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Bear, man, and black: hunting the hidden in Faulkner's big woods.


Faulkner's "big woods" (GDM 257) might better be called "small," such is the rate of their contraction from the moment of the Bear's death in December 1883. By June 1885, Major de Spain has sold the timber rights to a Memphis lumber company (234), thereby translating common-land use rights, common at least for the purposes of hunting, (1) into property rights. Post-sale, extant forestation exists as a commodity about to happen, whose residual form, circa 1942, will be that of a memorial park, "reserved" (243) and marked to protect the resting place of Sam Fathers and Old Ben's paw (235). It might be objected that I have telescoped a gradual process, seeing 1942 all too imminently in 1883. Yet the paratactic organization of Go Down, Moses (1942) sets disparate times side-by-side as a matter of course: parataxis involves propositions, phrases, or clauses that have been placed in sequence without any grammatical indication of their coordination or subordination to one another. The structure of Go Down, Moses may usefully be spoken of as paratactic insofar as any coordination of its parts depends upon inferences cast across pauses and changes in narrative direction, instigated by the gaps between the stories themselves. To experience temporal parataxis (a compounding of deja vu with the uncanny) is to reach for an explanatory focus, though the nature of the form may render such explanations elusive, since, in Adorno's phrase, the paratactical tends "inherently [to] elude subsumption under ideas" (134).

Isaac McCaslin's final account of the miniaturization of the woods is useful. In "Delta Autumn" (set in 1941), perhaps for the last time, Ike (aged 74) is driven to the annual December hunt--the woods are two hundred miles from Jefferson, rather than thirty:
 He had watched it, not being conquered, destroyed, so much as
 retreating since its purpose was served now and its time an
 outmoded time, retreating southward through this inverted-apex,
 this [??]-shaped section of earth between hills and River until what
 was left of it seemed now to be gathered and for the time arrested
 in one tremendous density of brooding and inscrutable
 impenetrability at the ultimate funnelling tip. (253)

I am tempted to label the iconic triangle "virgin" and move on, but Faulkner's geometric emphasis on "funnelling" draws a hairline from the treeline and renders the "tip" vaginal, or, more properly (given "density" and "impenetrability"), hymeneal. So, guiltily, I deface my text ... "[??]" ... with a mark which contradicts the figure's point by rendering "scrutable" and "penetrable" a territorial pudendum previously lacking vaginal entry. My scratch makes likely the loss of that which the original figure sought to preserve (permitting "destiny" to slip from "density").

Later, Faulkner will imagine Ike, or more exactingly his death, at the "tip" of this "inverted-apex." Unable to sleep on the first night of the camp, Ike recognizes "why he had never wanted to own any of it.... It was because there was just exactly enough of it" (261). On the basis that he and the woods are "coeval," belonging to the same period, he visualizes their "two spans running out together":
 not toward oblivion, nothingness, but into a dimension free of both
 time and space where once more the untreed land ... would find
 ample room for both--the names, the faces of the old men he had
 known and loved and for a little while outlived, moving again among
 the shades of tall unaxed trees and sightless brakes where the wild
 strong immortal game ran forever before the tireless belling
 immortal hounds, falling and rising phoenix-like to the soundless
 guns. (261)

That Ike's "spans," arboreal and human, should end in a prose version of a Keatsian frieze (transposed from "Ode on a Grecian Urn") is perhaps unsurprising, given that in section 4 of "The Bear" McCaslin Edmonds reads Ike the entire poem, prior to interpolating Old Ben as the "She [who] cannot fade" (220) of stanza two. In 1888, Ike had objected, "He's talking about a girl" (220). In 1929, Faulkner might have supported his objection on the grounds that he himself conceived of The Sound and the Fury as a "vase," enabling him to "manufacture [a] sister" ("An Introduction" 230), a vase owing much to Keats's, despite being nominally Tyrrhenian and owned by an "old Roman" who "wore ... [its] rim ... slowly away with kissing it" (232). Whether Grecian or Tyrrhenian, the vessels in question are crackable euphemisms for a clutch of maidenheads. Ike's "spans," read through their final frieze and visualized by way of urn and vase, come perceptively together at the "ultimate funnelling tip" of the triangular figure. I am less interested, at this point, in the implications of such a site for Ike's sexuality than with what might be called the epistemological consequences of living as a hymen.

