What Do They Sound Like?
Multiple Voices in William Faulkner’s
The Sound and the Fury, as well as Absalom, Absalom
Studenta in anul III a Facultatii de Litere, Istorie si Teologie (Specializarea: Limba Engleza-Limba Germana), si a Facultatii de Stiinte Politice, Filosofie si Stiinte ale Comunicarii (Specializarea: Relatii Internationale si Studii Europene-linia de predare in limba germana), din cadrul Universitatii de Vest Timisoara. Autoare a doua volume de versuri, laureata national si international in domeniul creatiei literare si al picturii; membra a Academiei Internationale „Il Convivio” si colaboratoare la reviste de cultura si arta, precum si la antologii din tara si de peste hotare.
Approach: The paper focuses on analyzing the function of multiple voices in two of Faulkner’s novels, while employing both already known critical views in this respect and providing a reinterpretation from a perspective undealt with before, namely the texts as a dychotomical narrative fugue. The argumentative thread pursues the dimension of sound and to sound like, anticipated by the title of what is more of an essay on Faulkner rather than an exhaustive, critical case-study.
Purged against the backdrop of the Civil War and its aftermath for the American South, William Faulkner’s literary approach revolves around violence, that surfaces at a physical and psychological level, as rendered through suicide, castration or incest, thus leaving scope for narrative “(…) ancestral halls in which echo only the sobs and shrieks of demons; a possessed gallery of the decaying and the demented who live in memory” (Geismar, 1971: 144). Nevertheless, violence becomes a narrative technique in itself, encumbered within the author’s in-depth, experimentalist “kit”. Consequently, his novels acquire a certain degree of corporeality: hence, the texts take on the identity of a maimed body, onto which Faulkner cunningly performs “vivisection”, whilst playing havoc with the “rules” of time, plot and perspective. Thus, in The Sound and the Fury or Absalom, Absalom!, the writer attempts to utter “Zersplitterung”, “Zerfetzung”: an atomization, whose “rags” form a patch-work striving to convey totality if read simultaneously…with the mind’s eye, of course.
First of all, The Sound and the Fury intimates from its very title at a controversial form and content, in terms of the intertextual reference to Macbeth . The “sound” therefore plays upon the opposition sane-insane, literally depicted through Benjy, the 33-year-old, mentally challenged narrator dealing with the first part of the novel (7th April 1928). However, as the plot unravels, the four voices all seem deviant, since their perception is impaired by subjectivity, inherent for the subsequent “story-telling”.
The “sound” also triggers an analogy of musical facture, converting the novel into a narrative fugue. Although initially transposed onto poetry by Paul Celan in his Todesfugue (Death-Fugue), such syncretism is likewise viable for the prosaic genre. This occurs through the recurrence of certain key events (Quentin’s suicide, Caddie’s muddy drawers, a.s.o), which actually entail variations on the same topic: the decay of an aristocratic, Southern family and its inability to reinvent itself to suit the new, post-war context. Faulkner employs a “quartet” to convey the family “saga”: Benjy, Quentin, Jason and an allegedly unbiased third-person narrator transmitting Dilsey’s perspective (the “negro” servant who “endures”). Hereby, the intellectual, alienated, suicidal Quentin acts as a cohesive element within a dychotomical fugue, hence creating the bond to Absalom, Absalom!. The latter similarly requires an integrative reading slash “listening”, due to its fragmentarism, that ultimately exerts a polyphonic effect, if mentally juxtaposed in order to “piece the puzzle”.
It is thence a process of simultaneous “self-disclosure” and “self-concealment”, in order to employ the terminology belonging to Herbert Leibowitz (qtd. by: Mihăieş, 2005: 12) when referring to the oscillation within the “bowels” of a private journal. In this respect, extrapolating such concepts onto The Sound and the Fury, Quentin’s quasi-aphoristic, minute reflections concerning Time, function as some sort of diary-laden collage, that is reiterated at a more general level in Absalom, Absalom!, when reconstructing Thomas Sutpen. The latter thus becomes an intricate, Quentin-esque appendix to the narrator’s own strive for identity.
Furthermore, Absalom, Absalom! displays a concentric construction, moving from the most biased voice (Rosa Coldfield) to the apparently objective ones (a “featuring” of Quentin and his roommate at Harvard, Shreve). Being a Canadian and thus “outside” the events, Shreve can afford to ask questions and draw conclusions, paralleling the reader in doing so.
Moreover, in spite of being so “loud”, the two novels also entail silence, that is… the “sound of silence”, since the characters at the centre acquire no voice. Caddie Compson and Thomas Sutpen are “reconstructed” and “deconstructed” at the same time, whereas the characters “in charge” with this process act as a “mouth piece” for the voiceless ones.
All in all, through the technique of multiple voicing, William Faulkner draws upon the modernist crisis of communication, aware that absolute objectivity or totality for that matter are impossible to convey in an experimentalist fashion, let alone by employing traditional elements. That is why his novels sound like a “circus” of voices, either from the inside or the outside of the text (such as the “external” Shakespeare, King David’s biblical lament, etc.)…
Faulkner, William (1972): Absalom, Absalom!. New York: Random House, Vintage International.
Faulkner, William (1991): The Sound and the Fury. New York: Random House, Vintage International.
Geismar, Maxwell (1971): Writers in crisis. The American Novel, 1925-1940. New York: E.P.Dutton & Co., Inc.
Mihăieş, Mircea (2005): Cărţile crude. Jurnalul intim şi sinuciderea. Iaşi: Polirom.
URL: http://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/tomorrow-tomorrow-tomorrow [30.05.2009]
 “Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.” [my italics] (Shakespeare, qtd. in: http://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/tomorrow-tomorrow-tomorrow [30.05.2009])
 “(…) memory itself passes into silence.” (Geismar, 1971: 144)
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Editor, redactor sef, conceptie, tehnoredactarea Revistei Agero: Lucian Hetco (Germania).
Colectivul de redactie: George Roca (Australia), Melania Cuc (Romania, Canada), Maria Diana Popescu (România), Cezarina Adamescu (România)
Poşta redactiei: revista_agero@ yahoo.com