“Some Quality of Delicate Paradox”
Sanctuary’s Generative Conflict of High and Low
In the opening chapter of Sanctuary, Horace and Popeye have an unusual exchange. Regarding each other across the divide of the spring, the two men strive to understand the reason for the other’s presence. Feeling threatened by the bulge in Horace’s pocket and assuming it’s a gun, Popeye demands to know what Horace is carrying:
“What’s that in your pocket?”
The other man’s coat was still across his arm. He lifted his other hand toward the coat, out of one pocket of which protruded a crushed felt hat, from the other a book. “Which pocket?” he said.
“Don’t show me,” Popeye said. “Tell me.”
The other man stopped his hand. “It’s a book.”
“What book?” Popeye said.
“Just a book. The kind people read. Some people do.”
“Do you read books?” Popeye said. (181-82)
Given Popeye’s own motives for being at the clearing and his business running liquor, his concern over whether Horace is carrying a gun is reasonable; his query about Horace’s reading habits, on the other hand, seems less so. The question, though, appears crucial. For even after Popeye’s concern over the gun is satisfied, the men continue their confrontation, facing one another in a protracted silence that lasts, inexplicably, for two hours.
What is at stake in Popeye’s floating question? And what lies behind the ominous silence that it prompts? The answer, to Popeye at least, is obvious: Horace does read books, as Popeye indicates when he later refers to Horace as “the Professor.” Something more, however, lingers in the space between the two men during their vigil, and I suggest it has to do with the nature of Horace’s reading. Several possibilities exist for “what book” Horace carries. In his appearances in Flags in the Dust, he quotes Keats; at the end of his encounter with Popeye here, he refers to Madame Bovary (remarking of Popeye that “he smelled black, like the stuff that ran out of Bovary’s mouth” ). Horace also invokes, for one of the only times in Faulkner’s fiction, the term modernism. In a statement of the narrator’s aligned with Horace’s perspective, Popeye is described as seeming “all angles, like a modernist lampstand” (183). In his reference to works of canonical literature and to modernist aesthetics, Horace exemplifies academic high-mindedness and taste. Even his name recalls a classical tradition, and it is likely that the book he is carrying is an example of the high-art values he represents. Popeye, on the other hand, arrives in the novel and at the spring via a quite different literary heritage. His background lies not in an academic or classical tradition, but in high art’s supposed opposite: commercial culture, in particular the crime and detective stories that were immensely popular in the 1920s and 30s. Popeye’s position opposite Horace thus figures the cultural circumstances that surrounded Faulkner and his writing of the novel—his position as an author of a European-influenced literary modernism, as well as a writer aware of the market for “hack” fiction.
As Faulkner’s language in Sanctuary and in this scene in particular makes clear, he was interested in the popular models that furnished a character like Popeye. Popeye’s role in the narrative and his interest in Horace’s reading, then, become clear if we consider the context for the novel’s conception. Published in 1931 but first written in 1929, Sanctuary refers not only to canonical authors such as Flaubert (or Shakespeare, Conrad, and Eliot)1 but also to contemporary works of popular commercial fiction. Above all, Popeye resembles the gangster figure as he appeared throughout the late twenties in publications like Black Mask and in novels such as Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest (1929), R. W. Burnett’s Little Caesar (1929), and Charles Francis Coe’s Me, Gangster (1927). Several aspects of Popeye’s behavior and appearance suggest characters from these works, each of which appeared at the same time as Sanctuary or in the period before it. A bootlegger, murderer, and sexual deviant, as well as a caricature and a grotesque, Popeye shares defining elements of several potboiler criminals depicted in these and other books. His menacing sullenness and unpredictability thus suggest the danger he poses as a character in the narrative, but also, and more specifically, as a representative of a literary type. Details of his appearance, such as his tight black suit and slanted cigarette, his eyes that resemble “two knobs of soft black rubber” (181), and his “little, doll-like hands” (182) imply that Popeye, like the gangster figures from pulp fiction and film, is a manufactured, commercial product.2 Appearing at the novel’s outset, Popeye highlights the presence of consumer culture in the period in which Faulkner wrote; standing across the spring from Horace, he also figures the conflict Faulkner and other writers faced between writing for the masses and producing art fiction.
Faulkner’s Two Sanctuaries
Important to understanding the meaning of Popeye and Horace’s encounter is Sanctuary’s compositional history. Though he published it in 1931, Faulkner wrote the original version of Sanctuary between January and May of 1929, shortly after completing The Sound and the Fury and just before writing As I Lay Dying.3 In the process of revising, Faulkner radically altered what became the published version of the book. The earlier 1929 edition included several elements that distinguish it from the 1931 version, among them a greater use of strategies such as flashback, interiority, and a shifting point of view. The revised text, for its part, contains additional scenes as well as alterations in its opening and narrative structure that contribute to its overall clarity. Moreover, this version also shows a significantly reduced emphasis on Horace. The 1931 edition has for many years stood as the standard text, due in part to Faulkner’s own statements about the different versions of the book, the most infamous of which is that it was “a cheap idea … deliberately conceived to make money.”4 More recently, scholars have come to read the two versions of the book together and, as Noel Polk puts it, “as a single intertext” (“The Space Between Sanctuary, 34).5 In his 1932 Preface to the Modern Library Sanctuary, reprinted in the Library of America edition of the novel, Faulkner distinguishes the revised edition of the novel on the basis of aesthetic merit; of the second version, he said he hoped it “would not shame The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying too much” (1030). Yet while he here implies that the published edition of Sanctuary more closely resembles his pre-1931 high-modernist works (and as such stands as the “better” version), the novel Faulkner produced through his revisions in fact departs in significant ways from both of those examples as well as from the original text, particularly the original’s own more recognizable modernism. Less “Faulknerian” than the earlier version, the 1931 text highlights the role of Popeye and, by extension, the novel’s cultural backdrop: the commercial and crime fiction that Popeye’s presence invokes. The later version is notable for the streamlining of its story and its often more straightforward depiction of the novel’s world. The original Sanctuary, for its part, is appreciably more inward-looking. Above all, it offers more of Horace’s perspective on events and his Quentin-like preoccupations with his sister and with his stepdaughter’s sexual purity. Put another way, the revised edition pushes attention outward from Horace’s subjectivity to external realities such as the action of the narrative and, importantly, the broader context of the book’s writing.
One of the clearest ways it does this is through its change in the opening, which shifts emphasis toward Popeye in two ways, each of them significant. The first is structural. The 1929 version starts, not with the scene at the spring, but with Horace crossing the town square in Jefferson and noticing the figure of a man jailed for murdering his wife (and even longing for something of his calm and security in the prison).6 In this version, the scene of Popeye and Horace at the spring occurs further into the novel, in the middle of the second chapter. Appearing there, it follows Horace’s departure from his home with Belle and thus occurs in a causal sequence. In the original text we know, in other words, why Horace is at the spring, as well as his state of mind upon arriving there. Structurally and thematically, the confrontation with Popeye is less prominent in the novel’s first version, since it occurs in a way that subordinates it to the book’s overall emphasis on Horace and his reactions to his marriage and events in Jefferson.
In the revision, Popeye figures from the opening as an important character—equal in significance to Horace and an effective counter to him. This is true in part because in the revision we do not immediately know that Horace is the book’s protagonist. In addition, and more subtly, the revised edition shifts perspective to Popeye, thus granting him a measure of agency and, as we will see, a not unimportant capacity to wield a scrutinizing, interrogative mode of “looking.” The first time we encounter Popeye in the original is when Horace sees Popeye’s straw hat reflected in the water of the spring (Sanctuary: The Original Text, 21). Following this, Faulkner maintains Horace’s perspective as he sees Popeye “standing beyond the spring, his hands in his coat pockets, a cigarette slanted from his pallid chin” (SO, 21). As this paragraph and the rest of the scene continue, the prose maintains Horace’s perspective on Popeye and events. The 1931 edition, by contrast, opens with the scene at the spring and immediately situates perspective with Popeye: “From beyond the screen of bushes which surrounded the spring, Popeye watched the man drinking. A faint path led from the road to the spring. Popeye watched the man [ … ] emerge from the path and kneel to drink from the spring” (181). Horace is not named here, but Popeye is; thus our entry into this version of the novel is through Popeye and his act of secretly watching Horace, a fact that Faulkner’s narrator stresses.
I have pursued this comparison for several reasons, the main one having to do with Faulkner’s shift in emphasis in the revised edition. As he does throughout the novel, Popeye figures more centrally in the revision’s opening, a fact that not only highlights Popeye’s role in the narrative but also suggests his symbolic or allegorical meaning. Noel Polk notes this difference in the two editions, attributing to it a key dimension for my understanding of the book. Stressing Faulkner’s shift in the revision’s second paragraph to Horace’s perspective on Popeye, Polk writes,
[Horace and Popeye’s] mutual vision of each other helps explain, in ways the original scene does not, the mysterious and significant two hours during which they sit, motionless, staring at each other across the spring. … In this way Faulkner places the thematic relationship between Popeye and Horace more directly at the center of the novel’s meaning than that between Horace and Temple. That is, in the revised text Faulkner directs us at the outset to weigh Popeye and Horace in the same scales. (“Afterword,” 303-4)
It is precisely this equal measure of Popeye and Horace’s meeting that is crucial to the later novel’s meaning. Specifically, the idea of a “mutual vision”—an orienting moment in the narrative that stresses both men’s action of visual appraising—figures in the scene’s and the novel’s importance (as does, by implication, an appraisal of the visual). In addition to appearing as a confrontation, one that produces a palpable tension between Horace and Popeye, their meeting also depends on a figurative and literal reflection. It is this structure of reflection and “mutual vision,” to borrow Polk’s phrase, that I argue characterizes not only Popeye and Horace’s exchange but the action and rhetoric of the novel generally. In Faulkner’s revision, because Popeye acquires a degree of agency he and Horace both engage in a process of thoughtful and critical reckoning. The nature of that reckoning relates to the fact that the two men find themselves inhabiting the same “space”—textually, spatially, and, most significantly, culturally. Isolated at the clearing throughout their encounter in a “suspirant and peaceful following silence” (181), Horace and Popeye occupy a faintly unreal, seemingly timeless space, one in which Horace comes face to face with what appears to be his cultural opposite. Faulkner’s description, however, indicates the way in which Popeye stands more as Horace’s double: reflected together in the same pool, the two men are connected.
This combining of popular and high-cultural elements continues throughout Sanctuary, and it goes a long way toward producing the novel’s indeterminate status. Neither a high-art experiment like Faulkner’s other fiction of the period, nor simply his hack version of a commercial genre like the gangster story (as he ironically claimed it was), Sanctuary is a self-conscious and uniquely striking combination of both, a novel that uses opposed approaches to its materials and thus becomes a distinct kind of modern—as well as modernist—work.7 Throughout Sanctuary, as its opening suggests and the ensuing discussion illustrates, Faulkner uses recognizable elements of popular fiction and film at the same time that he demonstrates the hallmarks of his modernist literary strategy. The result is a work that invites recognition of the ways these seemingly opposed forms of cultural production were related and followed from the same historical circumstances. Viewed in this light, the novel and its unlikely combination of elements—like the faintly surreal encounter between Horace and Popeye at the spring—appear less willfully obscure.8 Rather than offering an example of modernism that mystifies itself or seals itself off from everyday life such as commercial culture, as several theorists have described, Sanctuary shows a version of modernism that actively engaged with the popular art and consumer culture of its period. As he was to do increasingly in his novels from the thirties, with Sanctuary Faulkner offers a discursive use of commercial and modernist practices in the same text, one that suggests, not the dualistic nature of popular and modernist art, but their mutual identity and constitution.