To counter charges of nonsense, I shall refer to passages from As I Lay Dying and Absalom, Absalom! in which Faulkner reads the hymen as a cognitive structure, or habit of mind. As Addie Bundren lies dying, she fingers herself, noting: "The shape of my body where I used to be a virgin is in the shape of a and I couldn't think Anse, couldn't remember Anse. It was not that I could think of myself as no longer unvirgin, because I was three now" (117). The space " " (like [??], an iconic sign) catches the cramping of Addie's cognition as she counters linguistic impasse with a visual approximation to what she has failed to think. Also effecting a pause, the gap wills us to glimpse the work of Addie's hand taking form as a physical and mental hole, whose missing membrane or idea can be felt only through the negative ("not," "no," "un"), even then achieving presence only in its absence. Paraphrased, Addie's triple negative amounts to, "I could not think of myself as a virgin." My paraphrase has taken years, and I am far from convinced as to its finality. (2) The problem may be focused through the workings of "unvirgin": if virginity is to be experienced primarily via its loss, "unvirgin" colludes with that experiential negation to produce a double negative that refuses to amount to a positive, since one cannot negate the very negation that is essential to virginity and end up with the hymen intact. Rather, Addie's neologism reaches through her fingers towards an absence which, in Lacan's phrasing, "takes on body by being the trace of ... nothing" (qtd. in Taussig, Defacement 161). Faulkner dramatizes the overwhelming realness of loss or negation as it makes its absent presence mentally and physically felt. Such is the pressure of Addie's felt thought that her hypothetical hymen comes close to regrowth, (3) summoning the exact moment of its most material presence through loss; that is to say, "Anse" as he enters her becomes "Anse" italicised, a disembodied name, which after the manner of the hymen can only signify its object through its absence.

In Absalom, Absalom! Mr Compson, speculating on the triangular affairs of Henry, Judith, and Bon, notes that "the sister's virginity must be destroyed in order to have existed at all" (80), an insight which he attributes to Henry:
 [T]he provincial, the clown almost, given to instinctive and
 violent action rather than to thinking, ratiocination, who may have
 been conscious that his fierce provincial's pride in his sister's
 virginity was a false quality which must incorporate in itself an
 inability to endure in order to be precious, to exist, and so must
 depend upon its loss, absence, to have existed at all. (80)

Faulkner grants his grammatical subject (Henry's "pride"), dependent on loss, significant syntactical leeway: in the first instance, "pride" (subject) "incorporate[s]" virginity (object); to incorporate is to unite in one body with that which is admitted--but since the pride that contains virginity is itself cognitively contained, both containers ("pride" and "conscious[ness]"), derive their structure from that which they preserve. The hymen, here, as for Addie and for Ike, is an ur-structure or a kind of knowing defined by the negation of a lost reality which it produces in absentia, as though through a veil: witness the dense semantic activity of " " and "[??]," signs which (though they signify excessively) add up to little more than nothingness and erasure.

Care of his character's predilection for the Grecian Urn, Faulkner situates Ike and his woods figuratively on a vaginal "tip" or "rim," gateway to the hymen (though in the absence of "|" such entrances are speculative and spectral). Leaving aside, for one more moment, the sexual logic of Ike's position, Faulkner's point would seem to be that Ike's cognitive commitment to loss--he repudiates the plantation, measures the shrinkage of the Big Woods--causes him to see by means of negation ("un," "im," "dis," "less," and "not" are among the negative variants that attend him). Consequently, he lives with lost things, subject to their absent presence. Endemic loss may imply that each presence is the creation of that which has previously gone missing, which it recalls only to lose again. Put reductively, in Ike's world, nothing is what it seems; rather it is what it is not: evoked without being made quite manifest, through the experience of that negation. (4)

Ike's "two spans" revise a prior set of parallel lines, that of the "two threads" formed by the debit/credit columns of the McCaslin ledgers; those columns record "the slow outward trickle of food and supplies and equipment which returned each fall as cotton made and ginned and sold (two threads frail as truth and impalpable as equators yet cable-strong to bind for life those who made the cotton to the land their sweat fell on)" (189). Both sets of parallels default to meet in the earth. The double entries from the plantation books combine as planter profit and tenant loss, passing into the land as capital and debt invested in "sweat" or labor. The materiality of such land is inseparable from the "cable-strong" work practices through which soil is made to ascend the columns of double-entry book keeping as cotton. Ike's "spans" are designed to repudiate such "threads": arboreal and human, his lines meet at "just exactly" the same vanishing point--an "inverted apex," presumably, such as parallels form at the horizon--at once vaginal, hymeneal, and earthy. Clearly, for Ike, his resting place has little to do with land valued through labor. Faulkner, however, exposes the tremulous nature of Ike's autochthonic construction, even as it is constructed. Items on the Keatsian frieze line up to contradict themselves, not least because their "dimension free of both time and space" emerges from an extended sentence whose initial phrases rest firmly in the history of global conflict--it follows that the "fall and rise" of "game" before "soundless guns" may be impeded by the presence in the same sentence of cotton profits, translated into military provisions to yield "shells." If "shells" falling in the "old world" cannot restore sound to Ike's "soundless guns," then the whisper of their signifier ("shell" within "bell") must surely unmute the "mute belling" of his "immortal dogs." The syntactic proximity of global warfare to Ike's vessel calls into question more than canine immortality. Indeed, antonyms proliferate through the intrusion of military conflict into the urn's "leaf-fring'd legend" (Keats 233), so that "mortal" figures emerge spectrally from "shades," while a "t," transposed in the phrase "tall unaxed," attaches "tax" to the "unaxed trees." Under such punning pressure, the flame and ash from which "game ... rise[s] phoenix-like" might need relocating to an alternative theater of conflict, were it not that Ash is the name of the black cook, from whose underacknowledged work de Spain's hunting camp annually renews its substance.

