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As I Lay Dying ()


Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (35)

The reasons for conservative denunciation of Freud, Darwin and Marx are pretty self evident, but why is Einstein so often pinned in this same crossfire?  It is not that the Theory of Relativity is, in itself, a social ill.  Rather, the source of the enmity is the misappropriation of a more generalized ethos of relativity by the nattering Left, which has served to undermine the belief that there is such a thing as truth and that it is discernible by us.  The strength of this insidious attack, of course, lies in it's being partly correct.  If you've ever seen Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, you know the power of the argument that learning the truth can depend on gaining the proper perspective.  But, this said, the danger lies in pushing the argument further and saying that we can never be certain of the truth because we can never be certain that we have achieved that proper perspective.

As I Lay Dying is an early experiment in just this kind of relativistic storytelling.  The story of a group of cracker trash on a six day trek to bury a dead woman is told in a series of 59 interior monologues by family, friends, neighbors and even the corpse.  Nearly seventy years on, this may seem like a pretty minor innovation.  It is not minor at all; the implication is that the traditional single narrator does not suffice.  More than that, it is an attempt to undermine the notion that one person can ever comprehend the (or any) whole story.  Of course, the interesting thing about this argument, as seen best in Rashomon, is that by presenting the story at all, the author (filmmaker) is implying that they are presenting the whole story, an irony that is surely lost on them.  The import of their attack on truth is obviously that, if everything is relative, if reality depends on where you view it from and if history depends on who you ask, then it is impossible to pronounce sets of moral standards for mankind.  Ultimately, God and morality and the viability of laws depend on our ability to say some things are simply true and to make judgments about what is good and what is evil.  Complete relativity precludes this capacity; one man's evil may be another man's good.  This is why Einstein gets tarred with the same brush as the true intellectual villains of the age.

So much for the malignant form of the novel, on to it's diabolical substance.  During her monologue, Addie, our corpse, repeats her Father's admonition that:  "the reason for living is to get ready to stay dead a long time."  This is the essence of Faulkner's existentialist mission here.  The absurdity of death, as symbolized by the rotting corpse, is supposed to demonstrate that life itself is meaningless.  Meanwhile, the eventual institutionalization of Darl, is intended to call into question the entire idea of sanity and insanity in an insane world.  But, once you've denied the possibility of truth, Faulkner is right, everything is absurd.  This is the danger in what he's trying to do.  What, after all, is the point of attacking the very basis of man's existence, unless you hate man and society and embrace nihilism?

This is an anti-human book; not merely bad, but evil.   Burn it.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (F)

  

Websites:

Book-related and General Links:
    -Yoknapatawpha County: William Faulkner on the Web
    -William Faulkner: Life and Works (includes synopsis of Light in August)
    William Faulkner on the Web
    -William Faulkner Centennial Celebration (Vintage Books)
    -THE WILLIAM FAULKNER FOUNDATION, FRANCE
    -The William Faulkner Society
    -Southeast Missouri State University's Center for Faulkner Studies
    -Faulkner's Page: Tour of Oxford
    -William Faulkner: The Myth Of The South (from Let's Find Out)
    -Faulkner and Racism (ARTHUR F. KINNEY, Connotations)
    -Frederick Crews: The Strange Fate of William Faulkner (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of WILLIAM FAULKNER: AMERICAN WRITER A Biography. By Frederick R. Karl (John W. Aldridge, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of William Faulkner: American Writer A Biography By Frederick R. Karl )(Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of WILLIAM FAULKNER The Man and the Artist. By Stephen B. Oates (Louis D. Rubin Jr, NY Times Book Review)
     -REVIEW: of William Faulkner and the Tangible Past The Architecture of Yoknapatawpha. By Thomas S. Hines (Henry Taylor, NY Times Book Review)
    -William H. Gass: Mr. Blotner, Mr. Feaster, and Mr. Faulkner Faulkner: A Biography by Joseph Blotner (NY Review of Books)
    -Marvin Mudrick: The Over-Wrought Urn REVIEW of William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country by Cleanth Brooks (NY Review of Books)
   -Terry Southern: Just Folks  REVIEW: of Faulkner's People: A Complete Guide and Index to the Characters in Faulkner by Robert W. Kirk and Marvin Klotz (NY Review of Books)
    -Personal Best (JOAN SMITH, Salon)

