"'Now I can Write:' Faulkner's Novel of Invention", by Donald Kartiganer, in New Essays on The Sound and The Fury, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993: 71-97;

Reviewed by Barry Hite


Kartiganer's title, drawn from a journal entry Faulkner made shortly before writing The Sound and The Fury, is an expression of Faulkner's revelation that the time had come to stop absorbing the works of others and pursue his own unique narrative voice.
In his article, Kartiganer goes to great lengths to portray Faulkner's novel as a series of functional contradictions. By extension, Kartiganer must follow Faulkner's paradoxical lead. His article attempts to place The Sound and The Fury within the context of a greater literary tradition, while claiming that Faulkner's inventiveness with regard to literary style and content constitute an act of radical originality. Kartiganer's primary focus is on Faulkner's playfulness and innovation with the contemporary literary forms of the early 20th century.
Kartiganer sees Benjy's section as both a brilliant parody of imagist writing and an original literary form. More than any other narrator in the novel, Benjy is able to achieve an order of language "in which words, so raised by prosody to attention, assert themselves as words and make a numinous claim on our attention." (80) He summarizes daughter Quentin's frenetic identity by depicting her as an action, "shaking," as she sneaks off to meet some faceless lover. The fact that this poignant narration and imagist form is the product of a grossly stunted mind represents not only a parody of the form but an exemplary literary achievement on the part of Faulkner. More powerfully, the section's form alludes to the absence of meaning at the heart of his novel.
Claiming that Quentin's chapter constitutes an attempt to "transform a mundane reality into its capitalized counterpart, the more authentic Reality," Kartiganer sees Quentin as Faulkner's parody and expansion upon the High Modernist ethos. (84) With his willingness to sunder life (epitomized by time) from art (the antiquated forms of ceremony in which he immerses himself.), Quentin revels in his dislocation from most human activity, particularly sexuality. Kartiganer sees Quentin's embrace of ideals like the defense of Caddy's honor as a desire to create an art wholly apart from the realm of actual experience. Instead, Quentin subsists by desperately clinging to ceremony, ritual and an antiquated ideal of honor. Quentin's fiction/art will not be bound by time, space, or actual utility. But Quentin is bound by the acknowledgement that "reality declares his fiction utterly false;" that saying it will not make it "so." By acknowledging that futility, Quentin's actions are imbued with a sense of emptiness that resonates with the absence of meaning from Benjy's section. In realizing the futility of his own pursuits, Quentin expands upon the High Modernist ethos and Faulkner's art transcends mere parody.
Moreover, Kartiganer claims that Jason's chapter presents us with a sort of parody of a post-modernist voice. While the previous sections contained objects or persons with sentimental value, Jason's is entirely cut loose from any sort of empathetic instinct. Jason holds everything and everyone in contempt, even himself-"I couldn't understand...why it was just poison oak and not a snake." (241) To Kartiganer, the vituperative, destructive revision that Jason offers of the previous two sections is just the sort of demolition that the Postmodern "derives from a more moderate modernism that [merely] questions or revises." (89) While the parody holds, Jason goes further by "remystifying his demystifying stance."(90) By insisting that he alone occupies a "stable, coherent center" amidst the chaotic miasma of his family's history, Jason fails to realize the instability and nihilism that define his position and give it power. (90) This contradiction gives birth to every other contradiction in his life, particularly the ever-fluctuating loathing and pride he feels for himself and his family. His lack of self-awareness and his refusal to make any substantive emotional connection to anything define the absence at the heart of Jason's section. Through Jason's contradictions as a narrator and agent in the novel's greater plot, Faulkner goes beyond merely lampooning the form.
The fourth and final chapter of The Sound and The Fury signals a return to a traditional nineteenth-century narrative form. Largely to comic effect, the third person omniscient narrator jumps between Dilsey's and Jason's perspective throughout the day, contrasting the fulfillment and wholeness of Dilsey's communion with God to the material loss of Jason's frantic and pathetic search through Yoknapatawpha. Kartiganer claims that Faulkner transcends the form that he's parodying in the closing moments of the novel. He claims that the novels resolution-an idiot's empty silence is the means by which Faulkner completely subverts the narrative form that the third person omniscient presupposes. The ending of the novel is neither coherent nor significant in any traditional sense. Benjy's silence isn't the product of a resolution. It is an appeasement that is necessary because of a larger void.
Though Kartiganer veers very little from our class discussion, the essay provides excellent philosophical and literary subtext to this complex work. The essay gets at the absence at the center of the book and posits very plausible philosophical undercurrents to each narrator's section. Jason's nihilism is particularly well documented. Additionally, Kartiganer's exploration of the varying nature of Caddy's significance-to Benjy, Quentin and Jason is an excellent investigation into the notion of inter-perspectivity/relativity. Caddy's multiple identities (savior, soulmate, whore) and corresponding levels of redemptive significance seems to be a favorite topic of his discussion.
Yet, oftentimes it seems that Kartiganer becomes too enamored with the notions of skepticism and nihilism that pervade The Sound and The Fury. Too often, Kartiganer seems to be saying that The Sound and The Fury is about the idea of nothingness, and that's it. I do not presume that Kartiganer's review was an attempt to encapsulate all the philosophies that appear throughout The Sound and The Fury. However, it does seem that Kartiganer refuses to delve into certain aspects of the novel presumably because nothingness is all that there is to find. This is most true with regard to Benjy's role in the novel: Kartiganer loves the fact that much of the novel revolves around the idea of unverifiable truth/realities. Repeatedly, he underestimates or completely denies Benjy's role as a documentarian of sorts for the Compson family. Obviously, Benjy's mental handicap prevents him from making qualitative statements regarding things like Caddy's true nature, but he can recount events that show Caddy performing actions indicative of certain qualities like compassion or mischief. Kartiganer denies Benjy's value as an observer in order to allow skepticism to prevail in his interpretation of the novel and as a result, the novel loses some of its visceral impact; just as his understanding of the novel denies some of the more emotionally fertile interactions in the novel and leaves us with nothing.

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