April 14, 2007
If you asked me three months ago to produce a list of things I felt least capable of writing about, you would find WILLIAM FAULKNER written in bold type right at the top. I was introduced to Faulkner last semester in my senior seminar on narrative and time. Reading The Sound and the Fury is the literary equivalent of having one’s teeth kicked in. I was intimidated by rapid time shifts and rambling sentences. I survived, miraculously, and put Faulkner back on the shelf where I expected him to stay forever.
But wouldn’t you know it—the Southerner grew on me, like a fungus. Professor Kodat suggested that I read Joel Williamson’s biography on Faulkner. It’s filled with lots of great anecdotes, many of which are even more interesting (all of which are less complicated) than Faulkner’s fiction. Here’s a favorite story I turned into a poem and read at the last Rhymelab.
Once, when Faulkner was at his best and worst,
and a bird’s-eye view revealed the mountainous Imperial Valley,
cut through by a winding whiskey wagon piloted by Howard Hawks,
William Faulkner, and Clark Gable,
a story was born.
Gable asked Faulkner who he thought were the best modern writers.
"Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, Thomas Mann, John Dos Passos, and myself,"
"Oh," the actor said after a moment, "do you write Mr. Faulkner?"
"Yes," Faulkner answered, then asked: "What do you do, Mr. Gable?"
The poem is a slightly gussied-up version of the passage from Williamson’s book, so I can’t really take credit for anything beyond the first stanza. But I can take credit for enlivening my own opinion of Faulkner. I will be the first to admit that struggling through a novel is not my idea of a good time. When Faulkner’s prose became too difficult to understand, I took the back door and endeavored to understand Faulkner himself. He was so interesting and emotionally damaged that I had to write about him for my thesis, which explains Faulkner’s first novel (Soldier’s Pay) in the context of his later work. Thus a thesis was born. Hopefully it will be finished in about two weeks.