ABSALOM ABSALOM BY WILLIAM FAULKNER

1

Seth Miller responded to the invitation the demand to speak or listen to old worn-out stretched to the limit Mary Warren with little enthusiasm. Mary Warren who was worn-out to the limit beyond decaying beyond death beyond recognition holed up in her worn-out house, shawled against the weather and shawled against the town against people like Seth, black-shawled, forever black. Her room even more than her house was her feeble No, her croaked protest against all that she had seen had suffered or thought she had suffered the last near fifty years, so why had Seth been invited into that weak thin-walled shell of a house of a room, stepping carefully? What she had for him what to say to give to offer up to the progeny of a family she had walked away from reproachfully all those years ago, what she had was but a lamentation a wail as thin as her walls as black as her shawl her tongue.

You wont remember him you who were a child then, dirtied stopped up in childhood living not on the land but like the land. You won’t remember him signing up then not but a year or two older than yourself now, but older yes in woe and weariness. A reader then but not an alwaysreader becauseit would come to pass that he wouldn’t read no more, but when he signed up he was reading all the time even though at that time he probably felt himself that it wouldn’t last. And it didn’t last though he didnt stopdead, no he slowly slid he slithered into stopping with the pace and irrevocable inevitable endreach of a soon to be extinct animal. He acknowledged that inevitability to himself and to others before final-stopping, maybe in the midtime of his stopping he said there are few good books and he, the high and mighty man, meant that, not many but too-few good books and he quoted Richard Ford who’d said the same that about there not being many good books but only too-few and the writer Richard Ford was another who started books and abandoned them, more abandoned than read because writing aint as easy as it strikes some, that talent isnt a democracy. He guessed at hundred-fifty, that was his own estimate the number of good writers in the whole of history and he couldn’t square that with a lifetime of reading. Do you understand?

Yes ma’am, said Seth, but he didn’t really, not unerstand that is, why this never-enthusiastic lifeburnt old woman would feel compelled to break her vow of silence and isolation now and with this.

Yet he didn’t spare his speech not even for a minute though some would have been mightily glad of that; he spoke of a trinity, of what he considered the only true greats, and Sutpen always Sutpen and that cry of Absalom! David’s patriarchal cry for his errant son. Always ,jumping off with the difficulty, or the undifficulty, how too much is made of that difficulty so as it actually influences the way that new readers read the work so that they find what is absent in it, always wanting to be defeated to be beaten and destroyed. Absalom, Absalom! The cry of anguish, of defeat and deflation: Absalom Absalom. Fractured, he’d admit to that, circular repetitive for some more than boring but not especially difficult he’d have no truck with that, them making excuses for themselves in advance in his exasperation he said it.

2

Seth made on home, a walk as short as it was unmemorable, though this place was his childhood, his always home town. But memories are like unmastered dogs, they come when they’re ready and not when they are called or expected. Mr Miller on the stairs, foot raised about to leave and lock himself up in patriarchal pasttimes, but he could not let it lie could not allow himself to go unseen in his curiosity his need to know, so turned and dropped to the bottom of the stairs upon hearing the front door.

