Kristopher Jansma's Reviews > The Sound and the Fury

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
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Jun 18, 2008

really liked it
Read in June, 2008

by William Faulkner

So let me begin with a note here - I'm currently on a two-week vacation in the Florida Keys, on a chartered catamaran, doing some snorkeling and writing and research for another book. But there's an awful lot of down-time, so I've been doing an awful lot of reading, and so I'm hoping that in the next few days I can make up for the brief lull in posts on this site over the past month.

So let's begin with the book I read on the flight down - a little light airplane reading, probably one of the top three most confusing books I've ever read.

My inclination to try to re-read The Sound and The Fury came while finishing Cloud Atlas. During the "Sloosha's Crossing" episode, I was amazed at how smoothly I was able to read the choppy English of the narrator and it reminded me of Faulkner somehow. I tried to read Sound for the first time in college, during a graduate class with John Irwin (who has an essay in the back of the Norton edition, how cool is that?) and all I remember was showing up on the first day and realizing that we'd been expected to read prior to the class beginning, so I was already behind. Irwin's lecture was mind-bogglingly amazing, as all his lectures for that class were (Faulkner, Fitzgerald and Hemingway) and so when I got home I cracked open the book and immediately began to read. Unfortunately I couldn't understand a word of it, even after he'd thoroughly explained the story and the chronology and the characters in class. Soon I gave up and started reading A Light in August which was due for the following week.

So, The Sound and the Fury round two. After 5 years and another degree, does it make any more sense?

Yes, yes it does! I still had to look in the back at the chronology, and I still had to puzzle through, but I made it through the first two sections in a few hours while waiting for my flight to arrive. Unfortunately I got stalled again after boarding the flight, which will forever after be known as The Flight of Obnoxious Kids and Screaming Babies. I gave up during the third section and flipped ahead to the essays in the back, which were a little easier to digest while distracted.

The Irwin essay was just as good as I remembered, and brought back a lot of things from his lectures that I'd thought I'd forgotten (somewhere I still have my notebook from that class...) But the essay that really caught me this time was by Sartre. As you may remember from earlier posts, I'm not all that impressed by JP's attempts at fiction, but if it's bleak philosophy you want, he's a good man to try. Sartre examines the messy chronology of The Sound and the Fury. He argues that the way to read it is not to try and separate the confusing muddle of perspectives or reorder the jumble of time, but to embrace the disorganized flow and see that Faulkner is trying to show us that reality is not about what's happened in the past but an ever-unfolding series of presents. What happened in the past is relevant as it shapes our every present moment, but no more real in and of itself than the future that hasn't happened yet. Sartre goes on about this at great length, explaining much better than I can here, but concludes by saying that while he admires Faulkner's attempts, he does not agree that all of this temporal shuffling exposes the essential absurdity of human life. Sartre still seems to think life is absurd, just not because of this. Anyway.

The last little tidbit that I got out of the back was something that came up in several of Faulkner's letters and interviews. Apparently he wrote the various sections thinking he could tell this as a short story. First he tried Benjy's point of view, but it didn't get the whole thing somehow. So he tried again from Quentin's and still felt like it was missing. So he tried writing it from his own voice and still felt like it wasn't quite there. In the end it was only the sum-total of all these short stories that finally got around the heart of the matter. I don't know if it quite justifies the difficulty, but it certainly does help me understand why he'd try and write something like this.

Anyway, maybe in five years I'll try a third time, when I'm not on a plane, and manage to get all the way through it.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Katherine I'm so glad I read your review of this book. I have never been so completely lost trying to read a book. Maybe, like you, I'll have to read it again, but I DON'T THINK SO!!!!


Stephen M Nice review! This is among my favorite books. It'll be interesting to see if you can give it a full read next time. This book has this strange ability to keep pulling you in. The further into you get, the more and more you become obsessed with its thousand little nuances and strange connections. It's certainly one of those "trapped-on-an-island-for-the-rest-of-your-life" books. And its great.


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