If Ike's frieze is at subsemantic odds with itself, so too is the matter from which it is cast, "[??]." Section 4 of "The Bear" details substantial grounds on which Ike might mistrust the vagina. Married in 1899 and lodging in a hotel while he and his business partner (his wife's father) complete the marital "bungalow," Ike has not told his wife about his repudiation of the plantation. Learning of his noninheritance, she uses her body to induce reconsideration. Put at its crudest, her deal is, one fuck, one son, one "farm" (234). The sexual passage, as harshly explicit as any in Faulkner, invites crudity. Ike has only once before seen his wife naked: she instructs him to turn his back, removes her clothes and lies on the bed, further instructing him to "[t]ake off ... [his] clothes" (232). When he is naked she catches his wrist:
 looking at him now, drawing him still downward with one hand down
 and down and he neither saw nor felt it shift, palm flat against
 his chest now and holding him away with the same apparent lack of
 any effort or any need for strength, and not looking at him now,
 she didn't need to, the chaste woman, the wife, already looked upon
 all the men who ever rutted and now her whole body had changed,
 altered, he had never seen it but once and now it was not even the
 one he had seen but composite of all woman-flesh since man that
 ever of its own will reclined on its back and opened, and out of it
 somewhere, without any movement of lips even, the dying and
 invincible whisper: 'Promise:' and he


 'The farm.' (233)

Deer, goats, and sheep "rut" (verb). Given the proximity of "rutted" to "it opened" and the landed nature of the asking price, "rutted" yields a noun: "rut," as a synonym for that which opened, prompted by the antonymic presence of "to plough," crosses the female genitalia with a cut in the earth. Moreover, the positioning of "it" (in "opened and out of it somewhere, without any movement of lips even") disorientates the impersonal pronoun as it seeks its referent ("woman-flesh"), further to compound "its" directional wobble with the nonspecific "somewhere," prelude to the suggestion that the voice ("Promise?") emerges from the rut. The ventriloqual lips of a talking vagina are liable to veil dentata.

Once more, I approach nonsense and can best defend myself by adding to the anthology of scurrilous whispers that emerges from the passage. Note that as the positioning of the unnamed woman "changed and altered," so for a moment does her gender: the switch is effected by a syntactical hesitation, engineered again by a shifting pronoun. Ike has seen his wife naked "but once and now it was not even the one he had seen but composite of all woman-flesh since man that ever of its own will reclined on its back and opened": a comma set between "man" and "that" would identify "all woman-flesh since man" as a subordinate semantic unit, modifying "composite." The absence of such punctuation, allied both to the insistence on mutation and to the referential imprecision of "it" (in "its own will"), allows for an uncorrected instant, that the "it" which reclines and opens may be the man willing to do so. To punctuate for such an eventuality, simply place a comma after "woman-flesh" and reread. In a passage preoccupied with the disposition and trajectory of bodies, the omission of crucial and disposing commas gains significance.


The flicker in the error that prepares Ike momentarily to enter a man is, I would argue, further held open by the paratactic pressure of an urnarrative in which male and female bodies conjoined on a bed have almost invariably mutated subsemantically into male couplings. Here I allude to work already done, which I shall simply paraphrase in order to provide a context for my assertion. The four fast examples which follow, shorn of close reading, are skeletal in form yet grandiose of claim: for this I apologize, trusting that sufficient interest may be generated to prompt readers to seek the fuller extant and imminent versions of these claims.

In "The Fire and the Hearth," Lucas Beauchamp, deprived of his wife Molly for six months by Zack Edmonds, seeks her return. Master and tenant lock arms over Zack's bed. Molly, the source of their conflict, is virtually displaced from her possible (though unlikely) service in that bed by a male couple, "clasped" in what momentarily resembles an "embrace" (44). (5) The displacement of the bedded female in "Was" is more metaphoric: Isaac's cousin and father (Edmonds [a child] and Buck), in error and the dark, prepare to sleep in the occupied bed of Isaac's mother-to-be. The room, likened to "a den" in "bear-country" (19), by dint of metaphoric impertinence achieves an ursine translation of its occupant. Yet the bear in Go Down, Moses (and perhaps encoded in the final syllable of Sophonsiba's name) is decidedly male. Ergo, a male triangle, two of whose elements will eventually marry (and conceive Isaac), briefly and subsemantically share a bed. "Pantaloon in Black" recasts both bed and female occupant. The story starts with Rider burying Mannie, his wife of six months, in a grave which in all probability, at the story's close, he will share. We can assume that his aunt will bury his lynched body with she who was briefly his wife. In which case, Rider, a giant named for a black sexual athlete (or buck), will enter a narrow place with Mannie, whose name contains the male generic term.