Comments:

wtf is going on here

-

- Jan-05-2007, 10:03

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I loved the movie review page for this site. Most of the movies recieved an A rating down to and including a Veggie Tales cartoon. In turn Faulkner, Joyce, Miller and many more get F's for literary masterworks. In another comment I posted i made the suggestion that these fools get day jobs in their local comic book store, however in light of their movie review listings i feel that the local blockbuster rental center may be more appropriate. The noble geeks at the comic shop probably wouldn't be able to stand these assholes.

- brothers dumb

- Dec-04-2006, 15:59

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Yes, your notion that Faulkner telling the story from different viewpoints counts as some sort of disgusting nihilism is truly brilliant--even more brilliant than your idea that homosexuality is "little more than a pose." You are a genius and everyone should totally listen to you and the things you have to say.

This site is not only misguided, but anti-intellectual. Burn it.

- Boris Dudd

- Aug-27-2006, 22:12

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Your opinions are truly foolish. I pray for your enlightenment.

-

- Aug-11-2005, 11:04

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And if oj was referring to Absalom, Absalom! in his accusation that faulkner doesn't address timeless, universal ideas, he need only look to the title. The book is steeped in christian and greek lore and explores the manner in which it is still relevant.

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- Feb-20-2005, 22:44

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No, you are wrong. Good modern literature tackles timeless truths and problems, but recognizes the powerful forces of the modern era.

"And that may have been when I first found it out, that Addie Bundren should be hiding anything she did, who had tried to teach us that deceit was such that, in a world where it was, nothing else could be very bad or very important, not even poverty." -As I Lay Dying

You don't think this constitutes a universal, timeless moral quandry? The idea that we don't always practice as we preach? What does constitute such a thing, in your opinion?

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- Feb-20-2005, 22:41

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You've stumbled into the truth there. Modern artists followed modern science down dead ends rather than sticking to universal, timeless ideas. It rendered modern art subjective, temporary, false and forgettable.

- oj

- Feb-08-2005, 07:53

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"I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail." -William Faulkner

Orrin Judd,

You appear to have missed Faulkner's point completely; browsing your site, I notice that you frequently completely miss the point. You need to free yourself of your dreadful political angst when you approach these works of art. Like or dislike modernism, it reflects the fundamental changes that science and technology have brought to EVERY person's worldview--religious and non-religious. Faulkner was anything but a nihlist: he was a caring person who lived on the edge of financial ruin for much of his life, happy to give away what extra money he had to support his extended family.

Take the previous reviewer's advice and read "Absalom, Absalom!". If you don't let yourself hallucinate a subversive philosophical agenda, you will realize that "Absalom" is an philosophical exploration into the grand human story and the individual stories that are its tributaries. Sure, Faulkner suggests the old South was in many ways morally corrupt, but I hope you'll agree on that much. There is, however, so much more to the book than this simple moral judgement.

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- Feb-08-2005, 01:29

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"What, after all, is the point of attacking the very basis of man's existence, unless you hate man and society and embrace nihilism?"

"Between grief and nothing, I will take grief." -William Faulkner

Nobody is required to like Faulkner or enjoy his books. I think, however, that you've failed to give him a chance. I freely admit that I had to make an effort at liking his work, but I don't think--as you state about Joyce and imply about Faulkner--that I've been fooled into admiration. Out of curiosity, what do you think about Paradise Lost? Do you think that just because it is a tremendously difficult work that it doesn't warrant the time people from all sides of the political spectrum have spent toiling on it?

I bring this up because I think that in not reading Absalom, Absalom!, you've missed Faulkner's version of Paradise Lost. Absalom weaves together issues that Faulkner dealt with in all of his earlier and creates an intricate answer to the question of how we can find truth in an existence where grief is inherent. Admitedly, Faulkner does not limit us to God as a source of truth, but neither does he preclude God. Above all, he wants to tell us that if the answers in life come easily, they are not the right answers. And if you, the reviewer, think the answers come easily, may God have pity on your soul.

