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Despite its occasional use in spoken monologue, the Very Long Literary Sentence properly exists in the mind (hence "stream-of-consciousness"), since the most wordy of literary exhalations would exhaust the lungs’ capacity. Molly Bloom’s 36-page, two-sentence run-on soliloquy at the close of Joyce’s Ulysses takes place entirely in her thoughts. Faulkner’s longest sentence---smack in the middle of Absalom, Absalom! —unspools in Quentin Compson’s tortured, silent ruminations. According to a 1983 Guinness Book of Records, this monster once qualified as literature’s longest at 1,288 words...
    5 Wonderfully Long Literary Sentences by Samuel Beckett, Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald & Other Masters of the Run-On (Josh Jones, Open Culture)
Of course, it’s the kind of book a person would put first in a poll like that. You can feel reasonably confident, in voting for it, that nobody quite fathoms it enough to question its achievement. Self-consciously ambitious and structurally complex (unintelligible, a subset of not unsophisticated readers has always maintained), “Absalom, Absalom!” partakes of what the critic Irving Howe called “a fearful impressiveness,” the sort that “comes when a writer has driven his vision to an extreme.” It may represent the closest American literature came to producing an analog for “Ulysses,” which influenced it deeply — each in its way is a provincial Modernist novel about a young man trying to awaken from history — and like “Ulysses,” it lives as a book more praised than read, or more esteemed than enjoyed.
    -How William Faulkner Tackled Race — and Freed the South From Itself (John Jeremiah Sullivan, June 28, 2012, NY Times)

Maybe somewhat less important—but strenuously agreed upon nonetheless by these two figures—was the need for clear, concise prose that avoids obfuscation. In Politics and the English Language—an essay routinely taught in college composition classes—Orwell describes politically misleading writing as overstuffed with “pretentious diction” and “meaningless words.” These are, he writes, signs of a “decadent… civilization.” Churchill has had at least as much influence as Orwell on a certain kind of political writing, though not the kind most of us read often.

In 1940, Churchill issued a memo to his staff titled “Brevity.” He did not express concerns about creeping fascism in bureaucratic communiques, but decried the problem of wasted time, “while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points.” He ends up, however, saying some of the same things as Orwell, in fewer words.

I ask my colleagues and their staffs to see to it that their Reports are shorter.

The aim should be Reports which set out the main points in a series of short, crisp paragraphs.


    Winston Churchill Praises the Virtue of “Brevity” in Memos to His Staff: Concise Writing Leads to Clearer Thinking (Open Culture, August 10th, 2020)

We have previously discussed the reasons why modern art and literature became so obscurantist, so there's no need to rehash it here. The gist is that as scientific theory (physics in particular) became so complicated that only professionals could keep up, other intellectuals felt they needed to make their own fields equally needlessly indecipherable, so that day-trippers could not access the works. As James Joyce put it: The demand I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole life to reading my works. Suffice it to say, Absalom, Absalom! is considered America's most Joycean novel. As such, it is meant to be studied by grad students, not enjoyed by readers, as see Mr. Sullivan above. In this, Faulkner succeeded. But, as readers, we need not indulge him. Give this one a miss.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (D)


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See also:

William Faulkner (5 books reviewed)
General Literature
William Faulkner Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: William Faulkner
    -FILMOGRAPHY: William Faulkner (IMDB)
    -ENTRY: William Failkner (Mississippi Writers Page)
    -William Faulkner (Poetry Foundation)
    -BIO: William Faulkner (Nobel Prize)
    -Faulkner at Virginia
    -The Center for Faulkner Studies
    -LECTURE: "I decline to accept the end of man." (William Faulkner: Nobel Prize Speech, Stockholm, Sweden, December 10, 1950)
    -INTERVIEW: William Faulkner, The Art of Fiction No. 12 (Interviewed by Jean Stein, SPRING 1956, Paris Review)
    -VIDEO: Writings of William Faulkner: From Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s home, the guests talked about his life and his writings, focusing on the Yoknapatawpha County novels (C-SPAN, MAY 5, 2002)
    -VIDEO: Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury: The panel talked about the works of Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning Southern writer William Faulkner. (C-SPAN, DECEMBER 9, 2001)
    -VIDEO: Shelby Foote on Faulkner: Mr. Foote talked about the writings of William Faulkner and his view of the South (C-SPAN, MAY 2, 2002)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Absalom, Absalom!
    -ENTRY: William Faulkner American author (Michael Millgate, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ENTRY: Absalom, Absalom! novel by Faulkner (Richard Godden, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ENTRY: Absalom, Absalom! (Encyclopedia.com)
    -AUDIO BOOK: W. Kandinsky reads 'Absalom, Absalom!' (You Tube)
    -INTERACTIVE CHRONOLOGY: Absalom, Absalom! (STEPHEN RAILTON & WILL ROURK, UNIV OF VIRGINIA)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Absalom, Absalom! (Grade Saver)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Absalom, Absalom! (Study.com)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Absalom, Absalom! (Cliff Notes)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Absalom, Absalom! (Spark Notes)
    -ESSAY: Understanding William Faulkner (Mark Royden Winchell, September 24th, 2020, Imaginative Conservatism)
    -ESSAY: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner: American Ulysses: A perfect novel and distinctive, masterful version of the stream-of-consciousness style (Lucy Sweeney Byrne, 8/15/20, Irish Times)
    -ESSAY: The Many Guises of William Faulkner: As 'The Sound and the Fury' celebrates its 90th anniversary, read about two-time Fiction winner William Faulkner's varied career (Sean Murphy, The Pulitzer Prizes)
    -ESSAY: William Faulkner’s Hollywood Odyssey: The biggest name in Southern lit didn’t spend his whole life in Mississippi (JOHN MERONEY, April/May 2014, Garden & Gun)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: How William Faulkner Tackled Race — and Freed the South From Itself (John Jeremiah Sullivan, June 28, 2012, NY Times)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: What to Do About William Faulkner: A white man of the Jim Crow South, he couldn’t escape the burden of race, yet derived creative force from it. (DREW GILPIN FAUST, SEPTEMBER 2020, The Atlantic)
Perhaps the most powerful of Faulkner’s tellings of the Civil War story is Absalom, Absalom! (1936), a novel structured around Quentin Compson’s own refusal to look away. Although Faulkner insisted that Quentin did not speak for him, Gorra has “never quite believed him.” Quentin’s search to understand why Charles Bon was murdered during the very last days of the war unfolds through his elaboration of successive narratives in a manner not unlike Faulkner’s own. Unsatisfied with each version of the story he uncovers, Quentin looks again, arriving through ever more disturbing revelations at the South’s original sin: the distorting and dehumanizing power of race. It is race that pulls the trigger. “So it’s the miscegenation, not the incest, which you cant bear,” Bon says just before Henry, at once his brother and his fiancée’s brother, shoots him.

