AN ETHIC OF THE WHITE SOUTHERN SELF: THE DIALECTICS OF HISTORICAL IDENTITY AND INDIVIDUAL ANONYMITY IN INTRUDER IN THE DUST.
While the incident at the center of William Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust (1948) is supposed to have "happened about 1935 or '40" (FU 141), the book's publication coincides with a period of identity crisis for the white South. After the Second World War, as the United States seized its worldwide role as the representative of democracy, the Jim Crow South was regarded as an ideological blemish on the whole nation (Cobb 186). At the same time, however, Cold War politics influenced domestic racial politics, and Faulkner was becoming more engaged with these intersecting ideological problems; as John T. Matthews recognizes, "conflicts within modernity," including the one between racism and antiracism at the outbreak of World War II, "came to be subsumed under Cold War priorities" in Faulkner's works from this period (4). Robert H. Brinkmeyer observes that "Stevens compares the position of southerners facing northern interference to that of citizens of Germany and Russia facing totalitarian rule" (200), and in 1948, after Harry Truman's integration of the armed forces, many Southern liberals otherwise committed to racial progress might also have perceived parallels between the ideological threats of Nazi Germany and Soviet Communism and federal intervention in racial matters. Similarly, Matthews argues that Faulkner himself has a divided perspective on the South during this period, viewing it both as an oppressor of African Americans and a victim of federal intervention and, ultimately, of Northern capitalism (5). (1)
Examining the relationship between liberalism and racism of the South, Leigh Anne Duck points out that white Southern intellectuals of the 1950s "tended to support the idea of ... cultural identity" and attempted to "separate political content from cultural discussion, suggesting that shared commitment to 'the South's identity' need not be affected by discord regarding the apartheid that continued to shape the region's economic, governmental, and social structures" (216). Through her analysis of Requiem for a Nun (1951), Duck insists that Faulkner, dealing with "the problem of how to articulate the political meanings that might emerge from cultural differences" (217), associates the temporality of the US with neoliberal capitalism which is "more overtly restrictive and speeding" (221) than liberalism. Moreover, Duck claims that for Faulkner, white nationalism--which has traditionally been ascribed to the South's backwardness--and the teleology of neoliberalism now coincide with each other. The anxiety about the fusion of the North and the South that underlies Faulkner's text thus illustrates his ideological preference for Jeffersonian liberalism rather than neoliberal capitalism.
I argue, however, that Faulkner's attention to ethics--evident in the putatively "conservative" conclusion of Intruder in the Dust--transcends the limitations of a practically and immediately effective answer to contemporary racial politics. (2) Chick voluntarily chooses to accept his Southern white identity not in order to insist on his cultural difference within the whole nation, but in order to claim persistent moral responsibility for the past sins of his community. Although Chick's actions and attitudes originate from a shameful experience with and a sense of debt to a black man that could not happen anywhere other than in the US South, the perspective that he attains at the end of the novel affirms a moral universalism in terms of human freedom. Faulkner does not leave the novel with a hope that Southerners can possibly solve the race problem someday by themselves. Rather, he believes that they should do so as moral subjects, sincerely and autonomously accepting responsibility for the historical sin of their community. Simply put, according to Faulkner's narrative, Chick learns that the Southern identity--or, identity in general--should be affirmed as a moral means, not as an existential purpose.
My reading of Intruder in the Dust is indebted to Walter Benn Michaels's The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History (2004) in two ways. First, it is an intentionalist reading committed to reconstructing the vision that Faulkner proposes through the novel. Secondly, it argues that Faulkner is committed to universal values, even though these are expressed within the racial and regional contexts of the US South, and that this commitment necessarily rejects the value of difference qua difference. Michaels's two claims--on behalf of intentionalism and universalism--in fact entail each other. Casting doubt on the supreme value of cultural pluralism, Michaels writes that "[t]he commitment to cultural diversity makes sense as long as the practices it asks us to value are those practices that seem to us neither better nor worse, neither true nor false--as long as they involve or constitute an identity" (Shape 5051). As he scathingly suggests, arguments about "difference" and "identity" can neither be true nor false, unlike "disagreements," which involve the contestation of claims that can be true or false. Against claims on behalf of difference and identity, Michaels argues for a universalization that can be established only through disagreement: "The universal does not compel our agreement, it is implied by our disagreement" (31). His commitment to intentionalist reading thus entails the explication of an author's beliefs, a difficult task but not in principle impossible, followed by critical engagement with them. Precisely because they are beliefs--and so "necessarily either true or false" (117)--this method is opposed to what Michaels calls "affective reading," in which identity overrides any common horizon of values and precludes the kind of universalism that disagreement makes possible.
According to Michaels's historical topography, the Cold War "linked difference to disagreement"; because it was a clash of ideologies, whose partisans were committed to the truth and the superiority of their respective philosophical positions irrespective of their individual subject positions, it "could be understood to make identity irrelevant" (Shape 30). Once liberal democracy has triumphed and what Francis Fukuyama calls the end of history has arrived, however, "the crucial thing about people ... is not what they believe but who they are" (Michaels, Shape 26). (3) If Michaels is correct, then it makes more sense to consider the treatment of white Southern identity and racial politics in Intruder in the Dust in light of its contemporary moment, in which the "universal" ideological clash of the Cold War takes precedence over a framework of identity politics that would only emerge later.
