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VIVIAN WAGNER Gender, Technology, and Utopia in Faulkner's Airplane Tales Mr. Faulkner is obviously very much excited by the lives of these strange circus folk—excited, indeed, beyond coherence, so that he can only present them as if they were not human beings at all; as if he felt that petrol and not blood ran in their veins, and they were the half-doped robots of a brutal half-doped world. —Sean O'Faolain, review of Pylon in Spectator (1935) In faulkner's airplane tales, particularly "Honor" and Pylon, the bodies of barnstormers are technologized and robotized to the point of being interchangeable with the bodies of the airplanes. Both of these tales center on barnstorming air shows—peepshows in the air—and both represent moments when mechanical motion is eroticized and made organic, even as organic bodies are made mechanical. In this paper, I show that Faulkner's participation in the Modernist project of technologizing bodies reveals a Utopian desire to imagine not so much a world without power as one in which power is not gender, race, or class specific, or in which power is not fixed, but rather fluid. This Utopian element in Faulkner's fiction is not innocent of its ties to the more fascistic, sado-masochistic qualities of Modernism; despite these problems with his fantasies, however, Faulkner's utopianism can add to current theoretical debates about gender, power, and technology. Barnstorming was a fairly common public entertainment in the 1920s and early 1930s. It occurred very much in the public sphere—actually, generally just outside the city limits, where the barnstormers were certain to have enough space, and also to avoid various city laws about Arizona Quarterly Volume 49 Number 4, Winter 1993 Copyright © 1993 by Arizona Board of Regents issN 0004-1610 8oVivian Wagner disturbing the peace. Barnstorming became popular partly because a surplus of airplanes resulted from stepped-up wartime aviation production near the end of World War I, when a single-engined Curtiss jN-4 biplane—a "Jenny"—could be bought in a crate from the government for $600 (Lomax 33). Barnstorming thus opened up a line of work for those (both men and women) otherwise unemployed or underemployed, who could buy a biplane and fly from farm to farm and perform acrobatics , wing-walking, and other stunts—antics which appealed to the nostalgic , idealistic, post-war imaginations of Faulkner and the rest of the country. The air shows—like the movies, and like filmed pornography, two newly expanding public entertainments—were places to seek titillation and excitement. The barnstormers, in their "profession of thrills" (Hawks 176), would stop at few things to attract larger audiences once the novelty of various tricks wore off—even dropping a dummy from the plane onto a field to make the crowd think that one of the flyers had been killed (Stilwell and Rodgers 180-81). Popular audiences finally reached a saturation point in the middle 1930s, when the death-defying antics (which sometimes resulted in actual deaths) ceased to be new and unusual, and the sport itself died out. Interest in these early technical performances in the air faded, perhaps, because they were replaced by the new aeronautic "performances " of World War II, the nuclear bomb, and ultimately, televised space travel. Seen in this light, barnstormers can be considered early representatives of a "technophilia" which continues to pervade our culture —a love of all things mechanized, of speed, and of the possibility of robotic, indestructible bodies. This technophilia is, literally, a love for and fetishization of the machine—particularly— in the case of the barnstormers and Faulkner's stories about them—the airplane. Technophilia was a hallmark of Modernism, with Wyndham Lewis and others promulgating a myth of the invincible, mechanized self, more than the British and American Modernists, however, the Futurists, such as the Italian poet F. T Marinetti, were heavily invested in a love of machines. The Futurists are famous for their attempts to describe, paint, and photograph moving trains and human bodies, as well as their glorification of war, and their incorporation, eventually, by German and Italian fascism .1 Indeed, technology and a love of technology were key elements of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 79-97
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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