In his new book "William Faulkner" M. Thomas Inge (1999), a
Southerner steeped in Southern literature and history, writes:
"Faulkner wrote as if there were no literature written in English before him,
no century and more of convention and literary tradition established before
he put pen to paper. He recreated fiction anew and set the novel free to better
serve the twentieth century through a powerful, discordant, and irresistible torrent of language that crashed through time, space, and experience to tell the story of modem mankind in ways both tragic and comic. Faulkner would have written the way he did whether or not James Joyce, Virginia Woolf,
Joseph Conrad, and the others had ever existed."(p.l23)
The representative of modernist movement, Faulkner, put his own way of writing. He rose to the magnificence of "The Sound and the Fury," "As I
Lay Dying," "Light in August," "Absalom, Absalom!" the works that defy categorization, embodying an epistemology that has enticed generations of scholars and general readers.
In this part of study, the researcher attempts to evaluate Faulkner's
novels in the light of postmodern approach in order to find out
postmodern tendencies in his novels and revise his works through the lens Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 203
of postmodernism from different angles as well as to bring out the
similarities and differences between modernism and postmodernism in
general, and the author's writing in particular. To this end, the researcher
evaluates the salient assumptions of postmodernism which writers and
critics share as the postmodernism worldview. Theses assumptions would
be categorized as follows:
1) Language cannot represent reality.
2) All truth is contingent rather than final, temporary, rather than eternal,
social rather than transcendent. ^-'-
3) All authorities and hierarchies are suspect because they favor
singularity over multiplicity, orthodoxy over heterodoxy.
4) Transgression is a positive act, breaking down artificial boundaries and
destabilizing oppressive social and intellectual orders.
5) Human identity is relational rather than essential and thus as unstable
and multiple as truth itself
First, the researcher examines Faulkner's fiction related to the postmodern theory of language corresponding to Addie's theory of language in As I Lay Dying. Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 204
6.1. Addie's Monologue; Postmodern Rejection of
Language in As I Lay Dying
The most abstract sections of Addie's monologue seem to beg for some kind of postmodern interpretation, or even completion, on the part of the reader. The reader's attraction to Addie's perplexing chapter may be due to the infinite deferral of "meaning" that characterizes it. This continuous deferral calls into question not only the literary categorization of As I Lay
Dying but also the theory of language it endorses. The confusion is this: when Addie asserts that the word is "just a shape to fill a lack," she recognizes that it is not fixed but subject to infinite manipulation, thereby anticipates a postmodern theory of language within a (historically) modernist novel; however, Addie's belief in a "doing" that exists apart from the "word" is essential.
Addie's theory of language may be rigid but it is not simple; it invites and accommodates an array of other language theories but it is not coherent enough to sustain any single one.
Addie in her postmodern rejection of language embodies a postmodern
sense that language can neither represent the real nor connect one with
real. Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 205
Addie's obsession with "the absence" inherent to the word is perhaps the most obvious sign of a postmodern argument namely the Derridean version of postmodernism. To reiterate it John Matthews's( 1982,140) points;
"Writing does not respond to loss, it initiates it; writing itself is as much a kind of loss as it is a kind of compensation".
Addie not only recognizes this "loss," but she makes the confrontation with "absence", an essential component of the reading experience in her chapter. She is not simply narrating the events of her life; she is proposing a radical reinterpretation of the word that takes into account its paradoxical ability to invoke "presence" and "absence" simultaneously. In this way, her argument shares Derrida's (1976) interpretation of the word as an "absence", or a "disruption of presence" .(p. 121)
The structure of the novel makes a postmodern argument in that it sets up a center only to expose it as a "lack" (a fact that also parallels Addie's assertions about the word).
The great static obstacle of Addie's death is, of course, insurmountable in As I Lay Dying. Moreover, Addie's chapter seems to be the center of the structure of the novel: it is posthumously narrated and therefore sets itself apart from the other narratives; at the same time, these other narratives gather Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 206 around Addie's chapter in order to reinforce the fact that it is the central absence of the novel.
Addie's character and monologue can also be read as postmodern denials of the concept of "origin," what Derrida might refer to as the
"abandonment of all reference to a center, to a subject, to a privileged reference, to an origin, or to an absolute archia [beginning]" (Ibid,pp.ll5-
In addition to being the structural center of the text and the main catalyst for the novel's action, Addie is the novel's most prominent mother- figure, her children's' biological "origin." But in tjje wake of her death, the idea of origin becomes problematic. Vqlge^l964) writes, "The reactions of the Bundren family to Addie's death are attempts to deal with the unfathomable, incomprehensible reality of non-being".(p.l36)
Similarly, Hemingway (1970) restates, "The Bundrens seek to define life while confi-onted with its opposite, the corpse of Addie". When the symbol of their "origin" (Addie) becomes an absence, her children must struggle with the concept of their own presence, which becomes extremely tenuous after their mother's death. Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 207
The magnitude of the metaphysical confusion that occurs after Addie's death is also noted in Darl's complicated passage:" His words are not 7 don't know who I am,' but 7 don't know what I am. I don't know if I am or not'" (AILD, p. 134), and in Dewey Dell's statement: "/ couldn 't think what I was I couldn't think of my name I couldn't even think I am a girl I couldn't even think P (p. 121)
Vardaman's confusion between Addie and the fish can be interpreted as a reflex of [his] metaphysical uncertainty , and the comment Vardaman makes in the novel immediately after Addie death is also reflective of this shared metaphysical insecurity; "I am not crying now. I am not anything.
Dewey Dell comes to the hill and calls me. Vardaman. I am not anything"
The subversion of the word in Addie's monologue also looks forward, stylistically, to postmodern criticism. For example, Derrida and Addie both build their hypotheses about language on paradox and contradiction, and therefore require an equally subversive style to reflect their argument. They both illustrate their theories of language visually when the object or process the reader is asked to conceive of is essentially non visual. Addie describes the word as a "shape" that has no fixed or real-life referent; Derrida describes language as a structure in which "The center is not the center". Also, Addie's Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 208
explanation of words as a double absences, or "gaps in peoples' lacks," is -<^I' •••• • '•'
echoed in Derridean theory. Matthews (1992) explores this idea when he
says, "The word, as sign, stands for the thing itself; and therefore it seems to
declare the unavailability of what it names and also of the namer" (p.25).
Like Derrida, Addie must express her theory of language through visual and
rational paradoxes because these are the most effective means of signifying
the multiple, infinite absence that lies behind the word.
Addie's monologue contemplates some of the most fundamental tenets
of postmodern language theory, specifically in regard to Derrida's notion of
"play." In a sense, they do not disagree about the existence of "play," only
the appropriate reaction to it. Addie's obsession with gaps and lacks, with
empty jars and vessels, reflects postmodern realization that the word always
brings with it the absence of what it names.
Derrida (1976) celebrates this "play of absence and presence" but
Addie is tortured by it. Derrida claims that "Play is the disruption of
presence" but Addie does not feel "play", she only feels the "disruption of presence."
Upon realizing the existence of "play," two possible reactions to it have been described; on one hand, the saddened, negative, nostalgic, guilty,
Rousseauistic side of the thinking of play whose other side would be the Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 209
Nietzschean "affirmation", that is the joyous affirmation of play of the world, a world of signs without fault, without truth, and without origin which is offered to an active interpretation. This affirmation then determines the noncenter otherwise than as loss of the center.
Considering Addie's theory of the word in light of Derrida's comment, it is fairly clear that she cannot conceive of the word as he does. Hers is the
"saddened, negative" response to the word, which can be seen as a firm rejection of the postmodern celebration of "play." In other words, "loss" will never become "play" to Addie. However, this rejection at least implies recognition of the postmodern view. Addie may refiise to "play" with words in the "joyous" and affirmative Derridean sense of the word. But as long as she acknowledges the fact that an absence exists within every word, and
Language can not represent reality, her monologue validates, one significant postmodern theory of language.
To sum up, As I Lay Dying more explicitly about language that any other, anticipates postmodernism's problems with language. This use of language so evident in Addie, perhaps captures the commercial and political misuse of language at a time when the rise of advertising was creating a consumer nation, when the airwaves were beginning to spread political spin, and when competing economic and political systems- democratic and Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 210 totalitarian, capitalistic and socialist- were at each other's throat in Europe and America.
Similarly, the novel is sympathetic to Addie's postmodern response to such use .It nevertheless suggests that Addie and thus postmodernism that would adopt her stance- are wrong to hold that language merely distorts reality and makes all knowledge unreliable.
6.2. Truth Is Contingent rather than Eternal, Social rather than Transcendent
Modernists practically inventing fragmentation and ambiguity, still believed that if they accumulated all their fragments, they could reconcile ambiguities and finally arrive at complex yet whole truth. But this is not true of the postmodernists.
If language cannot represent the real, how can human beings hope it will lead them to any final truth?
Postmodernists see human attempts to describe and establish truth not only as futile but even as destructive, ultimately twisting and reducing reality to cram it into intellectual pigeonholes. Bert^n's (2005) history of postmodernism explains the issue precisely. Postmodernists, he says, believe that modernism's search for "timeless, representational truth" subjects Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 211
experience to "unacceptable intellectualization and reductions".
