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475 Roundtable on “Miss Emily After Dark” All Too Thinkable? Thomas Argiro’s “Miss Emily After Dark” John T. Matthews Boston University THOMAS ARGIRO CONCLUDES HIS SPECULATIONS ABOUT A SEXUAL relationship between Emily Grierson and her servant Tobe by wondering whether Faulkner himself considers sex between whites and blacks as unnatural, or is instead exposing the “perverse” expedients to which members of a racist society may be driven when sexual desire conflicts with community mores: is Faulkner “casting the possibility for an interracial romance in intrinsically abject terms, or, rather suggesting that the culture’s own obsessions have ironically forced something unnatural, this strange misalliance between Emily and Tobe”? Argiro proposes that “A Rose for Emily” presents interracial sexual relations as “unthinkable” (a term he takes from the one earlier critic who has advanced the idea that Emily and Tobe might be lovers) because formal properties of the story—Faulkner’s “metanarrative aporia and tropical sub-textual play”—equate sex between whites and blacks with sex between the living and the dead. In developing the association of negrophilia with necrophilia, Argiro identifies a set of individuals and forms of behavior that, in Russ Castronovo’s formulation, disqualify some groups from citizenship in order for citizenhood to exist at all. The kinds of “unnatural” desire intimated by Homer Barron’s preference for men (if he is not the marrying kind) or for white women (if he is yellow), or by the hint of incest in Emily’s adoration of her authoritarian father, or by a co-habitation of white mistress and black servant that cannot rule out sexual congress—all might as well be necrophilia, made literal in Faulkner’s luridly gothic tragi-farce. I find compelling the evidence Argiro offers for the possibility of interracial relations between Tobe and Emily. The space for this connection has always been there of course, but, like Homer’s encoded color, it has taken a while to notice it as a meaningful absence. When I was teaching “A Rose for Emily” last year in the Czech Republic, I was stunned when the very first comment by a student brought up the curious domestic arrangements between mistress and servant; the student assumed there must have been something between them of the more-than-meets-the-eye sort. A reader outside the US, let alone the US South, might more readily assume that a man and a woman living 476 Mississippi Quarterly together for decades would have a sexual relationship, especially in light of Tobe’s marked vitality and devotion. Racial difference may function as an unconscious block for readers conditioned to think of interracial romance as forbidden, problematic, transgressive. In what follows, I try to think through the consequences of Argiro’s claim that interracial romance is unthinkable in Faulkner’s South. I press the conclusions of his reading to propose that something else remains hidden even after we have circled the sexual blanks in Faulkner’s text, as Argiro does so perceptively and tactfully. I suggest that there is a distinction to be made between what is unthinkable and what is simply unthought. Since I tease out a difference that Argiro’s own analysis allows for, I do not mean to suggest that he is wrong in using “unthinkable” in the way he does. Argiro’s ingenious decipherment of encrypted forms of behavior brings into view what has been hidden; does it leave anything else unspoken for? Presumably, the effect of the story’s encoding of un(der)represented forms of desire invites the reader to appraise the damage done to individual lives by the South’s racist regime, and to appreciate the emergenceintovisibilityofgroupsoncedeemedsociallydead. (Malcolm Bull would call this a coming into hiding: the development of social mindfulness that, say, racial injustice is a problem in the modernizing South which, even if it is not yet conspicuous to dominant classes, has moved from the status of entirely disregarded to awaiting attention just out of sight.) Argiro makes an invaluable contribution to our appreciation of what absence measures in Faulkner’s texts: in his account, the story’s narrative opens up spaces that could indicate interracial romance, for example, but which cannot be identified as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 475-480
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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