One backdrop for this consideration is a discussion of modernism that sees its relationship to mass art in strictly oppositional terms. Andreas Huyssen, in The Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism, describes theoretical efforts to set modernism against its supposed cultural counterpart or “other.” According to Huyssen, because of the antagonistic relationship between modernist and mass art, modernism uncompromisingly denied itself any contact with the practices or materials of popular culture and hence with the commercial reality it targets. As he puts it, “Only by fortifying its boundaries, by maintaining its purity and autonomy, and by avoiding any contamination with mass culture and with the signifying systems of everyday life can the [modernist] art work maintain its adversary stance: adversary to the bourgeois culture of everyday life as well as adversary to mass culture and entertainment” (54). Elsewhere Huyssen describes the modernist “nightmare of being devoured by mass culture through co-option, commodification, and the ‘wrong’ kind of success,” as well as the need of “the modernist artist … to stake out his territory by fortifying the boundaries between genuine art and inauthentic mass culture” (53).9 At least part of what motivated Faulkner in writing Sanctuary was precisely the “wrong” kind of success: commercial gain. Nor did his novel demonstrate anything like a clear boundary between what Faulkner himself considered an art novel and a work that also pandered to the demands of mass culture. For Huyssen and others, modernism took its “adversary” stance against popular culture by assuming itself to be completely autonomous and self-sufficient. Constrained to work with the popular strategies of his day, with Sanctuary Faulkner worked this adversarial formula in reverse, as he co-opted the practices of mass culture for the purposes of exposing and questioning them.
Faulkner did possess the skepticism about mass culture that Huyssen attributes to him and other modernists. But in Huyssen’s characterization of those writers, including Faulkner, he overlooks much of what distinguishes Faulkner’s modernism from that of other American authors of his era. As Huyssen put it, “[M]ajor American writers since Henry James, such as T.S. Eliot, Faulkner and Hemingway, Pound and Stevens, felt drawn to the constructive sensibility of modernism, which insisted on the dignity and autonomy of literature, rather than to the iconoclastic and anti-aesthetic ethos of the European avant-garde which attempted to break the political bondage of high culture through a fusion with popular culture and to integrate art into life” (167). Though Faulkner may have “insisted on the dignity” of literature in other places, Sanctuary does not appear to be one of them. His use of “low,” popular, even pornographic strategies in this novel served his “constructive” sensibility precisely by engaging him with commercial culture and through it, with everyday life. In opposition to Huyssen’s claim that “[t]he autonomy of the modernist art work … is always the result of a resistance … to the seductive lure of mass culture, abstention from the pleasure of trying to please a larger audience” (55), Sanctuary takes as a constitutional element the very figures, plot lines, and narrative strategies that had already pleased audiences for popular fiction and film.
When he wrote Sanctuary, and especially when he revised it, Faulkner was clearly driven by the need for money. As his comments about the novel indicate, in his approaches to Sanctuary Faulkner unapologetically took up what he saw as standard approaches of commercially successful fiction. His motives for doing so certainly had to do at least in part with what he claimed in the Preface for the 1932 edition of the book—to sell copies.10 His real interest with the novel, though, also had to do with giving readers “more than they had been getting” in popular fiction of the period. As he wrote in a letter about the novel’s conception, “I made a thorough and methodical study of everything on the list of best-sellers. When I thought I knew what the public wanted, I decided to give them little more than they had been getting: stronger and rawer—more brutal” (Faulkner quoted in Blotner 1984, 233-34). With Sanctuary, Faulkner did give the public what it wanted, as the book’s commercial success indicated.11 Yet in this remark we find a key indication of Faulkner’s larger ambitions with the book, his interest not only in imitating consumer culture but in examining or testing it. Part of that approach is produced by Faulkner’s other discursive mode—his use in Sanctuary of a modernist practice that contrasted with the commercial approach he took to the book. The novel’s modernism is evident in both the 1929 and the 1931 versions, and it includes several strategies: a self-consciously stylized prose and use of figurative language, a subjectivizing of time and temporality, a fragmented narrative structure, the use of stream of consciousness technique, an emphasis on interior states of mind (other characters’ as well as Horace’s), and a number of high-art allusions that show Faulkner designing his work to be understood as “literary.” I offer a fuller account of these strategies later in this chapter. In light of them, Sanctuary may be seen to demonstrate a relationship between modernism and mass culture that is not generally acknowledged in models like Huyssen’s “great divide” or Jameson’s “frontier.” As we will see, the combination of Sanctuary’s modernist elements with its more commercial approaches provides the novel with a quality that is both powerfully unsettling, and, following theories of textual pleasure, distinctly modern.
Faulkner’s motives for his use of popular forms in Sanctuary were likely not solely critical. As he acknowledged, his approach to the book included efforts to sell it. Yet in his use of commercial forms, Faulkner offers variations on the materials he took up that unmistakably question those models’ formulae or patterns.
What amounts to a parody of mass culture in Sanctuary can be seen if we consider Faulkner’s treatment of Popeye. One quality that defines Popeye, for instance, may be described as his abstractness, an aspect of his characterization that connects him to specific gangster novels of the period. Evident throughout Sanctuary is Popeye’s detachment from his surroundings and even from his partners in crime, produced not only by his constant disdain for other characters and his denigrating comments to anyone he comes near but also by the deliberate artificiality with which Faulkner depicts him. Machine-like, synthetic, and brittle, Popeye is less a full characterization than a function. In this respect, Popeye resembles the hero of Dashiell Hammett’s early novels, the Continental Op. As an outsider investigating the city of Personville in Red Harvest (a novel that appeared in serial form in the crime magazine Black Mask before it was published as a novel in 1929), the Op demonstrates consistently muted responses to events. Throughout the novel and in the face of sudden paroxysms of violence, the Op almost never manifests an emotional reaction.12 Like the Op, Popeye lacks a complete subjectivity or human sensibility. Curiously detached, Popeye’s flatness or lack of an even illusory subjective fullness is highlighted during his and Horace’s encounter. In a statement that follows from Horace’s perspective, the narrator remarks that Popeye “had that vicious depthless quality of stamped tin” (181)—an observation that implies Popeye’s two-dimensional characterization, like that of many pulp characters, as well as the pulps’ mass-produced quality. This quality is evident too in descriptions of the scene that suggest its artificial or technological feel and thus its link to other forms of modern, technical media, despite Popeye and Horace’s encounter in a natural setting. Appearing to Horace “as though seen by electric light” (181), Popeye and the language used to describe him approximate the mechanical apparatus used by film. With this reference and another to the way Popeye’s hat “jerked in a dull, vicious gleam in the twilight” (183), Faulkner gives Popeye a machine-like or metallic glow, faintly suggestive of the movies or of mass-produced consumer items.13
In his mechanical or inhuman nature, however, Popeye resembles above all the hero of R. W. Burnett’s seminal gangster novel Little Caesar. Like Red Harvest, Little Caesar enjoyed a wide financial success and was a novel that Faulkner may well have known. Cesare Rico Bandello is a character who is notable to other characters in the book for qualities that, while different from Popeye’s, nevertheless connect him to Faulkner’s gangster. Burnett’s narrator maintains that it is because of Rico’s determining characteristic—his intense self-discipline and single-minded focus on his work—that he fails to appeal to the imaginations of the people around him.
[Rico] had none of the outward signs of greatness. Neither the great strength and hairiness of Pepi, nor the dash and effrontery of Ottavio Vettori, nor the maniacal temper of Joe Sansone. He was small, pale, and quiet. … In other words, the general run of Little Italians could find nothing in him to exaggerate; they could not make a legendary figure of him because the qualities he possessed they could not comprehend … Rico’s great strength lay in his single-mindedness, his energy and his self-discipline. The Little Italians could not appreciate qualities so abstract. (Little Caesar, 161-62)
Seen thus, Rico is a different kind of hero, one who is uninspiring to others because of his abstract or unreal status.14 Popeye shares Rico’s single-mindedness and tense self-discipline, qualities, as we will see, that Faulkner emphasizes or even distorts. Like Rico’s, Popeye’s fearsomeness comes, not from a physically imposing presence (both men are described as pale and diminutive), but from their constant watchfulness and their violent and volatile temper.
Popeye also shares Rico’s intense focus and cold utilitarian functioning. Impervious to others’ pleas, like Temple’s for a ride to town, and always at the ready with his “artermatic” pistol, Popeye moves slowly and with deliberate calculation. Like Rico, Popeye’s physically unprepossessing presence forces him to rely entirely on extraphysical, prosthetic threats—such as a corncob or a gun. In their mechanistic behavior, both characters may be said to embody modernity—specifically, the modern mass culture that produces them and of which they are examples. The two men even share a temperament, one of constant, nervous watchfulness and self-scrutiny. Rico, like Popeye, doesn’t drink, contributing to the fact that he was “always keenly alive” and to the fact that he “lived at a tension. His nervous system was geared up to such a pitch that he was never sleepy, never felt the desire to relax” (Little Caesar, 132). Popeye’s own high-strung sensibility is on display throughout Sanctuary. Routinely placed outside of action or dialogue, “leaning against a post” or looking through the smoke of a slanting cigarette, Popeye displays a constant tautness. Faulkner not only borrows this quality from Burnett’s Rico but parodies it in the extreme quality of Popeye’s jumpiness or agitation. This is evident in the anecdote Tommy tells of Popeye shooting his dog when he surprises Popeye (192), or when he cringes against Horace in fear of a passing bird (183).
Rico and Popeye share other qualities as well, among them an acute narcissism. Burnett pays careful attention to the details of the way Rico presents himself through his jewelry and clothing (Little Caesar, 110); Rico also compulsively, methodically combs his hair (31, 36, 49). As the narrator indicates, “Rico was vain of his hair” (31). Popeye’s absurd last line on the scaffold, “Fix my hair, Jack” (Sanctuary, 398), offered after he uses his last request to send for hair lotion, seems another parody of Burnett’s characterization of Rico. Finally, Rico is preoccupied with the images of “society girls,” figures who, like Temple Drake for Popeye, appear “insolent [and] inaccessible,” exert a powerful fascination, and are seen from a distance as they emerge from limousines (Little Caesar, 79). Of particular interest for Rico is the story he reads in a magazine of one such girl who falls in love with a bootlegger. He is, we are told, “fascinated by a stratum of existence which seemed so remote and unreal to him” (78). In Sanctuary’s account of Temple’s “fall” from debutante to Popeye’s forced sexual partner and the nymphomaniac girlfriend of the gambler Red, Sanctuary offers the same pop cultural fantasy of sexual and class transgression as the one Rico reads about in his magazine.