On the other hand, if--as I argue--Faulkner is committed to a moral universalism, why does he also insist on the importance of regional identity for characters such as Chick? Michaels attacks "the idea that the things you do and the beliefs you hold can be justified by a description of who you are" (Shape 10), but he does so because the sole purpose of such justifications is to establish and claim identity, not to investigate the validity of belief. I interpret Intruder in the Dust as a process in which Chick comes to understand that what he does and what he believes should be justified by appeals to his white Southern identity, but only in order to establish the validity of his actions and beliefs--not of his identity as such. In this way, I suggest that Faulkner offers a kind of synthesis of Michaels's dichotomy of identity and belief. Unlike critics who discern an ideological shift from Faulkner's earlier works to his later ones, "a turn from a modernist aesthetic to an aesthetic of engagement" (Dimitri 12), I describe Faulkner's project in Intruder in the Dust as an ethical quest for Chick's authentic self as a Southern white man. (4)
FROM "FACE" TO "FACE": SHIFTS IN ETHICAL OTHERNESS
In a rebuttal to Philip Weinstein's argument that Lucas transforms from a subject into an object of the novel's dominant discourse (76-77), Donald M. Kartiganer holds that the absence of the black man in the latter half of the book indicates that
whites must grant this equality not as a reward for anything that blacks may do to deserve or demand it, but because that equality is their unquestionable right by virtue of their membership within the homogeneous community, not under Northern pressure, but under the pressure of social justice itself. (146)
Because of such a "refusal to rationalize a 'go slow' approach to civil rights by claiming that black people must first 'earn' their right to equality," Kartiganer finds Intruder in the Dust to be "a book of great moral courage and clarity" (145). Although Kartiganer's argument thus touches on a moral universalism that insists on African Americans' "unquestionable" right, it still involves an identitarian move, confusing the black people's "membership within the homogeneous community" with "social justice itself." Indeed, given the Cold War background in which Southerners associated federal intervention with European totalitarianism, there must have been little difference perceived between "Northern pressure" and "the pressure of social justice itself"--that is, both could easily be understood by white Southerners as a totalitarian threat--inasmuch as there was no freedom.
Such confusion of identitarianism with universalism seems prompted by Lucas's status as the in-between. Some critics have interpreted Lucas as a significant character (5) whose ambivalence as "a marginal man ... paradoxically affirms the complex multiracial, multicultural web of kinship ties of modern Americans" (Bell 233). According to these critics, therefore, his quest for freedom in Intruder in the Dust illuminates "a sincere attempt at challenging cultural stereotypes" (Dimitri 17). However, the struggles and difficulties with which Lucas is confronted are, quite ironically, based on a sense of honor evoked by the white patriarchal authority of his ancestor, Lucius Quintus Carothers Mc Caslin. (6) Simply put, Lucas suffers because of his whiteness--an observation also suggested by Keith Clark, who argues that Faulkner's depiction of Lucas paradoxically reinforces the importance of white Southern identity. Clark observes that Faulkner's intention in Intruder in the Dust is to depict Lucas as "a Herculean black everyman" and points out that he "can only achieve full 'manhood' by becoming a black superman who inhabits a space not merely on the outskirts of any identifiable black community, but a space completely outside of that community" (25, 26). Clark thus asserts that "[c]ontrary to what the author may have desired," the black man in the novel is "not an improvement on but a deterioration of Lucas Beauchamp" (26), but this argument on the "revised" version of Lucas relies on his own analysis of "The Fire and the Hearth" (in Go Down, Moses ). Clark correctly notes that Faulkner disassociates Lucas almost completely from the black community, but for this very reason, his claim that Intruder in the Dust should be read as a commitment to the politics of black identity seems implausible. Consequently, in order to reflect on Faulkner's intention as the implied author, Intruder in the Dust as a whole should be read as a novel about white Southern identity, not as one about racial politics; it seems to make more sense to read it as "a young boy's growing up into manhood" (Brooks 288).