Puns and whispers would constitute shaky interpretive ground were it not for my fourth, final, and focal example. A recent essay, coauthored with Noel Polk, proposes a revisionist reading of the McCaslin commissary ledgers. In it, we argue that Isaac's case against his grandfather--the case on which his repudiation of the plantation and espousal of the big woods rests--was quite literally duplicitous. Isaac seeks to establish that L. Q. C. McCaslin first rapes the slave Eunice, and then rapes Tomasina, his own daughter by Eunice. His evidence, we suggest, is entirely textual; his text (the ledgers), like any chronicle assembled from fragments by multiple hands, should prompt variant readings. Furthermore, Isaac prefaces the materials with which he makes his case for grandpaternal miscegenation and incest with two seemingly irrelevant pages detailing a ten month argument between his father and uncle, the twins Buck and Buddy, over Buck's purchase of "the anomaly calling itself Percival Brownlee" (195). Buck buys only one slave: those he inherits he seeks to manumit. Why then does he purchase Brownlee at an exorbitant price? His purchase cannot "read," "plough," or "lead live stock to Crick" (195): Brownlee is, however, unmistakably homosexual. Buddy, at the close of the brothers' written exchange over the matter (they are described as being "long since past any oral intercourse" [194]), will suggest that Brownlee be renamed "Spintrius" (196). In Suetonius's The Lives of the Twelve Caesars (c. 111), of which Faulkner had a copy in his library, "spintrae" (in relation to Tiberius's love life) are referred to as male "perverts" who "defiled one another, interlaced in series of threes." (6) Since Buck and Buddy, in their proximity prior to the purchase of Brownlee, could be considered a male couple, the addition of Brownlee prompts a triangulation in which the twins' queer and whispered incest is interrupted by an intimation of same-sex miscegenation. If so, L. Q. C. McCaslin's performance of parallel heterosexual acts just might be a contrivance designed by Ike to mask a pattern of homosexual amities prior to his (Ike's) birth, amities which he can neither countenance nor entirely erase.

My abbreviated version of an earlier and extended argument approaches travesty, but may serve to indicate the presence of a serial and encoded ur-narrative in Go Down, Moses--a narrative by means of which, whenever a man and woman approach a bed in that text, the gender of the couple shall be subject to mutation. After which woefully diagrammatic excursus, I can perhaps return to Isaac McCaslin in bed with his wife. She, it will be remembered, "open[s]" her body to elicit a "promise" concerning property; at which point, but now with seemingly serial inevitability, "she" becomes temporarily (and only partially in error) "he." Given that the solicited "promise" may issue from a receptive male body--however momentarily seen--the previously noted vagina dentata might best be understood as emerging, by way of rebuke, from a phantasmic homosexual subscene--or, more properly, one of several such scenes, whose incremental coming into hiding draws that which emerges from each of them towards a cumulatively apparent emergency.


Yet in "Delta Autumn," striving to define his sense of man's theodic purpose in relation to the woods, Ike tells the assembled hunters: "I think that every man and woman, at the instant when it dont even matter whether they marry or not ... at that instant the two of them together were God" (257).

In Ike's case, heterosexual orgasm hardly has a good press: the activities of his wife's hand, likened to a "tightening" "loop ... [of] wire cable" (233), and carried by "cable" towards the "cable-strong" (189) financial records of the ledgers, tend less to caress than to calculate and castrate. Admittedly, by 1941, Ike has been celibate for fifty years; nonetheless, his eulogy to the pitch of orgasm remains proximous to a less than exemplary instance (236, 257)--less than exemplary, that is, if one ignores the semantic promiscuity of the (fe)male body in question. Read through "[??]," "rutted," and "man," Ike's wife becomes in turn earthy, animal, and male: consequently, the "ultimate funnelling tip" into which she "draw[s]" Ike operates as a space of divided referents, doubled gestures, and profligate absences.

After congress with his wife, Ike remains celibate. Section 4 of "The Bear" closes with her "lying on her side, her back to the empty room, laughing and laughing" (234). John T. Matthews argues that Ike's subsequent withdrawal from heterosexual activity reflects the choices of his father and uncle, and stems from the urgency of their shared conviction that the planter mentality must not be reproduced. Ike will not risk descendants (222, 227). An alternative reading might declare, having glimpsed Ike glimpsing homosexual acts, and having seen instances of veiled homoerotics multiply in Go Down, Moses, that in consigning himself to half a century of celibacy (care of his grandfather), Ike in fact consigns himself (care of his father) to "non-homosexuality"--where the latter repudiation surfaces as inexplicable and barely acknowledged textual effusions of biracial male desire. (7) The "altered" body of Ike's wife, like the Brownlee ledger page, retains what it can only infer in the form of a semantic residue or hint, which hint draws into hiding a sight which must be refused before it is seen, only for that sight unseen to elicit further displacements. Ike's eulogy to a heterosexual orgasm, after fifty years without one, is just such a displacement, one allowing him--through the negation of his own negation (of heterosexuality)--to recover within himself (as an absence) that which his celibacy displaced onto the homosocial environment of the hunting camp. The erotics of that absence are available to him only through the negative: Ike often senses, or thinks he senses, what is not there--a body beside a body, where the shadow-body differs markedly from the body that casts the shadow. Each negation might be understood as a localized parataxis--a placing of what is not (or what is not possible) beside what is. (8) Witness the "altered" body of Ike's wife, as read through "[??]," itself a female figure that contains a male camp.

