- Faulkner and Cultural Conflict
The past few years have seen the publication of a number of volumes that mine the multiple perspectives of William Faulkner’s writing. Ted Atkinson’s Faulkner and the Great Depression: Aesthetics, Ideology, and Cultural Politics (2006) explores the ways in which various characters in Faulkner’s novels written during the years of the Great Depression express conflicting ideologies regarding that economic crisis, and Margaret Donovan Bauer’s William Faulkner’s Legacy: “What Shadow, What Stain, What Mark” (2005) seeks to uncover previously hidden or silenced perspectives in Faulkner’s works by rereading his novels backward through the lenses of writing by other southerners since Faulkner. These critical books follow the lead of John N. Duvall’s Faulkner’s Marginal Couple: Invisible, Outlaw, and Unspeakable Communities (1990) and Philip M. Weinstein’s Faulkner’s Subject: A Cosmos No One Owns (1992), both of which consider the marginal voices in Faulkner’s oeuvre. Peter Lurie’s Vision’s Immanence: Faulkner, Film, and the Popular Imagination [End Page 837] and Charles Hannon’s Faulkner and the Discourses of Culture also take up the conflicting voices in Faulkner, paying close attention to the ways that the multiple and widely divergent perspectives in his writing are rooted in the culture of his time.
Lurie’s title may be somewhat misleading to the reader in that it may suggest that film (Faulkner’s screenwriting, film adaptations of his work, etc.) is the book’s focus. Certainly film and the popular imagination, and their relations to Faulkner, are central components of the book, but the volume might be more accurately described as a treatise on the various forms of watching—or, to use Lurie’s word, “vision”—in Faulkner and the ways this activity negotiates both highbrow modernism and low- to middle-brow popular culture. This book is not an updated version of Bruce Kawin’s Faulkner and Film, and the reader will proceed quite far into the book before encountering the sort of film criticism that he or she may expect. Instead, arguing that what he finds “most compelling as a way of reading Faulkner’s modernism is its inflection by what we might call the ‘film idea,’ the manner of impression and visual activity his novels emulate from the cinema” (6). Lurie follows the lead of “cultural historians and theorists of modernity [who] have pointed to the particular role of vision as a defining feature of modern social, economic, and aesthetic life, a development occasioned by the increased role of forms like film and photography as well as by whole systems of social relations and organizing” (14). Like Atkinson, Lurie confines his reading to the novels of the 1930s because “the two main strands of thirties cultural production [are] modernism and mass art” (9) and because this decade was the one in which Faulkner first worked in Hollywood. Drawing from Adorno’s theorizing about the interdependence of popular and high art, Lurie examines “the ways in which Faulkner’s approach to popular culture contributed to his development as a modernist” by reading the tensions between high and low art and the ways they are articulated by means of the trope/act of vision in what he calls Faulkner’s “four most important novels of the thirties: Sanctuary (1931), Light in August (1932), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), and If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem (1939)” (2).
Lurie thus opens with a reading of Sanctuary and allots a chapter for discussion of each novel as the book proceeds. In Sanctuary, Lurie argues, Horace Benbow and Popeye represent modernism and popular culture, respectively; where the first version of the novel privileges Benbow and a modernist vision, the revised version emphasizes Popeye and pulp fiction. Meanwhile, Faulkner combines the high and low forms of artistic representation in the character of Temple Drake by making her simultaneously a creation of modern art and a product of potboiler crime fiction as she is the object of a pervasive [End...