The Faulknerian Anthropocene: Scales of Time and History in ‘The Wild Palms’ and ‘Go Down, Moses’

Chapter in The New Cambridge Companion to William Faulkner, Edited by John T. Matthew

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Excerpt: “As part of what has become a robust body of criticism putting Faulkner’s work into conversation with theories and literatures of the Global South, Hosam Aboul-Ela has recently argued for the need to attend to Faulkner’s formal strategies for registering modes of historical knowledge that con- test the linearity and progressive teleology of Western history. Aboul-Ela challenges a longstanding attention to Faulkner’s stylistic repetition as mere modernist aesthetics by claiming that repetition marks a formal expression of Faulkner’s understanding of the American South as a colonial economy, a post-Reconstruction dependent of the North. Like the postcolonial theo- rists and writers with whom Aboul-Ela compares him, Faulkner’s temporally experimental narration “equates history with continuing processes of peripheralization and disruption, which are better expressed through a nar- rative that keeps ending up back at the beginning.” Thus, Aboul-Ela aligns Faulkner’s narrative strategies not with the high modernist writers (Stein, Eliot, Joyce) who exhibited similar nonlinear formal features as an aesthetic escape from the teleology of history, and with whom Faulkner has never quite fit, but rather with the Latin American, Arab, and other third-world writers who have long claimed Faulkner as an influence.

Faulkner’s aesthetic strategies are not an effacing of history but rather, like his thematic attention to race, class, gender, and sexuality, another mode of articulating otherness that brings history, and historical violence, into the frame with more precise mimetic accuracy. Because these stylistic features offer a formal expression of ideological confrontations within colonized societies, writers from the peripheries and semiperipheries find in Faulkner useful strategies for “connect[ing] literary form and material conditions,” as Aboul-Ela writes of Gabriel García Márquez, who claimed Faulkner as a formative influence.”

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