So? he said. And Seth bemused by all this attention stood stork-still not knowing how best to respond. His father’s eagerness like the sunheat, beating down on his face. And later: Yes, I remember his signing up. I remember e’en the first reviews, short as they was and not too bright nor int’resting; but he grew into them, like a child grows into its clothes or skin. But he continued growing past the point that wise, some’d say sane, people would and so soon grew listless and yes he mentioned about that, about giving up the reviewing and the readin e’en. I remember he said there was not many good books, a limited supply of them, but one he loved was the Faulkner one, that’s the one yown Mary Warren was speaking on. Not e’en, no, not difficult; he said he couldn’t understand that, that confusion or being lost in it, not when you compared it to Ulysses where you’d the knowledge or hadn’t, where you could fail at it through no fault of yown. Absalom Absalom requir’d patience, he said., and concentration, but it didn’t ask too much of you that wasn’t already in you. But he was humble about that, not intendin to criticise others just out of a desire for new-others not to be put off, is how he told it. Sutpen, yes, he’s one of thems in the book, and he’d speak on him certainly, but not obsessively, like Warren was suggestin, just as part of making the point about how it [the book] wasn’t big on plot, that there was barely enough plot to go round e’en, the bulk of the writin a big beautiful poetic investigation into the motivations and thought processes of these people, but from the outside from the perspective of those that were outside not Sutpen himself or his wife or children, theirs feelings and all, and how you could have put down the entire plot of the thing on a napkin with space to spare: mysterious Sutpen arriving in town and settin up, beyond his means, until he was powerful; and then took a wife and took them children out of her. One of them children makes to marry, and the brother does a bad thing in regard to it. Not much more-an that. A small napkin, son, would suffice forit. No, he wanted more to tell about memory and how Absalom Absalom’s bout that more-an anything; the fate of the South and racial tension and familial tension, but memory moreso, or that’s how he saw it. I remember him tellin me bout the structure, how it was mostly a series of monologues, like Shakespearean soliloquies. All on the same subject of Sutpen and his family; different perspectives from different people, but all a them people fixed on the same things. A book of memories, literally; ‘swell as about memory itself, bout how can you know the truth of somethin, whether you were there or not, after the event, outside of the pure-present. He thought there was no truth, outside of that, or if there was there was multiple truths, I think he said, no absolute truth certainly. 

3

“O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” quoted Seth, as his roommate looked on dazzled by that religious offering, he not knowing the line being not a bible person, and not sure on how it was relevant to his question even.

“If I got this right,” he said, “Is that there was this guy and he wrote reviews or somethin, but stopped or stopped reading at any rate, because there are only a hundred and fifty good books in the world.”

“Writers.”

“Writers, right. Anyway, so this guy thought there were three great American novels and one of them was Absalom Absalom by William Faulkner. Do you know the other two?”

“The Ambassadors and Moby Dick.”

“Ok, but this guy he was sort of obsessed maybe with Faulkner, of the three; and he went around talking about Absalom a lot, this quintessential American novel as he saw it, a novel with very little plot, just a rusty tale of a man called Sutpen and his arrival in a town and how that pissed off the locals somewhat or somethin, or unnerved them more like, and how he got married and had kids and how those kids, the son in particular, did some bad shit and so went away and that is how that quote fits in, right?”

“Yeah, kinda.”

“Right, so but that’s not the heart of the thing, but the heart of the thing is memory, like how faithful are your memories, how accurate? Like, you could have a bunch of people all witness or be part of an event and yet they might all see and remember it differently? Like, when there’s a crime and they get the witnesses to describe the perp and they [the police] get a whole bunch of wildly different descriptions. That’s one of the ways they didn’t catch that Zodiac killer, did you know that? Anyway, so memory is fallible, or not even that, because that might indicate there’s a right way to remember and this guy’s point was that there aint. So Absalom Absalom is basically structured around a few people all giving an account of this guy Sutpen, but their accounts are different and you got to wonder who knows what and is anyone lying or misremembering or is it just that they saw those things different, and that’s weird, like mind-fucking, because you start to realise that there is no reality, not really; you’ll never get to the truth of Sutpen because there is no truth of Sutpen, just what people saw and felt, their own seeing and feeling, and even those things alter from moment to moment. So, right, these monologues, these people looking back and remembering, or not, well, they’re just guessing, just postulating, just putting their own spin on things and in particular how the people involved in Sutpen’s life, the major players, how they felt; what I mean is that you got a bunch of people saying stuff, like ‘such and such felt this way and such and such felt that way’ and you’re never sure if they been told by the people involved or whether they’re just imaginin’ that’s how they felt. I got that right, Seth?”

“I guess.”

“That’s neat, right? Because here you are, listening to all this crazy mysterious bullshit about this reviewer-guy, all these hints and suggestions from your Pa and that old lady, and that puts you in the same position as that Quentin Compson, the kid in the book, who gets told all that other crazy mysterious bullshit about Sutpen, although the Sutpen bullshit is more interesting than yours, I gotta say.”

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