- Faulkner and Film ed. by Peter Lurie, Ann J. Abadie
Almost 20 years ago, when I was a graduate student, I submitted an abstract of a dissertation chapter on the role of the camera in Absalom, Absalom! to the graduate student conference attached to the annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha conference at the University of Mississippi. A few weeks later, I received a rejection. Fair enough. But what rather took me aback was how detailed it was. In place of the boilerplate language familiar to us all—“We received many more papers than we could accommodate, all of a very high standard . . . yada yada yada”—the letter writer assured me that he had discussed my paper at length with his colleagues and that they had concluded that the camera simply didn’t play any role in the novel. I was touched that the graduate students at Mississippi had discussed at such length the work of someone they didn’t know, but a little rattled to find the entire premise of my chapter dismissed so conclusively.
Well, with the publication of Faulkner and Film, a collection of nine essays drawn from the thirty-seventh Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha conference at the University of Mississippi in the summer of 2010, I could be said to have my revenge. Faulkner and Film represents a highly effective riposte, albeit rather late from my own perspective, to the notion that the camera was irrelevant to Faulkner’s thinking about representation. The range and intelligence of the essays collected here is a delight—from reassessments of Faulkner’s time in Hollywood to examinations of his various screenplays, to a focus on what Aaron Nyerges identifies as the peculiar “dialectic of running and stopping, of stasis and motion” in a novel such as Light in August—a dialectic I would argue extends throughout Faulkner’s work, including, let it now be shouted from the rooftops, Absalom! Such a range of perspectives takes us far from the initial wave of studies of the relation between Faulkner’s work and the camera, which focused on stylistic correspondences between different mediums. As Peter Lurie puts it in his illuminating introduction, “The particular question of influence or mimicry is not one . . . we are really asking” (xxvi). The various questions that the essays collected here do [End Page 827] ask are not only theoretically sophisticated—Gilles Deleuze’s books on cinema are a touchstone for many of the essayists—but they open up a variety of directions for future studies: an exciting prospect for those of us interested in the relation between mediums.
The collection opens with a very entertaining essay by Robert W. Hamblin, “Faulkner and Hollywood: A Call for Reassessment.” As Hamblin nicely observes, “The only Faulkner statements . . . concerning which most Faulknerians never voice even the slightest degree of skepticism or doubt are those portraying a negative characterization of the time he spent in Hollywood” (4). The essay examines Faulkner’s four years in Hollywood, offering an absorbing account of Faulkner’s work on To Have and Have Not. Hamblin’s central argument seems to me unassailable: “any screenwriter who worked on more than forty film projects, authored or coauthored a dozen screenplays, and received six screen credits, two of those . . . for movies that are now considered classics, is deserving of serious consideration” (22). Such consideration can be found in Robert Jackson’s contribution, “Images of Collaboration: William Faulkner’s Motion Picture Communities.” In light of the highly collaborative nature of moviemaking, Jackson asks a simple but highly effective question: “why we have resisted placing [Faulkner] in such a position of receptiveness, or vulnerability, to the influences of other people” (27). This question seems particularly telling in Faulkner’s case, given that many of his major works feature multiple speakers and voices.
I have already mentioned Aaron Nyerges’s contribution, “Immemorial Cinema: Film, Travel, and Faulkner’s Poetics of Space,” which offers a brilliant Deleuzian reading of Joe Christmas: “As a figure of differential becoming, he is a pure motion from and within his own bodily...