Postmodernists hold that transcendent truth is forever out of reach. Social and
provisional truth can be attained.
Terry Eagleton (1985), describing the postmodern mind as "relativist
and skeptical", agrees suspicious of all assured truths. Many critics, Fowler
(2000), for instance, attribute this postmodern position to the influence
poststructuralists like Ferdinand de Sausser and Jacque Derrida, whose work
"undermines traditional conceptions of truth".
Philip Weinstein (1995) describes one of the common results of seeing
contingency as governing truth. He describes the growth of parody and a
Nietzchean preference for play/construction rather than truth/correspondence.
Postmodern writers , who consider all representation of the real to be no more than fictional to begin with, either playfully or parodically "rewrite" older texts, convinced that all of history , whether remembered or real is no more real than frankly fictional texts. Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 212
6.2.1. Problem of Truth in The Sound and The Fury
The Sound and The Fury is a good novel to test Faulkner's investment in the postmodern rejection of truth, as the two articulate Compson sons both have major problems with truth. Are their problems postmodern?
Jason is great at the sleight of tongue we now call spin^ a common postmodern substitute for truth. He claims to like working, for instance and repeatedly castigates African Americans for not working, yet he spends as little of the day at his job as he can, despite Earl's concern about the number of shops in town. He claims to respect "a good honest whore" (p.233) like
Lorraine and to find her "more honest than churchgoing women" (p.246), yet at home, he reverses positions, claiming to respect his mother as a good
Christian and castigating Quentin as a "little whore" (p.2J6).He castigates
Earl for suspecting that anything he does not understand is dishonest, yet he repeatedly expresses his own suspension that the cotton market is dishonest.
For Jason, truth does not exist as anything more than what is self-justifying and convenient at the moment. Truth is as provisional as the passing need. It is what he makes it.
With such an attitude towards truth, Jason is eager to attack whatever suggests that truth is something more eternal than spin. For Jason, truth is Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 213 neither eternal nor transcendent. It is only provisional. Jason deceives no one but himself and his mother with his self-serving provisional truths.
For Quentin the question of truth is more complex and more problematic. Quentin does see the void described by postmodernism. He has learned of it from his father, who embraces it. Quentin cannot get past his father's insistence on the arbitrariness of all social, intellectual and moral orders and thus of the truths that underpin them. Quentin recalls father saying that "battles are never won and victories never achieved" (p.213). He has learned that nothing matters, that no apparent faults are worth the effort of changing .Though he has spent a year at Harvard , he has done so , recalling that its education is the " reducto absurdum of all human experience" (p.95) and cannot fit his needs, since the greatest of thoughts represented in it are eventually dead. Such charges sound very much like postmodernism's charge that language distorts rather than represents reality. Indeed Quentin echoes
Addie Bundren when he describe words as mere tools people use each other with, and books as ordered certitudes with little connection to reality. At this level, Quentin rejects both language and all the universal truths writers have used it to describe.
Quentin has moved from modernism's difficulty of knowing to postmodernism's impossibility of knowing. Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 214
Quentin expresses the postmodern nature of his perception through his difficulty with time. Under his father's influence, he has come to see the arbitrary imposition of clock time on the fluid flow of events as an expression of the arbitrariness of all human truths. On the morning of his suicide, he removed the hands from his watch to assert his determination to free himself from the nagging claims of time and the systems of truth it represents.
Later, he enters the jeweler's shop and determines that none of the watches in the window show the correct time in order to confirm his position that none of the world's competing systems of truth is right.
Quentin fixes on the trout in the country stream and the gull above the
Charles River; both completely still despite the rushing flow about them, seeing both as the symbols of escape from time, and thus of freedom from the demand that systems of truth make upon human life.
Gull and trout are at ease with the flow of events, uninterested in imposing any kind of system upon it. They capture perfectly postmodernism's acceptance of unorganized, fluid experience.
Quentin loathes the very position he insists on and annihilates his own life in protest against the nihilism his position implies. Having denied clock time, he turns himself into a sundial, consulting his shadow to tell the time. Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 215 as if his whole being demands a system of truth despite his denial. Yet continuing to believe that all is without relevance or significance , he must judge the actions of his life and thus his life itself as mere shadows that whisper " was not...was not, was not" (S&F,p.l70) .He will find peace not in escaping from truth but in escaping from life "I'll not be "(p. 174)
Quentin has reached the postmodern state described by Fowler, seeing life as fluid, and meaning a mere human construction and finds such a life without truth to be not worth living. So he commits suicide.
Broadly, Faulkner sees modernist epistemology leading to an equally
unacceptable postmodern condition through Jason's spin and Quentin's
6.2.2. Problem of Truth in Absalom, Absalom!
Postmodern critics interested in the impossibility of truth have turned to Absalom,Absalom! more than to As I Lay Dying or the other fictions. Some have seen the novel embracing this postmodern attitude. Gerhard Hoffinan
(2000), for example , has pointed to the narrative strategy of the novel, specifically, to its diction, as a postmodern rejection of truth. He describes a
"pattern of uncertainty" and suggests that the multiple uses of "perhaps "and
"maybe" point to the novel's grasp of the fictious state of truth. Brian Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 216
McHale (1987), likewise sees a movement into postmodernism sensibility, especially in chapter 8 of Absalom.Absalom! , where he sees the novel abandoning modernist's question of authority and reality and allows the narrators to "fictionalize history" without restraint. Truth becomes what they make it. Fowler( 1991) comes to a similar conclusion, arguing that Quentin
Compson reaches a " postmodern awareness" when he finds in the Sutpen
Saga not some kind of final meaning but rather the impossibility of all meaning, imagined in the dissolution and disintegration he witnesses at his visit to Sutpen's Hundred.
Even, the source of truth in the novel remains murky. When Faulkner was speaking at the University of Virginia, he himself claimed to have a level of knowledge similar to the narrator's. Asked if Charles knew that Sutpen was his father, he replied with the same kind of qualifiers the novel has: "I think he knew. I don't know whether he~his mother probably told him. I think he knew" (Gwynn 79). Although the author, the creator of the Active world who should have been able to answer all questions definitively, he chose instead to qualify his answer, with a familiar "probably". He did this because the nature of oral traditional knowledge in a polyphonic novel is that. There are some things we can not know. Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 217
Faulkner explained that Absalom, Absalom! is about the nature of
truth: "I think that no one individual can look at truth. It blinds you.
You look at it and you see one phase of it. Someone else looks at it and
sees a slightly awry phase of it. But taken together the truth is what they
saw though nobody saw the truth intact. So they are true as far as Miss
Rosa aad Qaeotia saw it QaeBtin's father saw what he beUeved was truth that was all he saw. But the old man was himself a little too big for people no greater in stature than Quentin and Miss Rosa and Mr.
Compson to see all at once. It would have taken perhaps a wiser or more tolerant or more sensitive or more thoughtful person to see him as he was." (Gwynn pp.273-4)
6.2.3. Faulknerian Truth; From Husserl's Free Variation
Theory to Multiplicity of Truths
William Faulkner, though still preserving the plural narrative perspectives of The Sound and the Fury or As I Lay Dying, relinquishes the strict use of interior monologue in Absalom, Absaloml The effect of this change in narrative structure is what makes the novel significantly different from the preceding books. One of the resuhs is a reappearance of an impersonal, transcendental narrator on the textual surface and a fluid shift of Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 218 visual focus becomes possible once again. In addition to such a narrator appearing at the formal level of the narrative, the characters of the novel also enter the stage at the content level as speakers and listeners. What is happening here has been called by Matsuka Shinya (1998) as "thematization strategy" of narration itself. The method of interior monologue describes duration of a certain person's consciousness completely from within, without any commentary about what is focused upon from an external point of view.
On the other hand, Absalom.Absalom's characters always let their own voices vibrate towards somebody, who is present and living before them. They are the stories, because not only the tales of the Sutpen family unfold by them, but also they are told by someone for somebody else. In this chapter, the term
"narrative" or "story" will be understood in a broad sense in a postmodernist approach, including basic patterns of linguistic structuring when a human being recognizes the World. An approach according to such a definition raises the question of ideology on an ontological basis. Relevant to this point is Philip Weinstein's mention of internalizing "the voices of others" or
"ideological becoming"(pp: 141-42), which is based on Mikhail Baktin's theory. This kind of argument belongs to a certain critical tendency in which narrative technique is considered in terms of ideology. Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 219
Within an act of narration one transmits a perspective of a phenomenon to another subject, and the converse is also possible. Through an exchange of several perspectives, the horizon of inter-subjectivity will be opened up. On the other hand, the method of interior monologue is usually employed to describe directly a focal point of a character's psychology without any commentary by an external narrator. These two types of narration are quite different from each other in terms of their possible domains of linguistic research. In this sense the thematic treatment of
"history (his +story)" in Absalom.Absalom! can be understood in relation to narrative technique because a real history is written through an inter- subjective process of plural cognitive subjects.
