Faux Faulkner

I’m reading (and greatly enjoying) Faulkner’s famous novel Pylon at the moment. Perhaps you’ve got the impression, from the last two Faulkner novels I’ve given bad scores to, that I don’t rate Faulkner; but I think you’ll find with Pylon that I don’t merely rate him, I absurdly overrate him.

But how could you not like a book with a paragraph like this in it – he’s here describing the entrance lobby of a hotel (I’m pretty sure):

And here also the cryptic shield caught (i n r i) loops of bunting giving an appearance temporary and tentlike to interminable long corridors of machine plush and gilded synthetic plaster running between anonymous and rentable spaces or alcoves from sunrise to sunset across America, between the nameless faience woman-face behind the phallic ranks of cigars and the stuffed chairs sentinelled each by its spittoon and potted palm; – the congruous stripe of Turkey red beneath the recent-gleamed and homeless shoes running on into an interval of implacable circumspection: a silent and discreet inference of lysol and a bath – billboard stage and vehicle for what in the old lusty days called themselves drummers: among the brass spittoons of elegance and the potted plants of decorum, legion homeless and symbolic: the immemorial flying buttresses of ten million American Saturday nights, with shrewd heads filled with to-morrow’s cosmic alterations in the form of price lists and the telephone numbers of discontented wives and high-schools girls.

This is why, when people say Faulkner’s greatest novel is The Sound and the Fury, I tend to think they don’t understand Faulkner at all, since it’s about his most unrepresentative novel and demonstrates almost everything to my mind that isn’t in fact great about Faulkner (though possibly others are of the opposite opinion, since it isn’t a man these days who enjoys the verbose).

Anyway, I came across this (now defunct) Faux Faulkner competition, in the archived pages of the internet, where people are invited to write a (loving) parody of the Faulknerian style. Again, there are too many Sounds and Furies, but the best I think is the Goldilocks and the Three Bears one (2003 winner) [actually, I take that back: The Rabbit from 2002 is better], which really does happen to capture Faulkner.


12 thoughts on “Faux Faulkner

  1. Do you have a favorite Faulkner, Obooki? Rather unusually, I think, I’m actually more interested in reading him because of his alleged influence on Onetti and Saer than I ever was interested in reading him on his own merits. Maybe I just started out wrong with him back in the day–in any event, will have to check out some of these faux Faulkners of yours.

  2. I’ve met quite a few people in my life who hate Faulkner and swear never to read another book by him – and they always seem to be people who’ve read The Sound and The Fury.

    I think Faulkner’s two best books are probably Absalom, Absalom! and Light in August, but the thing is – I haven’t actually read them, out of my usual fear of reading people’s best books. (I started A,A! once, but it was just too good to continue).

    Books I have read (in order of pub.): Mosquitoes, Sartoris, The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Sanctuary, Pylon (almost), The Unvanquished, The Wild Palms, Go Down Moses, Requiem for a Nun, and The Mansion (hey, that’s quite a lot!). (I have, incidentally, copies of all the rest except The Hamlet and Light in August (I had a copy of the latter – but must have lost it at some point)). – Next up, probably The Reivers (last novels are always interesting / overlooked).

    Of those, I’d recommend Sartoris, Pylon and The Mansion, with the understanding that books I haven’t read may be better – a weird selection perhaps, and one no-one else is going to give you, but there you are.

    Yes, I think there’s a fair influence on Onetti and Saer – not necessarily so much the style (though there’s a bit of that, esp Saer), but the characters, the subject matter, the general feel of the thing. Faulkner must have a claim to being the most influential writer on Spanish literature in the c20th – they certainly venerate him way more than any other English-language writer (which includes Joyce). Another writer who’s very influenced is Juan Benet (whom you have a cover of on your blog, I notice); – and of course, of our nouveau roman friends, Claude Simon (and this time, more style than substance).

    I like, though, what is sometimes called “overwriting” – that is, in the way that Shakespeare is “overwritten”. Others, seemingly – and all too frequently these days – don’t.

  3. Do have a go at Absalom, Absalom. That is my favorite, read after Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying. Although, I was reading it in circumstances that were eerily similar to the tale itself…

  4. OK, I will. – Do you think, though, it was the contrast with SatF and AILD which made you enjoy it so much – in an ah-finally-some-nice-long-winding-baroque-sentences type of way?

  5. Yes, especially the sharp departure from AILD, which I still haven’t finished. I also read a number of the short stories prior to starting AA.

