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Reviewed by:
  • The New Cambridge Companion to William Faulkner ed. by John T. Matthews
  • Robert Jackson
John T. Matthews, ed. The New Cambridge Companion to William Faulkner. New York: Cambridge UP, 2015. xxii + 230 pp.

Even as her essay “Faulkner and Southern Studies” problematizes Ted Atkinson’s 2010 observation of William Faulkner’s “seemingly inexhaustible capacity for remaining relevant” (qtd. in Matthews 122), Melanie Benson Taylor argues that “Faulkner’s continued centrality actually marks something of a revision” (124). “[H]is solid position within the New Southern Studies,” she writes, “amounts to a reterritorialization, one that claims Faulkner as an ambassador to revamped territories of meaning and as a triumphant skeleton key to the myriad revelations that the South always already knew and that critics are only belatedly discovering.” In doing so, Taylor captures the pluralistic spirit of this fine collection, whose Faulkner—or better, Faulkners—will strike those long familiar with his work as simultaneously uncannily recognizable and highly original.

In the editor’s introduction, John T. Matthews makes a point of recognizing both the connections and divergences from prior scholarship—especially Philip Weinstein’s Cambridge Companion to William [End Page 370] Faulkner (1995). “Readers familiar with the earlier version of the Companion,” Matthews writes, “will find continuities with its interests, as well as important evolutions, fresh takes, and new additions” (5). The evolving presence of Matthews himself in this development—he was a contributor to the older collection and is a mentor to several of the contributors of the new one—provides one apt measure of its implications. In some essays, notably those concerning modernism, postmodernism, and postcolonialism, topics that represented central pillars of the 1995 collection, the tension is palpably generational. The very terms themselves give way, as Matthews notes in hinting at the replacement of “postmodernism” by a less constricting critical openness to “the wider ambit of post-1945 fiction” (5). The result is a more diverse set of contemporary voices and concerns that engages Faulkner’s work in innovative ways.

Weinstein’s Companion contains eight essays; Matthews’s contains thirteen and, in perhaps its most striking organizing element, sometimes includes more than one essay on a given theme. Julian Murphet and Peter Lurie offer related but distinct readings of Faulkner’s investment in the new media of his day, identifying the endlessly creative strategies with which Faulkner responded to the presence of radio and motion pictures in the older form of the novel. Aliyyah I. Abdur-Rahman, Patricia E. Chu, and Susan Scott Parrish respectively interrogate overlapping problems of race, biology, and ecology and the state discourses and policies attempting to define and control them. Martyn Bone and Benjamin Widiss provide complementary but ultimately quite divergent interpretations of Faulkner’s profound influence on fiction writing since World War II—Bone by surveying (and substantially remapping) contemporary southern writing, Widiss by generating familial dissonance among Gabriel García Márquez, Toni Morrison, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Jonathan Safran Foer. And postcolonial concerns are taken up in three essays by Hugues Azérad, Ramón Saldívar and Sylvan Goldberg, and Randy Boyagoda, each scrutinizing the possibilities (and, to Boyagoda’s mind, the limitations) put forth by Faulkner’s life and career within the frame of the Global South. That these and several other essays raise valuable questions and suggest further lines of inquiry attests to the richness of the collection as a whole. So much has happened in Faulkner scholarship since the 1990s that the twenty-year interval since Weinstein’s Companion seems like a lifetime; and Matthews’s collection might be understood as a succinct point of entry into much of the best current thinking in and beyond the field. Lurie’s “History’s Dark Musings: Faulkner and Film’s Racial Representation,” for example, builds productively on his prior work, especially Vision’s Immanence: Faulkner, Film, and the Popular Imagination (2004), [End Page 371] which has come to represent perhaps the central monograph in the burgeoning subfield of Faulkner’s media relations, while Greg Forter’s “Faulkner and Trauma: On Sanctuary’s Originality” helpfully surveys recent debates among theorists of trauma on its way to a reading that extends Forter’s work on Faulkner in Gender...


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pp. 370-373
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