Once Faulkner himself said that in ''Absalom, Absalom " he had made the plurality of the truth, its central theme, that is, the truth differs according to a person who sees it, interprets it (Gwynn p.273). Therefore
Absalom.Absalom! has some homogenous elements with the preceding multiple perspective novels at a purely formal level; however, the scope of this novel proceeds further at the level of content or meaning. The main point is the selection or identification of a supposedly true theory among various perspectives about a phenomenon. Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 220
It can be said that the novel's narrative technique implies a project, whose purpose is to make an analysis about the process of "attesting the truth." Which one do we pick out as most plausible and true among various interpretations which are presenting a story about a past event? It is the question the author asks, or what he urges us to ask. Depicting a truth- establishing process which appears through an accumulation of narratives,
Faulkner shows us our own cognitive condition as history.
How do we convince ourselves of the correspondence of an event which exists as itself with our cognition? How does recognition arrive at the things in themselves? What is the relation between this kind of recognition and post-modernism? What is its relation to the narrative technique in
Absalom, AbsalomP. And how we can realize the shift from modernism to post-modernism in Faulkner's writing through this novel?
The answer might be found by examining the novel in the term of
Husserl's theory of "Free Variation- Essential Seeing" and Lyotard's
"rejection of metanarrative" and "indeterminacy". Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 221
- Narrative Technique in Absalom, Absalom! From Free-Variation to
Multiplicity of Truth
Husserl's concepts of "Free Variation" and "Essential Seeing" are chiefly concerned with the showing of a corporeal object, but they can also be applied to the interpretation of an event. A glance toward a body can apprehend only one aspect of the body as an image, at one moment.
However, at the next moment, because of the movement of the object itself, or the movement of the vantage point of the observer, another aspect of the body can be recognized. The other side, which is invisible at the present time, can be recovered by imagination, for the images of that part were obtained at preceding moments and preserved in memory.
In this case, we understand that, even the simplest cognition, for example that of a bodily object, comprises a composition of plural images.
The narrative acts in Absalom.Absalom! are more complicated because their purposes are to capture the essence of the tragic drama that was Thomas
Sutpen's life. However, there are obvious parallels between
Absalom.Absalom's narration and Husserl's theory. In the "free variation" theory, Husserl emphasizes the function of "fantasie." When we attempt to recognize one object, we at first set up some perspective point for interpreting it by imagination. Then, through "free variation," the imagination Chapter Six: Postmodernism in William Faulkner's Novels 222 poses another perspective. The same trial is repeated again and again to reach the state of "essential seeing".
"It [the essential seeing] is based on the modification of an experience or imagined objectivity, turning it into an arbitrary example which, at the san time, receives the character of a guiding "model," a point of departure for t\ production of an infinitely open multiplicity of variants. It is based, therefore, c a ''variation." Thus, by an act of volition, we produce free variants, each ( which, just like the total process of variation itself, occurs in the subjective moc of the arbitrary." (Husseri 340-341). '
_ Therefore, by such imaginative free variation, sometimes, through an inference dravm from the synthesis of the plural perspectives, or, through the discovery of the invariable thing which remains even after the free variation process, we can bring about "essential seeing." However, what we want to emphasize here is Husserl's statement about a qualitative difference between the state of free variation and that of essential seeing. Our imagination hovers around the object which we want to reach in its essence by free variation, therefore essential seeing is possible only by a leap from one state to another.
"It then becomes evident that a unity runs through this multiplicity of successive figures, that in such free variations of an original image, for example of a thing, an invariant is necessarily retained as the necessary Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 223 general form, without which an object such as this thing, as an example of its kind, would not be thinkable at all". (Ibid, 342)
According to Husserl's phenomenological method, such a leap to the invariant among the variations depends on a suspension of the supposition of the being or non-being of the variations, what Husserl calls "bracketing."
Without such a suspension of supposition, naive cognition always arrives at what is "supposed" to be seen; it never makes the leap to essential seeing.
Absalom,Absalom!, is a novel told by four narrator-characters.
However these stories have their own sufficient significance as long as they appear in the consciousness of Quentin Compson, who attends to all of these narratives when they happen. These narrations can be linked to the Husserl's theory as follows:
In "Absalom,Absalom\ although, Mr. Compson tries again and again to reorganize the materials at his hand, he cannot produce a seemingly valid interpretation.
". . . you re-read, tedious and intent, poring, making sure that you have forgotten nothing, made no miscalculation; you bring them together again and again nothing happens ..." (AA,p.80). Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 224
At last he supposes it impossible and turns to arbitrary myth-making, but according to Husserl, "what matters is that the variation as a process of the formation of variants should itself have a structure of arbitrariness, that the process should be accomplished in the consciousness of an arbitrary development of variants". Self-consciousness about its own arbitrariness and groundlessness also already appears in Rosa's narrative:". . . so who will dispute me when I say, Why did I not invent, create it?" (p. 118)
One function of Rosa's reappearance in chapter 5 could be understood as a self-criticism on her own demonizing theory. On the other hand, preceding narratives are overlapped on Quentin's mind with a critical awareness of his own work. Through this process, commonalties and differences of plural narratives become clear at the same time. Although
Quentin's word "Maybe nothing ever happens once and is finished (p. 210) " is that which immediately follows another statement of his own "Yes, we are both Father," we can suppose it to be Quentin's severe criticism, offered from within, of his father's discourse. For, here the famous "ripple" figure of
Quentin's is forming a metaphorical expression of the continuity between past and present, or self and others, thereby becoming an antithesis to
Compson's narrative which emphasizes the discontinuity of heroic past and Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 225 dwarfish present. Here, merging with the antecedent narrative and criticizing it make two sides of one coin.
In the second stage of the free variation process, cognition of the differences among diversities made by the free variation will be produced.
However in concert with this cognition, we can also clearly recognize the identity between them.
"It is clear that things cannot enter into conflict which has nothing in common" (Husserl, p.347).
Paradoxically, through the differentiation of the free variation process which produces different stories on arbitrary designs, a cognitive subject is led to the discovery of the essence, to the invariable core of these plural stories.
Naturally, the presupposition of this is that the multiplicity as presented to consciousness as a plurality never slips completely from our grasp". When multiple variants, that is, these many stories, pass through
Quentin's mind one by one with diversities between them still unbroken, the passage to essential seeing is opened.
Inspired by Mr. Compson's letter which notifies them about Miss
Rosa's death, the narrative of Quentin and Shreve starts again. Because the Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 226 letter was creased, most of it stood up from the desk at a sfrange arigle during their dialogue. Indeed, this letter makes a symbol of the inter-textuality in which memories of preceding narratives are preserved.
The narrative of Quentin and Shreve starts from imitating antecedent discourses with parodic tones and banters, examining mainly the truth and falsity of Compson's preceding narrative in its details, going fiirther for building a more plausible hypothesis. However as we see in Shreve's comments like "Let me play a while now (p. 224)", which can be taken as if he is merely playing a game, this process can be thought of as a free variation by imagination. Here, very important imaginative changes are made, for example, it was not Bon but Henry who was wounded on the battlefield. This finally enables a leap, which lets them reach Essential Seeing. Donald
Kartiganer(1992) examines this in terms of an imaginative identification of the narrators with the narrated.
"... it does not depend on a closeness to historical fact, but on the vitality of the telling and the passionate involvement of the narrators with their subject and each other ..." (p.92).
According to this argument, such a view can be supposed as valid only when it is understood as a qualitative change of the relation between the narrated object (phenomenon) and the narrator (cognitive subject) from Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 227 passive to active. The most important thing is that we understand the two young men's narrative in the context of a mimic differentiation of the preceding stories, and this destruction by imitating the antecedents becomes a deconstruction of the father's story and gains an opportunity to attain the truth, or some aspect of the truth.
The hypothesis of Bon's black blood which they reach at the very end, has no ground in the actual fact to be supposed as true; therefore, there is no way to judge whether the hypothesis is true or not.
In fact, it is not clear that the truth may have been attained. The reason for their presentation of the most plausible theory in their narration is that, being conditioned by the strong empathy between the narrators and the narrated.
At the end of the novel, due to the identification with Shreve,
Quentin is coerced to reach the self-recognition as the discovery of his own repressed conflict. Hereupon the essential seeing of the phenomenon perfectly coincides with the cognition of the self. If we see this coincidence as a self-recognition, that their version of the story attains authenticity without any factual evidence, then it can be seen to retain a rational foundation. Added to this, also Husserl says that "Essential Seeing" is independent of whether it rests on fact or fancy. He says the validity of a Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 228 general judgment of essence, which he describes in the same way as essential seeing, is not affected by any empirical fact, whether this derives from perception or fancy.
A perception posits not only an entity but also an essence, and the content which is posited as what exists, is handled in the same way whether it derives from corporeal perception or fancy.
The conceptual framework of Husserlian phenomenology offers us several tasks; to clarify the connection between real existence and recognition, and hence, to elucidate the interrelations among action, meaning and object. This methodological framework of Husserl can be a great help when we attempt to examine the significance and ftinction of the narrative structure in Absalom.Absalom! Because the novel, dramatizing the process which is led to the truth (or that which is supposedly true) through the accumulation of interpretive acts, is a questioning of the basis of human cognition itself.
To sum up, it can be concluded that since the self- recognition has been resulted in truth as it is shown through the process of narrations in the novel, it would be said that multiplicity of selves or voices results in the plurality of truths that leads us to the postmodern view of truth. Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 229
Considering "Truth" as a metanarrative (the grand ideologies that control the individual), Lyotard attacks it in his "Postmodern Condition", saying that the metanarratives are foundations and thus to be avoided, since they work to limit the abuse of language power. He asserts the existence of micronarratives that in this sense can be considered as multiple truths.
