Jgsauls's Reviews > Absalom, Absalom!

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
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M_50x66
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Sep 13, 12

Read in July, 2012

I keep thinking back on passages of Absalom, Absalom! that continue to (perhaps inspiring or influencing) thread through the finest fiction, and perhaps serve to define the failure of insipid fiction:

Quentin Compson, a true innocent, an eighteen-year old freshman at Harvard who will drown himself a few months later, says of his grandfather's tale of Sutpen's outrageous deeds:

"And he said how Sutpen was talking about it again, telling him again before he realized that this was some more of it, and he said how he thought there was something about a man's destiny (or about the man) that caused the destiny to shape itself to him like his clothes did, like the same coat that new might have fitted a thousand men, yet after one man has worn it for a while it fits no one else and you can tell it anywhere you see it, even if all you see is a sleeve or a lapel: so that his ----" ("the demon's," Shreve said) "---- destiny had fitted itself to him, to his innocence, his pristine aptitude for platform drama and childlike heroic simplicity, just as the fine broadcloth uniform which you could have seen on ten thousand men during those four years, which he wore when he came in the office on that afternoon thirty years later, had fitted itself to the swaggering of all his gestures and to the forensic verbiage in which he stated calmly, with that frank innocence which we call 'of a child' except that a human child is the only living creature that is never either frank or innocent, the most simple and the most outrageous things."

Robert Stone in A Hall of Mirrors:

"Fellow Americans! Let us consider the American Way. The American way is innocence. In all situations we must and shall display an innocence so vast and awesome that the entire world will be reduced by it. American innocence shall rise in mighty clouds of vapor to the scent of heaven and confound the nations!

"Our legions, patriots, are not like those of the other fellow. We are not perverts with rotten brains as the English is. We are not a sordid little turd like the French. We are not nuts like the Kraut. We are not strutting maniacs like the gilbroney and the greaseball!

"On the contrary our eyes are the clearest eyes looking out on the world today. I tell you that before our wide, fixed blue-eyed stare the devious councils of the foreign horde are confounded as the brazen idolators before enlightened Moses.

"No matter what they say, Americans, remember this ---- we're OK! Who else can say that? No one. No one else can say ---- we're OK. Only in America can a people say ---- we're OK....

"Americans, our shoulders are broad and sweaty but our breath is sweat. When your American soldier fighting today drops a napalm bomb on a cluster of gibbering chinks, it's a bomb with a heart. In the heart of that bomb, mysteriously but truly present, is a fat old lady on her way to see the world's fair. This lady is as innocent as she is fat and motherly. This lady is our nation's strength. This lady's innocence if fully unleashed could defoliate every forest in the torrid zone."

Ken Kesey in Sometimes A Great Notion:

"Time overlaps itself. A breath breathed from a passing breeze is not the whole wind, neither is it just the last of what has passed and the first of what will come, but is more ---- let me see ---- more like a single point plucked on a single strand of a vast spider web of winds, setting this whole scene atingle. That way; it overlaps .... As pre-historic ferns grow from bathtub planters. As a shiny new ax, taking a swing at somebody's next year's split-level pinewood pad, bites all the way to the Civil War. As proposed highways break down through the stacked strata of centuries."

Perhaps unfairly, Jonathan Franzen in The Corrections:

"The beauty of the Internet was that Chip could post whole-cloth fabrications without troubling to check even his spelling. Reliability on the Web was ninety-eight percent a function of how slick and cool your site looked. Although Chip personally was not fluent in Web, he was an American under forty, and Americans under forty were exquisite judges of what was slick and cool and what was not. He and Gitanas went to a pub called Prie Universiteto and hired five young Lithuanians in Phish and R.E.M. T-shirts for thirty dollars a day plus millions of worthless stock options, and for a month Chip rode these slang-slinging Webheads mercilessly. He made them study American sites like nbci.com and Oracle. He told them to do it like this, to make it look like this."

