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DEBORAH CLARKE Faulkner and His Critics: Moving into the 90s Is it possible to say something new and interesting about Faulkner? The authot who gets 90 pages in Duke's 1990 revision of Sixteen Modern American Authors (the second most analyzed wtitet, Hemingway , gets only 75) appeats to need few—if any—further testimonies to his greatness. Yet books continue to come out, for in this academic wotld we must publish or end up selling computers. And the conscientious Faulkner scholar hopes not just to publish but to find something worth saying, to open up more avenues from which to approach the work of the greatest Ametican novelist of the 20th century. We might furthet ask ourselves whether Faulknet will be able to maintain this supremacy in a literary arena more and more concerned with issues of race, class, and gender. Canonized by the New Critics, his work may find less sympathy from the post-structuralists. He is, aftet all, often racist, often sexist, and often classist. Furthermore, post-structuralism, with its emphasis on theoty, can sometimes be faulted for favoring ideology over the author. Particularly fot a writer as over-analyzed as Faulkner , it is easy to assume basic critical understanding and concentrate more heavily on the theory than the author. The question arises, then, what role Faulknet plays in Faulkner studies these days. In 1983, in the second edition of Prentice-Hall's Twentieth Century Views of Faulkner, Richatd Brodhead identifies some of the problems facing Faulkner critics: The trouble with Faulknet's eatly readers, it is easy fot us now to say, is that they did not know how to read him. The trouble with current readers is more likely to be that they do know how Arizona Quarterly Volume 47 Number 1, Spring 1991 Copyrighr © 1991 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 161 o 1 18 Deborah Cforke to read him—that, armed with the weapons that Faulkner criticism and academic instruction have made standard issue, they can move right along towards a satisfactory "reading" of Faulkner, without having to confront the difficulties (beauties, too), often quite alien to what criticism describes, ofFaulkner's texts themselves. (3) This concern becomes even more apparent as we move into the 90s. The role of the critic increasingly resembles T. S. Eliot's in "The Waste Land": to defamiliarize what people have come to take for granted. While throwing Faulkner back into question is, as Brodhead asserts, one of the best services we can perform, much of the defamiliarization seems to depend on jargon and ideology rather than Faulkner. Yet surely some of this can be not only excused, but welcomed, in a critical situation where such basic knowledge can be assumed. After all, at this point, just about any close analysis ofa Faulkner novel duplicates someone 's argument. Why waste time covering ground again when there are new directions still to explore? Three recent books take up some of these questions and issues with considerable success. Lawrence H. Schwartz's Creating Faulkner's Literary Reputation: The Politics of Modern Uterary Criticism, Stephen M. Ross's Fiction's Inexhaustible Voice: Speech & Writing in Faulkner, and Minrose C. Gwin's The Feminine in Faulkner: Reading (Beyond) Sexual Difference examine Faulkner in the light ofcurrent theoretical issues. It appears likely that the 90s will bring increased attention to the problems of applying literary theory to Faulkner's work. But is Faulkner's fiction in danger of getting lost behind the theory? While theory is opening up many new perspectives on Faulkner, we sometimes come away from such studies with the feeling that we've learned more about the theory than the author. Nor is this necessarily a failure, for theoretical studies often serve to open our minds to new ideas and new ways of reading rather than providing neat analyses of particular literary texts. Schwartz's Creating Faulkner's Literary Reputation offers a good vantage point from which to begin examining recent Faulkner criticism, because Schwartz's thesis is that Faulkner's reputation was largely created by changing theoretical positions. His study "attempts to show how the confluence of literary, cultural, and commercial forces created and shaped Faulkner's literary...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 117-135
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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