6.3. Heterodoxy Trumps Orthodoxy
The postmodern promotion of heterodoxy follows naturally from
the two beliefs discussed previously .If language is bound to fail and if
truth is forever beyond reach , then humans have no justification for
insisting that a single truth should prevail in any sphere of thought and
action. Rather, humans should be intellectually heterodox, viewing all
truths as equally valid and equally invalid, of equal interest no matter
what their source or history are. So humans should be culturally
heterodox, valuing all cultures, races, ethnicities, sexes, and individuals
equally no matter what truth they express.
Thus the birth of diversity as a national ideal takes places. Richard
Roland and Malcolm Bradbury's History of American Literature captures
the genealogy of heterodoxy perfectly: "if we can never do any better than
project meaning onto an actual world resistant to all meanings, which are Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 230
never quite perfect, then we must face the challenge of heterodoxy, the
truth that truth itself is multiple."
Bertens writes of postmodernism's commitment to "difference,
pluriformity and multiplicity", and Hutcheon uses the same language,
describing postmodernism's interest in the "multiple, the heterogeneous,
the difference". Heterodoxy, in fact, is not only possible but also well
developed with a number of intellectual offshoots.
One of the offshoots is the rejection of authority. The intellectual
progression to an antiauthoritarian position is clear enough: since one's
authority derives from one's proximity to the totality of truth, when
postmodernism claims that there is no uhimate truth, it must also claim
that there is no ultimate authority, as Fowler puts it. (Revising 101). Any
assertion of authority therefore becomes a denial of the heterodoxy and
thus illegitimate. Of course, suspicion of authority is as old as the
Enlightenment, with its arguments for governments legitimized by social
contract, rather than divine right and churches led by a priesthood of all
believers rather than a privileged clergy.
A sign of delegitimization of authority is the rejection of all
hierarchies based on and supporting authority. Hierarchies are vertical
intellectual and social structures supporting the idea and the individual Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 231
with the greatest authority - as for instance, cardinals, archbishops,
bishops, and priests (each with a decreasing amount of independent
authority) support the Pope within the Roman Catholic Church. Fowler
explains that postmodernism maintains that "there are no natural
hierarchies" (Revising 101) - that is none existing in nature and thus
necessarily applicable to human life. And Hutcheon points out
postmodernism's corresponding rejection of human social and intellectual
hierarchies, as well, when she explains that postmodernism's preference
for multiple and contradictory truths leads it to reject systems that might
conceal a secret hierarchy of values. Berton traces this desire to "undo
institutionalized hierarchies to the thought of Lacan and Michel Foucault
and links it to the feminism and multi-culturalism that are now generally
associated with postmodernism. Authorities and hierarchies supporting
them, of course, attempt to establish singularity rather than multiplicity,
sameness rather than difference, orthodoxy rather than heterodoxy.
This postmodern rejection of authority and hierarchy has led to
what Jameson describes as a "narrative view of truth" and the vitality of
small narrative units. Postmodernism prefers a '^fiarrative view of truth
because opposing the logical view necessitates establishing a new truth as
universal. The "narrative view ^on the other hand ,allows thought to take Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 232
horizontal rather than vertical routes and to move toward open rather than
close ending .At the same time , postmodernism prefers " local narrative"
and rejects "master narratives" because the term itself implies that if a
narrative is master. Ity is authouritative and thus can legitimize or
delegitimize various local narratives, making the many one, the multiple
into versions of the single.
This postmodernism traces its way into Faulkner's fiction and
criticism. Postmodernism's interest in heterodoxy has succeeded in
pushing Faulkner's criticism in several new directions.
While textual criticism has long had the goal of establishing the
final authoritative texts of literary works, some scholars like Philip Cohen
and Martin Kreiswirth (1998) agree that postmodern textual critics must
abandon the search for a single authorative text and instead accept a
muhiplicity of texts. And there, we have textual heterodoxy.
Even within any particular version of any Faulkner text, Gerhard
Hoffman has noted , postmodern critics have accepted disordered
narratives , acknowledged Faulkner's conscious to leave or establish gaps,
discontinuities , breaks and contradictions in the narrative. This narrative
technique might be seen in his fiction, where no authoritative voice
confirms or rejects what the reporter or anyone else has to say. Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 233
In fact, the Faulknerian text, sometimes denies that it possesses
authority to guide readers toward any real truth. The text refuses to
become a master narrative controlling the local narratives created by
multiple voices within it and by multiple readers of it. In other words
, in Faulkner's text, narration becomes heterodox.
Absalom, Absalom! presents Faulkner's fullest use of this
postmodern narrative technique i.e. heterodox and multiple story telling
that denies the authority of its own narrators and finally of itself.
The narrator's probable truth becomes the portrait of Sutpen as
demon. However, the reason for Sutpen's rejection and killing of Charles
Bon remains as mystery at the end of the novel as at the beginning despite
the narrator's and Quentin's claim to have discovered the final truth in his
visit to Sutpen's Hundred. In the novel, at the same time that readers are
seduced by the claims of the story to be a supreme fiction, they are
bombarded with reminders that this fiction is one of many possibles and
that no version can claim final authority.
The novel's postmodern narrative form dovetails with its portrait of
Thomas Sutpen .When he moved with his family to Tidewater, Virginia,
in his boyhood, he left the heterodox for the patriarchal and hierarchical
world of society where the plantation owner rules and others obey, the Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 234
land "all divided and fixed and neat with a people living on it, all divided
and fixed and neat (p. 179), all according to a master narrative of race and
class and gender. Finding himself brutalized by his place in that master
narrative, Sutpen fights it not by tearing it down but by acceding to it,
creating his personal master narrative in accord with it (his design), and
rising within its hierarchy, when he divides and fixes people by race and
gender, a postmodern reading would argue, he brings about his own
doom, for heterodoxy inevitably trumps orthodoxy, all authority weaken
and all hierarchies crumb. The civil war is the trump of doom. Sutpen's
effort to enter the master narrative and establish himself on an authority
within it, is as vain as Quentin's effort as narrator to establish an orthodox
understanding of Sutpen.
Faulkner, in his fiction, challenges the master narrative of family
and community life and makes a case for heterodox local narratives of
family and community.
This heterodoxy rooted in postmodernism helps the readers to see
how Faulkner's fiction values human multiplicity and criticizes authority
in almost every sphere, whether religion, social, economic or political.
This heterodoxy can be linked to the Bakhtin's theory of polyphony Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 235
6.3.1. Bakhtinian Theory of Dialogism, Polyphony and Author's
Authority as a Postmodern Heterodoxy In Absalom,Absalom!
Here, it is tried to show liow Faulkner embodies dialogic, polyphony
and author's authority theory in his novels in order to clarify to what extent
these concepts which are related to postmodern heterodoxy can be defined
stylistically and to demonstrate what modes of dialogic and polyphony are
embodied in Faulkner's novels, specifically Absalom, Absaloml
Dialogism and polyphony are the Russian Linguistic-philosopher
Mikhail Bakhtin's terms. The influence exerted today by Bakhtin extends far
beyond literary theory into fields such as philosophy of language, linguistics, musicology, anthropology, culture studies, history, political science, theology, communication and public relations theory, including new media.
Bakhtin did not gain recognition in his homeland until late in life, when the asphyxiating official ideology of socialist realism had started to subside. He passes almost unnoticed by his countrymen. Yet in the West, since his introduction in the 1970s through the efforts of Julia Kristeva and Tsvetan
Todorov, Bakhtin has been appropriated by a number of academic disciplines in addition to literary theory and philosophy. Also other disciplines have in various ways sought to assimilate Bakhtinian dialogism and key concepts such as 'dialogue', 'polyphony', 'carnival', and 'novelness' (Holquist 2002). Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 236
As anyone who has read Bakhtin in his original Russian knows the textology
of his works is complicated, and of his planned 7 volume collected works that
started appearing as late as 1996, only 4 volumes have so far been published
In literary theory, dialogue (from Greek 'dialogos' - conversation)
signifies the organizing of fictional texts, usually novels, to allow the
interplay of different voices, minds or value systems in such a way that none
is superior to another.
Although one can conceive a single person carrying on a dialogue with
him-/ herself, a dialogue normally requires two or more persons or voices. If
more than two persons are involved a more appropriate term is polyphony.'
Based on his study of Andrei Mikhailovich Dostoevsky's novels (first
published in 1929 and revised in 1963), Bakhtin argues that dialogue is
fundamental in literary language and that language originates in the
interaction between two or more people. To Bakhtin, words are not neutral
imports from others. Learning a language necessitates a dialogue with a previous user of that language. In Bakhtin's world the fijndamental concept
of 'self is dialogic. The greatest writers of novels, especially Dostoevsky, manipulate the other also as a self. Applied to literary texts, Bakhtin contrasts
dialogic with monologic texts. The author's views in a dialogic novel are Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 237 only one of several voices in a dialogue; they are not the authoritative final statement on the fictional world that is presented in the text. Bakhtin argues in his study of Dostoevsky's novels that these are particularly illuminating in terms of dialogue.
