The Sound and The Fury

At approximately two-hundred pages, William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury reads like a book two or three times its size, and I struggled all the way through it. Of the books I’ve read since embarking on the journey that has become this blog, I can hands down say that The Sound and The Fury has been the most challenging; not only that, but it has also taken the most time (two weeks to the day) to finish.  I was reminded of the sentiment “dare to struggle; dare to win” from the Definite Dozen, and in my reading I realized how un-poetic, un-romantic struggling is. The struggle was apt, I’ll give it to you Faulkner, because it was clear that every character in the novel was struggling too.

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As I sit typing this–slyly I hope–in the middle of my second period class, I’m overhearing my teacher droning, “Don’t let the terminology intimidate you; never let the terminology intimidate you. Bottom line: you can always figure it out–you have google.” While this statement was not, in fact, alluding to William Faulkner, it’s very applicable; at times Faulkner’s terminology seemed insurmountable. Many of the things that I struggled with the first time around with As I Lay Dying, I found myself wrestling with again. After drawn out nights making short-lived excuses ranging from “I’m too tired” to “I’m just going to read a short story instead,” anything to get me out of reading Faulkner, I decided to trudge through the book. The story was engaging. At times, I would ravenously turn page after page just to find out if Quentin was going to make it out alive (spoiler alert: he doesn’t). Other times, I was nearly pulling out my hair because Faulkner decided it was a great idea not to punctuate, not just for paragraphs at a time, but for pages. If you would’ve asked me prior to reading The Sound and The Fury how challenging it is to read non-punctuated writing, I wouldn’t have nearly grasped what a challenge it actually is.

While there may have been myriad challenges that I faced in my reading, I have to say there were parts of this Faulkner that I enjoyed. He uses recurrent elements of  both sound and fury in his novel; from Jason’s fury in regard to Quentin, to the sound of Benjy hollering and the ticking of the pocket watch, the story is flooded with these two elements. At one point, while I was reading, I questioned, “why does he keep noting all of these sounds?” and then it clicked. Time is another symbol used by Faulkner throughout the text. One of my favorite parts of the book, which is housed in my favorite section, is when Quentin breaks his father’s pocket watch, however, before doing so, he recounts the history of the watch as passed down by his father. He says,

“I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciating-ly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum* of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fit [your grandfather] or his father’s. I give it to you  not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because  no battle is ever won…They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools. “

* corruption of the Latin phrase reductio ad adsurdum  which “is a form of argument which attempts either to disprove a statement by showing it inevitably leads to a ridiculous, absurd, or impractical conclusion.”

Reading that passage, I now think that the second half of it (starting with “Because no..”) is an example of reductio ad adsurdum. The reason that I initially chose this passage is because, while it shows the inevitability of time proceeding, Faulkner leaves some hope for both Quentin and the reader in the helpless–and sometimes hopeless–nature of time ticking away. This isn’t the only situation where time comes up. Quentin’s father seems time-obsessed. In the novel, he talks chiefly through his son, Quentin, recollecting his advice. Another piece of Mr. Compson’s time-related advice is given to the reader when Quentin recalls,

`”Father said a man is the sum of his misfortunes. One day you’d think misfortune, but then time is your fortune Father said.”

It seems that, throughout the book, time is the one constant, much like in life. Yet, this quote seems similar to the other quote because while they both acknowledge the fact that time inevitably passes, the characters do not dwell on it. Okay, okay one last quote. This one non-time-related.

“Two tears slid down her fallen cheeks, in and out of the myriad coruscation of immolation and abnegation”

Let’s just talk about the language, I have a fair grasp of the word abnegation, but I’ve never heard of either immolation or coruscation, which makes it immensely difficult to figure out the sentiment that the sentence is expressing. It took both me and my collaborator, Hailey, to deduced any sort of meaning from that bouquet of multi-syllabic words. This quote is describing Dilsey, a black woman, who has worked for the Compsons her whole life. She is sitting in church listening to a preacher, on Easter Sunday nonetheless, when she is described in this quote, apparently while she is having a revelation about her life. The structure of the sentence, with the three words ending in the -ation, gives it an unmistakable rhythm that can be found in much of Faulkner’s prose.

In lieu of working on finishing this very blog post, I found myself on this website listening to a few of the hundreds of clips of William Faulkner, the man himself, lecturing. It’s kinda weird to hear to hear him talking. Through reading a book, I often feel like I’ve come to know the author, so it’s interesting to see how the man in reality compares to the picture of Faulkner that I’ve concocted in my mind. My personal favorite clip was this one  where Faulkner talks about Salinger. There were two others that stuck out to me. This one where he addresses the lack of grammar in the book because that was one of the big questions that I had in my reading of The Sound and The Fury. The other clip is of Faulkner talking, not only about a writer’s sense of inadequacy, but his own. I mean if Faulkner, this monumental writer, feels insecure about his writing, imagine the rest of us.

While I’ve finished reading The Sound and The Fury, I feel like I’m not really done with it yet. There’s so much criticism still out there for me to read. Therefore, it’s difficult to end this blog post because normally, with the end of a post comes the end of my affair with a book, yet this case is an outlier. I enjoyed the misery that William Faulkner inflicted on me throughout my reading of  The Sound and The Fury, but I can say that it might be awhile until I reach for another one of his novels. Update: It’s been less than a week and I’ve already dove into another piece of Faulkner’s writing. Oops.

 

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