Thursday, June 19, 2008

Heavy In June, Light In August

Last week I read Faulkner's Light in August for the first time. Although I was an English major in college, I missed all the American authors. My faculty advisor was quite willing to let me sign up for all the century-by-century review classes on British lit, along with Chaucer, Milton, Donne, and Spenser, perhaps because he was a medievalist. I skipped modern writers, including the Americans, reasoning that I could read those by myself, any time, but where else would I get a chance to have someone lead me by the hand through all of Milton's English poems? How else was I going to get through "Paradise Regained?"

It wasn't a bad plan, and I have been enjoying Faulkner's novels as I am able to track down library books. However, I've been wondering what other people thought about Light in August. Once accustomed to literary criticism, I seem to be reluctant to give it up. That's why I've been poking around the Web looking for commentary on Faulkner in general, and this book in particular.

I've been surprised at how little "good stuff" is available. Last summer I gathered a collection of Faulkner links with helpful and interesting biographical information, bibliographies, and other assemblages of information. Beyond these, and the home pages of University of Michigan's Faulkner collection, all I find with straightforward search engines are plot summaries and simple-minded analyses of the most obvious literary devices: everything you need to cheat on your homework. I turned up a few links to scholarly articles, but these are all on for-pay academic journal Web pages, well beyond my budget.

What I was hoping for was some sort of feminist critique, because the women in Light in August are so varied and interesting, and Faulkner's attitude toward them seems so ambiguous to me. I reckon I'll just have to work it out for myself.

I did find this interesting experiment in exploiting the possibilities of presenting Faulkner's literature on the Web:The Sound and the Fury: a Hypertext Edition. Ed. Stoicheff, Muri, Deshaye, et al. Updated Mar. 2003. U of Saskatchewan. Here's how the editors describe their project:

William Faulkner's 1929 novel The Sound and the Fury is a complex text....[I]ts frequent use of stream of consciousness creates great narrative density; it is highly allusive and intertextual throughout...

It was this complexity that initially attracted the editors of this edition to the idea of placing The Sound and the Fury within a digital environment. The possibilities for visually displaying a text's information and structures in a hypertext format are rich and productive, and the first goal of this edition was to exploit those possibilities to display the novel's first, chronologically most difficult, section.

The presentation is quite fascinating--there are marginal links to literary references, critical essays, explanatory charts and graphs, as well as usual the collection of links.

1 comment:

Bob Babione said...

Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff by A.E. Housman:

And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world's not.

About Light in August: my college freshman year included a summer reading list. That list included Faulkner, maybe The Sound and the Fury, maybe some other novel. Whatever it was, I just could not get it. Sometime later I picked up Light in August. Reading it was the first time I enjoyed Faulkner. After that I read some more of his novels.

That is the limit of what I can offer as lieterary criticism on that, or almost any other literary work. It hurts me to think of the subject, so I guess I need the Housman "cure." :(