Faulkner reproduces several other elements of the gangster genre as exemplified by Little Caesar and other novels. For example, Sanctuary includes a staple scene from pulp fiction: the gangster funeral or banquet. In his rendering of Red’s funeral, Faulkner combines them in a way that resembles the funeral scene’s combination of gravity and humor.15 Even the faintly comic fight that breaks out and that overturns Red’s coffin resembles the fight between Killer Pepi and Kid Bean in Burnett’s banquet. Another staple of the gangster novel is the distorted or grotesque quality of the gangster evident in physical description. Hammett’s gangsters routinely display a marked deformity or physical idiosyncrasy: Max (The Whisper) Thaler’s voice, never audible above a horse whisper, or a side-kick who has no chin (49). At the start of Red Harvest, Hammett describes Elihu Willson in a way that suggests a kind of geometric inhumanness: “The old man’s head was small and almost perfectly round under its close-cut crop of white hair. His ears were too small and plastered too flat to the sides of his head to spoil the spherical effect. … Mouth and chin were straight lines chopping the sphere off” (13). Later we find another of the novel’s descriptive passages that distorts its human subject: “He was a portly, white-mustached man with the round undeveloped forehead of a child” (61). Faulkner seems to mimic these descriptions when he writes of Popeye, “His nose was faintly aquiline, and he had no chin at all. His face just went away” (Sanctuary, 182), or when he refers to “his face like the face of wax doll” (182). James Naremore points to this quirk in Hammett, indicating that “Hammett liked to describe his crooks in terms of some principle of deformity … creat[ing] the feeling of a cartoon” (“Dashiell Hammett and the Poetics of Hard-Boiled Fiction,” 71, n. 10). In his parodic treatment of the gangster, Faulkner literalizes this cartoonish impulse, repeating Hammett’s habit of distorted representation in Popeye and naming his gangster after a newspaper comic.16
Other characters demonstrate Faulkner’s similar use of gangster fiction strategies. Ruby Lamar, for instance, in her constant self-sacrificing devotion to Lee Goodwin, is a model of the fallen-yet-virtuous woman. In his 1929 gangster novel Louis Beretti, Donald Henderson Clarke invokes this ideal in his description of Ma Beretti, suggesting as he does so that it was already a worn image. “Ma Beretti was a magnificent and unconscious monument to … wifehood and motherhood about which writers and public speakers have sentimentalized” (18).17 This account of Ma Beretti points up a quality of the gangster and crime novel which, perhaps above all, Sanctuary reproduced. For here Clarke, like several pulp writers, displays a self-consciousness about his genre that is also clear in Faulkner’s approach to Sanctuary. The element of parody in Faulkner’s treatment of the pulps, that is, was evident in many of the crime and gangster stories themselves. Little Caesar, for instance, seemed acutely aware of its similarity to the movies and was well aware of the entertainment value of its materials. In a key moment of the story, when Joe Massero reacts in horror to a story in the paper about the murder of one of his gang members, his girlfriend placidly and indifferently looks through the paper for a movie (92)—a comedy, notably, which moments later Joe agrees to see in order to feel better. Both kinds of “stories” (gangster and comedy) thus appear in the novel as journalistic and mass media representations. Another scene further demonstrates Little Caesar’s self-consciousness about itself as consumer culture. At the gang’s banquet celebrating Rico’s establishment as its leader, a group of newspaper photographers arrive; their assignment is to take pictures for a Sunday magazine article depicting how “‘different classes of people live in Chicago. See? Last week we featured Lake Forest’” (129). At such moments Burnett seems well aware of the appeal of the gangster story, selfconsciously linking his novel to other modern cultural forms like the Sunday lifestyle supplement.
This self-awareness is evident in Louis Beretti as well. When Louis finds himself the object of Louise Pedersen’s fascination, he understands that she arrives at her understanding of Louis from what she has read in books—specifically, gangster stories like Louis Beretti. “Louis knew there was nothing romantic about himself, although he didn’t use the word romantic” (62). Like these moments in Clarke and Burnett, Hammett’s Red Harvest displays an awareness of itself as a generic work. Hammett’s hard, slangy diction and spare prose are hallmarks of his writing, immediately recognizable and often parodied—even by Hammett himself. The Op of Red Harvest makes regular references to speech, foregrounding Hammett’s concern with language. After listening to Charles Proctor Dawn’s long-winded manner, he says, “He knew a lot of sentences like those” (164). Elsewhere, after Elihu Willson addresses a group of gangsters in a speech, the Op opines, “It wasn’t a bad oration” (136). An awareness of language and its effects is evident in moments such as these that betray Hammett’s interest in and awareness of his own style. As Naremore puts it, “[Hammett’s] language … pushed toward a kind of self-parody” (“Dashiell Hammett,” 58). Sanctuary obviously makes its own use of a tough gangster vernacular, one that is also self-conscious or parodic. Popeye, again, exemplifies this quality, routinely cursing other characters or using locutions like “shut it” (274), “Jack” (398, 183), and “whore” (212). One of the qualities of the potboiler Faulkner takes on, then, in addition to its gangster idiom and its various set pieces, is the hard, cynical attitude toward itself as a commercial product and its own gestures of self-parody.
In Faulkner’s case, the issue was finding a way to take that parody even further, a positioning that took the form of resistance to the generic mode at the same time that he used it. In addition to Sanctuary’s extreme quality—its “rawer” and “more brutal” version of the potboiler- -this resistance appears in specific approaches and scenes. One of those is Faulkner’s ironic use of the “biography” or confessional format found both in Clarke’s Louis Beretti and in another popular gangster novel of the period, Charles Francis Coe’s Me, Gangster (1927). Both exemplify a kind of gangster Bildungsroman, in which the protagonist’s story traces his involvement in crime from early childhood, a deterministic approach that emphasizes the impact of the character’s environment and draws readers into seeing events from the gangster’s perspective. As Louis Beretti says, “‘I’d probably been a boy scout if I’d been born in a boy scout neighborhood’” (61). Instead, he grew up in a neighborhood populated by small-time criminals and had experiences—such as his first sexual encounter at fourteen with a neighbor’s wife—that led him away from moral rectitude. Coe’s novel uses a first-person narration to bring readers imaginatively “closer” to its gangster hero, involving us with his thoughts and emotional experience. The novel opens with an admission of wrongdoing and then maintains its first-person confession for the remainder of its protagonist’s ruin and (inevitable) redemption, when he marries and forswears a life of crime.
Faulkner’s short “biography” of Popeye at the end of Sanctuary seems a nod to earlier deterministic models for gangster narratives like Clarke’s and Coe’s. In Faulkner’s case, however, his use of this approach is two-sided. Like other borrowed elements of the gangster novel, Faulkner’s use of Popeye’s “biography” ironizes it as a formal element in the novel. For Popeye’s life story that appears at the novel’s end is obviously insufficient as a means to “explain” him. Rather than offering readers any real sense of understanding Popeye, the material about Popeye’s past, which appears after the main events of the novel and then only as a brief sketch, brings Sanctuary around to a more recognizable generic form; gangsters, Faulkner seems to acknowledge, have troubled pasts.
Faulkner’s strategy with Popeye, however, also reveals the ways in which his own version of the gangster novel resists generic ways of operating. As we have seen, Popeye’s first appearance in the book describes him as possessed of “that vicious depthless quality of stamped tin” (181). In such moments, Faulkner deliberately renders Popeye as two dimensional. One effect of this is to undermine the processes of identification or empathy encouraged by, for instance, Coe’s confessional model in Me, Gangster or Clarke’s life story in Louise Beretti18 Faulkner gives us Popeye’s life history belatedly, at the very end of the novel; it comprises a scant few pages and appears willfully stock.19 Like his “depthless” image, Popeye’s characterization and biography remain insistently shallow—an index of Popeye and of the novel as examples of consumer culture.
Temple and Novelistic Voyeurism
Like Popeye, Temple Drake is one of the novel’s self-referential “products” of commodified pleasure. Temple appears in the narrative and through Faulkner’s language as an object of both the reader’s and the male characters’ gaze; as such, she performs a function akin to that of women in the popular visual media of film and advertising. That Temple is customarily the object of the gaze is apparent in the first mention of her in the text, which refers to others’ acts of seeing her: “Townspeople taking after-supper drives through the college grounds or an oblivious and bemused faculty-member or a candidate for a master’s degree on his way to the library would see Temple, a snatched coat under her arms and her long legs blonde with running” (198). Focusing on a specific body part—as do cinematic and mass media representations of women—this passage is typical of Faulkner’s descriptions of Temple (199, 206, 376). It also exemplifies the novel’s demarcation of Temple as a figure who functions as an object of male visual contemplation.20 We are told on the next page of the ways in which the town boys, lingering outside the college dances, “watched her enter the gymnasium upon black collegiate arms”; later in the night “they would watch her through the windows” (198). The voyeuristic experience Temple provides other men in the novel is well known, and it is hardly limited to these relatively innocuous glances. They include the following more specifically scopophilic and nefarious examples: Tommy watching her undressing at Goodwin’s, which we see through his perspective; Goodwin and Van’s competitive leering at her on the porch and their threatening visit to her room; later, Popeye’s sublimated pleasure in watching Temple’s sexual encounter with Red; and most suggestively, Clarence Snopes’s act of spying on Temple through the key-hole to her room.21
Significantly, Temple herself is complicit in the presentation, or representation of herself as an object of male voyeuristic pleasure. In the sequence of Tommy’s spying on her through the window to her room, Temple evinces a particularly modern and popular-cultural sensibility. Sitting on her bed undressing, Temple would seem to be unaware of the fact that she is being looked at; Tommy, at least, is under the impression that she can’t see him spying. This privacy or solitariness, however, is only apparent. For the passage makes clear Temple’s awareness, even when she is alone, of a scrutinizing male gaze. When she raises her skirt to take her watch from the top of her stocking, “she lifted her head and looked directly at him, her eyes calm and empty as two holes” (226)—despite the fact that Tommy is hidden. Tommy here regards Temple through a crack in a sheet of tin nailed across a missing pane of glass. He is not detectable, and yet Temple “looks directly at him.” Her awareness of an invisible male presence looking at her as she undresses, evident again after she removes her dress and “looked straight into Tommy’s eyes” (227), suggests the way Temple’s identity has been conditioned by her experiences and by modern technical modes of representing women such as photography and film. The description of her “eyes calm and empty as two holes,” in particular, suggests a hollowness to Temple’s identity outside of her function as an object of the male gaze. The particular detachment she reveals in the face of this disembodied gaze contributes as well to the sense of Temple’s possessing a kind of cinematic object-status that is clearly related to the generalized agency of the look. Like Tommy’s gaze, dispossessed of a particular presence—yet nevertheless pervasively there in Temple’s consciousness—the gaze of the movie camera is detached, objective, and lifeless, as well as constitutive of a “mass-mediatized” subjectivity. Temple exists, in other words, as though she were constantly being looked at, not only by individual men but by the anonymous legions of viewers afforded by cinema and for whom the filmic apparatus acts.22
As with his use of other popular cultural strategies, Faulkner’s visual mode of depicting Temple draws attention to the way such strategies operate and thus may be said to parody or question them. Faulkner’s treatment of Temple as the object of the male look, for instance, also reveals the ways in which such visual experience is commodified. Among the novel’s several instances of male voyeuristic activity around Temple is a passage that connotes the painful longing associated with vision, commodities, and fetishism. Having watched Temple undressing and then what he thinks are several acts of sexual ravishment as Popeye and Goodwin emerge from her room, Tommy is described as “writh[ing] slowly in an acute unhappiness” (227) or “rocking … in a dull, excruciating agony” (232). Following these descriptions, which themselves suggest the discomfort of frustrated desire, we find at the close to the chapter another description of the diffuse, unsatisfied feelings Temple’s presence provokes. As Tommy walks away from the house in which she lies sleeping, he looks back at it: “From time to time he would feel that acute surge go over him, like his blood was too hot all of a sudden, dying away into that warm unhappy feeling that fiddle music gave him” (233). Tommy’s feelings here, clearly an indication of a frustrated sublimation and sexual longing, approximate the sensations experienced by consumers—whether they look at the out-of-reach commodities in shop windows or the eroticized images of pornography.23 In this respect, Tommy’s reaction imparts the sense of Temple as an object which, like other fetishized consumer products, provides a spur to desire as well as its frustration.24
The text reveals the decidedly visual pleasure Temple affords characters in other places as well. At the same time, however, and importantly, it does so in a manner that implicates the reader in the act of consuming her image. Complicating Temple’s function as a commodity, these scenes add to Faulkner’s examination of popular cultural effects and strategies. One of these scenes occurs during Goodwin’s trial, a section in which Temple occupies an especially public and visible position. When Temple takes the witness stand and comes before the collective gaze of the trial’s onlookers, Faulkner presents an unusually detailed account of her appearance. Significantly, the passage also refers to the crowd at the trial that watches her:
From beneath her black hat her hair escaped in tight red curls like clots of resin. The hat bore a rhinestone ornament. Upon her black satin lap lay a platinum bag. Her pale tan coat was open upon a shoulder knot of purple. … Her long blonde legs slanted, lax-ankled, her two motionless slippers with their glittering buckles lay on their sides as though empty. Above the ranked intent faces white and pallid as the floating bellies of dead fish, she sat in an attitude at once detached and cringing. (376)
Against the array of specific details of color and light attached to Temple (her black hat, red curls, rhinestone pin, platinum bag, tan coat, knot of purple, glittering buckles), as well as the signature detail of her “long blonde legs,” stand out the pale, white faces of the trial’s crowd. Associated with the rotting bodies of dead fish, the audience reveals Faulkner’s sense of the ways in which certain acts of looking are corrosive—not only to the object of the gaze, but to the viewing subject as well.25 Readers’ own experience of “looking” at Temple (effected by references to her appearance or to characters’ perception of her) is implicated in the unsavory voyeuristic pleasures enjoyed by the onlookers at the trial as well as by the novel’s more depraved characters in other scenes. Though Faulkner does not depict Temple’s rape, for instance, he nevertheless involves readers in imaginative acts of violating her privacy or even her body elsewhere-as when we, along with an anonymous male character, overlook her relieving herself in the woods near Goodwin’s (242b26 Faulkner’s treatment of Temple in these passages pushes readers toward a consideration of their experience of reading and of imaginatively watching, looking at, or consuming her—similar to those of Tommy, Popeye and Snopes, or the Jefferson crowd.
