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NICOLE KENLEY University of California - Davis The Southern Hard(ly)boiled: Knight’s Gambit, The Big Sleep, and Faulkner’s Construction of the Popular Masculine Subject Introduction FAULKNER SCHOLARS WHO WORK WITH HIS FORAYS INTO POPULAR culture frequently feel a desire to explain the Nobel Laureate’s long-lasting involvement with screenwriting and genre fiction. As tempting as it is to view Faulkner as a creator solely of high literary materials, in truth, “taken as a whole, his work has never fit comfortably on one side or the other of the cultural divide” (Breu 117). While some critics turn a blind eye to this issue, all but ignoring Faulkner’s time in Hollywood, and others treat both his screenplays and his genre fiction as mere potboilers, the duration and volume of Faulkner’s efforts as a producer of popular culture simply cannot be brushed aside.1 It is more interesting to ask not why Faulkner bothered to write popular fiction at all but rather what the medium of popular culture afforded him that high literary culture did not and, further, what relationship the two bodies of work have to one another in the context of the Faulkner corpus. Ironically, Faulkner wrote the material that critics try to explain away as not literary enough for precisely that reason—the popular medium provided him a platform for making an argument about high literature that he could not make from within it. Faulkner’s engagement with detective fiction makes an appropriate test case. While arguments have been made for reading many of his 1 Sarah Gleeson-White’s 2009 article “William Faulkner, Screenwriter” demonstrates this point strikingly as, unbelievably, she locates in existing archives not one but two Faulkner screen treatments which were thought to be lost. She makes a particularly compelling case for the film’s protagonist, Sutter, as a prototype for Col. Sutpen; clearly, a reading of Faulkner’s screenplays can inform the reading of one of his novels. 340 Nicole Kenley major novels as implicit detective stories,2 Faulkner produced two major pieces of work that deal directly with the detective figure: his short story collection Knight’s Gambit and the screenplay adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep. I argue that Faulkner uses these two texts to solidify a definition of hardboiled masculinity while appropriating Lacanian subject positions in order to map this reinforced masculinity onto the figure of the intellectual. In so doing, Faulkner represents erudition as a key masculine trait in his high fiction, thus genre switching serves as the alibi for the kind of critique literary fiction cannot perform on itself. A Failed Gambit?: The Extremely Critical Reception of Faulkner’s Detective Stories In a sense, it is easier to view Faulkner’s Hollywood career as secondary because he himself so vehemently expressed his own dislike for the people there with whom he worked and the place itself. Clearly, also, he did need the money. Harder to explain is the seemingly visceral reaction most critics have had to Knight’s Gambit when they bother to look at it at all. In fact, the scant critical attention Knight’s Gambit has received has been almost overwhelmingly negative.3 While critics are quick to point out the collection’s shortcomings, they move equally rapidly to exonerate Faulkner for those faults, frequently arguing instead that he was a victim of the genre’s boundaries. W. E. Schlepper, 2 Cleanth Brooks, in The Yoknapatawpha Country, was among the first to start thinking of Faulkner’s novels in this way. More recently, C. Hugh Holman argues that Absalom, Absalom! is a detective novel and May Brown and Esta Seaton think Quentin is its detective; Mick Gidley and Andrew J. Wilson both read Sanctuary as a type of detective novel and Scott Yarbrough sees Temple Drake as its femme fatale; and for Richard Moreland, Intruder in the Dust situates Chick Mallison as the Watson to his Uncle Gavin’s Holmes. 3 Fewer than fifty critical works on Knight’s Gambit exist, a pittance for a Faulkner text. Though a few recent articles by scholars such as John Irwin and Walter Wenska have worked to resituate Faulkner’s treatment of...


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