Chick's crucial problem is not to define his white Southern identity in terms of its difference from either black Southerners or Americans elsewhere, but to establish an ethical white Southern self that acknowledges and acts upon universal moral values. The process through which Chick learns both self-criticism and criticism of "white" Southern values is exemplified in the faces that catch the boy's attention one after another throughout the novel. These moments simultaneously evoke and go beyond Emmanuel Levinas's concept of the face that engenders a transcendental epiphany in the dialogical ethical relationship between self and Other: "The incomprehensive nature of the presence of the Other" derives his status as "interlocutor" instead of a "theme," and thus "announces the ethical inviolability of the Other" and "puts the I in question" (195). The transition in Chick's perceptions--from Lucas's "face" through the "faces" of the white mob to their "Face"--inspires the young boy to reflect on his own historical and communal identity as a Southern white, leading him eventually to define himself in response to it. A stubborn impression of Lucas's face, on the one hand, implies the indomitability of the black man and thus the difficulty of atoning for past sins; Chick realizes that, whatever he did, Lucas would not want or even need any help from the white Southern boy, or from Southern whites in general. When Chick, having been saved from frozen creek and served food, offers a reward that Lucas rejects, the boy sees the black man's "face pigmented like a Negro's but with a nose high in the bridge and even hooked a little and what looked out through it or from behind it not black nor white either, not arrogant at all and not even scornful: just intolerant inflexible and composed" (ID 13). It is true that Faulkner's descriptions of the faces does not fully correspond to Levinas's notion of the face. For instance, though Levinas repeatedly explains that the face does not literally mean a part of a human body and therefore "cannot be seen or experienced in any that would make it the object of my intentional acts" (C. Davis 132), Faulkner represents the black man's face in a mixture of physical features and an impenetrable effect of having "no pigment at all, not even the white man's lack of it ... just intractable and composed" (ID 7).
On the other hand, however, the "faces" and the "Face" of the townspeople convey different, sinister implications. In other words, Faulkner provides, at least partially, physical descriptions of Lucas's but not the mob's face, which suggests the latter's resemblance to the Levinasian relation with the transcendental Other that is "an epiphany or revelation rather than an object of perception or knowledge" (C. Davis 45). Contrasting vividly with Lucas's "face," the faces in the town mob have more ambiguous images: "myriad yet curiously identical in their lack of individual identity, their complete relinquishment of individual identity into one We" (ID 135). At the moment, Chick perceives the white mob as the Other, referring to them with a third person pronoun "their," but also--as the capitalized "We" paradoxically indicates--underscoring their monolithic exclusivity. Recoiling from their injustice, Chick does not include himself among them. After Lucas's innocence becomes clear, however, the nebulous and "myriad" images of the "faces" converge into a singular one: "not faces but a face, not a mass nor even a mosaic of them but a Face." When later Chick observes the "Expression significantless and without past" (178) as "the composite Face of his native kind his native land, his people his blood his own" (190), he both emphasizes the communal bond with "his people" and criticizes their lack of historical consciousness; and this is where Faulkner takes a different path than Levinas. While "the face speaks to me and thereby invites me to a relation incommensurate with a power exercised" (Levinas 198), evoking "[t]he metaphysical desire for the absolutely other" (196), Faulkner brings historical sensibility into the development of Chick's ethical awareness and thus makes the boy realize that the Other is actually the self. Although his abhorrence of the mob allows Chick to separate himself from their "faces," his criticism on the lack of historical consciousness of the "Face" paradoxically makes Chick realize that he is inevitably a part of the community.
The replacement of Lucas's face with the white mob's implies that this epiphany is logically separated from the problems of race relations that initially motivated him. Whereas it may seem that "[r]ace ... emerges as an object of ethical contention in the novel, split between the individualistic values that Chick and Lucas defend and the logic of race as a mass identity that crushes the space for moral autonomy" (Karaganis 116), the binary race politics between blacks and whites is virtually attenuated and transforms--as reflected in the shift in the "faces"--into the problem of establishing the subject position of a Southern white man that is not primordial identity (and therefore, not about its difference from black identity), but rather about a historically specific ethical stance. In fact, it is a geo-historical account of his self that bridges the gap between Chick and the rootlessness of the "Face" of the townspeople, creating an opportunity for him to restore the collective identity from which he has felt himself divorced. On the way to Vinson Gowrie's grave, the car containing Chick and his uncle runs through ridges where he can see and imagine the whole South:
now he seemed to see his whole native land, his home--the dirt, the earth which had bred his bones and those of his fathers for six generations and was still shaping him into not just a man but a specific man, not with just a man's passions and aspirations and beliefs but the specific passions and hopes and convictions and ways of thinking and acting of a specific kind and even race. (ID 148)
Notably, this emphasis on the specificity of Chick's communal identity appears in the middle of the shift in the impression of the white mob mentioned above; an image associated with the lack of a past (135) gives way to ethical awareness of Chick's communal bond with his people (178). Furthermore, the narrative self-consciously attributes to the workings of the land Chick's earlier, morally sound act: "[the native land] had also integrated into him whatever it was that had compelled him to stop and listen to a damned highnosed impudent Negro" (148). It is equally evident that the reference to the black man's face involves Chick's ambivalence toward the white Southern ideology. That is, Chick does not want to believe that he is a part of the "Face" that he condemns for its injustice toward Lucas, but at the same time realizes that he is undeniably a member of the community.
