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EN969 Faulkner's South

(Module not available 2013-14)

Visiting Professor Richard Godden (University of California, Irvine)

What is often first remarked on concerning Faulkner’s work is its difficulty; the module will contend that the difficulty diminishes, and textual opacity achieves motivation, once it is understood that the difficulty (though undoubted and intriguing) functions as an expression of contradictions within the plantation South (a region understood as a specific and pre-modern regime of accumulation). Our purpose will be to establish the poetics of a southern economy prior to and during the New Deal. In order to do as much, we will read six of Faulkner’s experimental and canonical novels (The Sound and the Fury [1929], As I Lay Dying [1930] Absalom, Absalom! [1936], The Wild Palms (If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem) [1939], The Hamlet [1940] and Go Down, Moses [1942]). Each week, primary reading will also involve specified historical and theoretical essays.

By contextualizing Faulkner’s writing in the complex labour history of the South, the module seeks to establish that his works attend to a major shift in the history of labour relations (from bondage to wages), a shift that determines not only the thematic concerns of the novels, but also their essential stylistic and narrative strategies. The module’s emphasis on the textually generative nature of labour contradictions will, hopefully, broach the issue of materialist models of language, in their relation to narrative poetics.

Arguably, the region, as Faulkner saw it, engaged in a prolonged displacement or denial of the bondage systems (slavery and debt peonage) from which it grew, and which it struggled to keep intact. From such denial emerged a mode of thought (among the planter class) that Faulkner translates into the difficult narrative structures and prose style of the texts with which we will engage. The module will explore the contention that Faulkner’s famous difficulty stems from his need to portray the mind of the southern owning class wrestling with a labour system it regards as at once necessary and untenable, neither to be borne nor to be given up.