Professor of English Bernard Bearer kicked off Friday afternoon’s Close Reading of William Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom!” with some strong words in praise of the 20th century modernist author.
“I’ll start with a couple of non-controversial statements: Faulkner is the best American writer. ‘Absalom, Absalom!’ is his best novel. Therefore, ‘Absalom, Absalom!’ is the best American novel,” Bearer said. “The problem with getting people to agree with this is that most Americans can’t read it.”
Bearer took a deep breath before reading a sentence by the influential American writer, needing to truly prepare himself to digest Faulkner’s congested yet rich prose.
In “Absalom, Absalom!” a man named Thomas Sutpen proposes marriage to Miss Coldfield. Immediately after, he proposes to another woman, an incident from which Miss Coldfield has never recovered after 43 years.
“Coldfield is a ‘crucified child,’ whose legs ‘hung straight and rigid as if she had iron shinbones and ankles, clear of the floor with that air of impotent and static rage like children’s feet,” Bearer read, adding, “She’s not a Christ figure, not even a female Christ figure. She is a crucified child. She has been killed as a child by Sutpen.”
A young man named Quentin sees her this way when he enters her dark room in September.
“The book is an attempt to find the truth regarding Sutpen,” Bearer said. “Faulkner was not interested in facts, he was interested in truth. There is no such thing as fact, there is only speculation. . There may not be very many facts in a history book.”
In “Absalom, Absalom!” the reader meets numerous versions of the history of Sutpen and chooses what to believe at the book’s incredible end.
According to Bearer, analyzing Faulkner’s work requires great oversimplification because the writing is so complicated. The author’s intent was to prove that every decision arises from a lifetime of memories. This is one reason for the notorious length and complexity of Faulkner’s sentences.
“Faulkner said he wanted to fit the entire world into a sentence,” Bearer said. “Some of his sentences go on for pages.”
The professor held up the book, showing his audience there was no white space on any of the pages.
“(Faulkner) was not a regular writer,” Bearer said.
The professor repeatedly called the work “an intellectual delight,” noting that the reward one would gain from completing the novel would be worth struggling through its wordiness.
“This is his novel, (in) which Faulkner explains to his readers what he thinks happened in the south and what happened to the south. . One character asks another, ‘Why do you live in the south? Why does anybody live in the south?'” Bearer said.
Of “Absalom, Absalom!” he urged, “Read it. Read it. It’s a wonderful book.”
Mary Biggs, professor of English, will analyze Emily Dickinson’s “Split the Lark – and you’ll find the Music” on Thursday March 27, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Business Building Lounge.