CHICK'S INITIATION INTO ADULTHOOD
Thus the primary concern for Chick is not how to deal with Lucas, the black man, but how to understand his personal relation to the white mob as he forms his own ethical self. His experience of the "faces" is followed by his conversation with Gavin, a conversation set against the backdrop of the geographic memory of the region in terms that suggest an oedipal struggle: Chick is "still a swaddled unwitting infant in the long tradition of his native land" (ID 95). The narrative represents Chick's growth from childhood into adulthood as an epitome of the South's relation to the North and the whole nation, with which the dialogue between Chick and Gavin parallels as a conclusive part of the formation of Chick's ethical self. As Joe Karaganis points out, Chick "situates the Civil War within a larger metaphor of organic national unity," for the geographical relation of North and South, presented just after the geo-historical self-contemplation mentioned above, indicates a "convoluted imagery of oedipal rebellion" (117): "the great River itself flowing not merely from the north but out of the North circumscribing and outland--the umbilicus of America joining the soil which was his home to the parent which three generations ago it had failed in blood to repudiate" (ID 148). Although Karaganis argues that the "political contradiction" between "the 'natural' union of America (coded as a family)" and "the threat of paternal authority (the North or the federal government) over the children (the South ...)" (117), the narrative presents Chick's understanding of the relationship between North and South as something transmitted through his mother: the North is
not even a geographical place but an emotional idea, a condition of which he had fed from his mother's milk to be ever and constant on the alert not at all to fear and not actually anymore to hate but just--a little wearily sometimes and sometimes even with tongue in cheek--to defy. (ID 149)
Chick becomes aware of the need for action on racial justice not under "threat" but in a "natural" education provided in domestic spheres. Associating the maternal and the feminine with domesticity, Faulkner provides moments in which female characters influence Chick. For example, the (black) coffee thinned with (white) milk (126, 131) has a symbolic meaning that illustrates Mrs. Mallison's "permeating female influence upon the youth" to "help him stay awake to rescue Lucas" (Sugimori 70). Likewise, Ikuko Fujihira investigates the strong influence of Miss Habersham on Chick's initiation through the analysis of the significance of the act of eating (39-43) and the framework of domestic family narrative (50-55). These moments illuminate Faulkner's insistence rather on the necessity of the South's change in and of itself than on the immediacy of the North's call for change. Faulkner shows that it is important for the South to be conscious about its own racial injustice, not under the threat of the North, but through an initiation of self-awareness.
Simultaneously, both the indistinct quality of the white mob's faces and the North understood as an "emotional idea" suggest that what Chick is learning is abstract, not practical; that is, the lessons are concerned with universal moral values instead of the particular race politics of the South. Indeed, Chick's "childhood's picture" of the North simultaneously represents a fantastic image of his own land:
a curving semicircular wall not high ... from the top of which with the whole vast scope of their own rich teeming never-ravaged land of glittering undefiled cities and unburned towns and unwasted farms so long-secured and opulent you would think there was no room left for curiosity, there looked down upon him and his countless row on row of faces which resembled his face and spoke the same language he spoke and at times even answered to the same names he bore. (ID 149)
The land morphs into faces with the Levinassian implications of ethical Otherness, and such a high degree of abstraction contrasts strongly with Gavin's "realistic" view of race and Southernness. This maternally transmitted abstraction enables Chick to criticize his quasi-father and to become an adult, eventually liberated from "natural" bonds. In short, the novel delineates the process in which Chick combines a "maternal," abstract, and universalizing ideology with a "paternal," realist, and local ideology in order to stand on his own feet. Even though "Gavin wanted Chick to know such fantasies [that the image of the North provides] had their basis in reality" (Taylor 159) by talking about the "homogeneity" of the South, the boy's critique of his uncle's opinion implies his eventual repudiation of Gavin's historically "realistic" view.
Judith Butler's theory in Giving an Account of Oneself (2005) provides a good illustration of the process through which Chick develops responsibility toward the enigmatic Other, a process that can be understood psychoanalytically. Butler emphasizes that moral subjectivity always emerges from and is constrained by a matrix of social norms:
The "I" is always to some extent dispossessed by the social conditions of its emergence. This dispossession does not mean that we have lost the subjective ground for ethics. On the contrary, it may well be the condition for moral inquiry, the condition under which morality itself emerges. (8)
According to her, even the Foucaultian subject, which has no existence prior to a given context of norms, is able to have moral responsibility "by virtue of the subject's opacity" that is structured into the self-formation despite the fact that "[t]here is no making of oneself (poiesis) outside of a mode of subjectivation (assujettisment)" (17). Butler elucidates this "opacity" of the self by way of Jean Laplanches psychoanalytic theory, which claims that Levinasian address of the Other is implanted in the unconscious (53). Namely, Laplanche expands the structuralist account of Oedipal desire into the "adult world" and thus rebuts the paternal law of the Lacanian symbolic, recognizing the Oedipus complex as a product of cultural contingency (Butler 70). (7) The infant, exposed to the "enigmatic signifiers" of the "adult world" and forced to adapt to society, has an indelible Otherness imprinted in its unconscious desire. This imprinting enables the subject to respond to the Other by telling the story of the self and simultaneously being critical of the society that limits and conditions the subject's narrative (81-82).