To summarize: the semantic density and instability of the prose detailing Ike's encounters with the big woods and their creatures indicates that the woods, as the place that Ike's repudiation made, contain displaced variants of that repudiation. Far from standing as the antithesis of the plantation and its abused properties, in the manner of nature to culture, myth to history, atemporality to time, or any of several reassuring critical binaries, the woods materialize through the residue of the very transgression that Ike's repudiation sought to negate. Since that transgression took a double and masked form, the woods too are duplicitous, after the manner of the ledger pages from which they finally derive. Consequently, the ur-narrative emerges among the arboreal glades, where Ike is ever liable to encounter a bestiary whose items may be read as problematic expressions of the African American male body, set to one side in order to be retained.

When Ike enters the woods (whose principle is "[??]") he unites with beasts whose reptilian and ursine forms are themselves but masking gestures. I have space only to be schematic: in December 1883, Boon and Lion kill Old Ben. Sam Fathers falls even as the bear falls. The paw of the bear and the body of the man are laid close together on a "knoll" around which the woods with seemly haste contract. Ike's visit to the site, in June 1885, yields grounds for his later orgasmic confidence. At the shared resting place--at once animal, vegetable, human, and arboreal: "dissolution itself was a seething turmoil of ejaculation tumescence conception and birth, and death did not even exist" (243).

Since it seems likely that Ike will arrange to have himself buried here (even as Rider regains Mannie in the grave), one might argue that at this tumescent spot Ike's "two spans" meet. If so, Faulkner recasts his figure: "[??]" ceases to be prevalently female, becoming instead the site of an immortal hard-on: "[de]tumescence" passes unmentioned, and "death"--ever a term for coitus, with a postcoital sting in its play--"did not even exist." That such a site gives rise to a floating phallus should come as no surprise:
 moving erect yet off the perpendicular as if the head and that
 elevated third were complete and all: an entity walking on two feet
 and free of all laws of mass and balance and should have been
 because even now he could not quite believe that all that shift and
 flow of shadow behind that walking head could have been one snake.

I have already explored some of the implications of the textual presence of a six-foot rattlesnake called "Grandfather" (Fictions of Capital 156-57); here, however, I wish only to stress that the "rutted" earth "opens" to emit a significant and loosely attached erection. When Ike addresses the snake in "the old tongue" as "Chief" or "Grandfather" (245), whether he imagines himself to be speaking to God or to L. Q. C. matters less than that he uses the term employed by Sam in addressing the spectral buck in "The Old People" (137). "Oleh" stages category collapse by indicating deer, snake, and man; the term's failure to draw distinction is compounded by the recognition that for Ike, in this place and after the manner of his mentor, animal and human have ceased to be distinguishable. On which ground "Oleh" refers also to Old Ben: Sam silently applied the term to the bear when Boon and Ike turned him over in the mud where he had fallen even as Old Ben fell: "his eyes were open and he said something in that tongue which he and Joe Baker had used to speak together" (178). Since "Oleh" is the only term in "that tongue" heard by the reader, we can assume that, for the reader at least, "Oleh" features as Sam's last word. Furthermore, for Sam, the bear, "designat[ed] like a living man" (141) and carrying "a name such as human man could have worn and not been sorry" (170), is "the man" (145). Utopic anthropomorphism should, however, be resisted: "Oleh" reflects a metaphorical strand extending throughout Go Down, Moses within whose framework the human animal most typically hunted has been black. Old Ben's antecedents include Tomey's Turl, "fox"; Rider, "buck"; and Butch, "wolf" (280), each of whom serves as a named focus for a generic cultural suspicion that looks to find the beast in the bound man, as a justification for the perpetuation of bondage in its several forms. Perhaps while "standing with one hand raised as Sam had stood" previously before the spectral buck (245, 137) and "speaking the old tongue which Sam had spoken that day" (245), Ike can address the snake as "Oleh," but the text cannot quite repeat his utterance. Instead, Faulkner supplies only a redundant translation; redundant because the term has already been translated, "Chief," "Grandfather" (245, 137). Authorial omission mutes Ike's performative, even as that proper name improperly sets a snake on its feet and recovers from a reptilian odor. (9) The absence of "Oleh" gives pause: readers may look for the missing term and failing to find it, question the legitimacy of its presence. Perhaps Faulkner cannot compound his character's anthropomorphic condensation as it subsumes hunted men within hunted beasts and leaves no residue; though, of course, the felt omission may be that residue, and that residue may belong to Ike, even as he cheers himself up with an archaism which we are not allowed to hear.

I have opened a textual rut, deep with variants, to recover from it a snake rendered legion by revision, variants which take their semantic presence from the initial act of negation, Ike's founding repudiation of plantation land. Ike's repudiation of land simultaneously displaces the black working body, which (structured by negation and exacerbated by the historical moment of its refusal [1941]) must return.

