Friday, February 21, 2014

“Something is missing”

Mr. Compson speaking:

“We have a few old mouth-to-mouth tales; we exhume from old trunks and boxes and drawers letters without salutation or signature, in which men and women who once lived and breathed are now merely initials or nicknames out of some now incomprehensible affection which sound to us like Sanskrit or Chocktaw; we see dimly people, the people in whose living blood and seed we ourselves lay dormant and waiting, in this shadowy attenuation of time possessing now heroic proportions, performing their acts of simple passion and simple violence, impervious to time and inexplicable—Yes, Judith, Bon, Henry, Sutpen: all of them. They are there, yet something is missing; they are like a chemical formula exhumed along with the letters from that forgotten chest, carefully, the paper old and faded and falling to pieces, the writing faded, almost indecipherable, yet meaningful, familiar in shape and sense, the name and presence of volatile and sentient forces; you bring them together in the proportions called for, but nothing happens; you re-read, tedious and intent, poring, making sure that you have forgotten nothing, made no miscalculation; you bring them together again and again nothing happens: just the words, the symbols, the shapes themselves, shadowy inscrutable and serene, against that turgid background of a horrible and bloody mischancing of human affairs.”

William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (1936)
This passage is a compact reader’s guide to the novel: you read and re-read, and, yes, “something is missing.” Something happened: what? In the final 200 pages of the novel (what a novel), Mr. Compson’s son Quentin and Quentin’s Harvard roommate Shreve McCannon will take up the work (or play) of bringing Judith, Bon, Henry, and Sutpen together and providing what’s missing, making something happen, making their own story from the bits of fact and conjecture that have come into their possession about Thomas Sutpen and his family.

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Faux Faulkner
A Homeric Faulkner simile
Punctuation marks in literature

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