    -ESSAY: Faulkner's "Absalom, Absalom!" and the Mysterious Rosa Coldfield (Alicia D. Costello, 2010, Inquiries)
    -ESSAY: Absalom, Absalom! as a Hardboiled Detective Novel: Faulkner's Rereading of The Sound and the Fury (SUWABE Koichi, THE FAULKNER JOURNAL OF JAPAN)
    -ESSAY: From Genesis to Revelation: The Grand Design of William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (Maxine Rose, Autumn 1980, Studies in American Fiction)
    -ESSAY: Poetic Justice in William Faulkner's "Absalom Absalom" (MANUELA GERTZ)
    -ESSAY: Reading Bon's Letter and Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (David Krause, March 1984, PMLA)
    -ESSAY: Faulkner's Map of Yoknapatawpha: The End of Absalom, Absalom! (Robert Hamblin, Center for Faulkner Studies)
    -ESSAY: "ABSALOM, ABSALOM!" AND THE NEGRO QUESTION (JOHN V. HAGOPIAN, Summer 1973, Modern Fiction Studies)
    -ESSAY: The Biblical Background Of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (JOHN V. HAGOPIAN, January 1974, CEA Critic)
    -ESSAY: An Archetypal Study on William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (Haihui Chen, Theory and Practice in Language Studies)
    -ESSAY: Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and Me (Ed Protzel, 6/27/2016)
    -ESSAY: Symposium on Absalom, Absalom! (Richard Ford, Spring 2013, Three Penny Review)
    -ESSAY: William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!: A Narrative of Inexhaustible Word and Unfathomable Past (Djamila Houamdi, IAFOR Journal of Literature & Librarianship)
    -THESIS: Impressions of morality in Absalom, Absalom! (Eric G. R. Stephenson, University of Colorado)
    -ESSAY: The Postmodernist Features In Absalom Absalom English Literature (UK Essays, 1st Jan 1970)
    -ESSAY: Absalom, Absalom!: Story-telling as a mode of transcendence (Richard Forrer, Fall 1976, The Southern Literary Journal)
    -ETEXT: William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom: A Case book (Fred Hobson, editor)
    -ESSAY: Narrating the Indeterminate: Shreve McCannon in Absalom, Absalom! (Jo Alyson Parker)
    -ESSAY: Postmodern Truth in William Faulkner's "Absalom, Absalom!" (Nahid Sharifi, H. R. Rezayee and *Kh. Mohamadpour, Life Sciences Journal)
    -ESSAY: Narrative Voice in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom (Literature Essay Samples, March 1, 2019)
    -ESSAY: Reflection of History in Absalom, Absalom!
    -ESSAY: Faulkner's Stylistic Difficulty: A Formal Analysis of Absalom, Absalom! (Eric Sandarg, 12-14-2017, Georgia State University)
    -ESSAY: As I Lay Trying: How to read William Faulkner: Advice for reading William Faulkner (Christopher Rieger, 4/26/16, MPR)
    -ESSAY: Ragged, Unkempt, Strange: On William Faulkner: For all the ways it is rife with tenderness, fury and ugliness, William Faulkner’s fiction is stubbornly persistent in its artistry. (Joanna Scott, NOVEMBER 20, 2012, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: Sutpen's Delay in Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (Robert Yarup, 07 Aug 2010, The Explicator)
    -ESSAY: Nic Pizzolatto on 'Absalom, Absalom!' (To the Best of Our Knowledge: Bookmarks)
    -ESSAY: James Joyce and His Influences: William Faulkner and Anthony Burgess (An abstract of a Dissertation by Maxine i!3urke, July, Ll.981, Drake University)
    -ESSAY: Joyce and Faulkner (Thomas E. Connolly, Summer, 1979, James Joyce Quarterly)
    -ESSAY: The Jim Crow South in Faulkner’s Fiction (Michael Gorra, NYRB)
    -ESSAY: Down Through the Faulkner Bloodline, Pride and Racial Guilt Commingled: Michael Gorra on William Faulkner's Great-Grandfather (Michael Gorra, August 24, 2020, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: You Need to Read Faulkner Right Now but You Might Need a Map: No white American author has ever written so well about the racial complexities of his country, but no author poses more challenges to unsuspecting readers. Here’s a guide (Michael Gorra, Sep. 13, 2020, daily Beast)
    -ARCHIVES: The Faulkner Journal of Japan
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (Dave Nash, Medium)
This novel requires time and attention, it’s not something to read in two minute intervals, it’s not for scanning or skimming, its paragraphs go for pages; its longest sentence is 1292 words. Faulkner’s flowing style, long sentences, stream of consciousness writing conveys all the perceptions, thoughts, and feelings of a single moment. It enables Faulkner to throw everything he has into each page, put his heart in every paragraph, and make each sentence piece of his soul.

    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (Arthur Hirsch, Baltimore Sun)
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (KC Public Library)
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (Rose Reads Novels)
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (J. A. Bryant, Jr., Twentieth-Century Southern Literature)
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (Michael A. Khan)
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (Literary Corner Cafe)
    -REVIEW: of As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (Orlo Williams, September 26, 1935, Times Literary Supplement)

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