Philip Weinstein has written a brilliant, candid, timely book, not just about Faulkner as a writer but also about Faulkner as a changing institution of reading and teaching. Weinstein's argument about Faulkner's writing, briefly, is that "between 1929 and 1942 a virtual revolution in his practice occurs, in which a modernist aesthetic of shock emerges, transforms itself, and then yields to a more traditional one of recognition." "The later novels," Weinstein argues, "engage in an ideological work of recuperation, of placing the beleaguered subject in the right relation to traditional cultural values." Weinstein's acutely comparative reading of Faulkner's changing representations of black, male, and female subjectivities proceeds dialogically in the midst of ongoing discussions in recent critical theory and recent Faulkner criticism. Weinstein's argument about these readers and teachers of Faulkner, especially white male academics such as Weinstein himself (and myself), is that Faulkner's deepest hold upon us—his most powerful impact upon our own subjectivity as readers—is inseparable from his Modernist alignment," which "registers the acculturation of the subject as an assault." Like the book's first claim (about Faulkner's writing) this second claim (about Faulkner's readers) is conducted with an unusual quality of reflective candor and attentive interaction.
The two claims are interestingly related to each other. According to the second argument, it is Faulkner's Modernism that most moves this "us" [End Page 376] and effects "scenes that resist ideological coherence or that reveal ideological vertigo, scenes whose brute power seems to touch down on the real itself (a domain deeper than ideology)." If this is who "we" have tended to be as we have read and taught the modernist Faulkner, things may also have changed. "We may now see that posture as itself invested in Modernist ideology. In this current Postmodernist view, ideological inflections do not superficially distort some deeper reality; one does not dig beneath them to a nonideological core." Such Modernist appeals to "the infinitely precious, socially inconsolable Benjy deep within us" may now remind us that "appearing to be beyond ideology is ideology's defining move." In this case, "private (predication-free) identity is celebrated as a priceless though violated resource, as personal depth, speechlessly resonating."
Weinstein's reply to such suspicions is not a greater (more transcendency innocent) suspicion, but the more modest suggestion that "subjective wholeness may be a fiction but agency is not." "The most thoroughgoing new historicist convictions will not alter the fact that individuals experience their lives through their 'own' subjective prisms." Rediscovering in Faulkner's work "the ways in which gender, race, and other cultural arrangements live unknowingly troped within us—is the first step toward our reconceiving (and potentially remapping) our roles within our worlds. . . . The next step, resistance, is for his readers to take." At the risk of sounding recuperated, I would only add to this what Weinstein sometimes acknowledges—that many of Faulkner's readers, including even Faulkner himself in places, have long been attempting to take just that next (or simultaneous?) step, though it isn't as easy or certainly as pure as the comparison with modernist iconoclasm may tend to demand it should be.