Chick's debate with Gavin replaces the ethical inquiry that the impressions of the faces have evoked and embodies the boy's critical attitude toward the society. The lawyer thus becomes a barrier for his nephew to overcome. Whereas Chick's actual father has little presence in the text and the (quasi-)mother figures such as Mrs Mallison and Miss Habersham are portrayed more vividly, the ideological weakness of Gavin as a substitute father is strongly evident. While Chick seems to arrive at the same political stance as his uncle--which makes for an unpleasant racist aftertaste--Chick's conversation with Gavin constantly reveals the lawyer's racial prejudices. Negating Lucas's individuality, Gavin reduces him to a conceptual "Sambo," a cultural stereotype, when he talks about the "homogeneity" of the South which he says should be protected against the North (ID 151). Even after Lucas's innocence is proved, he says, "Someday Lucas Beauchamp can shoot a white man in the back with the same impunity to lynch-rope or gasoline as a white man.... But it wont be next Tuesday. Yet people in the North believe it can be compelled even into next Monday by the simple ratification by votes of a printed paragraph" (151-52). This remark seems to exemplify his covert racism, for otherwise there is no need for him in this context to say that Lucas can shoot a white man in the back someday; he merely reinforces that he formerly believed that Lucas was guilty: "I dont defend murderers who shoot people in the back" (58). His later claim that the black man's security should be maintained "not despite the fact that he is Lucas Beauchamp but because he is" (196) proves, ironically enough, to be racist because the assumption that Lucas should be protected as an individual regardless of his race cannot function as an ideal where a discriminatory ideology is dominant. Gavin's "realistic" stance toward racial politics indeed seems a convenient justification for a "go-slow" policy.
GAVIN'S FATALIST IDENTITY POLITICS
Significantly, Chick does not problematize Gavin's racism politically. Instead, he denounces his uncle's identitarian and historicist perspective on ethical grounds. The ethical alterity initially evoked by the faces assumes a more concrete shape in the conversation with his uncle, becoming an acknowledgment of communal relation. In Gavin's opinion, Southern homogeneity is based on the exclusion of "Sambo" (Fowler 41). It follows that for Gavin, Lucas's freedom must be achieved as a subsidiary result that accompanies the establishment of the homogeneous identity of the white Southerner. He emphasizes the South's responsibility for racial injustice and acknowledges that he defends Lucas regardless of the black man's will (ID 199). Yet, for Gavin, this responsibility is based not on moral imperatives but on historical fatalism--which entails that federal intervention would be a monstrous denial of history. The past "naturally" affects the present and the future: "It's all now you see. Yesterday wont be over until tomorrow and tomorrow began ten thousand years ago. For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two oclock on that July afternoon in 1863" (190). Therefore, when Gavin insists on Southern whites' "privilege of setting [Sambo] free" (151), he attributes this privilege to external context: history, society, and culture. In doing so, he shuts the way to morality because he negates the human will to take responsibility. Chick's struggle toward moral choice is thus primarily about the struggle to free himself from Gavin's historicist fatalism.
Simultaneously, Gavin's commitment to identity also becomes a stumbling block to Chick. In his conversation with Gavin in chapter 9, Chick tries to penetrate more deeply into why the crowd ran away. Just as the epiphany of the face is "the primordial expression" of "you shall not commit murder" (Levinas 199), the topic of their conversation concerns the same moral precept: "Thou shalt not kill" which, according to Gavin, Southerners "have accepted ... in the distant anonymity of [their] forefathers" (ID 195). The maxim is, he continues, distinguished from "thou shall not kill thy mother's child" (195), which functions tacitly and fundamentally as a social norm of their community. Gavin explains that this principle that forbids fratricide precedes--and is therefore more important than--the ubiquitous moral precept of "Thou shall not kill." Gavin historicizes the universal moral law with the reference to the paternal genealogy of their "forefathers." The historicist sense of temporal continuity in Gavin's belief defines morality as an inevitable duty inherited from the past. He consequently maintains that the lynching of Lucas and the murder of a Gowrie are different matters, but Chick objects: "You cant say that" (196). According to Wesley and Barbara Alverson Morris, this conversation suggests that Faulkner problematizes the "logic of difference" (235) in which a truly egalitarian society is imagined as an ideal or a utopia where no difference exists, and thus justifies the "'not yet ready argument'" (234) or "go slow rationalizations" (233) of current racist practices. However, the problem is not that Chick--or Gavin--does not have "a different kind of difference, a difference that did not mythologize itself in exclusive/inclusive oppositions" (235). Rather, the problem is the false assumption that difference--that is, identity--functions as an ideology. Chick immediately points out this misunderstanding in the same conversation. Dismissing Chick's quick objection, Gavin stresses that while the moral precept "still remains unblemished and scarless" as the universal law even when it is violated, fratricide would cause the extinction of their society:
if we are not to hold to the belief that that point not just shall not but must not and cannot come at which Gowrie or Ingrum or Stevens or Mallison may shed Gowrie or Ingrum or Stevens or Mallison blood, how hope ever to reach that one where Thou shalt not kill at all, where Lucas Beauchamp's life will be secure not despite the fact that he is Lucas Beauchamp but because he is? (ID 196)
To Gavin, the difference between the lynching of Lucas and the murder of a Gowrie originates from the absolute command not to kill. As Kartiganer pithily frames it, "[t]he crowd at the j ail, according to Stevens, runs not from shame at the false accusation of Lucas but in total rejection of the fratricide" (142). (8) Then the lawyer remarks: "[T]hey deprived [Crawford] to the full extent of their capacity of his citizenship in man" (198; emphasis mine). According to the logic, therefore, Lucas can be a citizen, a political member of the community, but still can be lynched and rejected as a cultural member. This is where another quick response from Chick--"You're a lawyer" (198)--attacks Gavin's identitarian "logic of difference"; the direct response to his uncle's claim that the townspeople repudiated Crawford's "citizenship" provocatively suggests that their reaction is not a simple matter of political disaffiliation. That is, Chick casts a doubt on Gavin's logic that the mob's racist view of Lucas is separated from their rejection of Crawford's legal status, which is basically the same as what Leigh Anne Duck observes among white Southern intellectuals after World War II and during the 1950s--the immunity of the Southern white identity to politics (216). Instead, the boy claims that the problem is related to the communal self's ubiquitous moral failure: "They were not running from Crawford Gowrie or Lucas Beauchamp either. They were running from themselves. They ran home to hide their heads under the bedclothes from their own shame" (ID 198). (9)
Chick's struggle for an ethical, white Southern identity, triggered by the Face of the town mob, is sharpened in response to the political vision based on Gavin's historicist and identitarian fatalism. The conversation with the quasifather figure transforms the boy's unconscious, culturally-inscribed racism into a scathing critique of Gavin's position, even as it seems to not contradict the political implications of Gavin's view. Chick constantly criticizes Gavin's views not only on race but also on morality, and finally reaches a different conclusion.