In the snake, Ike confronts the epitome of broken rules, not just a semblance of "the old one" who prompted the initial transgression, but a serial category mistake (244): snake and man ("Grandfather"); man and god ("Oleh"); lapsed and prelapsarian (the "feet"); (10) male ("erect") and female ("evocative of all knowledge"); but above all an autochthon, almost indistinguishable from the earth from which it rises (vegetable and reptile). Although Ike's snake barely has time to be a snake before becoming an anthology, I would emphasize that, in its partial and autochthonic arousal, it remains "concordant with the wilderness it crawled," a thing of the earth, or, more accurately, of that piece of earth which more than any other in the big woods (with the exception of the notional "funnelling tip" [253] for which it stands as synecdoche) is land whose meaning materializes for Ike through his repudiation of plantocratic property, and of the neoplantation that it will become (via de Spain's sale of the woods themselves). Ergo: since the snake is made from the earth, which is formed in its turn from Ike's repudiation, the snake needs must rise from a negation of black labor (the substance of the earth). The reptile complies: Major de Spain's contract with the lumber company specifically prohibited labor in the burial ground; consequently, and by dint of that exclusion, the excluded black body returns in partial and masked form.

Ike almost treads on an embodiment of his own negations, which might easily have negated him. In that he wilfully ignores Ash's "parting admonition" (244), "They're crawling" (240), his false step might be deemed a mere step away from the repudiation of himself:
 he froze, immobile, one foot just taking his weight, the toe of the
 other just lifted behind him, not breathing, feeling again and as
 always the sharp shocking inrush from when Isaac McCaslin long yet
 was not, and so it was fear all right but not fright as he looked
 down at it. (244)

Faulkner's phrasing begs questions as to what Ike "feels": the simple answer, that Ike is scared to death in that he sees his own end ("long yet/was not"), will not work since it fails to explain the deja vu. Ike has been here before ("feeling again ... from when"), but when exactly and what exactly? Aged eleven, in 1878, Ike tracked and saw Old Ben, vowing that he would not be afraid:
 not even in the moment when the fear would take him completely:
 blood, skin, bowels, bones, memory from the long time before it
 even became memory:--all save that thin quenchless lucidity which
 alone differed him from this bear and from all other bears and
 bucks he would follow during almost seventy years, to which Sam had
 said: "Be scared. You cant help that. But dont be afraid." (152)

The snake and the bear elicit linked reactions from Ike. I lack space to pursue the "memory" that remembers before it becomes "memory," as it grows from Ike's conviction that through Sam's training he is "coeval" with what he kills and with the woods in which he kills it. I would merely suggest that a notional collective memory, available as a habit body, (11) might be traced to the cultural capital that Ike derives from his apprenticeship to the practices of the hunt. In the shared and practical space of such skills, "he" is the future of the "memory" of those who train him, and as such he may be said to be prior to himself. At this point, I am more concerned to identify "the thin quenchless lucidity" which remains when fear comprehensively eliminates the body ("skin, bowels, bones, memory"): the precipitate obeys the logic of negation or of the hymen as that which "must be destroyed in order to have existed at all" (AA 80). "[Q]uenchless" is the key--thirst, as that which cannot be quenched, gathers "liquid" and "mouth" into a term that is itself the negation of a negation (a quenched thirst without quench). "Lucidity," liquefied, amounts to a transparent synaesthesia in which sight and taste cross to yield a clear oral precipitate, or saliva. At the moment when "fear ... take[s] him completely" beyond himself, opening him to his own nonexistence, that which flows in his mouth allows him, projectively, to become that which he has not yet been--the object that he seeks. (12)

The bear, too, is little more than a play of light on liquid. Its prints first appear in "a seepage of moisture somewhere between earth and water," only to "dissolve away" before recurring "as though they were being shaped out of thin air" (153). The track leads to a "glade" in which "the wilderness coalesced" and with it the bear: "[i]t did not emerge, appear: it was just there" (153). The directional imperative ("there") gestures towards a body that scarcely forms from separate parts of light, "fixed in the green and windless noon's hot dappling," where "dappling" undoes the outline work of "fixed," only for "windless" to interrogate the "dapple" (153). Although Old Ben moves, taking shape (a "look," "walk," "shoulder"), he does so only to shift "for an instant into the sun's full glare and out of it" (153), thereby adding dazzle to dapple and achieving an exit that is less "vanish" than "fade" and more "sank" than both: in leaving the "glade," Old Ben deliquesces into the light ("fade") and the water ("sank"), elements that are the chief constituents both of the glade from which he "coalesced," and of the "thin clear quenchless lucidity" (152) in Ike's mouth:
 Then it was gone. It didn't walk into the woods. It faded, sank
 back into the wilderness without motion as he had watched a fish, a
 huge old bass, sink back into the dark depths of its pool and
 vanish without even any movement of its fins. (154)

Ike may insist that his "quenchless lucidity ... alone differ[s] him from this bear and from all other bears and bucks" (152) and bass, but since his residual difference is of the essence of those objects from which he deems it to distinguish him, one might argue that he protests too much: that as the bear becomes the bass, and both become wilderness, they take their observer (a "he" whose syntactical position in its sentence is less than secure (13)) down with them into the wet earth from which they form. I am not suggesting that Ike's spit is not worth a spit, merely that as with so much about repudiation (and its attendant negatives), his spit can best be read as a spectral "self," which has come to exist only as a precipitate produced by his passage into what he is not--in the first instance into Old Ben, no sooner ursine than arboreal and soiled.