  6. I really must read AILD again, too. It’s the first Faulkner I read, it was half a life-time ago, I knew nothing about literature then [ed. Nothing’s changed?!] and it didn’t form a great impression. (That is to say, I didn’t like it; I still remember it surprisingly well). Bearing in mind the next novel I read was Sanctuary, which I also didn’t like (and which I’m also going to re-read soon), it’s a wonder I ever got into Faulkner.

  7. Faulkner’s a funny bird, isn’t he? As you say, seems to inspire as much hate as love, and he’s curiously…unmentioned, these days.

    I read Light in August when I was in school and it had a disproportionate effect on my imagination. So for years I swore off Faulkner while also telling people I knew / liked him (a fairly commonplace fraud, I think). Finally a couple of years ago I bought & read As I Lay Dying and I thought it was superb. Where to go next? Well, that’s when you start looking at other opinions of his books, and that’s when the waters get choppy.

    So I decided, the hell with it, got The Sound & the Fury and that’ll be next, maybe Sanctuary after that. I used to own a dilapidated (unread) second hand copy of Go Down, Moses, but it seems to have vanished over the years.

  8. I think Faulkner falls into two categories: there’s As I Lay Dying and The Sound and The Fury on the one hand, and everything else on the other (except his first two books, where he hadn’t really found his feet yet).

    Perhaps, as you say, it’s just best to find you own way across the Euxine that is William Faulkner.

  9. I was about to propound a theory that modern taste tends towards the minimalist, and towards lucidity of expression, and that definitely rules out Faulkner. However, “Ulysses” continues to be revered, so that’s another promising hypothesis up the spout. Personally, I much prefer baroque extravagance to pared-down clarity, and, for that reason if no other, have long been a fan of Faulkner. I too would rate “Absalom, Absalom!” and “Light in August” as his finest achievements, but that is not to denigrate his other works: I can’t really think of another 20th century novelist who has written *more* great novels than has Faulkner – “Sanctuary”, “As I Lay Dying”, “Go Down Moses”, “The Hamlet”, “The Town”, “The Mansion”, “The Wild Palms” – and, yes also “The Sound and the Fury” – I wouldn’t be without any of them.

  10. Hi Himadri and welcome.

    Yes, pared-down minimalist prose-poetry is today’s currency – and a much overvalued currency it is. Perhaps Ulysses is revered, but I feel it is Dubliners sadly which is influential. Every short story must be told in simple language, have its moment of epiphany and not really in truth be much of a story. – If there’s one thing worse than contemporary novels, it’s contemporary short stories.

    A c20th writer of more great novels than Faulkner? – Hmm, perhaps Nabokov (if you should like Nabokov). I’m not sure otherwise: there must be some foreign-language writers who slip my mind at the moment.

    Nabokov, I’m reminded now, was once told by his publisher he should try cutting the length and baroqueness of his sentences, for this wasn’t what the public wanted; but Nabokov being Nabokov, he paid him no mind.

  11. I need to read more Nabokov. I have read the inevitable “Lolita”, and most oof his short stories, but I haven’t yet dived into his other novels. Another 20th century novelist notable for quantity as well as quality is, I think, Thomas Mann. If I had to name the novel read in the last few years that made the deepest impression on me (not counting re-reads), I’d unhesitatingly choose Mann’s magnificent tetralogy “Joseph and his Brothers”. (But only in John Woods’ translation; the older translation by Helen Lowe-Porter was done for some reasin in pseudo-Biblical prose, and is turgid and well-nigh unreadable.)Some day, I must gird my loins (whatever that means) and write a post on my blog on this extraordinary work.

    Interestingly, though, Nabokov was scathing both of Faulkner and of Mann!

    To return to Faulkner, I see that in my list of great Faulkner novels, I had omitted his last novel, “The Reivers”. It is a comic novel, and a delightful work. And it makes me think that if even such a doom & gloom merchant like Faulkner could sign off with someting so essentially happy, maybe there’s hope for us all yet!

  12. I’ve never really managed to get into Mann (apart from his novellas). The last two I tried, Buddenbrooks and Lotte in Weimar, I gave in before the end; and I’ve never really gathered enough fortitude to make an attempt on The Magic Mountain. – I might have glanced at the biblical version of Joseph and his Brothers, because without reading it that was the impression of it I’d formed.

    It’s true, Nabokov disliked Faulkner: I was wondering, reading The Unvanquished recently, if this wasn’t the precise novel he’d meant when he talked of “corncobby chronicles”.

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