Whereas his classical antecedents Socrates, Plato and Aristotle all viewed dialogue as a way of persuading others to accept another's ideas,
Bakhtin's understanding of dialogue stresses mutual testing, contesting and creation of ideas. This distinction parallels the difference in communication and public relations theory noted earlier between one-way asymmetrical and two-way symmetrical models.
Bakhtinian dialogism is that in a novel there is no single monologic, asymmetrical, one-way or authoritative solution, novel is a dialogic, two-way and symmetrical process .But what if there are more than two voices? This is where another Bakhtinian concept comes in: polyphony. Polyphony (from
Greek polyphonia - many voices) is a concept closely related with
'dialogue'. Bakhtin adopted the term from the nineteenth-century German
y'^J novelist and critic Otto Ludwig (Brandist 2006). As stated, polyphony requires three or more persons or voices and is therefore a wider concept than dialogue. Since Absalom,Absalom! involves many voices: it is the more appropriate Bakhtinian term to use when more than two voices are involved. Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 238
In fact, the plurality of independent and unblended voices and consciousnesses, the real polyphony of voices, are really the basic particularity of Faulkner's novels.
In literary analysis, the binary monophonic/polyphonic can be used to distinguish between literary texts. In the former type of text the author represents an elevated and authoritative voice above the voices of the main protagonists. In the latter type of text the voices of author and main protagonists are equal. To better understanding of the term, if we project this terminology in politics, it can be said that, monophony is therefore strongly linked with the totalitarian and dictatorship while polyphony is linked with, equitable powers and even democracy.
Originally Bakhtin argued that it is only in Dostoevsky's novels that polyphony is realized. The following quotation is from an American Jewish writer Saul Bellow's essay (1965). It seems that Bellow points out what
Bakhtin considers as prototypically polyphonic aspects of Dostoevsky's writings.
"It becomes art when the views most opposite to the author's own are allowed to exist in fiiU strength. Without this a novel of ideas is mere self- indulgence, and didacticism is simply axe-grinding. The opposites must be Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 239
free to range themselves against each other, and they must be passionately
expressed on both sides."(p,220) _
What Bellow argues here is similar to Bakhtin's view of Dostoevsky's
novels, because they both emphasize that in his novels a character's
viewpoint is allowed to exist as opposed to the author's own.
Later Bakhtin argued that the language of novels is characterized by
'polyphony'; in contrast to poetry as 'monologic' language. Here we can see
Bakhtin's partiality towards the novel. What is significant for Bakhtin is the
coexistence of narrator, who holds the closest position to author, and
Bakhtin also emphasizes the significance of distance between narrator
(or author) and a character.
In the development of the ethical import of the concept of polyphony,
'distance' is the hinge upon which everything phenomenologically
observable reveal an intersubjective plane of interaction upon which the
author's characters appear to have a consciousness distinct from the author himself: they lie at a distance, have a position of their own. Distance allows them to speak in their own 'voice', to utter their own 'word'. Narrator and a Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 240 character must keep a distance, that is, they must not merge into the single ^ voice.
It is instructive to point out here that Bakhtin's theory is influenced by a German philosopher Max Scheler's theory of sympathy and empathy. The following words, both of which are quoted from Bakhtin, are significant in this sense.
"I empathize actively into an individuality and, consequently, I do not lose myself completely, nor my unique place outside it, even for a moment.
"But pure empathizing as such is impossible. If I actually lost myself in the other (instead of two participants there would be one - an impoverishment of
Being), i.e., if I ceased to be unique, then this moment of my not-being cannot become a moment in the being of consciousness - it would simply not exist for me, i.e., being would not be accomplished through me at that moment. Passive empathizing, being-possessed, losing oneself - these have nothing in common with the answerable act/deed of self-abstracting or self- renunciation." (Bakhtin 1993,pp;15, 16)
Here, Bakhtin clearly deals with the problem of 'empathy' or
'sympathy'. The distinction between these related terms is rather controversial but I would like to focus upon what he defines as 'pure empathizing' and 'passive empathizing'. Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 241
Although narrators must empathize with or even sympathize towards a
character to embody polyphony, they must also be different from each other.
Bakhtin seems to argue that both narrator and character must keep their
unique respective self or sense of identities. The relation between the narrator
(author) and character can be shown clearly in the below diagram.
The Relation between Narrator (author) and character
Narrator Dialogic Relationship Character
(Independent View Point) Empathy (Independent View point)
As shown above, narrator shows empathy towards character but at the same time they keep a dialogic relation and there must be the distance between them. Narrator and character are independent from each other and both of them keep their own identity. Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 242
When discussing polyphony, we cannot ignore the terms 'social and
historical background', for information about which we must turn to other
fields of study. We can guess that polyphony, the presence of plural voices
and the inversion of hierarchical order, has something to do with Bakhtin's
anti-Stalinism: he was arrested during Stalin's terror and this experience may
influence his notion of polyphony. So what Bakhtin argues via the concept of
polyphony is not limited to literature. It is also true of politics or worldviews.
Here these types of worldview are divided into 'monologic' and
To sum up, discussion on polyphony can be summarized as follows:
Firstly, polyphony in novels is concerned with the relation between narrator (author) and characters.
Secondly, a character must be independent from author. That means that author and character must not merge into the one and that they must keep distance from each other.
Finally, polyphony needs the presence of plural views, or alternatives, and that they must hold equal strength. What is meant by 'equal strength' is controversial but it can be defined as 'persuasiveness' and self-awareness. Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 243
Here, the concern of research is how these issues are embodied in
Faulkner's novel, Absalom,Absalom\ In an attempt to employ and establish the Bakhtin's Theory in Absalom, Absalom, it has to be said that though each
of the characters in William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! tells the "same"
story, their versions differ in great and small ways . Critics often disagree
about the number of narrators in this novel because almost everyone who
speaks is telling a story-almost everyone is narrating. The narrator of the novel is a public extra-dielogic narrator who is closely identified with the authorJ I will argue that he may also be an example of one type of communal voice-the type that Lanser (1986)calls "singular": "in which one narrator speaks for a collective" (p.21). This collective is the people of Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County. It is debatable whether this narrator is an example of only either authorial voice or communal voice, but it is more useftil to note that he shares qualities of both types. Part of the continued interest in the novel rests on the fact that it is such a rich field for the study of voice. The novel also contains other types of communal voice. When Quentin and Shreve are collaborating on the Sutpen story towards the end of the novel, they are, with the narrator, creating "a simultaneous form, in which a plural 'we' narrates." This plural "we" is sometimes realized through a communal type of free indirect discourse. The entire novel could also be Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 244 considered an example of the sequential form in which individual members of a group narrate in turn.
Almost all of the voices in the novel use oratorical voice, where the voices reflect the specific discourse associated with southern colloquial oratory. Since the primary storytelling characters in the novel and the narrator speak in this voice, which is closely associated with Faulkner, their voices could be considered to be on the same dialogical plane as the narrator, and perhaps by having his characters speak in oratorical voice Faulkner has evaded the structurally secondary status of mimetic voice and written what
Mikhail Bakhtin calls a dialogical novel. Absalom, Absalom! has examples of communal voice, as well as oratorical voice.
In addition, it is a dialogical novel where all of the voices (or at least some of them) exist on the same dialogical plane as the narrator's, with none of the voices having final semantic authority. This novel is an exploration of dialogism and oral traditions, and how Quentin Compson uses the oral tradition of his community to try to arrive at a truth he can live with.
The novel has a public extradialogic narrator who seems to refuse to take all the authority he possesses by literary convention. By refusing to take authority, he encourages his voice to be on an equal dialogic plane with the voices of the individual storytelling characters in the novel. Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 245
However, the narrator makes no overt statements that bring his
authority into question until Quentin and Shreve begin their intensely
collaborative storytelling event at the novel's end. Until then he exerts a
fairly conventional amount of authority and tacitly endorses the narratives of
Mr. Compson and Thomas Sutpen. After these events have been presented,
Shreve and Quentin begin their telling, which the narrator's overt comments
simultaneously problematize and, in a sense, legitimize.
The relationship between the narrator, the storytelling characters,
Quentin and the Sutpen story seems to change as the novel progresses. Later
in the novel the storytelling seems to have greater evocative power and the
author seems to give up authority, he has exerted earlier. As we look at this
novel we will see a narrator who seems to refiise to take the authority that is
his by narrative convention. In fact, the narrator is always authoritative when
it comes to relating the facts of the events dramatized in the novel. What the novel dramatizes is Quentin's attempt to understand the Sutpen story. "The attempt to reconstruct Sutpen's life and to evaluate his character, particularly by Quentin, is more important than the life and characters themselves. The^ attempt is always made in the role of a teller of tales". (Matlack, p. 343)
These character's attempts are presented by an extradialogic narrator. Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 246
Estella Schoenberg usefully differentiates between what she calls the
"Sutpen" and the "Quentin material." This split is not entirely distinct
because the narrator directly gives "Sutpen material" in the second chapter.
