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the braggadocio of the faulkner.

July 3, 2011

you knew this post was coming.


we all have one writer who really does it for us. just does writer friends – hell, my friends in general, because you don’t have to be a writer in order to love another writer – all have writers who do it for them. frank o’hara. james joyce. farley mowat.. (i don’t actually know anyone who gets a literature hard-on for farley mowat, but i wanted to put him in there. although i was riding on a streetcar at 3 am totally loaded one night in toronto, and some guy that i would have classified as a total buffoon started chanting “FARLEY-MOWAT” at the top of his lungs and i started to join in but my brother slapped a hand over my mouth and told everyone i was mentally challenged. canadian literature. it does things to you.)

anyway, my writer is faulkner. it’s him, it’s faulkner, it’s faulkner all the way.


here i am creepily dressed as the faulks.


i haven’t actually read all of his work, as some people assume. i’ve read and re-read the sound and the fury, and as i lay dying, and if i forget thee, jerusalem (what a chilling name for a work) which is actually two stories – the wild palms, and old man. i started absalom, absalom!, which was very very difficult, but when i had bedbugs two years ago, the book got shoved into the freezer as a part of the killing process, and i went on total hiatus from it, and now think i will have to start from the beginning again.

i wax rhapsodical about faulkner probably too much. i find that speaking about faulkner really makes people look at you as though you were snobbish. and i can see that. it makes me look like a bit of a dickhead, really, because faulkner is in that echelon of writers who are not very accessible – their works can take a lot of time to slog through (not always with the most rewarding results, i will be the first to say). but perhaps there should be no more of that. perhaps i should be bloody proud to have read and understood his stories.

i was trying to explain the sound and the fury to someone the other day, and i realised that the more i tried to explain the plot and the time jumps, and the doubling up of characters, the more insane i sounded, and the more insane faulkner sounded. so instead i tried to put into words exactly why i loved him, and i came up with these reasons:



faulkner had some braggadoccio, man. it’s the only way to put it. he had balls. he had some real moxie. every time someone asked him about his writing process for his books, he told a different story. he lied his face off to amuse and fool his audiences. he was the master storyteller. but the main way he had moxie was in his actual writing.

faulkner believed in the idea of ten dollar words. of the taciturn hemingway, he said that

“[Hemingway] has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to a dictionary.”


of course, hemingway countered by saying

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? …”


etc etc there is more to that quote, but really, faulkner smote down hemingway with one simple sentence, and that one simple sentence sums up why faulkner has such a distinctive audience. he writes not for anybody. he does not coddle in his writing. he will not cushion a reader with words that are easy to understand. instead, he flexes and flaunts his literary muscle (ooooerrr), that fantastic brain, and he sprinkles his writing with words that absolutely glow amongst the dirty rubble of the other, plainer words that hemingway uses so well. don’t get me wrong, i enjoy some of papa’s work, but faulkner forces you into his world of launguage. simply put, if you want to keep up with his writing, you have to adapt to him. you have to be willing to work for it. the writing will not come easy. the reading will not come easy. as one of my professors once said of faulkner:

“it’s going to be really hard to read it, but you are going to feel so good about yourself when you figure it out. faulkner will make you feel good about yourself.”

and it’s so true. every time i discovered a connection in the particularly difficult sound and the fury, i felt like a super genius. i felt like a rock star. i felt so good about myself and what i had figured out.

and not only that, but his language is jarring. it’s odd and southern and dirty. he combines words that don’t seem to work together. he creates filthy, long run-on sentences. he disregards the rules of grammar and drops all punctuation in the moments of his story of dire need. his writing becomes a sort of chant, something verbal and rhythmic, like a beat.


i often tell people that faulkner writes about incest, and he does it well. people blanch when i say that, because it sounds revolting. but i feel like a hallmark of a great writer is someone who can take an infinitely uncomfortable situation (e.g., incest, the universal taboo) and make it into something so beautiful that you will never forget it.

he does that, and not just with incest. in as i lay dying, he writes this amazing scene where cash is using a lathe on his mother’s coffin. but his mother, addie, is not yet dead, and cash is building the coffin right outside her window, and she sits, dying (as i lay dying, see?) and watches him, and approves of him and the coffin, and cash knows it, all in one muted look that they share.

and when it comes to incest, there are echoes of it in so many of his books. a brother looking at a sister’s thighs as her dress rides up, and calling them the calipers of life. or two siblings, clutching at each other in a stream, screaming at each other because one loves the other too much and the other is about to bound into a life of destruction. he writes it so that we, the readers, can’t help but almost want that universal taboo to be consummated in some way. we are both put off by it, and attracted to it. the disgusting is written in such a gorgeous way that we feel faint, we swoon, we feel angry with ourselves.

he makes the viscerally ugly become beautiful. he turns the sticky and disgusting into scarily cloying.


the main thing i love about faulkner is that he just doesn’t give a fuck. he wrote what the hell he wanted to write. he wanted to publish one of his books in coloured ink. he wrote jibber jabber, and people read it because it glistered, because it was so goddamned beautiful, even with all of the disgusting details. i breathed the yoknapataphaw summer air and smelt the dead bodies. i rode in the wagon with my skirt around my knees. i saw the rape, the death, the poison, the beating. i heard the screams and felt the thrash. i was there, enthralled, scared, and so, so absorbed.



and yes, i realise that i’ve written about him in complete present tense, as though he were still alive. who cares. in my mind, he is.

i love you i love you

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