I grow tired of analyzing spit, but since instances of significant saliva remain, I have to go on. I shall be brief. Ike has tasted "quenchless lucidity" before, though in less refined form. Aged ten, confronting Old Ben's claw marks scored into a rotting log, and again the next day, aware "that the bear was looking at him.... [Though] [h]e never saw it" (149), Ike tastes "a flavour like brass in the sudden run of saliva in his mouth" (147). Regarding, on the raked shoulder of a dog, a further index of Old Ben's paw, he considers "what he ... had ... tasted in his own saliva" (149):
 recogniz[ing] fear as a boy, a youth, recognizes the existence of
 love and passion and experience which is his heritage but not yet
 his patrimony, from entering by chance the presence or perhaps even
 merely the bedroom of a woman who has loved and been loved by many
 men. So I will have to see him, he thought, without dread or even
 hope. I will have to look at him. (150)

The analogy, care of its delivery in a free-indirect voice, hovers between author and character, though the contrast with instances of direct thought tilts the "bedroom" towards authorial inflection. (14) However, the term which dedicates the intervention to Faulkner ("as"), weakens even as the reader's mouth reacts to the suggestion that a ten-year-old boy might "taste" a room of assignation and of consequent intimate emissions. One is tempted to spit, and in doing so presumably one mimes Ike's mouth, redirecting the simile towards the character's perceptual options. Indeed, Ike has grounds and motive for the resemblance in all its specificity: his fear, in which bear and bedroom combine to release a flow of saliva containing the merest intimation of semen, might be modeled on the story of his own aborted conception. In "Was," Buck and the ten-year-old McCaslin Edmonds "by chance" enter Sophonsiba's bedroom, a room likened by Hubert to a "den" in "bear-country" (19). That they "lay down by the bear" and "emerged without even a claw-mark" (19) does not inhibit the logic of the extended analogy from translating Sophonsiba into "Sophonsib[e]a[r]," and from providing an antecedent model for the balance of woman, bedroom, and bear in Ike's spit. In one aspect the model does not fit: Sophonsiba has a single suitor. However, a second bedroom corrects the disparity. In Ike's hotel room, likely site of multiple assignation, Ike's wife, naked on the bed, strikes him as "born already bored with what a boy already approaches only at fourteen" (233): "bored," in an explicitly penetrative context, puns to draw ennui from an orifice. Any woman, whether Sophonsiba or a newlywed, is for Ike already sexually "practiced" (233); a conviction so much a part of his habit body that he tastes it once again in his fearful reaction to the snake: "and he could smell it now: the thin sick smell of rotting cucumbers and something else which had no name, evocative of all knowledge and an old weariness" (244).

The "something" in question emanates from that which interanimates the serpent and "knowledge": Eve fits, since in Genesis the Snake tempts Eve to "know" both cognitively and carnally. However, the impact of the odor owes less to Genesis than to a literal distaste born of the suggestion that vagina and cucumber emit linked fluids, "thin" and "sick." Fully to exculpate such a smell, one might have to spit, not least because Faulkner manages to transfer the specific biographical and cultural density of Ike's saliva into the reader's mouth --where orifices oral, vaginal, penile, human, ursine, and reptilian meet in a mixture of emissions, which cannot in any instance be freed from a tincture of the soil. The bear, like the snake, is autochthonic; the prints that prompt Ike's encyclopedic spit heal "with unbelievable speed, a passionate and almost visible relinquishment, back into the earth" (150-51).

Ike likewise passes with "passionate ... relinquishment," by way of his bestiary, into the earth; however, the nature of his "passion" for self loss remains problematic, since the earth that effects his passage is most typically marked with the sign "[??]," which on inspection, in this instance, inclines from pudendum to phallus. The serpent, in rising to transgender an autochthonic vagina, merely replicates a prior transgendering achieved by Old Ben. If the bear emanates from wet light, and Ike, on entering that ambiance at age ten, "witness[es] his own birth" (143), the bear, more amnion than ursus, is rightly judged Ike's "alma mater" (154) and an extension of the arboreal ur-sign as female ([??]). At second sight, sprawled beneath the bear in an effort to rescue his fyce, Ike therefore aptly assumes a near fetal posture:
 [I]t seemed to him that he was directly under the bear. He could
 smell it, strong and hot and rank. Sprawling, he looked up where it
 loomed and towered over him like a thunderclap. It was familiar,
 until he remembered: this was the way he had used to dream about
 it. (155)