Most of the story of the Sutpen family, however, is related by storytelling
characters, and this is what Schoenberg calls "the unknowable past" while
calling the Quentin material "the observable present" (p.79). She shows that
all of the much discussed discrepancies in the novel (save one) are relayed by
storytelling characters, and not by the narrator, whom she labels the
"objective or impersonal author-Faulkner himself-who offers no information
at all about Sutpen or his immediate family and only minimal stage directions for Quentin and his informants" (p.73). It, in fact, would be argued that the narrator plays a greater role than this, and that he is no more objective than any authorial narrator.
It seems that Absalom, Absalom! has an authorial voice that gives up its authority over the events that take place in the present of the novel.
Quentin certainly sits in a room with Rosa Coldfield and listens to her tell about Thomas Sutpen. This event is narrated completely reliably. The authorial voice of the work is less reliable, or authoritative, when discussing the events these characters tell. This is because this is a novel about the truth that oral traditions can give us, not about the historical events this particular Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 247
tradition uses. It is, as Bakhtin argues the dialogical novel is, about "only the
truth of the hero's own consciousness" (Problems, p.55).
The only time the narrator tells the Sutpen story he seems completely
authoritative, but he only narrates public acts, so his authority is very similar
to Mr. Compson's, who is a master of the local oral tradition.
Quentin strives, in this novel, to arrive at his own truth through an
exploration of an oral traditional story of his community. Absalom, Absalom!
is not primarily about the South or about a doomed family as a symbol of the
South. It is a novel about the meaning of self for Quentin Compson. He
attempts to use the discourse and symbols of his community to understand his
own existence. Through storytelling he seeks to define himself.
In the novel, Faulkner felt a pull between oral and literate cultures. In
an interview with Simon Claxton, Faulkner said: "I'm a storyteller. I'm telling a story, introducing comic and tragic elements as I like. I'm telling a
story-to be repeated and retold" (p.277). In his book. Telling and Retelling:
The Fate of Storytelling in Modern Times, Karl Kroeber argues that there is a
"fundamental and paradoxical fact that is addressed by none of the contemporary essays and books about narrative theory I have consulted: stories improve with retelling, are endlessly retold, and are told in order to be retold" (p.86). One of the reasons narrative theory does not generally address Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 248
this is because of the relative permanence of printed texts. Written narratives
seem finalized, fixed, and therefore not eligible for retelling. The written text
resists the retelling that is constitutive of the oral story which is meant to be
No American author demonstrates this fact about storytelling more
consistently than Faulkner, and none of his novels enact this paradoxical fact
more effectively than Absalom, Absalom! where several individuals tell and
retell the story of one family.
Which of these tellers are we to believe? In "The Fundamental
Unfinalizability of Absalom.Absalom!" Minghan Xiao (1991) adapts some
arguments from Bakhtin's Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, calling
Absalom, Absalom! a polyphonic novel, where ''instead of a 'multitude of
characters' silenced by the ovenvhelming unified voice of the author, we
find a group of, in Bakhtin's words, 'thinking human consciousnesses',
all speaking for themselves" (p.34). All of these thinking human consciousnesses try to tell Sutpen's story.
We see the story told and retold. The novel, in fact, has five narrators:
Rosa Coldfield, who was engaged to Sutpen; Mr. Compson, whose father was Sutpen's first Yoknapatawpha County friend , his son, Quentin; his
Harvard roommate, Shreve Mc.Cannon; and a third-person narrator who sets Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 249 the scenes and gives us Quentin's thoughts. These narrators sometimes quote other characters during their narrations. Quentin is the focal consciousness of the novel; every word we get from the other characters who speak in the novel's present is said in Quentin's presence. These four characters, and perhaps Thomas Sutpen, are the potential "thinking consciousnesses" of this novel, which is considered to be dialogical.
Quentin is clearly the focal consciousness of the work. Though all the information is not fihered through him, he is present with the reader at all times. However, no one is dominated by the others in the sense that he discovers the truth of the Sutpen legend, as some critics believe that Quentin does or that he has the truth all the time, as others hold the third person narrator to have.
Even if the narrator knows the final truth, he is not telling. Quentin and
Shreve sit "creating between them . . . people who perhaps had never existed at all anywhere " (p.243j. "Perhaps " they had never existed: the tone of the third person narrator doesn't reveal whether he has the facts or not.
The characters may all speak for themselves; none of them may hold a privileged position in terms of knowing the truth of the Sutpen story. Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 250
The truth in a polyphonic novel is not a historical one. "The ^truth^ at which the hero must and indeed ultimately does arrive through clarifying the events to himself, can essentially be for Dostoevshy only the truth of the hero's own consciousness^^ (Bakhtin Problems 55).
The primary question of the novel is not what the actual truth of
Sutpen's life is, but what truth Quentin can take from the story to live with and how he can clarify the events for himself. Quentin, in fact, is the one upon whom the events that take place have their emotional impact. This is what stories do for people. Whether Quentin truly understands the events or not, his experience with the story helps him arrive at his own truth.
Each of the storytelling events, and how the narrator presents them, bears close scrutiny. The context for the novel's exploration of narrative authority is established by the narrations in the early chapters.
In the first section of the chapter one, Rosa's story is centered on
Sutpen. She establishes her authority as a witness to events:
7 saw what happened to Ellen, my sister. I saw her almost a recluse . .
. / saw that manreturn-the evil's source and head which had outlasted all its victims-who had created twochildren not only to destroy one another and his own line, but my line as well, yet I agreedto marry him.' (p. 12) Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 251
At the end of the first chapter we find that Rosa has realistically
narrated an event she was not witness to, directly quoting dialogue and
describing individuals, even though much of her authority is as a first-hand
witness to events. In other words, chapter 1 ends with Miss Rosa's admission
that she was not there for the scene she has just narrated.
The change in tellers is clearly signaled by Mr.Compson's narration in
chapter 2, and he continues to tell for two more chapters Jn each chapter he
describes events in more and more detail and presents more and more
speculations that he cannot know with any certainty.
Mr. Compson's "nobody knew what" in chapter 4 is functionally the
same as the narrator's "none knew" in the first chapter. He and the narrator
have the same perspective. The perhapses and doubtnesses that Mr. Compson
uses are in regard to speculations about motivations; they are not about facts.
In this chapter, he has the same kind of knowledge, the same kind of
perspective, as the narrator.
If the storytelling character cannot have a narrator's omniscience but uses all of the orthographic techniques available to the narrator, where are the
guidelines for the reader? Are we to accept Mr. Compson's speculations as
likely or even the truth? Is there any reason given to us to either accept or doubt his speculations? We have been told that Miss Rosa's telling is fueled Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 252
by an impotent rage that has not dissipated in forty-three years, but we are
given no reason to doubt her on matters of fact. The narrator never question j
or corrects her. Her story does not conflict with Mr. Compson's. We know he
is a father talking to a son, but the narrator does not expand or even comment
on this dynamic, nor does he comment on Mr. Compson's veracity. The only
indication we have for his authority is how closely his voice is associated
with the narrator. Though he has grown bolder with each chapter, he never
says anything that elicits a comment from the narrator.
Here it can be said that Mr. Compson's level of authority is equal to
the narrator's. In fact, the closeness of the voices that he and the
narrator use and their similar level of knowledge put them on the same
Furthermore, we cannot say whether the narrator holds the same kind
of knowledge as Mr. Compson, or if he chooses to withhold his knowledge.
The narrator does not comment on Mr. Compson's reliability and this lack of
evaluation leads us to consider him reliable. Unless any narrator explicitly or
implicitly leads us to doubt a storytelling character, we tend to believe him.
In addition, the use of the language of the communal tradition in these chapters by the story tellers in a polyphonic novel such as Absalom,
Absalom! gives the novel an oratorical voice that is closely associated with Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 253
the author. All of these voices, that are not initially greatly divergent, merge
in the later chapters. All speakers evince the features of the oratorical style
discussed earlier. All the narrators more or less 'sound like father'-and
'father' names a principle of authority greater, of course, than Mr. Compson.
The over voice envelops the discourse, taking up into itself all subsidiary
voices. We hear the terms of the individual tellers-their echoes resound.
Shreve is not enveloped or subsumed by the overvoice. The tradition has
little power over him. The voices that help to create the discourse are not necessarily determined by it.
In the later chapter, while Quentin is listening to and agreeing with the gist of what Shreve is saying, we hear Quentin's psychic voice instead of
Shreve's mimetic voice. Quentin thoughts refer overtly to the similarity in the storytelling voices in the work for the first time:
He sounds just like Father he thought, glancing (his face quiet, reposed, curiously almost sullen) for a moment at Shreve . . . Just exactly like
Father if Father had known as much about it the night before I went out there as he did the day after I came back thinking Mad impotent old man who realised at last that there must be some limit even to the capabilities of a demon for doing harm. (pp. 147-48) Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 254
Here, we find out that Quentin had learned something during his trip to
Sutpen's Hundred, and that knowledge informs the versions we will subsequently hear, even though we do not know what he has learned or how.
We are told that the languages of the individual tellers are similar; we also see that they are similar. Recall that Rosa characterized Sutpen as a "furious mad old man" in her telling, though she certainly did not characterize him as
"impotent," yet the narrator described Rosa's frustration as "impotent yet indomitable". Here Quentin thinks of Sutpen as a ''Mad impotent old man" and calls him a demon. Therefore, all of the previous versions are coming together.