Drawing attention to Temple’s image, as well as to characters’ and readers’ activity of looking at or “consuming” it, Faulkner shows the contradictory impulses that inform his treatment of her and of the novel. Other sections of the book further complicate Temple’s sexualized status and thus the novel’s ostensible prurience. We have seen how Temple’s presence evokes longings and sensations in the manner of commodities and the ways in which her identity seems structured along cinematic lines. Such moments rely on a clear offering of Temple’s image for characters and readers alike. With Temple elsewhere, however, Faulkner uses a mode of narrative that undermines the illusions of clarity or “availability” that define her appearance otherwise. These sections instead offer more demonstrably abstract and modernist strategies that stand out against the novel’s sensational cultural practices and that, along with Faulkner’s self-consciousness about those strategies, undermine them.
Temple and Modernist Spatial Form
This abstracting method is evident in a number of passages from the early portion of Sanctuary, in particular several scenes set at Goodwin’s. When Temple arrives at the bootlegger’s house, her experience is rendered through a range of disorienting effects, such as the fragmenting of space, breaks in narration, and a corresponding obscurity or confusion on characters’ (and readers’) parts, that suggest part of Sanctuary’s modernism. In her frenetic running, Temple moves in ways that fail to correspond to the structure of Goodwin’s house—or for that matter, to the structure of any house. Through the hallway to the kitchen, from the backyard to the front porch, Temple’s movements are not only frantic and unexpected but unrecognizable within a unified spatial construction. In addition to being disorienting, her “modernist” movement through space offers an alternative to the novel’s use of Temple as a spectacle or display.
Several sequences demonstrate this strategy. Following Temple and Gowan’s arrival at Goodwin’s, at the point when Gowan tries to silence Temple, she initiates one of her many flights through the house.
She ran into the kitchen. It was dark save for a crack of light about the fire-door of the stove. She whirled and ran out the door … (213)
The prose here is deceiving. As Gowan watches her, Temple at first appears to run “out the back door” of the house. While this door may connect to the kitchen, we are temporarily dislocated, having expected Temple to leave the house altogether. As the passage continues, the confusion surrounding Temple’s movement increases, as does our understanding of her fear at being trapped in Goodwin’s house. Once outside, Temple “saw Gowan going down the hill toward the barn,” Gowan having crossed (but this we are left to presume) from the front of the house outside it to the barn in the back. Next, without telling us that Temple has re-entered the house, the narrator indicates that “she moved quietly on tiptoe … crowded into the corner … and began to cry” (213). Occurring within the space of a few lines, these movements lack a clear relationship to contiguous or coherent space. Later, Temple performs another of these spatial dislocations. Having walked onto the front porch, Temple flees from Van’s sudden grasp. “Still smiling her aching, rigid grimace Temple backed from the room. In the hall she whirled and ran. She ran right off the porch, into the weeds, and sped on” (223). “Backing” from the porch where Van and the other men sit and into the house, Temple would ordinarily first reach the kitchen, which in descriptions of other characters’ movement, including that of Temple herself, is connected to the back porch (Popeye approaching Ruby, 184; Tommy hiding the jug, 186).
Earlier, we find the clearest example of the abstract and modernist construction of space Faulkner crafts in this section. In her first movements through the house, Temple makes her way up the darkened hall. When she discovers Pap on the back porch, Temple approaches him boldly, but still with a sense of foreboding:
“Good afternoon,” she said. The man did not move. She advanced again, then she glanced quickly over her shoulder. With the tail of her eye she thought she had seen a thread of smoke drift out of the door in the detached room where the porch made an L, but it was gone. (207-8)
After seeing Pap more closely and starting in response to his clotted, clay-like eyes, Temple hears a voice say to her, “‘He can’t hear you. What do you want?’” Reacting,
[s]he whirled again and without a break in her stride … she ran right off the porch and fetched up on hands and knees … and saw Popeye watching her from a corner of the house, his hands in his pockets and a slanted cigarette curling across his face. Still without stopping she scrambled onto the porch and sprang into the kitchen, where a woman sat at a table, a burning cigarette in her hand, watching the door. (208)
The detail of Ruby’s cigarette here is key, showing Faulkner’s deliberate effort to mislead readers as to the source of the smoke Temple had first seen with the “tail” of her eye. The disjointed structure of the house, signaled by the “detached room where the porch made an L,” is rendered even more extreme in this passage through the difficulty in locating the source of either the smoke or the voice that addresses Temple.27
What prompts this deliberate misleading on Faulkner’s part? It may follow his effort to force the reader to share Temple’s dislocation in the unfamiliar and threatening environment at Goodwin’s. Another, reason, however, may have to do with what I have described as Faulkner’s conflicted approach to this novel. Using strategies associated with popular and generic fiction elsewhere in the book, and foregrounding the novel’s use of Temple earlier as an image or commodity, in sections such as these at Goodwin’s Faulkner pursues a more modernist and obscure narrative technique.28 That both practices are evident in the novel—the association of Temple with the visual pleasures of the commercial cinema and commodity fetishism, and the modernist fragmenting of space—marks Sanctuary as unusual. For in the novel Faulkner pursues narrative and aesthetic practices together that earlier commentary has suggested occupy mutually antagonistic cultural positions. Thrown together here, those practices not only stand out in greater relief; they jam against one another and undercut what were supposedly stable textual and generic expectations. This “collision” of elements, however, generates enormous energy and reflexive force, allowing readers to recognize (and thus resist) the novel’s more generic or sensationalist pleasures.29 This contrast also, as we will see presently, helps debunk the modernist conceit of separateness or autonomy.
Temple Subjectivized: Sanctuary’s Modernism as Process
Other sections of Sanctuary go even further in their modernist innovation and, as a result, in exceeding generic expectations. As such they illustrate Faulkner’s larger ambitions with the novel. Set in Memphis after Temple’s abduction and rape, these passages offer yet another variation on the book’s representation of her. Unlike passages that suggest Temple as a commodified object of desire, these passages treat her state of mind, subjectivizing her experience of time and focusing on her tenuous feelings of identity. Faulkner’s formal and stylistic flourishes, evident in several of these passages, contribute to important departures in this section of the book from its emphasis earlier on Temple’s image. The modernist properties of these sections emerge slowly but decidedly; it is this aspect of Sanctuary’s “becoming modernist,” its use of different modes at different points, that places its treatment of Temple in Memphis at odds with its more conventional representational practices.30
Much of this treatment of Temple has to do with Faulkner’s seemingly deliberate act of de-centering the reader’s gaze. Temple’s appearance at the dance, in the bedroom at Goodwin’s, or later in the courtroom scene rely on a simulation of the act of looking that presumes a unified, putatively male subject position and a corresponding clarity and unity of the visible object, strategies on which the pleasures of both realist fiction and conventional cinema depend. Following the scenes at Goodwin’s, Faulkner’s further undermining of such realist practice reveals itself as Popeye and Temple arrive at Miss Reba’s. The passage that describes their approach to Memphis is ambiguous as regards the narrative point of view, but several details suggest that it belongs to Temple’s traumatized consciousness. It also offers a clear illustration of Faulkner’s movement between representational strategies. As the two characters arrive in the city, we find a passage that begins by attending scrupulously to the outward, physical surface of the setting but that, at its end, obscures its own “photographic” realism:
They reached Memphis in the afternoon. At the foot of the bluff below Main Street Popeye turned into a narrow street of smoke-grimed frame houses with tiers of wooden galleries, set a little back in grassless plots, with now then a forlorn and hardy tree of some shabby species-gaunt, lopbranched magnolias, a stunted elm or a locust in grayish, cadaverous bloom—interspersed by rear ends of garages; a scrap-heap in a vacant lot; a low doored cavern of an equivocal appearance where an oilcloth-covered counter and a row of backless stools, a metal coffee-urn and a fat man in a dirty apron with a toothpick, stood for an instant out of the gloom with an effect as of a sinister and meaningless photograph poorly made. (277)
What is “sinister” here in part is Faulkner’s manipulation of perspective, his blurring of focus like an unsteady cameraman. Initially, we are given a strictly objective account of the physical scene through the vista of the city, the gradual accumulation of physical details, and their notable, increasing specificity (the low door, the row of stools, the counter, the apron, the toothpick)—only to have it taken away from us at the passage’s end. Faulkner here offers a cameralike attention to surface detail, but then blurs or erases that very photographic clarity at the passage’s close. One effect of this maneuver is to signal to readers that in this setting and in the section of the book that follows, a clear, objective picture of the sort we associate with the camera and with realism will not obtain. This urban landscape, rare in Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha novels but common in the crime and detective fiction from which Sanctuary draws, is rendered hazy in the simile of the photograph. Invoking the mechanical apparatus that Faulkner’s earlier depictions of Temple suggest—as she is “tracked” by Popeye, Tommy, or the boys from Jefferson—Faulkner here renounces the use of a camera-like literary method to represent her.