CHICK'S ETHICAL AWARENESS
Gavin claims that the Southern whites should take responsibility for the liberation of the black people because they are inevitably bound to the history of their land, saying "I only say that the injustice is ours, the South's. We must expiate and abolish it ourselves, alone and without help nor even (with thanks) advice" (199). Chick arrives at what seems to be the same conclusion through a reverse logic: in order to repent and compensate for the past sin, the Southern whites primarily have to define themselves historically as the Southern white. Their guilt has to be accepted and cleared as their own because otherwise they cannot be autonomous subjects and therefore cannot make an ethical choice. The apparent political agreement between Chick and Gavin conceals an essential difference: Chick's recognition of the ethical self, the process of which parallels the shift in the impression of the faces, is about moral awareness and the moral validity of certain choices. His transition can be described as a move toward ethics and away from identity, because Gavin's logic appeals to the historical identity of the South, while Chick connects identity with a form of value judgment. It is true that Chick "initially wants only to eradicate the childhood debt that he incurs as the novel begins, and [that] he secretly hopes that he might become a significant part of Jefferson's history in the process" (Fulton 68). However, he moves from such self-interested motives to ethical ones, especially after Lucas's innocence is proved and he witnesses the escape of the white mob. Despite his original desire to repay his shameful debt to the black man, Chick later paradoxically thinks that what he has done to reveal Lucas's innocence would be "valueless" unless it were "anonymous." He desires "to perform something passionate and brave and austere not just in but into man's enduring chronicle worthy of a place in it ... in gratitude for the gift of his time in it, ... willing to accept the fact that he had missed it because he wasn't worthy" (ID 189). In addition, Chick begins to consider that his own ethical acts (with Aleck Sander and Miss Habersham) must be liberated from personal motivations, must prove unconditionally right regardless of any specific circumstances. Yet, he immediately realizes that his motivation for the act derived undeniably from the sense of debt to Lucas and admits that he does not deserve the moral credit of anonymity. Simply put, Chick recognizes that it is impossible, at least for him, to satisfy universal morality because there is no freedom. He sees himself restricted so heavily to his own historical and cultural situation that he cannot make a morally right choice, because even if such a choice were made, it would not be his own; his historical and cultural background would have forced it upon him.
The "Face" evokes the sense of communal bond with his native soil, in which "yesterday today and tomorrow are Is: Indivisible" (ID 190)--as Gavin has kept telling him. Here again, Chick seems to return to Gavin's historicist fatalism, but as mentioned above, the logic in the boy's initiation functions differently. As Levinas puts it, responsibility can only be taken where there is freedom: "The order of responsibility, where the gravity of ineluctable being freezes all laughter, is also the order where freedom is ineluctably invoked. It is thus the irremissible weight of being that gives rise to my freedom. The ineluctable has no longer the inhumanity of the fateful, but the severe seriousness of goodness" (200). Although Gavin would say that Southern whites must be responsible for the freedom of Southern blacks just because they are bound by their own history, Chick has learned that Southern whites have to define themselves as Southerners and admit what they historically did to the blacks according to their autonomous will in order to take responsibility for them. Chick's action is eventually reduced to such an ethical problem of how the South can be ethically aware of the past sins to the black people instead of how to deal politically with the race issue as such. In the novel's "conservative" conclusion, the boy finally allies himself with Gavin's political stance unwillingly, just because there is no other choice practically better than the given stance in the world.