As a note, I enjoyed As I lay Dying enough to say that I would read it again, but wasn't crazy over it. Intruder in the Dust is quite readable and, beyond drawing an interesting picture of racial relations in the postbellum south, is an excellent murder mysery. Go Down, Moses is my second favorite behind Absalom.

Now, the Sound and the Fury, I really don't like. It is too personal of a novel: too rooted in Faulkner's own strange psyche. It is, however, entirely worth slogging through in preparation for Absalom, Absalom!.

- Dan S.

- Dec-11-2004, 22:13

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I can only hope that this site is a parody.

Einstein was a liberal, btw, which probably goes a good way toward explaining why some right wingers have a hard time accepting the scientific concept of relativity, and misinterpret it to be a treatise somehow relevant to religion or morality (and therefore false and unacceptable). It seems especially difficult for dogmatic thinkers to seperate the man from the idea, or science from theology.

In the case of As I Lay Dying, yo've fallen into the trap of identifying a character with the author. Faulkner was no more a nihilistic misanthrope than Dickens was a curmudgeonly miser or JK Rowling is a plucky wizard.

- Faulkner fan

- Dec-08-2004, 06:25

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Your criticisms don't really hold up. To top that off, you obviously do not have a proper grasp of Faulkner. Don't write about things you don't know because it really shows off your ignorance.

General readership, get your reviews from somewhere else that understands the literature they write about.

- Dave

- Oct-18-2004, 01:07

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I find it interesting that you criticize a man like Faulkner for being a relativist and, by extension, anti-human. He wasn't. Faulkner himself once wrote that his aim in writing was to "lift man's spirits." Faulkner was deeply saddened by the death of Camus (who made a stage adaptation of one of Faulkner's works), but believed that Camus was asking questions that only God knew the answer to.

Your interpretation of the novel and Faulkner are fundamentally incorrect and your understanding of him has been sabotaged by your dogmatic views. Your main goal in reviewing novels, it seems, is to attack everything that is even moderately experimental (hard to read?), even when the views expressed aren't too terribly far from yours. It's terrifying that you assume every attempt at literary experimentation is a leftist attack on morality, especially when attacking Faulkner, a man who was obsessed with what he considered the moral failings of the South.

I don't know how you manage to keep your mind closed so tight, but please, quit trying to review works of art if you have no concept of aesthetic achievement and feel the need to turn everything you can't comprehend into a left-wing assault on civilization.

- kristofer

- Aug-04-2004, 21:04

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"antihuman"? It's a book.

- oj

- Apr-22-2004, 17:59

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I think maybe you look at truth from a dogmatic perspective, and that's ok, but to take it out on a work of art that you've obviously misinterpreted to the utmost degree, under the guise of a review no less, is simply uncalled for. The absurdity of life and the lack of a constant truth is not cause for nihilism, but examination and acceptance of other people's values not just your own. Faulkner's experiment with viewpoints was groundbreaking and still is. Also your characterization of Marx and Freud as intellectual villians is at the least ignorant and at the most evidence of your brainwashing. These were brilliant philosophers who dedicated their lives to understanding and benefiting mankind, especially Marx. But they would have understood your viewpoint because they understood that it was all how you look at things, and this is the way I look at this. I can't imagine how a well read person wouldn't recognize their inherent goodness, but maybe now I can. Burn it? Now that's an anti-human statement, if I've ever heard one.

- incredulous

- Apr-22-2004, 17:39

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I became absolutely frustrated by your entire review site. Are you simply against books which test the traditional parameters of fiction, or do you need plot and character development spoon-fed to you? The modernists - Joyce and Faulkner especially - who broke new ground for the form of the novel ushered in an era that challenged readers to do more than watch a chronological progression of images pass by. I am forever indebted to those who have stretched my mind, unlike the authors who so often create formulaic tomes which constantly check to be sure that their readers are "getting" their messages. Get a clue!

- Horrified

- Feb-21-2004, 10:36

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