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Reviewed by:
Judith Lockyer. Ordered by Words: Language and Narration in the Novels of William Faulkner. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1991. 188 pp. $29.95.

This book argues that William Faulkner both desired authoritative words as much as he complicated that desire. Its title is drawn from Horace Benbow's description of himself, in Flags in the Dust, as someone "ordered by words." His phrase summarizes the dual view of language in Faulkner: on the one hand words enable activity by organizing thought; on the other, they are always to some degree another's words and thus may impose fixity. Lockyer sees this conflict as a constant in Faulkner's career. His stance toward it defines three main periods, each represented by figures of the writer—Faulkner's "men of words." Lockyer's close readings neatly detail the narrative consequences of this dialectic. [End Page 472]

At first there is no contest. In Flags and Sanctuary, Horace's desire to turn from the noisy world and into the serene fixity of poetry represents the desire for an authoritative, monological discourse that, when frustrated, leaves the solipsistic alternative of silence. In the novels of Faulkner's mature period Lockyer sees figures like Quentin Compson, Darl Bundren, Gail Hightower, Ike McCaslin, and Gavin Stevens more or less epitomizing frustrated, single-minded speech and winding up in suicide, madness, and alienating idealism. Yet they also appear in fictions whose greatest compositional resource is in multivoiced, open-ended structures, themselves embodying the social—that is, the situational and dialogical—construction of truth. For some reason the later Faulkner, represented by the Gavin Stevens of Intruder in the Dust and Requiem for a Nun, relinquishes that social view. Now narrative itself must be a "vehicle of responsibility" against human folly. Lockyer won't speculate why, but convincingly shows how Faulkner loops back to an earlier belief that authority "does indeed reside in the words rather than the exchange."

Lockyer's chapters compose a very useful, common sense reading of the Faulkner canon. She also draws extensively and incisively on the main scholarship and makes strong, synthetic use of recent work by Eric Sundquist, Myra Jehlen, and Andre Bleikasten. Nothing in this will rock the foundations of Faulkner studies, but then she didn't intend to. Instead Lockyer meant to read the major Faulkner novels in light of Bakhtin's work on the dialogical subversions of authoritative discourse.

Yet Lockyer works from a too limited understanding of Bakhtin. The Dialogical Imagination is listed in the Works Cited, but citations of it reveal that she draws from only one of its four essays, "Discourse in the Novel," and even those instances have only to do with Bakhtin's ideas on the dialogical appropriation and reorienting of the words of another. Lockyer thus leaves aside questions about the dialogization of inserted genres in Faulkner, particularly the matter of speech genres treated in Bakhtin's later period. Lockyer's approach, one discredited by Bakhtin's own admonitions, is to focus mainly on compositionally expressed dialogues between characters, in conflicts that she seems to see achieving some dialectical synthesis. But Bakhtin insists upon something else: always, on the dialogized heteroglossia of the narrative voices, and on the reinflections of discursive types within it; and always, as well, on the refusals of dialectical "finalizability" in true dialogism. Lockyer also neglects two other key concepts in Bakhtin, his theories of the chronotope and of carnivalization. Ordered by Words thus falls well short of a Bakhtinian reading of Faulkner and (if anything) shows how not to do it. [End Page 473]

Steven Weisenburger
University of Kentucky


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