The final chapters of Absalom, Absalom! are an attempt to show a kind of collaboration. This type of collaboration, when it is rooted in a communal tradition, creates communal voices.
Confusion in determining the locus of narration arises in the late chapters because these two are speaking with a common voice which cannot be separately attributed to either of them. The narrative structure and the external unity of the novel cause all the storytellers to fuse into a single process, a common identity. Here, a merging of the voices that is a result of the communal nature of storytelling events and a concomitant equality of all voices can be considered. Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 255
Communal voice is a practice in which narrative authority is invested
in a definable community and textually inscribed either through multiple,
mutually authorizing voices or through the voice of a single individual who is,
manifestly authorized by a community.
Here, we have multiple voices that are parts of an identifiable
community. Rosa, Quentin and Mr. Compson authorize themselves. Their
voices are independent. Correspondent to the Bakhtin's Theory, saying the
voices in a novel are independent, they hint at the distance between the
narrators and characters. However, discourse of the characters and the narrator are so closely associated, that the structurally dictated difference between the different voices on different narrative levels and with different
levels and types of knowledge is blurred and diminished, if not eliminated.
Although the characters may be contending much for authority, the
author has created a community of voices. We have also seen a narrator who speaks for the communal "we."
In "Then he thought No. If I had been there I could not have seen it this plain", (p. 155) once again, the italics indicate a change in voice even if both voices are inside one character. Now, the question we should be focusing on is who the author wants us to believe. Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 256
Shreve's statement in last chapters, leads him to think about the
connection between all of the storytellers and their subject:
'Yes,' Quentin said. 'The two children' thinking Yes. Maybe we are
both Father. Maybe nothing ever happens once and is finished. Maybe
happen is never once but like ripples maybe on water after the pebble sinks,
the ripple moving on, spreading, . . . thinking Yes,we are both Father. Or
maybe Father and I are both Shreve, maybe it took Father and me both to
make Shreve or Shreve and me both to make Father or maybe Thomas Sutpen
to make all of us. (p.210)
This is also an attempt to explain the type of communal voice that the
novel is enacting. More importantly, Shreve and Quentin are forming a sort
of community that is also connected to the story's tradition. The narrator who
actualizes the story they are imagining is neither a personal nor an authorial
narrator. It is a community, and the narrator acts as their plural "we".
Here, pluralities of voices have shown themselves not only through the content of the novel, but also the language of the novel hints at this plurality by using the word "we" as the narrator. This "we" is a communal narrator.
In Quentin and Shreve chapter, they collaborate on the story so closely that the boundaries, not only between teller and listener but between teller Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 257 and subject become blurred. We are given a story that is not clearly assigned to one speaker, because we are to believe that they are so closely collaborating that it is not relevant or even clear who the author of individual statements is.
Their story is also contradicted by the narrator, who explicitly states that it could not have been as they imagine it. However, this doesn't entirely invalidate their story. The narrator also claims that:
"that did not matter because it had been so long ago. It did not matter to them (Quentin andShreve) anyway" (p.236).
Again, the truth of a dialogical novel is the hero's own truth, not an objective one. For these tellers, the historical facts are not necessarily relevant. The authorial voice uses the extra representational acts to focus us on the fact that truth is more complex than what happened. The small details, and some of the facts, are not important. It is important to find the parts of the story that are relevant to their lives. They put part of themselves into the characters; their conception of the characters is based in part on their conception of themselves. Quentin and Shreve so closely identify with the historical subjects of their story that they imagine themselves in their places: Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 25^
"not two of them there and then either but four of them riding the two horses through the iron darkness and that not mattering either: what faces and what names they called themselves and were called by so long as the blood coursed" (p.23 7).
Here, they are physically riding the hoftes. They don't "almost see it"; it is not that they "could have been there"; they are there. And they can only be there because they are far enough away from the story to be able to vividly imagine it; it had been so long ago.
Language both brings the past to them and transports them back to the past. At the same time; these people may not be accurate representations of the historical individuals. In fact, they "may not have existed at all anywhere". These people may be entirely fictional. Though Mr. Compson may also take liberties, though he may fictionalize almost as much as Shreve does, he never provokes this kind of statement from the narrator.
Shreve's telling is certainly dramatic and compelling, but there is no reason to privilege it over any of the other tellings. Throughout Shreve's section Shreve had no direct knowledge of these events, he is just playing.
Shreve wants to play with the story, and he does not care if he is historically accurate or not. When he decides that Henry saved Bon at Pittsburgh Landing Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 259 he is taking a liberty that a traditional storyteller would not take, no matter how neatly that change would fit the story he was trying to tell.
At the same time the narrator reminds us that their accuracy is not necessarily to be trusted. The narrator explicitly states that one of their criteria for retention of detail is its ability to fit preconceived notion about what the story should be about. Clearly "fitting the preconceived" is not a criterion for truth, if truth is historical accuracy, but the truth that Shreve arrives at is not historically accurate.
They are a recreation of events based on premises that may well be false. And the reader knows this because the narrator has explicitly stated it.
Here, again the narrator%voice is in dialogue with those of the storytelling characters, showing the polyphonic feature of the novel.
To sum up, the narrative techniques in Absalom, Absaloml demonstrates Faulkner's anticipation of postmodern thought and style. It highlights how the writer confounds the notion of metanarrative by disrupting chronology and raising questions about the reliability of the narrators in each work. Faulkner uses dischronology, such as flashbacks to tell the story of
Thomas Sutpen in order to get close to the postmodern concept. He provides key information through questionable narrators at strategic times to Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 260 manipulate readers' thoughts and opinions about specific characters by using several narrators, none of whom witnessed all events, to tell the stories of each work.
Furthermore, it would be said that this is the anti-establishment, popular, equitable, and essentially democratic characters and voiced of
Absalom, Absalom! that makes the concept of Bakhtin's dialogic and polyphony relevant.
To conclude, it can be said that, through analyzing the multiple voices presented in the novel, polyphony and the authority of the author throughout the chapters, it becomes clear that the merging of the voices and the polyphony of the novel is not the joining of all versions into one truth-it is the merging of all versions into equally authoritative discourse. This trait indicates the postmodern aspect of the novel.
In fact, the narrator shows himself as not holding authority right before he dramatizes the climactic scenes of the novel to bring out one absolute truth ( meta narrative).But playing a polyphonic role, the narrator allows other voices to discover their own truths in a democratic condition. This is the nature of Bakhtinian polyphony. In contrast to a monological narrator who provides certainty, Faulkner chooses instead to take us to the mystery of the human's spirit. Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 261 -3 ~~
Therefore, all of the tellers in the novel speak some of the truth, or some truth, and no voice should be privileged over any other because all of them arrive at the truths of their own consciousnesses, and the author invites us to find the truth of ours. This is the nature of a polyphonic novel.
6.4. Transgression is a Positive Act
If language cannot represent the real, if final truths are therefore
unreachable, and if heterodoxy is therefore superior to orthodoxy enforced
by authority and hierarchy, it follows that all barriers and boundaries that
attempt to define and divide and arrange ideas and human beings are
suspicious at the idea and its seeking dominance.
To postmodern mind, it becomes almost obligatory therefore to
transgress boundaries, whether physical, geographical, legal, cultural or
intellectual. Postmodernism finds its heroes not in the individual who
embodies cultural values but in the one who challenge them, moving
through barriers, breaking laws, violating taboos, representing all illusory
but transgressible barriers between the self and the other.
Postmodern criticsj similarly, connects postmodern transgression to
the "understanding of language and its inability to represent the real", Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 262
arguing that postmodern thought has torn down the barrier between
subjectivity and objectivity.
Wittenberg (1995, 315) applies this point to Faulkner .She explains
that earlier conception of language presumed a barrier between the
"signifier and Signified", one that becomes highly tenous in Faulkner's
fiction. In other words , she argues that Faulkner anticipates
postmodernism in probing the boundaries between the words used by
human beings (the signifiers) and the world those words attempt to
capture( the signiHed), making readers aware that the two do not
exist apart but , come together , all representations of the objective
world are subjective.
A logical even predictable result of postmodemism's preference for
transgression is its preference for instability .If neither the center (truth),
nor the boundaries can hold, all is up for grabs. McHale (1987) describes
a shift fi-om modernism's interest in epistemology (our understanding of
knowledge) to postmodemism's interest in ontology (an understanding of
being). He assumes postmodemism's belief that, humans live in separate,
self - created, subjective worlds. Then he asks: "when different kinds of
world are placed in confrontation, or when boimdaries between worlds are
violated"? He argues the answer is "ontological instability". Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 263
Without stable boundaries, even the world that the individual
creates, lives in, and projects is subject to transgression, weakening and
collapse. Neither objective nor subjective reality can or should remain
stable .Thus the frequently noted anarchic impulse in postmodernism, its
preference for disruption, its admiration of subversion appears.
The concern with transgressed boundaries and instability at the
heart of Faulkner's portrayal of the south can be seen in the portrayal of a
south whose geographic and cultural boundaries were violated in the civil
war and whose racial boundaries are all doomed. Every crossing of racial
boundaries is a reminder of the unbearable idea that the world can invade
the pure country and turn it inside out. Charles Bon and Joe Christmas
lead readers of their novels to fuller consideration of these themes.
