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Michel Cresset's Fascination studies the "subtle and perverse psychology" of Faulkner's creative process in his poetry and fiction of 1919-1936. Phenomenological and psychological in his orientation, Gresset has produced one of the most original and insightful studies not just of how Soldier's Pay and Mosquitoes developed from the fauns and satyrs of Faulkner's pastoral poetry but of how certain uncanny, emotionally charged scenes of Flags in the Dust, The Sound and the Fury, Sanctuary, and As I Lay Dying evolved from particular motifs and cluster images (for example, hill/valley/sunset) in seminal prose poems like "The Hill" and "Nympholepsy." The polarity of vagabondage/deep-rootedness in the early poetry and prose turned into the stasis/action of Flags and As I Lay Dying, fantasy into the voyeurism of Flags and Sanctuary, and fascination with the erotic and the ideal into the nausea and outrage of Sanctuary and Pylon. Yet for Gresset the key to Faulkner's creativity is the voyeurism that he sees rooted in Faulkner's torturous reactions to sexuality/ idealism. It is these conflicting reactions that show Faulkner's kinship to a Baudelaire obsessed with the " 'ludicrous posturings' of sexual intercourse" and to a Mallarmé "stricken with the 'maladie d'idéalité.' "
The conflicting reaction of fascination/revulsion in "Nympholepsy" becomes in the novels an emotional syndrome in the protagonists, like Horace Benbow and Quentin Compson. Their fascination/revulsion, fixated on girl-women, changes into the shame/guilt inculcated by their Southern/Christian idealism and morality. As the central consciousness of Sanctuary, Horace sees Woman as a kind of Eve/Satan—Frenchman's Bend is the "diseased Eden," Sanctuary the "blighted pastoral." In Flags Faulkner discovered the world of Yoknapatawpha with its memories of a vanished glory, but in Sanctuary Faulkner depicted the shame and degradation of the new South as expressed in Popeye's corncob rape of Temple. Integral to this rape is the fact that Popeye can only feel sex by looking—as though his eye, as the name may indicate, has replaced the missing genitalia. For Faulkner, Gresset notes, the voyeurism of Popeye and the fantasies of Horace are, in essence, one and the same, because the poet is the ultimate voyeur, voyeurism the chief source of his creativity.
Gresset's development of the voyeurist thesis is much more subtle and complex than my short exposition can convey; moreover, Fascination leaves the reader with the conviction that it does succeed in explicating a major source of Faulkner's creativity. The novels that dominate Fascination are Flags and Sanctuary—in both novels voyeurism figures significantly, and the voyeurists (Byron Snopes, Virgil Beard [the boy who blackmails Byron], Horace, and Popeye) play an increasingly important role. (Ironically Faulkner named his voyeurists after our classic poets.) Pylon constitutes the culminating proof of the voyeurist thesis. I would make several qualifications about Fascination: in Gresset's preoccupation with the voyeurist thesis, he has tended to neglect the master novels ( The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, [End Page 751] Light in August, and Absalom, Absalom!) and hence to neglect other themes and characters important to the world Faulkner created. There is more to Faulkner's creativity than this book examines. Nevertheless, Fascination makes an undeniably brilliant and valuable contribution to our understanding of Faulkner.