Much of that blurring of perspective follows from Temple’s unsteady frame of mind, an element that is clear in other parts of the passage and that brings us away from a position of looking at Temple and into her point of view. The “shabby” and “forlorn” trees, while surely a part of the prevailing atmosphere of Memphis and Miss Reba’s neighborhood, also conform to Temple’s condition—particularly through the evocation of violation or dismembering in phrases such as “lopbranched.” Faulkner’s version of Eliot’s wasteland or Fitzgerald’s valley of ashes appears in this “scrap-heap,” suggesting the collapse of Temple’s understanding of meaning or “sanctuary” that constitutes one of the novel’s central concerns. The oxymoron, a provocative figure in many of Faulkner’s novels, here also appears in the service of rendering her state of mind—the trees’ “cadaverous bloom” connoting the psychological death-in-life that Temple is experiencing.
As this section of the novel continues, it further undermines its earlier treatment of Temple, revealing the effects of her constant exposure to the assaultive acts of both rape and the gaze. One description refers to those events and suggests a clear connection between Temple’s rape and the book’s manner of placing her as the object of the look. Lying in bed, bleeding, and naked, Temple hears “the rhythmic splush-splush of the washing board” as Minnie, downstairs, tries to wash the blood out of her clothes. As she hears this reminder of what has happened, Temple “flung herself again in an agony for concealment, as she had when they took her knickers off” (279). Due to her repeated exposures to the look—effected by both Faulkner’s textual strategies and by several characters—Temple finally becomes painfully desperate for privacy. Her nakedness here produces an “agony” not unlike the trauma she has experienced with Popeye, suggesting a connection between visuality, exposure, and rape.
As another of the novel’s self-reflexive moments, Temple’s pain at being looked at here is a trauma that the novel acknowledges. Like the scene at the trial, but unlike the popular models the novel draws from, Sanctuary here implicates itself in the act of providing a certain kind of visual and textual pleasure. Having “treated” readers earlier to the image of Temple “match thin in her scant undergarments” (227) when we viewed her through the window with Tommy, Faulkner here shows how Temple’s undressing causes her distress. Unlike the scene at Goodwin’s, this moment at Miss Reba’s discloses the discomfort Temple experiences at being seen. As such, this passage refers readers to their own pleasure or experience of watching Temple—like Popeye’s from across the bed, when Temple “would wake to smell tobacco and to see the single ruby eye where Popeye’s mouth would be” (334). Unlike Popeye, invisible to Temple in the dark, readers are revealed in their act of watching Temple through her reference to her distress. This reference also prefigures Temple’s later exposure to Horace’s probing eye during their interview scene. Submitting Temple to his questioning, Horace effectively searches her body as well as her memory for the traces of her assault.31 With references to Temple’s “agony for concealment,” Faulkner further alters the object-status to which she has been consigned.
The process of subjectivizing Temple continues throughout the initial stages of her recovery, and attending that change are some of the most lyrical and abstract sections of the book. As time passes and day turns to evening, Temple’s experience in the room at Miss Reba’s takes on all the hallmarks of a high-modernist rendering of subjective, personalized time. Even in its focus on clocks and light, this short section of the novel resembles Faulkner’s effort at subjectivizing time in places such as the Quentin section of The Sound and the Fury (or Joyce’s in all of Ulysses). Like Quentin’s watch and the clock in the Compson kitchen, the clock in Temple’s room is broken; though running, it “had only one hand … lending to the otherwise blank face a quality of unequivocal assertion, as though it had nothing whatever to do with time” (281). Temple here is both in time and “outside of time,” hearing the clock ticking but operating according to a temporal reality that is uniquely her own.
Another passage conveys Temple’s frame of mind through a wildly extravagant and, as it gathers momentum, increasingly abstract prose. Faulkner’s use of language here typifies modernism’s self-consciously poetic strains while effectively connoting Temple’s shattered psyche and distorted sense of time. Moreover in so doing, it moves beyond a realist attention to physical detail to a decidedly modernist, universalizing perspective. Lying in bed, Temple sees that
A final saffron-colored light lay upon the ceiling and the upper walls, tinged already with purple by the serrated palisade of Main Street high against the western sky. She watched it fade as the successive yawns of the shade consumed it. She watched the final light condense into the clock face, and the dial change from a round orifice in the darkness to a disc suspended in nothingness, the original chaos, and change in turn to a crystal ball holding in its still and cryptic depths the ordered chaos of the intricate and shadowy world upon whose scarred flanks the old wounds whirl onward at dizzy speed into darkness lurking with new disasters. (283)
In ways that anticipate the near-vertigo and mesmerizing play of Faulkner’s later, even more abstract prose strategies in Absalom, Absalom!, this paragraph eclipses the light in Temple’s room at Miss Reba’s and, very nearly, the linguistic sense of the passage. Yet while it spins itself out into a contemplation of shapes, negative space, and speed, it nevertheless maintains a tenuous link back to Temple. This includes her physical state as well as her mind-set, suggested through references to “scarred flanks,” “old wounds,” and “new disasters.” In its high modernist trappings, this passage departs radically from the more straightforward representational practices Faulkner had earlier used to depict Temple.
Finally, this section significantly alters the visual terms with which we have encountered Temple earlier. Catching sight of herself “in a dim mirror, a pellucid oblong of dusk set on end, [Temple] had a glimpse of herself like a thin ghost, a pale shadow moving in the uttermost profundity of shadow” (281). Like the blurred photographic image of the Memphis street, Temple’s image here appears to both the reader and to Temple herself as shadowy or indistinct. Finally possessed of the gaze herself, Temple here engages in the act of looking; yet she does so in a manner that reflects her hazy state of mind. The significance of this moment is that, although Faulkner reverses the action of seeing and allows Temple to wield the look, he does so in a manner that both maintains a sense of Temple’s consciousness and offers her a measure of protective distance. Unlike other examples of looking at Temple that are keyed to a male perspective, this instance of Temple looking at herself “de-materializes” her image, divesting it of its object-status and its capacity to provide a certain kind of visual pleasure.
Through the last sections of this discussion, I have suggested that Faulkner’s treatment of Temple reveals two very different representational practices at play in the same text, those associated both with modernism and with commercial fare like potboilers and film. According to traditional theories of modernism, such works denied themselves any “contact” with popular forms of narrative such as pulp fiction and the narrative cinema. Yet this division founders in Sanctuary’s depiction of Temple. Following her initial appearance as a commodified object of desire and the gaze, Temple prompts several of the novel’s flights into high stylization. Synesthesia, the fragmenting of narrative and of space, the rendering of an interior state of mind or a subjective experience of time, a self-conscious use of figuration-all are hallmarks of modernism, as well as of Faulkner’s modernist strategies in particular. Appearing alongside more generic narrative strategies from elsewhere in the book, Faulkner’s modernist treatment of Temple creates a sharper awareness of both practices, allowing them to stand out, as it were, in relief. The use of varying strategies offers readers not only two distinct experiences of reading or of “seeing” fictional narrative but also a way to note their interplay and the conflict produced by the novel’s oppositional styles. This critical interplay of styles and modes suggests a clear example of a modernism that interacted with, as opposed to denying, its supposed cultural “other.”
It also offers a version of what Adorno describes as “immanent criticism.” Unwilling in Sanctuary to deny himself what Adorno calls a “spontaneous relation to the object,” with this novel Faulkner engages the practices of commercial culture in several ways. Though not a cultural critic per se, Faulkner’s manner of taking up popular art, evident in his reproduction of the gangster genre or his sensational use of sexuality and rape, suggests his pointed awareness of popular cultural forms. In Faulkner’s variations on his generic materials through exaggeration or parody, and in his use alongside them of high modernist stylizations, with Sanctuary he offers a version of Adorno’s pronouncement, “As a result of the social dynamic, culture becomes cultural criticism” (“Cultural Criticism and Society,” 28).32
Key to this culturally critical turn was Faulkner’s refusal to fall back on a position of what Adorno describes as a false “transcendence” or superiority. One of the ways Sanctuary avoids that stance is its willingness to subject its modernist aspects, like its popular cultural elements, to scrutiny, an approach that is occasioned in the way the novel treats its protagonist. Horace’s situation at the opening of the book—positioned opposite Popeye, the novel’s most demonstrably generic element and the harbinger of its popular cultural status—informs his role in much of its subsequent action. In several ways, as we will see, Horace suggests an allegorical figure for the modernist artist and sensibility. Though that capacity will reveal his (or Faulkner’s) discomfort with a character like Popeye as well as, elsewhere, with the novel’s version of the masses, it also shows Faulkner’s self-consciousness about his own literary practices. In this respect, the book takes an oppositional stance not only toward popular or commercial art but toward its own high-art modernism as well.
One of the places that stance reveals itself is in Horace’s behavior at Goodwin’s. In these sections Horace offers a version of the modernist sensibility and, in particular, an approach to language that Faulkner was also in the process of establishing in his writing. Horace’s excessive garrulousness and his academic air suggest the formal properties of modernism and of Faulkner’s own developing literary habits, such as its fluid, unpunctuated prose and its supposedly detached position vis-à-vis quotidian or commercial activity. Sitting on the porch, for example, discoursing about Little Belle, “progress,” and the grape arbor, Horace sounds to Ruby slightly absurd. “‘That fool,’ the woman said. ‘What does he want …’ She listened to the stranger’s voice; a quick, faintly outlandish voice, the voice of a man given to much talk and not much else’” (188). Horace’s “quick, outlandish” voice stands as the marker of his foreignness to the environment at Goodwin’s, the novel’s “real world” or popular-generic element. The narrator further notes Horace’s speaking manner as he continues talking. “The stranger’s voice went on, tumbling over itself, rapid and diffuse” (189), suggesting a self-consciousness on Faulkner’s part about his emerging style.
In the original version of the novel, Horace himself remarks on the separation between him and what he terms “reality.” At the close of the original text, in a letter to Narcissa, Horace reflects back on what drew him to the Frenchman’s Bend in the first place, the act that involved him in Temple’s case and that exposed him to the gangster and bootlegging world. “I ran [to Goodwin’s]. Once I had not the courage to admit it; now I have not the courage to deny it. I found [there] more reality than I could stomach, I suppose” (SO, 281). Excised from the 1931 edition, this statement suggests an important element of Faulkner’s awareness, as well as Horace’s, of the differences between Horace’s rarefied sensibility and the hard-scrabble, underworld life of Frenchman’s Bend. The difference between Horace and the reality of the underground world that is marked in his comment, as well as by the distinctness in Horace’s language, also reflects on Faulkner’s cultural position. Because of Horace’s abstruse rhetoric or florid voice, he appears somewhat effete—a designation that might have suited Faulkner’s identity as a modernist, but one that was at odds with the image of himself as the hack writer churning out material for the market that he also tried, if ironically, to present.
