(Review of 'Absolam, Absolam!'
a novel by William Faulkner
first written on October 31, 2016)
"Tell about the South. What's it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all.”
William Faulkner (Absolam, Absolam!)
Our social systems (in particular capitalism) are such that some qualities such as bravery, courage, hard work, physical strength, cunning, intelligence etc are rewarded while others the softer ones like compassion, kindness, honesty etc not only remain unrewarded but also come with a price for one of who possess them. In fact, only incentives, besides a clear conscience (which is a hardly a thing to bother about), are other-worldly, that is, those promised by religions in afterlife. Now in such a society, people will be discouraged (like Thomas Sutpen) to hold onto those softer qualities - unless they have a really strong conscience, and thus we have a society which is liable to doom. Nietzsche was critical of soft qualities but Faulkner thinks it is lack of soft qualities which brought the failure of Southern States. The story of Sutpens is an allegory to effect.
Another reason is medivel sense of honor. With the need for a son to continue one's family name,sense of racial purity not allowing them to marry people of color or their children, the fact that they consider themselves disgraced if one of them was to be found homosexual or if one of their women was to lose virginity (worse still get pregnant) before marriage - their sense of honor was something highly vulnerable and insecure. Of course, a lot of this is still true most regions in India.
Now all this is interesting, and there is some lovely prose - after all, it is written by Faulkner. The problem is, well, it is written by Faulkner. Faulkner might disagree with Nietzsche on importance of soft values, but he is in complete agreement about something else later said:
“I obviously do everything to be "hard to understand" myself”
The first sentence for example contains 122 words. And it is not an exception, the exclamation sign in title is a warning. This book holds Guinness book of world record (I'm not kidding) for longest sentence in all literature - 1288 words. And the sentence is still incomplete.
There are more of these Faulknerisms. The same story is told by different narrators focusing on different aspects, and they are all biased and often end up in speculations, in fact much of it is speculation by people who had little, or in one case nothing to do with characters. There are times when you don't know who is talking and times when you don't know who is being talked about. Names are given without introduction. And, no offence, but if people in South spoke in sentences as long as they did in this book, they deserved to lose the war.
There are repitations too - like in The Sound and The Fury, there is an example of two brothers in love for their sister.
Telling of story by different narrators is though not without merit. One thing it shows how true stories can never be told given bias of narrators ( a perfect theme for someone like Faulkner to write about) and, also how a listener modifies story for his/her own benifit in retellings but, most importantly, it shows how stories in turn affect their listeners. Quentin's (the same character from The Sound and The Fury) disillusionment with Southern values. And it was a sort of turning point in his life. At first he believed and was proud of Southern values, however, if those values for so perfect, Thomas Sutpen or South should never have failed. It is only by thinking about Sutpen's story that he is able to discover the truth. And by the end, he is struggling not to hate the South.
“I dont hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark; I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it!”
William Faulkner (Absolam, Absolam!!)