The dialectical trajectory of Chick's quest for moral freedom also seems to correspond with Alenka Zupancic's Lacanian interpretation of the autonomous subject in Kantian moral philosophy: the structure of the subject has a "circular logic," in which "freedom stands as the condition of freedom, and autonomy as the condition of autonomy" (41). The moral subject is forced to choose freedom at the starting point from the choice between freedom or causality, because choosing the latter simply means the negation of being the subject; secondly, the subject nonetheless recognizes inescapable causal relations of the natural world and thus acknowledges such determinism; on the third level, therefore, this logic brings the subject back to the impossible choice that he/she initially had to exclude, that is, freedom. (10) At this point, Zupancic says, Kant introduces the choice of what he calls Gesinnung--"the fundamental disposition of the subject"--which opens the horizon of freedom (35). Simply put, freedom is not a goal of morality, but a means, or more precisely, the very basis of it, because the subject must be able to say, "I did it," to take responsibility of and to be the subject of a certain act. In Chick's recognition, what comes to the subject position is the Southern white in the first-person collective pronoun, we, which necessarily includes himself. Consequently, it does not matter for the author how politically problematic the conclusion might seem. The determination Chick makes to cope with the crisis of the Southern identity--his return to the historical self--is nothing more than a complement to the process he has undergone through the fantastic, adventurous tale. Put differently, it is the process that matters in the novel, not the conclusion. From the beginning to the very end, and even beyond the close of the book, Chick never ceases to be the subject as a Southern white man.
Faulkner's depiction of Chick's initiation indeed suggests not only that interference from the North will not truly solve racial problems, but also that if Southern whites stop defining themselves in opposition to the North, it will be impossible--that is, meaningless and "valueless"--for them to expiate their own shame and sin. Just as Chick perceives that the "unmistakable odor of Negroes" of Lucas's house is "not the odor of a race nor even actually of poverty but perhaps of a condition: an idea: a belief" (ID 11)--that is, that what he has considered inherent qualities of black people are "in fact historically contingent" (Dussere 47)--he also comes to perceive that Southern white identity can no longer be understood as a given, undeniable fact. Such recognition of contingency alienates him from the South that Gavin represents. It is true that Chick's condemnation of the townspeople can be understood to some extent as hostility toward the North, because "the honorable Southern logic is contrasted with Northern logic of the marketplace, of industry and capitalism," and that the novel as a whole "is loaded with diatribes against the New South as represented by changes in Jefferson like the new subdivisions" (Dussere 55). Actually, the boy seems to share with Gavin a perception of the debasement of "the divinity of individual man" in America "into a national religion of the entrails in which man owes no duty to his soul because he has been absolved of soul to owe duty to and instead is static heir at birth to an inevictible quit-claim on a wife a car a radio and an old-age pension" (ID 197). However, considering again that the North represents "a condition of which he had fed from his mother's milk" (emphasis mine), Chick himself is also loaded with the recognition of contingency that the mind of contemporary Southerners tends to have under the influence of this belief in Northern malevolence. The boy's dilemma is thus twofold in the thematic relation between the South/the North and the Old/New South, which correspond with the contrast of Gavin/the townspeople and of Gavin/female characters.
When Gavin, paradoxically by reflecting on the human collectivity--"the divinity of his continuity as Man"--states that a human "becomes man . . . conceptible of pity and justice and conscience even if only in the recollection of his long painful aspiration toward them, toward that something anyway of one serene universal light," the youth wryly responds: "So man is always right" (197). The lawyer historicizes morality while relying on the notion of universal humanity. To the boy, what white Southerners did can be justified and compensated not as a duty by inevitably being white Southerners, but only as a choice by voluntarily defining themselves as white Southerners, because such historicist fatalism would not lead them to universal morality, but freedom to accept historical identity establishes the Southern white self as a moral subject. Chick blames Gavin for separating identity from politics merely to preserve the Southern identity; the boy also separates identity from politics, but at the same time he associates it with morality, a form of value judgment. Consequently, Chick still adheres to his belief and desires to prove it true, however problematic it may sound that he apparently sides politically with Gavin at the end.
Gavin's praise for the power of African Americans to prevail (199) is no more than a defensive rhetoric of whitewash in order to make his own political position seem less implausible, which is, in fact, identical to what Faulkner did in Go Down, Moses (1942) and "Appendix: Compson, 1699-1945" (1946). Therefore, by developing Chick's critical view of Gavin, Faulkner criticizes his own previous attempts. The conclusion of the Southern white boy's initiation itself may seem a stubborn conservatism, and it is true that the novel is politically conservative, but conservatism is not always false and Chick's self-conscious acceptance of the white Southern community is not a simplistic acquiescence to historical fate. His vision contains critical perspectives both on the Old South that Gavin embodies and on the New South represented by the townspeople. Torn between the historicist attempt to preserve the regional identity and a universal morality that aims at racial justice under the name of anonymity, Chick eventually, and at least superficially, allies with the former. However, read in the context of the identity crisis of the South engendered by the ideological conflict of the early Cold War, it is clear that he voluntarily chooses the stance to become the ethical subject based on autonomy as a result of his adventurous experience. Chick radically transforms his historical consciousness from the one in which the sense of guilt underlies the existential identity as a white Southerner to another that requires the regional identity to be responsible for the past sin.