This aspect of Horace surfaces in other parts of the novel as well. His metaphysical musings, for instance, upon returning home from Miss Reba’s seem surprising in a novel that also makes use of sensationalist pleasures and titillation: “The voice of the night … had followed him into the house; he knew suddenly that its was the friction of the earth on its axis, approaching that moment when it must decide to turn on or remain forever still: a motionless ball in cooling space, across which a thick smell of honeysuckle writhed like cold smoke” (332-33). Two figural devices common to Faulkner’s modernism—synesthesia and the oxymoron—appear in this passage, as does the universalizing perspective that adduces to Horace and that identifies him as an aesthete. Faulkner’s free indirect discourse suggests Horace’s impulse to retreat into a cosmic consideration rather than admit the reality and horror of Temple’s rape. Faulkner’s handling of that separation with Horace, though, is notable. References to Horace’s verbosity, or examples such as this of his incapacity to cope with the events of the novel, reveal Faulkner’s awareness of the gap between the literary and the real. Addressing that gap self-consciously, or thematizing it as he does with Horace, Faulkner exposes rather than maintains the divisions between mass culture and high art on which earlier models of modernism relied.
Doing so, Faulkner also suggests modernism’s dependence on mass culture for its identity. This dependence becomes clear in the way Horace exemplifies the modernist denial of physical or sensory pleasures. In an essay on Joyce and modernist aesthetic theory, Garry Leonard describes Stephen’s behavior in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in ways that recall Huyssen’s reference to the modernist “fear” of pleasure associated with commodities. Leonard sees Stephen as a figure for the modernist artist, aware of, but always on guard against, the stimuli of urban and commercial life. As such he typifies the difference between modernist aesthetics and their commercial counterparts. “[Commodities insist on being enjoyed,” asserts Leonard, “the result of which is that ‘[w]ith the rise of mass media and the advent of commodity culture, modernist aesthetics come under a peculiar form of pleasure” (“Modernism, Aesthetic Theory, and the City,” 80). Modernist aesthetic experiences, Leonard implies, insist on not being enjoyed as a means of distinguishing themselves from commodities. Either as part of the experience of reading or as represented in narrative, physical pleasure—particularly erotic pleasure-must, in Leonard’s and others’ accounts, be suppressed in the modernist text.33
Several moments in Sanctuary manifest a similar stance toward sexuality and the physical. Horace, like Stephen, finds flesh offensive and limits his own physical interactions with other people. He leaves his wife because he can’t stand the smell of the shrimp she cooks every Friday, and his own illicit desires for his stepdaughter are sublimated into his onanistic contemplation of her photograph. Horace’s muted erotic longing is evident in his sexless marriage with Belle and, while at Goodwin’s, in his reactions to Ruby Lamar. His revulsion at physical, fleshly experience is most clearly demonstrated, finally, when he vomits in response to contemplating Little Belle’s photograph while recalling Temple’s rape (333).
These moments suggest the ways in which modernist practices and aesthetics, embodied by Horace and unlike popular commodities such as pulp fiction and pornography, define themselves by the denial of bodily or sybaritic gratification. Yet Sanctuary also constantly titillates the reader with the suggestion, if not the actual proffering, of pornographic or erotic pleasures. The most obvious examples are the active presence of Temple and the text’s foregrounding of her erotic role—an element that distorts into caricature in scenes of her begging for sex with Red (344-45). More subtly, it includes several references to corrupting or illicit acts, ruptures in the narrative and in Horace’s veneer of self-control that ironize the modernist denial of the sensory.
Horace demonstrates the incapacity of modernist strategies for denying the body and for maintaining a rigid separation from manifestations of “the real” in a number of ways. In the first place, Horace demonstrates several instances of physical longing, especially for Temple and Little Belle as objects of desire, as well as reveals a more perverse erotic interest in his sister. Our first encounter with Temple includes an oblique reference to both Horace and to the modernist, “disinterested” response to erotic and/or sensory stimuli: “Townspeople taking after-supper drives through the college grounds or an oblivious and bemused faculty-member or a candidate for a master’s degree on his way to the library would see Temple” (198). Despite his and other modernist efforts to deny physical sensation and pleasure, Horace is clearly affected by the presence of women like Temple, suggested here and evident in his fascination with her story and in his preoccupation with his stepdaughter’s adolescent sexuality.
Most pointed in this regard is Horace’s interaction with Temple when he interviews her at Miss Reba’s. Earlier I described the way this scene suggests Horace’s repetition of the act of exposing Temple. Ostensibly for the purpose of getting information, Horace’s visit with Temple is rendered in such a manner as to draw attention both to her erotic presence and to Horace’s response to it. As such, the scene clearly compromises a modernist denial of pleasure. Sitting up in her bed, with the shoulder of her nightgown repeatedly slipping down, Temple has to be reminded by Miss Reba to “cover up [her] nekkidness” (327). Throughout the interview Horace’s interest in the act of the rape is evident, as is Temple’s discomfort at feeling asked to reproduce the sexual details of the experience. “Now and then Horace would attempt to get her on ahead to the crime itself, but she would elude him and return to herself sitting on the bed” (327; emphasis added). Seeing her in this condition and hearing Temple’s story, Horace is both intensely fascinated and profoundly shaken. Walking the Memphis streets after Temple finishes her story, Horace witnesses a scenario that reveals much about his state of mind:
In an alley-mouth two figures stood, face to face, not touching; the man speaking in a low tone unprintable epithet after epithet in a caressing whisper, the woman motionless before him in a musing swoon of voluptuous ecstasy. (332)
Set in the unsavory atmosphere of an alleyway, this passage evokes the sordid world and the settings of pulp fiction. It also, I suggest, reflects on the broader workings of the novel. Like the opening scene of Horace and Popeye face to face across the spring, this passage offers a reflexive positioning of two figures, one of whose violence or lasciviousness renders him “unprintable” (as Faulkner said his publisher originally considered Sanctuary to be).34 Against that figure, and rendered in a very different manner, is the motionless woman. The description of her reaction renders her in the elevated (and eminently printable) language of poetry, the assonance of “musing swoon of voluptuous ecstasy” producing a moment of aurally pleasing lyricism. Yet the woman’s own pleasure in the face of the man’s verbal torrent signals a capacity to be stimulated or even aroused by a “low” or unprintable language. The false division between high and low that Horace exemplifies and that he strives to maintain is compromised here in his imagination, as it is throughout the novel. In moments such as these, Faulkner foregrounds but also undermines the high/low cultural divide as he makes clear that Horace’s efforts at the denial of physical experience, modernist or otherwise, of necessity fail.
Faulkner, Horace, and the Masses
As I have been describing it, Sanctuary’s combination of discursive modes suggests a variation on notions of modernism that insist on its separation from mass art. Its interrelation of high and low elements reveals a modernist work that rather was deeply marked by its involvement with the commercial mode of cultural production that surrounded it. Viewing it in this way allows a reading of modernism that, as recent cultural theory has suggested, recognizes its more complicated and engaged relationship to the popular culture with which it was contemporaneous.
Writing a novel that implied his awareness of the market, however, affected Faulkner in ways that he did not entirely control and that emerge at particular points in the narrative. At such moments, Sanctuary reveals a strain produced by its formal split or aesthetic self-division. Evincing Faulkner’s varied motives for his approach to the book, these sections manifest an antagonism toward the novel’s representations of the masses that might suggest a variation on the modernist “anxiety” about commercial activity.35
Anyone familiar with Faulkner’s expectation that he could earn a living writing knows that he was not especially troubled by the prospect of financial success. As his extensive correspondence with his agents and editors demonstrates, Faulkner was routinely frustrated that his books, even his high modernist novels, did not sell. Notwithstanding Faulkner’s sense of himself as a professional writer as well as a serious artist, Sanctuary includes elements that, in a manner that certainly differed from his earlier novels, could appear as a form of pandering. Those elements, combined with his highly ambivalent comments in his Preface as well as later statements about Sanctuary, suggest a relation to this novel that was at odds with that to his other books.36 As such, scenes that depict the masses merit scrutiny for what they reveal of Faulkner’s attitude toward those types as potential readers. In its derisive treatment of characters like Clarence Snopes or other figures for the “public,” Sanctuary suggests a measure of irony, if not toward itself, then toward novels it resembled or toward certain readers (notably those who to that point had ignored Faulkner’s books). At the same time, these sections maintain the defining quality of Faulkner’s method evident throughout the novel: the peculiar combination of high-art and popular practices that I argue distinguishes it and that affords readers’ critical reflection on the similarity, as well as difference, in modern cultural forms.
The novel’s antagonism toward the masses is suggested, perhaps not surprisingly, in scenes of public spaces. On the way to Oxford to look for Temple, Horace rides the train with members of what he plainly considers the vulgar herd. Implicit in a passage describing Horace’s regard of his fellow travelers is a thinly veiled contempt, expressive of an attitude bordering on violence:
The man and the woman got on, the man carrying his rumpled coat, the woman the parcel and the suit case. He followed them into the day coach filled with snoring, with bodies sprawled half into the aisle as though in the aftermath of a sudden and violent destruction, with dropped heads, open-mouthed, their throats turned profoundly upward as though waiting the stroke of knives.
[Horace] dozed. The train clicked on, stopped, jolted. … Someone shook him out of sleep into a primrose dawn, among unshaven puffy faces washed lightly over as though with the paling ultimate stain of a holocaust. (295)
In addition to suggesting hostility toward its subject, the language of this passage manifests many of the contradictions and tensions that Sanctuary demonstrates formally and throughout its narrative. Although it depicts a prosaic, squalid scene, its language is elevated. Phrases such as “primrose dawn” and “paling ultimate stain,” self-consciously poetic and, in the case of the former, faintly Homeric, reveal the novel’s high-art or literary pretensions. The passage referring to the sleepers’ upturned throats, keyed to Horace’s perspective like earlier descriptions of Popeye, recalls Conrad’s Lord Jim—another canonical modernist text.37 Rhetorically as well, the image of cleaning or “washing” the faces of the travelers implies the novel’s impulse toward aestheticizing its materials—in this case, representatives of an “ugly” reality. But even at these moments, Faulkner’s language is conflicted: the means of cleansing his representatives of the masses is accomplished through the contradictory image of a “stain.”
