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CHARLES SHERRY Being Otherwise: Nature, History, and Tragedy in Absalom, Absalom! The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, to whom it occurred to say this is mine and found people sufficiently simple to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders , how many miseries and horrors Mankind would have been spared by him who, pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had cried out to his kind: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are lost if you forget that the fruits are everyone's and the Earth no one's. —Rousseau: Discourse on Inequality What is the future? What is the past? What are we? What magic liquid is it that shuts us in, and hides from us the things that we ought most to know? —Napoleon: from a letter to Joséphine Because there is a moment which is the mother. —Jorie Graham: "Ravel and Unravel" few significant events become the determining moments of .the narration of Faulkner's Absalom, Absaloml: Sutpen's discovery of his innocence, Henry's break with him, Sutpen's denial of Bon, Henry's shooting of Bon, Sutpen's 'proposal' to Rosa Coldfield and his death at the hands of Wash Jones. These events all have in common two qualities. In each case one person denies the existence of another, while the other struggles to compel the denier to acknowledge that he or she does exist. Secondly, every event occurs obliquely and obscurely. Arizona Quarterly Volume 45 Number 3, Autumn 19 Copyright © 1989 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 004-1610 Charles Sherry Things happen with such rapidity that the participants can have neither a clear perception nor understanding of them. Mr. Compson tells Quentin they occur as "percussion and repercussion like a thunderclap and its echo, and as close together."1 Events happen and an awareness of them develops belatedly and dimly, sometime after they have passed. Events live an oblique life in their aftermath, echoing like summer thunder in rumor and story as they are passed on from mouth to mouth. Likewise, Faulkner represents these events obliquely, indirectly and retrospectively. In a well-known passage Quentin reflects upon the difficult and vicarious life of events: Maybe nothing ever happens once and is finished. Maybe happen is never once but like ripples maybe on water after the pebble sinks, the ripples moving on, spreading, the pool attached by a narrow umbilical water-cord to the next pool which the first pool feeds, has fed, did feed, let this second pool contain a different temperature of water, a different molecularity of having seen, felt, remembered, reflect in a different tone the infinite unchanging sky, it doesn't matter: that pebble's watery echo whose fall it did not even see moves across its surface too at the original ripple-space, to the old ineradicable rhythm. (326) "Happen" is not the pebble hitting the water and sinking. Happen happens after that, as the ripples' concentric expansion from pool to pool. Between cause and effect a curious lack of economy obtains: like gamma rays, which cannot be measured directly but only through the medium of the bursts of energy they produce upon impact with the earth's atmosphere, transformative events in Absalom have already passed out of existence before their presence can even be detected. A man acting in the present moment can have no clear sense of the relation of his actions to their origin in some motive existing in the past. The past does not exist, yet it has a terrifying power to transform the present. In Faulkner, quite often it happens that a man's motives for action might be clear to him, but when he acts, those motives become unintelligible . When Thomas Sutpen makes his design real as property and family it becomes enigmatic to him. The stories told in Absalom of Sutpen's struggle to exist imitate his design and purpose. Each narrator defines his existence in relation to the tale of the rise and fall ofSutpen's Absalom, Absaloml49 Hundred, for each one finds himself living in the aftermath of what Sutpen did both because of his actions...


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