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FAULKNER'SPYLON:THECITY IN THEAGEOF MECHANICAL REPRODUCTION Michael Zeitlin What is paradoxical about the historical experience of modernism is that it designates very precisely that period in which Nature-or the in- or anti-human-is everywhere in the process of being displaced or destroyed, expunged, eliminated, by the achievements of human praxis and human production. The great modernist literature-from Baudelaire and Haubert to Ulyssesand beyond-is a city literature: its object is therefore the anti-natural, the humanised, par excellence, a landscape which is everywhere the result of human labour, in which everything-including the formerly natural, grass, trees, our own bodies-is finallyproduced by human beings. This is then the historical paradox with which the experience of contingency confronts us (along with its ideologies--existentialism and nihilism--and its aesthetics--modernism): how can the city be meaningless? How can human production be felt to be absurd or contingent, when in another sense one would think it was only human labour which created genuine meaning in the first place? FredricJameson1 During the summer of 1933, a little more than a year before he began to compose his one citynovel, Pylon, William Faulkner wrote several drafts of an introduction to a proposed special edition of The Sound and the Fury in which he defined his dilemma as a Southern artist. Unable to live at peace with his contemporary surroundings, let alone write about them with equanimity, Faulkner saw escape or condemnation as the only alternatives available to his imagination. He realized that these alternatives were fundamental and, in the South, universal; not only had they unconsciously structured the novels he had written so far, they defined the veryprogram of contemporary Southern art: We seem to try in the simple furious breathing (or writing) span of the individual to draw a savage indictment of the contemporary scene or to escape from it into a makebelieve region of swords and magnolias and mockingbirdswhichperhaps never existed anywhere.... Anyway, each course is a matter of violent partizanship, in which the writer unconsciously writes into evezyline and phrase his violent despairs and rages and frustrations or his violent prophesies of still more violent hopes.... I seem to have tried both of the courses. I have tried to escape and I have tried to indict.2 230 Michael Zeitlin In the following year, Faulkner resurrected for Absalom, Absalom! the suicide Quentin Compson ("I dont hate it! I dont hate it!") and invented the aptly-named "reporter" of Pylon to represent the fatality inherent in what had become essentially indistinguishable courses.3 With Joe Christmas, Quentin and the reporter are among the most alienated figures in all of American literature, bringing to an inevitable fusion the tendencies of escape and condemnation which run through the line of their Faulknerian precursors-Quentin and Benjy of The Sound and the Fury, Horace Benbow of Flags in the Dust and Sanctuary, Ernest Talliaferro of Mosquitoes, the hero of the unfinished novel Elmer. All these figures reflect to some degree the young William Faulkner who, until he became a novelist in 1925, was a quintessential escapist, an aesthete who imitated fin-de-siecle lyric verse, translated the French Symbolist poets, and produced highly-stylized graphic art in the manner of Aubrey Beardsley. As Karl Zender has noted, these were curiously mythical, abstract and artificial works of imagination "as uncontaminated as possible by the particularities of the world in which he actually lived."4 By the early 1930s, Faulkner's art had become savagely critical of a contemporary reality increasingly more antagonistic and impossible to ignore; as he noted in the summer of 1933, "That cold intellect which can write with calm and complete detachment and gusto of its contemporary scene is not among us."5 In his ninth novel, Pylon, Faulkner went on the attack, venting his rage and disgust (the theme of vomiting is oppressively reiterated throughout) in a creative burst of energy that enabled him to complete the suspended work Absalom, Absalom! and, arguably, the remaining novels of his great central period. 6 Among the most savage indictments of the contemporary scene in modern American literature, Pylon is singular in Faulkner's canon in being set entirely within...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 229-240
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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