Perhaps fairly, Bret Easton Ellis in Less Than Zero:

"Almost everybody had gone home that last week in the desert. Only my grandfather and grandmother, mother and father and myself were left. All the maids had gone, as had the gardener and the poolman. My sisters went to San Francisco with my aunt and her children. Everybody was very tired of Palm Springs. We had been there off and on for nine weeks and nowhere else except Rancho Mirage for the past three. One day, a couple of days before we left, my grandmother went into town with my mother and bought a blue purse. My parents took her to a party at a director's house that night. I stayed in the big house with my grandfather, who had gotten drunk and had fallen asleep earlier that evening. The artificial waterfall in the spacious pool had been turned off, and with the exception of the jacuzzi, the pool itself was in the process of being drained. Someone had found a rattlesnake floating on top of what was left of the water at the bottom, and my parents warned me to stay in the house and not go out into the desert.

"That night it was very warm and while my grandfather slept I ate steak and ribs that had been flown down two days earlier from one of the hotels my grandfather owned in Nevada. I watched a re-run of "The Twilight Zone" that night and took a walk. No one was out. The palm trees were trembling and the streetlights were very bright and if you looked past the house and into the desert, all there was was blackness. No cars passed and I thought I saw a rattlesnake slither into the garage. The darkness, the wind, the rustling from the hedges, the empty cigarette box lying on the driveway all had an eerie effect on me and I ran inside and turned all the lights on and got into bed and fell asleep, listening to the strange desert wind moan outside my window."

Contrasted with Cormac McCarthy in No Country For Old Men:

"He said I was bein hard on myself. Said it was a sign of old age. Tryin to set things right. I agreed with him that there wasnt a whole lot of good you could say about old age and he said he knew one thing and I said what is that. And he said it dont last long. I waited for him to smile but he didnt. I said well, that's pretty cold. And he said it was no colder than what the facts called for. So that was all there was about that. I knew what he'd say anyways, bless his heart. You care about people you try and lighten their load for em. Even when it's self-ordained. The other thing that was on my mind I never even got around to but I believe it to be related because I believe that whatever you do in your life will get back to you. If you live long enough it will. And I can think of no reason in the world for that no-good to of killed that girl. What did she ever do to him? The truth is I never should have gone up there in the first place. Now they got that Mexican up here in Huntsville for killin that state trooper that he shot him and set his car afire and him in it and I dont believe he done it. But that's what he's goin to get the death penalty for. So what is my obligation there? I think I have sort of waited for all of this to go away somehow or another and of course it aint. I think I knew that when it started. It had that feel to it. Like I was fixin to get drug into somethin where the road back was goin to be a pretty long one.

"When he asked me why this come up now after so many years I said that it had always been there. That I had just ignored it for the most part. But he's right, it did come up. I thing sometimes people would rather have a bad answer about things than no answer at all. When I told it, well it took a shape I would not have guessed it to have and in that way he was right too. It was like a ballplayer told me one time he said that if he had some slight injury and it bothered him a little bit, nagged at him, he generally played better. It kept his mind focused on one thing instead of a hundred. I can understand that. Not that it changes anything.

"I thought if I lived my life in the strictest way I knew how then I would not ever again have a thing that would eat on me thataway. I said that I was twenty-one years old and I was entitled to one mistake, particularly if I could learn from it and become the sort of man I had it in my mind to be. Well, I was wrong about all of that. Now I aim to quit and a good part of it is just knowin that I wont be called on to hunt this man. I reckon he's a man. So you could say to me that I aint changed a bit and I dont know that I would even have a argument about that. Thirty-seven years. That's a painful thing to know."

Perhaps we can trace the problem back to when some marketing genius created the genre "literary fiction." My last three examples are classified thusly. I suppose we have lost the ability to identify literature. Perhaps one out of three amongst aspirants isn't so bad. JS

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