Historical sensibility thus provides self-conscious freedom that is ethically indispensable. Were it not for subjectivity, moral judgments and acts could not be made. Chick desires to expiate past sins, involving his self-consciousness as a Southerner, against the backdrop of the early Cold War in which the violent pressure of the North and the political correctness of neoliberalism jeopardized the establishment of such an ethical white Southern identity. Considering such a historical situation, Michaels's dichotomy of identity and ideology must be complicated when we read the Southern literature produced during this period, especially in light of the ethical quest of Southerners such as Chick. Faulkner does not intend to provide a political answer to racial injustice, but to demonstrate how the Southern white people could respond to their own past with "severe seriousness of goodness" (Levinas 200). (11)
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
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(1) Pointing out that Faulkner is an exceptional Southern writer who dealt with the theme of World War II (132-33), Noel Polk states:
In most ways politically conservative himself, [Faulkner's] public statements were filled with the rhetoric of individuality that was based in Jeffersonian localist thought. He was very much at home with the Southerners' rhetoric of resistance to rampant industrialism, technology, consumerism, urban conformity, any form of mass activity, and he hated the idea of federal intervention in local affairs. (137)
(2) Critics have generally judged the book as "conservative" (Dussere 54), referencing Chick Mallisons eventual conformity to Gavin Stevens. For instance, as Jean E. Graham shows, Chick's language ironically resembles Gavin's, which means that the young Southern boy "enters the passivity of adulthood" in the end (87). Doreen Fowler also acknowledges a failure to "challenge a system of meanings based in domination" in the novel, suggesting that the representation of Lucas "unquestionably succeeds in issuing this challenge" (48).
(3) One of the most significant aspects of Fukuyama's argument on liberalism at "the end of the history," however, is what he calls the "struggle for recognition" (xiii), which is based on a Hegelian view of history and Platonian account of self-esteem, thymos (xvi-xviii), though it seems that Michaels dismisses it as a replacement of belief with desire (Shape 9-10). For more detail about the "struggle for recognition," see Part III of Fukuyama's book.
(4) My use of the term "ethical" is based on an Aristotelian conception that centers on communal values, in contrast to the "moral" that is usually associated with Kantian categorical notions of good and bad. The term means the philosophical synthesis of historical individuality and universal morality in my argument. Although the purpose of my reading is to provide an ethical vision of the novel, the term means the dialectics of historical reflection on regional identity and universal morality that is supposed to function regardless of any specificity of the subject, because becoming once skeptical about historical identity, Chick eventually returns to it as a means to attain universal morality.
(5) In fact, Kartiganer also counts Lucas as a central character as well as Chick (143).
(6) For example, see Thadious M. Davis (243), Myra Jehlen (125), Lee Jenkins (264-65), and Richard H. King (235-37). Like Weinstein, Keith Clark points out Lucas's marginalization.
(7) See also 142-43.
(8) Kartiganer considers how Freud's theory in Totem and Taboo functions in the conversation about the moral precept (141-42) based on the Morrises' argument (142-44; 232-33). Not only here but throughout my entire argument, it may sound contradictory that psychoanalytic implications are prevalent though I have declared to perform an intentionalist reading, for usually the unconscious is not counted as a part of the author's intention. While Kartiganer indicates that Faulkner might have looked at an English translation of Freud's book (148n9), the writer himself said occasionally that he was not familiar with Freud (FU 268; LG 251). However, he also said that "the writer don't have to know Freud to have written things which anyone who does know Freud can divine and reduce into symbols" (FU 147). Despite his notoriously deceptive attitude in interviews, I consider Faulkner to have expressed the idea that psychoanalytic imagery and ideas in Intruder in the Dust should be attributed to his intention, not to his unconscious.
(9) In Our America: Nativism, Modernism, and Pluralism (1995), Michaels characterizes the American modernist/nativist logic as "the invention of American identity as a cultural identity" in which "[i]dentity is disconnected ... from citizenship" (15). As he explains in the introduction of The Shape of the Signifier, his "critique of identity" and "the defense of intention" are complementary to each other (10). In short, Michaels ascribes identity to the ideology of American modernist aesthetics and problematizes it as a historical phenomenon that continues until the end of the Cold War in these books. Faulkner's attitude in Intruder in the Dust, which is exemplified in Chick's critical attitude toward Gavin's historicism seems to parallel Michaels's critique on identity. Faulkner himself has been a modernist (Michaels opens Our America with a reading of The Sound and the Fury), but it is his self-criticism of his own "modernist" sensibilities that Chick's initiation in the novel represents as an ethical response.
(10) Zupancic thus helps to account for the rather abstract quality of the ethical in my argument. According to her, Lacan admires Kant's insight that "the moral imperative is not concerned with what might or might not be done" (3). Although Kant is often blamed for demanding the impossible, Lacan finds an incomparable value in his moral philosophy in that the possibility or impossibility of obligations does not affect morality at all. Distinguishing his own moral philosophy from "traditional" moral philosophy, Kant eliminated the achievability of acts from the sphere of morality.
(11) I would like to thank Professor Thomas F. Haddox for his comments and suggestions on this essay.
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|Publication:||The Faulkner Journal|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2015|
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