6.4.1. Postmodern Transgression in Absalom,Absalom!
Postmodern interest in transgression and instability has most often
seen in Absalom,Absalom! especially in its narrative style. McHale (Ibid,
221) says that Faulkner "crosses the boundary between modernist writing
and postmodernist writing in chapter 8 of Absalom, Absalom! where the
narrators reach the limit of their knowledge . Here, Quentin and Shreve
transgress two additional boundaries - those between past and present and Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 264
between teller and tale-, they are speaking in the Harvard Residence Hall
in 1910, but they blend with the Bon and Henry galloping across
Mississipi in 1861, "not two of them there and then either but four of them
riding the two horses through the iron darkness ". (AA, p.237)
Here, all barriers disappear, geographic and temporal and two
worlds become one world, the fictional and the historical.
Moreover, transgression can also be considered in characters and
plot of Absalom,Absalom!
For example, transgression is the dominant characteristics of
Charles Bon. Mr.Compson notes three major transgressive characteristics
in Bon. He describes Bon as a cultural transgressor, who crossed the
borders of New Orleans and its sophisticated world to enter North
Mississipi. He then makes Bon a gender transgressor, who almost
languishes "in a sunny window in his chumbers and begins his seduction
of Henry even before his seduction of Judith ". (p. 76)
Finally, he introduces Quentin to the picture of Bon as a racial
transgressor, a white man in whose body the physical boundary between
black and white utterly dissolved.
Furthermore, the novel reveals its attitude towards transgression in
general as well. Rose Coldfield , for example , sees Sutpen as a cultural Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 265
transgressor , as a man with no gentility hiding himself among gentlemen
and as a racial transgressor too, entering the ring to wrestle his own
slaves. She portrays Judith as a gender transgressor. Judith rather than her
brother learns from wrestling matches .She rather than her father inspires
the horses to race to the church. On the other hand, Rosa tries to defend
herself when she is insulted by the suggestion of sexual transgression
from Sutpen. She closes the windows of her Jefferson house - barriers by
which she will defend herself from transgression.
In addition, by the time Quentin arrives at the reason for the murder
of Bon, he has made Henry not only the outraged upholder of subverted
taboos but a self- annihilatior. For narrative purpose, Henry Sutpen
stopped living when he fired the shot that killed the racial transgression.
He disappeared from life. A male killed by his own outrage. Since
Quentin has already identified himself with Henry, when he looks on the
shell of Henry lying in the bed back at Sutpen's Hundred, he looks upon
himself. The theme Quentin gets from father- transgression- has led from
subversion to anarchy to murder and suicide. How could Mr. Compson's
sophisticated acceptance of transgression inspire Quentin to outrage and
death? Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 266
However, it has to be said that, perhaps Faulkner recognizes the
value of transgression but does not celebrate it as a universal good as
postmodernism does. Perhaps he sees how contradictory such a
universalism is, since postmodernism celebrates transgression precisely
because it rejects universalism. Perhaps then he sees transgression and
stability as equal goods, both necessary for individual and social life. In
that light, he may judge both sophistication and outrage to be equally
ineffectual in the presence of transgression. Sophistication walks with
transgression hand in hand, embracmg mstability. Perhaps Faulkner looks
for some thing different both from Quentin's and Rosa's outrage and from
postmodernism's celebration of transgression and instability, something
able to live in tense engagement with it, something that brings it into the
temperate zone between the poles of outrage and admiration.
6.4.2. Transgression in Light In August
Light in August explores this proposition as well .It is fiiU of
transgression as Absalom,Absalom! It sets up the theme by its multiple
pictures of boundary crossing. Characters repeatedly violate boundaries as
vast as geographic borders. The novel opens and closes with Lena Grove
on the road, for example, crossing the state lines of Alabama, Mississipi Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 267
and Tennesee, with Byron beside her at the end. It has Joe Christmas even
more footloose, apparently bom in Arkansas, residing in a Memphis
Orphanage, adopted into Mississipi and Jefferson, and running again at
the end across country lines from Jefferson to Mottstow and back to
Jefferson. Other major characters have violated Jefferson's borders as
well, entering the town from elsewhere but remaining apart from it,
abscessed within it - Lucas Burch / Joe Brown like Lena , arrives from
Alabama. Characters violate vast geographic boundaries. They repeatedly
come and go. These crossing of state and country lines are both positive
and negative, for they sometimes set characters free to pursue new life but
sometimes set them on paths of destruction.
These external transgressions express the character's internal states.
Like Charles Bon, all the major characters in Light in August are
destabilizing transgression. They live in a world that has classified
humans by gender and race and has erected strong boundaries between the
classes of people in its determined grouping .The characters challenge
those boundaries repeatedly. Even their names challenge gender
categories with androgyny suggested in names like "Gail", "Bobbie" and
even "Joe", which is shared among two males and one female Joanna.
Androgynous names predict the behavior of the gender - crossing Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 268
characters. Despite all her earth-mother characteristics, for example Lena
has broken gender taboos even as the novel begins, having sex outside
marriage and traveling alone, both behaviors culturally reserved for men
but denied for women.
Through Light in August, it becomes clear that once again, Faulkner
has anticipated postmodernism's position that transgression trumps
oppression, and his work accords with that part of postmodern thought.
But Faulkner's work does not suggest that transgression. Subversion,
instability and anarchy are the universal goods that postmodernism, again
contradictory, seems to make them. Transgression is a means, not an end,
an expedient, not a universal.
At the end of the novel, Faulkner talks about marriage to return
readers to the heterodoxy that remains one of his chief universalism.
Heterodoxy, love of the other, surpasses the sophistication and outrage,
for it makes transgression a partner of stability.
An important issue in Faulkner's writing is the concept of self In
the next part, it is tried to examine this concept from a postmodern view." Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 269
6.5. Individual Selfhood is an Illusion
Postmodernism insists that there is no an individual essence
.Psychologist Kenneth Gergen (1991, 39) states in his exposition of
postmodern identity: "In the postmodern world, there is no individual
essence, because selves as possessors of real and identifiable
characteristics, such as rationality, emotion, inspiration and will, are
dismantled". Literary critics have described the same point in similar
language. Jamson, a Marxist critic, speaks of the "illusion of the coherent
self or ego" and Hoffman (2000) refers to postmodernism's
deconstruction of identity .Fowler describes a distinctly postmodern
notion that there is no unified coherent, autonomous self and that the self
or speaking subject "is thus merely another fiction"
The traditional western view that every human is an autonomous
individual is called "essentialism" because it rests on the notion that each
human has an essential core distinct fi-om other's and valuable in its own
right. That essential core or essence is the foundation on which and
around which individuals build full lives, including their characters,
relationship and careers. Postmodern rejection of the autonomous self
rests on the reverse notion that Individual human beings do not possess
essences, they have no core. Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 270
In the place of essential cores, postmodernism offers relationships.
Gergen (Ibid) explains it "one's identity is continuously emergent, re
formed and redirected as one moves through the sea of ever-changing
relationship". These relationships provide the only self a human
possesses, because in postmodernism the self vanishes fully into a stage of
relativeness. In postmodernism the coreless being is not an individual, not
a self, not a subject but an "agent". Berton (1992) makes the point
precisely "the autonomous and stable subject of modernity has been
replaced by a postmodern agent whose identity is largely other -
determined and always in process. In a postmodern view, coreless human
beings with no essential identities are agents of circumstances. They go
through life becoming whatever their relationship, or their contexts,
makes them, playing roles in lifelong performances.
6.5.1. Postmodern Identity and Absalom^ Absalom!
Once again, Absalom, Absalom! shows this facet of postmodernism
.The novel goes towards the full postmodern vision of a coreless , identity
- less humanity when the character's voices ( their identity) and their
version of the Sutpen Saga ( a historical truth) undergo dissolution of
identity and truth goes towards impossibility. In other words, performance Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 271
takes the place of essence when Quentin and Shreve, for instance,
simultaneously cast themselves as Henry and Bon, and Henry and Bon as
themselves. If four can so easily become two, readers must wonder if the
four ever possessed autonomous human identities and may conclude that
establishing one's own identity is finally an impossibility.
According ^the examination of William Faulkner's representative novels; The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light in August and
Absalom, Absalom! through the postmodern assumptions shared amongst
critics and writers , done in this chapter, it is concluded that these
assumptions have been considered in relation to Faulkner's writings.
Similarly, in respect to the postmodern tendencies in Faulkner's novels, it can be said that through the invocation of postmodern narratives
such as "dialogic" and "polyphonic" features of his novels following the >
Bakhtin's theory of narration and language, which do not appeal to !>><- \-.> universality, Faulkner offers an aesthetic philosophy that pre-empts totalitarianism and universalities in art and novel in particular. His postmodern attitude towards "Truth" in his novels makes his aesthetic philosophy close to postmodern ideas of multiplicity of truth. Chapter Six: Post-modernism in William Faulkner's Novels 272
Furthermore, postmodern interest in transgression and instability
has most often seen in Absalom, Absalom! especially in its narrative style,
where Faulkner "crosses the boundary between modernist writiag and
postmodernist writing and the narrators reach the limit of their knowledge
• Here, the narrators transgress two additional boundaries - those between
past and present and between teller and tale.
Postmodernism, then is the window Faulkner slips through to enter