The Fantasy of Orality in Absalom, Absalom! Essay

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Four years after the publication of the first edition of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!, Wallace Stevens described a modern aesthetic form which necessarily acted against its own status as a (fixed) form1. "What will [temporarily] suffice" in "Modern Poetry" would replace, as the mind's object, what is--or, perhaps more faithfully to the modernist vision, what used to be. The poem of the motion of the mind in time would replace the poem of permanent meaning.

The fundamental difference between present and past, the breakdown of static forms, and the necessity of temporal flow all inform Stevens' aesthetic, which works towards a dynamic experience in time, as a substitute for the communication of truth independent of time. I think an
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James Guetti finds in the various narratives the final indication "that the gap between experience and meaning in this novel must remain unbridgeable, and that the narrative is only, after all, words" (81). Of principal interest to Guetti's reading is the distance, in space and especially in time, between the facts (what he calls the "meaning") of the Sutpen history, and its various narrators. The intensity with which the tellers construct their narratives reflects the desperation of their frustrated reaches for historical truth.

I would suggest that the conclusions of Guetti and others are not so much conclusions as points of origin: that the final uncknowability and untellability of the truth of the Sutpen history may be the conditions for the possibility of the way narrative works in Absalom, Absalom! When Guetti says that "each attempt to understand, each vision, arises out of a moment of failure" (80), he points to uncertainty as a motivation for the construction of narratives. Guetti's insight is that uncertainty here means that narrative is necessarily, at least to a degree, fictional narrative. John T. Matthews puts it this way: "Absalom is not inseminated by a single closed meaning or a discrete set of meanings, but must disseminate the seed, fostering a family of tellings" (152). And telling here, precisely because it cannot completely be reporting, is creating, and the intensity of telling (and of listening) in

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