, but stream-of-consciousness 100+ word sentences do NOT appeal to me.

  3. Oh, I so agree. Who needs 100+ word sentences? Seriously!

  4. Ha ha, wonderful post. I agree completely. And that’s why I never majored in English.

    Absalom, Absalom is good for one thing, though: charades. We gave that title to the other team once, and they never did get it.

  5. You made me laugh so much!! At my school, the REAL literary snobs disdained novels; poetry was the only TRUE art. 😉

    Oh Faulkner. I’ve started a couple of his novels, and stopped after a page. I have enjoyed some of his short stories, though: they’re normal!

  6. I disagree that the passage you quoted is difficult, but bad? Totally. Faulkner always did need a better editor, because as it stands, the best thing Bill Faulkner ever wrote was The Big Sleep, and that was only because he got Bogart speaking lines Ray Chandler had put down first. Otherwise? Faulkner = pretty bad.

    I wonder, though, about that editing; one of the strengths Fitzgerald was almost completely unrelated to his writing–his editor, Max Perkins, was, by all accounts, a genius. I’ve been reading Perkins’ biography lately, and he seems to have been very much responsible for Fitzgerald’s career; without the former, the latter would probably have become simply a gin-guzzling wanna-be.

    And, really, Perkins is actually famous as, and for being, an editor. I can’t think of a single other person in all of books and writing you can say the same thing about (though Morgan Entrekin seems to come close, I think).

  7. This made me laugh and I’d love to agree or disagree but the truth is I have never read Faulkner. I’ve always meant to but never sat down and started turning pages. One of these days perhaps….so at least I’ll have ground for some sort of opinion.

  8. Literate–I’m going to have to try James Joyce again, as long as it isn’t “Finnegan’s Wake.” Also, maybe I can find “Go Down, Moses” online for free and see if I can stomach it.

    Bree & Nymeth–I agree, huge run-on sentences are just horrid! What are people thinking? I sometimes have trouble reading simple sentences, like “Run Spot, run.”

    Yep, Julie, who even knows about “Absalom, Absalom” now? Some novels are meant to die in obscurity.

    Eva–I was a poetry snob, but we didn’t lord our pseudo-superiority over everyone. We were all mournful and dressed in black and stuff. It was mainly just to get attention.

    Will–As usual, you’ve taught me something. For one thing, I didn’t know Faulkner worked on “The Big Sleep!” Also, I much prefer Fitzgerald, and I agree that his success should be attributed to Max Perkins. Perkins kept Hemingway in line too. Morgan Entrekin is obviously related to you–in what respect?

    Verbivore–Don’t bother reading WF. There are so many superior authors out there, as you know.

  9. And keeping Hemingway in line was no small feat, either, was it?!


    If I’m related to Morgan, it’s at some distance. I only say that because he seems to keep close watch of Grove/Atlantic and the fiction it produces, which allows Grove to retain its indie sensibilities (which seem, for the most part, his, and which also, for the most part, seems to work).

  10. Gulp, I think I used to tell people that I liked The Sound and The Fury but I really haven’t read enough Faulkner to consider myself a ‘fan’. I probably wanted to be different (ie, smarter?) than/from everyone who said, ‘I don’t get it.’ Hey – that was HS – long time ago. I don’t remember even knowing any English majors in college that was how much of a geek I was. A TECH geek.

  11. Holy crap! That paragraph is in serious need of more periods. Or something.

    I’ve never read Faulkner, and I suddenly find myself very proud of that fact.

    On another note…the package arrived in yesterday’s mail. Thank you! Although I’ve discovered the car is not the best place to be listening to the older tracks. For some reason, road noise does not enhance poetry.

  12. Faulkner’s great.

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