Most significantly, in depicting the members of the crowd and their coarseness (“rumpled coat,” “bodies sprawled,” “unshaven puffy faces”), this passage also registers an antipathy that suggests itself in a language of mass annihilation. Horace’s perspective, through which this scene aboard the train is oriented, figures him here not only as the mass’s critic, a position he occupies throughout the novel, but as their executioner as well.38 (And if Horace is correct in his criticisms of the town’s hypocrisy, he is also extreme in his superiority and sanctimoniousness.) Later, returning from Oxford, this arrogance manifests itself when Horace encounters Clarence Snopes. Viewed from Horace’s perspective, the description of Snopes reveals Horace’s conception of himself:
“Ain’t this Judge Benbow?” [Snopes] said. Horace looked up into a vast, puffy face without any mark of age or thought whatever—a majestic sweep of flesh on either side of a small, blunt nose, like looking out over a mesa, yet withal some indefinable quality of delicate paradox, as though the Creator had completed his joke by lighting the munificent expenditure of putty with something originally intended for some weak, acquisitive creature like a squirrel or a rat. (299)
Because Horace is in on it, the “joke” told by the Creator at Clarence’s expense confirms Horace’s privileged social position: God, in Horace’s conception, is like him—an elitist. Like the earlier passage, Faulkner’s prose here manifests several contradictions as well as suggesting Horace’s smugness. The derisive irony in the reference to Clarence’s “majestic” sweep of flesh keys to Horace’s perspective, as do the more obviously condescending, naturalizing metaphors (Clarence allied with the mesa, the rat). Yet here again we find the element of contradiction, the “quality of delicate paradox” that characterizes Faulkner’s strategies throughout the novel. The diction of “Yet withal” and “munificent expenditure” as well as the sophisticated handling of imagery—the pastoral and visual evocation of “looking out over a mesa”—convey a genuine majesty, even an intimation of the sublime. As such, they demonstrate a poetic subtlety and treatment of language that is at odds with the prosaic or mean character of the passage’s subject—Clarence Snopes or the travelers of day-coaches. The interpenetration of high and low modes of literary production that characterizes these passages, even those that suggest Faulkner’s discomfort with the masses (or perhaps with mass markets) reveals Faulkner’s divided and contradictory approaches to the novel. Viewed thus, it suggests the contradictions in Faulkner’s position writing in the thirties, circumstances that confronted Faulkner and other writers in the modern period and that manifest themselves in the novel’s uniquely divided style.39
Faulkner’s awareness of the masses is evident in other places as well, revealing his clear disregard for the effects of commercial art. The audience for Goodwin’s trial, for instance, resembles the readership for mass-market fiction, particularly in their taste for a certain kind of entertainment or story. Presented to the townspeople as a kind of spectacle, Goodwin’s trial resembles commercial forms of entertainment which, Faulkner makes clear, base their appeal in low forms of pleasure and serve as a diversion from everyday life. Earlier, we noted Faulkner’s “exhibition” of Temple on the witness stand as an object for the gaze of readers and the trial audience alike. During the trial, Popeye’s assault of Temple is vividly recalled with an exhibition of the bloody corncob, much to the audience’s satisfaction. Twice we hear their reaction to details of Temple’s testimony, which expresses itself in a sigh, a “collective breath hissing in the musty silence” (378, 379).40 Due to the fascination it provides its audience, the trial makes clear the townspeople’s longings, as do the events that follow it when the mob attacks Goodwin. In burning Goodwin for Temple’s rape and Tommy’s murder, the townspeople clearly execute the wrong man. Yet their act of vigilantism provides an outlet for the prurient and sensationalist appetite that the trial stimulates.
Readers of the novel possessed a similar interest in sensational subject matter, and that interest allies them with Faulkner’s depiction of the trial crowd. The same group that gathers in the courthouse to watch the trial, for example, appears earlier in the novel as they gather in the town square on the day Tommy’s body is found. In town to trade and (significantly) to shop, the members of the crowd become eager onlookers at Tommy’s body and at the violence enacted on it by Popeye. Clustered in front of various shops, these visitors also partake of consumer culture of the type the novel resembles; on a break from their work, they demonstrate a particular kind of cultural taste:
The sunny air was filled with competitive radios and phonographs in the doors of drug-and music-stores. Before these doors a throng stood all day, listening. The pieces which moved them were ballads simple in melody and theme, of bereavement and retribution and repentance metallically sung, blurred, emphasised by static or needle-disembodied voices blaring from imitation wood cabinets or pebble-grain horn-mouths above the rapt faces. (257)
Moved by “simple” ballads and by disembodied “metallic” voices, the members of the throng share much with the market for the culture industry. Faulkner identifies them here as the kinds of consumers who prefer an imitative, mechanized cultural product to something original or unique. They are moved by the stories of innocence lost that, in addition to their luridness, animate Sanctuary and underpin Goodwin’s trial. Itself an imitation of commercial and generic fiction, Sanctuary tells a story of “bereavement” and shares with the radio ballads—as well as with gangster novels such as Me, Gangster-sentimental elements in its protagonist and, at its ending, in Popeye. Though the novel draws attention to, and thus also resists, its use of commercial elements, it is crucial to see the way it offers the same kinds of mass-market pleasures as those Faulkner attributes to products of the culture industry and that are enjoyed by the novel’s crowds.
Realism and the Marketplace
It is for this reason, perhaps, that the book ends as it does. For toward its close, Sanctuary performs a shift in method that further ensures its appeal to the mass market. In its final section, and through several of Faulkner’s additions to the original version, Sanctuary makes a deliberate move toward realism and toward mainstream fiction that is at odds with the formal play it demonstrates earlier and that had contributed to its modernism. This shift within the novel is present to a far greater degree in the revised edition, and it corresponds to Faulkner’s revision strategies with Sanctuary generally. As indicated earlier, the original text more often relies on a modernist emphasis on the play of perspective and the rendering of interiority, particularly Horace’s. His musings on his family’s past, on his relationship with Narcissa, on the jailed murderer, and on Little Belle occupy a far greater degree of the original. Many of these were deleted in the revision, freeing the novel from Horace’s dominating perspective and allowing a more direct account of the narrative. In its later chapters that take place in Jefferson, Sanctuary confers a unity and clarity to its events which, I suggest, play to its audience’s taste for an accessible style and a straightforward narrative structure.
The difference in narrating strategies in the Jefferson sections becomes clear immediately if we compare them to other parts of the book. The first time we see the Jefferson area, we find a narrative method that is strikingly different in function from those in Memphis or in the novel’s opening chapters.
On the next afternoon Benbow was at his sister’s home. It was in the country, four miles from Jefferson; the home of her husband’s people. She was a widow, with a boy ten year’s old, living in a big house with her son and the great aunt of her husband; a woman of ninety, who lived in a wheel chair, who was known as Miss Jenny. She and Benbow were at the window, watching his sister and a young man walking in the garden. His sister had been a widow for ten years. (195)
As this chapter opens, we immediately find ourselves in a narrative register different from the novel’s more visible modernism. To begin, we have a series of simple declarative phrases, structured paratactically so as to provide information evenly and directly. In its forthright, casual tone as well as in its specific content, the passage marks a shift from the cryptic, information-withholding manner of the novel’s opening. Details of location, age, and description are immediately forthcoming; characters’ names and their relationships are established. Even specific measures of geography such as space and distance figure in the passage, as do expository details. In sum, this chapter and the Jefferson section of the novel operate under the auspices of a fully articulated narrative realism.41
It is only necessary to recall the deliberate obscurity of the novel’s opening chapters or of its sections set at Goodwin’s or in Memphis to trace the differences in narrative method. The next chapter whose events take place in Jefferson opens in a similarly clear manner:
Benbow reached his sister’s home in the middle of the afternoon. It was four miles from town, Jefferson. He and his sister were born in Jefferson, seven years apart, in a house which they still owned, though his sister had wanted him to sell the house when Benbow married the divorced wife of a man named Mitchell. (253)
Temporal details here, as well as information about property and the legal status of Horace’s married life, further the sense that this portion of the novel will furnish conventional novelistic terms of its characters’ lives.42 This method continues, generally, throughout the Jefferson sections of the book, narrated as they are by a restrained, third-person voice that eschews many of the Faulknerian and modernist excesses of figuration, abstractness, and fragmentation.
The straightforward narrative method reaches its apotheosis in a passage late in the novel that describes Horace’s entrance to the courtroom—a space that, as defined by its role in the public sphere, is rendered in a manner that is sharp-edged and readily accessible:
[T]he square was filled with wagons and cars, and the overalls and khaki thronged slowly beneath the gothic entrance of the building. …
The broad double doors at the head of the cramped stair were open. From beyond them came a steady preliminary stir of people settling themselves. Above the seat-backs Horace could see their heads—bald heads, gray heads, shaggy heads and heads trimmed to recent feather-edge above sun-baked necks, oiled heads above urban collars and here and there a sunbonnet or a flowered hat. (374)
Among its many details of setting (including styles of architecture and clothing), this passage is significant for its attention to the external details we associate with and expect from realism. The second paragraph, especially, makes a particular insistence on the external visual details of the crowd’s heads, references that correspond to an external gaze looking at clearly demarcated objects in space.
If Faulkner’s treatment of the public space of the novel relies on a sharply photographic or realist representation, it is important to see this shift in relation to the novel’s narrative. For there is a correspondence between the events of the book’s conclusion and the manner in which they are depicted. Accessibility here is key—for both the townspeople to the courthouse, and for the readers into the novel’s last section. It is in the courthouse where, as we have seen, the reader’s pleasure in the sensational aspects of the story is both figured and repeated in the reactions of the crowd. Here we see that figure for the novel’s readers ushered in “beneath the gothic entrance” of the courthouse to the trial’s (and the novel’s) retelling of the gothic events of the crime. As he does so, Faulkner decisively cuts to a use of realism. Whereas Sanctuary opens with modernist opacity and demonstrates fragmentation and stylization in its middle sections, it ends with a move Faulkner makes to re-engage his readers.
The final section of the book also reveals, for my analysis, one of Faulkner’s single most significant revisions. Beyond his shifts in style and representational method, the revised version of the novel includes its arguably most sensational scene: Goodwin’s lynching. Unlike the novel’s other acts of violence (Temple’s rape; Tommy’s or Red’s murders), which are revealed only indirectly, Goodwin’s burning death at the hands of the Jefferson crowd appears vividly and directly. Clearly, and in ways the original version of the novel had not, the lynching scene functions to titillate readers. Beyond any scene in the original text, it includes visceral and graphic details.43 Faulkner’s suggestion that, with the revision, he removed that material which he thought readers would find offensive is worth noting in this context. This is implicit in his statement in the “Preface” that he “saw that [the original text] was so terrible that there were but two things to do: tear it up or rewrite it” (1030). Yet as the lynching scene suggests, the revision of Sanctuary becomes in certain ways even more “terrible” than the original.44 The addition of Goodwin’s killing provides the book with a literal outburst of violent energy as well as a dramatic outcome to its prior action that the earlier version of the novel had declined. It also suggests a capitulation on Faulkner’s part something like Horace’s at the end of the book. Like Horace, who comes to recognize the townspeople and their tastes for a certain kind of “story,” Faulkner, with the ending of the novel, demonstrates his awareness of a reading market that wanted its narrative pleasure to be a certain way: readily accessible, “consumable,” and shocking.
In making the shifts he did, Faulkner strove to provide the novel with the clarity and drama that it had lacked through much of its narrative, both in the early sections of the published version and, importantly, in the original edition of the text. Doing so amounted to Faulkner’s recognition, like Horace’s after the trial, of “reality”—in Horace’s case, the realities of injustice and of the townspeople’s taste for violence and scandal; in Faulkner’s case, the realities determining cultural production in the modern period.
Faulkner’s response to those realities, however, was more resistant than Horace’s. For at the same time as he provided readers with a more “commercial” reading experience, Faulkner used Sanctuary to comment on his readers’ tastes. With his moves to realism and to a more streamlined and sensational narrative, Faulkner effected a means to address his readers as well as a departure from the novel’s earlier modernist strategies. Doing so allowed Faulkner to have it both ways—to produce a novel that would appeal to the mass market, but one that also included aspects of his modernist practice and a mode of writing that was different from generic fare. This combination allowed the book its unique identity as well as its powerful position for cultural critique: within the modes and forms of fiction toward which that critique was directed.
Coda: Popeye, Temple, and the Luxembourg Garden
In order to see the novel’s overture toward the market, it is helpful to recognize fully the narrative and generic variations that appear in its final chapter. Here Faulkner provides readers with something he deliberately denied them at its opening. In Chapter XXXI, the novel’s short “biography” of Popeye seems to furnish its readers with everything they might have expected in a sentimental, first-person gangster narrative. It offers a range of information that fills out Popeye’s depiction in a conventional novelistic manner and suggests the causes for his criminality.
Popeye’s life history is another of Faulkner’s more meaningful additions to the published version of the book. For Popeye’s background story does a great deal to humanize him (or at least, it appears to); it also adds considerably to the book’s resemblance to its models in commercial fare. As such, this section appears part of Faulkner’s effort to make the book more marketable. Included in the description are the following elements of Popeye’s background: a physical disability (Popeye’s arrested development, revealed in his failure to walk or speak until he was four years old); a pathology (Popeye’s sadism, evident in his vicious treatment of animals); a life history, including his parents’ troubled work experience; and a story of family dysfunction, complete with an abandoning father and a negligent caretaker (Popeye’s grandmother) (388-93). In short, the chapter about Popeye provides the background and dimension to Popeye that Faulkner’s earliest depiction of him had denied. When we first encounter Popeye, he seems entirely two-dimensional, and Faulkner’s characterization of him is notably cryptic and opaque. Here, at the novel’s end, he acquires psychological and emotional “depth.”45
Viewed in the light of Faulkner’s interests with Sanctuary, its additions and the shifts in representational practice in its closing chapters amount to what might well be another dimension of its immanent form of cultural criticism. With Sanctuary, as with later novels, Faulkner sought to present readers with both the narrative pleasure they knew from popular cultural forms and a commentary on them. He presented those pleasures through different narrative practices within the same text, and he did so in a manner that allowed those practices to reflect on one another. Faulkner also, though, took measures to bring the novel to a mass audience. Giving readers a way into the story by way of a simple style or a sentimentalizing of Popeye through his life history, Faulkner recognized, would contribute to the book’s success. As Joyce Carol Oates says of sentimentality and its impact on a mass audience, it “is but one form of brutality” (124). The appearance of Popeye’s history is a logical outcome of Faulkner’s extraordinary ambitions with the novel, and especially with the revision. For it brings the novel closer to Faulkner’s sources and thus to possessing mass-market appeal, and it also facilitates his particular form of cultural critique.
This assessment of Faulkner’s cultural circumstances and his approach to them provides a useful way to understand the novel’s close—its move in the last chapter from Popeye’s generic story to Temple in the Luxembourg Gardens. For the book’s ending shows a marked contrast in setting, atmosphere, and language from much of the novel generally, and in particular its treatment of Popeye. Significantly, Popeye’s final words in life and in the novel appear in the same chapter that discovers Temple on a Paris park bench. Popeye’s comment to the sheriff on the scaffold, “Fix my hair, Jack” (398), as well as his use in his last days of a mass-produced hair lotion—a product, “Ed Pinaud,” that he asks for by name (395)—are in the register of the common and the everyday. Like most of Faulkner’s treatment of Popeye they use the slang idiom employed by commercial fiction as well as the brand-names of consumer products. Abutting these references is a passage set in the epicenter of modernist high culture, one that Faulkner exalted in a manner that evokes Flaubert and that reveals both a tenderness and rigor toward its effects of language:
It had been a gray day, a gray summer, a gray year. On the street old men wore overcoats, and in the Luxembourg Gardens as Temple and her father passed the women sat knitting in shawls and even the men playing croquet played in coats and capes, and in the sad gloom of the chestnut trees the dry click of balls, the random shouts of children, had that quality of autumn, gallant and evanescent and forlorn. From beyond the circle … filled with a gray light of the same color and texture as the water which the fountain played into the pool, came a steady crash of music …
In the pavilion a band in the horizon blue of the army played Massenet and Scriabin, and Berlioz like a thin coating of tortured Tschaikovsky on a slice of stale bread, while the twilight dissolved in wet gleams from the branches, onto the pavilion and the somber toadstools of umbrellas. Rich and resonant the brasses crashed and died in the thick green twilight, rolling over them in rich sad waves. (398)
In addition to a Flaubertian irony directed toward the army band, the passage is noteworthy for its alliterative play of sounds, its expressionistic details of color (such as the “thick green twilight”), its moments of synesthesia, metaphor, and delicate diction—in short, a decidedly belletristic method. The Luxembourg Gardens scene, as well as Faulkner’s own remarks about it, stands in sharp contrast to the literary practice we find surrounding Popeye in his last appearance. Composed when Faulkner himself was in Paris and before he wrote Sanctuary, the Luxembourg scene originally stood as an unrelated set-piece or tableau, a fact that might account for the scene’s displaced feel. In a letter to his mother in 1925 about this passage, Faulkner had declared,
I have just written such a beautiful thing that I am about to bust—2000 words about the Luxembourg gardens and death. It has a thin thread of plot, about a young woman, and it is poetry though written in prose form. I have worked on it for two whole days and nights and every word is perfect. I haven’t slept hardly for two nights, thinking about it, comparing words, accepting and rejecting them, then changing again. But now it is perfect—a jewel. (SL, 27)
What Faulkner also called a “prose poem,” this “perfect … jewel” exemplifies a very different approach to writing than he took through much of Sanctuary, in particular the sections that treat Goodwin, Miss Reba, Red—and above all, Popeye. Though he is not with Temple and her father in the Luxembourg Gardens, Popeye and the language that attaches to him is still, at the novel’s close in Paris, lingeringly there. Bearing the trace of Popeye’s rough colloquial and his affinity with mass-market synthetic products, the novel’s coda is part of a deliberately jumbled, heterogeneous blend of practices and styles. Like the novel’s opening and the silent confrontation between Popeye and Horace at the spring, it offers the opposition between high and low cultural sites and modes of production.
By the time he wrote and, especially, revised Sanctuary, though, this juxtaposition of modernist high-art and commercial culture was exactly what Faulkner sought. In the last chapter, with a prose poem about the Luxembourg Gardens and references to consumer products, Faulkner simply performs a short-hand version of what he had done throughout the novel. In placing a modernist and high-art aestheticizing of language against a use of masscultural found objects and terms, Faulkner focalizes the tension he had produced across the novel’s earlier sections and in passages like its opening that dramatize the confrontation of modernism and mass culture. Doing so, he offers a novel that can not be fully accounted for by binary terms such as “modernist” or “popular.” With its different stylistic and representational strategies, Sanctuary offers a version of modernism aware of, and open to, the “modern” art that surrounded it.
This aspect of Sanctuary and its ending also bears a striking resemblance to terms for modernity that Roland Barthes describes in The Pleasure of the Text. Barthes provides a suggestive way to close my discussion, offering as he does an alternative model for my efforts to describe the unique, strange effects and properties of Faulkner’s text. For Barthes, textual pleasure inheres not in purely transgressive or pornographic practices; what he values is the moment of contact between the sanctimonious, privileged text and its “other”:
Sade: the pleasure of reading him clearly proceeds from certain breaks (or certain collisions): antipathetic codes (the noble and the trivial, for example) come into contact … As textual theory has it: the language is redistributed. Now, such redistribution is always achieved by cutting. Two edges are created: an obedient, conformist, plagiarizing edge (the language is to be copied in its canonical state, as it has been established by schooling, good usage, literature, culture) and another edge, mobile, blank … which is never anything but the site of its effect: the place where the death of language is glimpsed. These two edges … are necessary. (6-7)
Barthes’ meditation on textual pleasure, in its attention to the interpretive space or “edge” produced by different novelistic styles, describes well Faulkner’s dual strategies in Sanctuary. His model of “redistribution” concludes with a notion of textual division that contrasts directly with models of modernist autonomy: “Whence, perhaps, a means of evaluating the works of our modernity: their value would proceed from their duplicity” (7).
It is this description of the modern novel—its “duplicitous” or split character—that offers a uniquely apt way to consider Sanctuary. In it we have seen the various styles with which Faulkner works. What’s more, we can see the ways in which those styles’ difference or even opposition contributes to the novel’s ability to reflect on itself and its mode of production. Using popular forms self-referentially, Faulkner allowed readers to recognize those forms. Bringing them into relief against the novel’s high-art or modernist elements also gave readers a critical and analytic distance from them—something that neither the pulps themselves nor the more rarefied high-modernist texts, whose only relation to mass culture was through its denial, accomplished on their own. Equally important, the conjunction of different literary modes or “edges” in Sanctuary confers a distance from its at times elitist and aestheticizing high modernism, evident in several sections and embodied in Horace Benbow. Earlier conceptions of modernist autonomy or separateness apply well to those works that actively seek to deny the experience in modernity of commercial, quotidian life, including consumer culture. Yet their refusal to acknowledge commercial art denied those works an investment in the specific cultural realities and history of which they were also a part. Faulkner’s engagement with aspects of popular art allows us to claim of Sanctuary a more genuine involvement in its own historical moment. As well that engagement prevents the impression of a false transcendence of the cultural and historical circumstances that produced it.
Faulkner’s suggestions of canonical writers like Conrad and Flaubert clearly exemplify Barthes’s reference to a work’s “conformist, plagiarizing edge,” a quality of Sanctuary evident, as elsewhere, in the Luxembourg Gardens scene. His stylistic flourishes, moreover, produce the novel’s stamp of literariness and sophistication. Lyrical passages describing Temple in Paris or Memphis and the novel’s literary allusions furnish its refined pleasures, its high-art seam or “edge.” Sanctuary’s “mobile” edge, conversely, is its use of language in passages and sections that treat Popeye and the book’s generic materials. Popeye’s rough colloquial subverts the novel’s literary elegance, amounting to what Barthes calls the “death of language”: moments when the aura of literariness is destroyed.
Used against one another or in opposition, the novel’s two “edges” provide Sanctuary’s unique interest and energy, producing a tension that casts a mesmerizing spell over the whole of the novel. Held in a kind of suspension, like the two-hour silence forced upon Popeye and Horace in the opening, readers occupy a vaguely defined interpretive position from which we observe the novel’s various textual operations and their at times jarring, highly charged dissonance. In addition to its specifics of plot or even theme, we are aware, throughout the novel, of this atmosphere or discord. As with its treatment of its characters, Sanctuary’s use of different modes keeps its readers at a distance, refusing the operation of drawing them into an illusory reality or a sense of identification with its characters but preventing, as well, the refined satisfactions of high art. Without a firm grip on the mode of reading, jostled repeatedly out of a clear relationship to the text by its own shifts in method, readers stand back from the novel’s elusive and unsettling operations. Reading Sanctuary or, more precisely, “watching” its languages and its strategies play out, we are witness to an ongoing interaction between high and mass-cultural forms that provokes a more acute awareness of each strategy and an understanding of them as different, but related, aspects of modernity. Doing so allows readers to view the reifying products and processes of mass culture, such as Temple’s eroticized presence or Popeye’s generic function, from a distance rather than consume them uncritically or whole.
As part of the novel’s split, modernism is also subject to its critical gaze. Faulkner’s identifying of Horace with modernist practices and his willingness to expose modernism’s conceit of purity suggests his interest in questioning his own high-art literary habits and identity. Aware of the tendency of modernist texts to deny their involvement in cultural and historical realities, Faulkner shows modernism in its position as one of several literary discourses at play and in contention during the period of modernization. More than his other early novels, finally, Sanctuary shows popular culture’s willingness not only to be looked at by modernism, its opposite or cultural other, but also its ability and willingness to look back.