The natal scenario can hardly be missed, particularly since reference to pre-conceptual dreaming directly recalls Ike's reaction to "witnessing his own [arboreal] birth ... at the age of ten" on his first entry into the big woods (circa 1877). That birth, too, "was not even strange to him ... [since] [h]e had experience it all before, and not merely in dreams" (143). Yet even as the bear poses for a uterine caption, "towered" renders that caption inappropriate. Old Ben is "the man" (145): at his final appearance, he "stands erect," "rising and rising as though [he] would never stop" (177). Faulkner's reiterative insistence recalls Rider's segmented "straightening" (110) in the timberyard:
 he [Rider] nudged the log to the edge of the truck-frame and
 squatted and set his palms against the underside of it. For a time
 there was no movement at all.... Then a voice said quietly: "He got
 hit. Hit's off de truck," and they saw the crack and gap of air,
 watching the infinitesimal straightening of the braced legs until
 the knees locked, the movement mounting infinitesimally through the
 belly's unsuck, the arch of the chest, the neck cords, lifting the
 lip from the white clench of teeth in passing, drawing the whole
 head backward and only the bloodshot fixity of the eyes impervious
 to it, moving on up the arms and straightening elbows until the
 balanced log was higher than his head. ("Pantaloon in Black" 110)

That Old Ben's "rising" recalls Rider's extended form operates paratactically to hybridize two images, drawing a black through a beast so that a deeply problematic desire may be figured.

How, then, am I to explain copresent phalloi (bear, Rider, serpent), paratactically and subsemantically adrift in an unexpected place? What follows is summary and dry: via the logic of negation, the deep structure of Ike's mental habits (as exemplified through repudiation), that which is negated (planter property as an extension, through labor, of an abused black body), constitutes an aspect of that which replaces it (the big woods). Abstractly put, bear and snake, as emanations of that through which they move, necessarily contain aspects of the black.


But why should those aspects elicit desire? I hesitate before the extremity of my own imminent answer, particularly since many readers will not have heard the echo of Rider's slow erection in the bear's "rising," nor witnessed the consequent paratactic sleight of sight. Yet there can be no escaping the suggestion that the manner of Old Ben's death is copulatory: the bear "caught the dog in both arms almost loverlike" prior to "rising and rising"; at which point Boon, who shared his bed with Lion (162-63), straddles the bear's back, "working and probing" his "blade" into its throat. The three figures fall backwards with Boon beneath the bear, only for the man to reassume the dominant position "astride" the beast's back and affixed to that which "surged erect" (178). Already my rediscription errs on the side of neat categorization: in contradistinction, the dog is called Lion; the bear walks "as a man would have walked," and the man, Boon, may as the jealous lover be taking the woman's part (169). (15) Moreover, a fourth party falls with them, multiplying the passages of man into beast. Sam Fathers, discovered "lying motionless on his face in the trampled mud" (178), in effect dies as Old Ben dies. Faulkner maximizes mixture. The anthropologist Michael Taussig notes that he who "takes himself bodily into alterity" (even as Sam and Boon take themselves "bodily" into bear and Lion) "teeters on the edge of stable knowledge" (Mimesis and Alterity 40): at which point, as normative modes of understanding fail, absence and indeterminacy combine to generate the presence of an "irrecuperable force" which "spill[s] out ... contagious, proliferating, voided." Taussig adds, "no matter how long the death is faced off, contradiction cannot be mastered and only laughter, bottom spanking, eroticism, violence and dismemberment exist simultaneously in violent silence" (Defacement 41). The extended passage recounting Old Ben's death, and trailing paratactic echoes, may be low on laughter and spanking, but the other elements of Taussig's "irrecuperable" pressure run discernibly through the semisilence of Faulkner's subsemantics. I can explain the erotics of the mix as it yields interleaved phalloi--ursine and black--only by suggesting that in Go Down, Moses, where categories collapse "maximiz[ing] undifferentiation," the resultant "mix of mixtures" (Bull 72) excites even as it reaches back towards founding transgressions, and so towards the ledger pages which record for Ike those first transgressions. Just as the commissary documents may be disposed as offering evidence of two heterosexual rapes (both miscegenous, one incestuous) and as containing counter-evidence for matching, though arguably consensual, homosexual instances of miscegenation and incest, so too does the bear (subsuming two narratives), operate as a double focus. As "Oleh," or the mimic bearer of a grandpaternal phallus, Old Ben warrants dismemberment. As black (Brownlee or Rider), he solicits desire, albeit in barely discerned form.

Before elaborating, I should offer further evidence for my claim that events in the woods contain events from the ledgers, which they displace. What follows is at first a commonplace of Faulkner scholarship: in "Delta Autumn," Roth Edmonds terminates his extended affair with a Delta woman, cast by the gossip of the camp as the "doe" (248) he had hunted during the previous winter. The woman, though sufficiently white to pass, proves to be a granddaughter of James Beauchamp, and so a descendant of Tomasina and of Eunice. Her child by Roth, therefore, and from Ike's perspective, recalls not simply L. Q. C.'s miscegenation, but his fathering of a son on his own progeny (the woman is distantly related to Roth). That Roth tricks Ike into making a severance payment deepens the likelihood that as Ike extends the envelope to her (264), he finds himself simultaneously in more than one place and time: in a tent within the diminishing triangle (1941); in Arkansas, executing payment of L. Q. C.'s thousand dollar legacy to Fonsiba Beauchamp (1886); (16) in the McCaslin commissary considering the ledgers, and more particularly that entry containing mention of his grandfather's will (1883). Noel Polk and I have already argued that the phrase referring to L. Q. C.'s legacy ("Fathers will" [199]), may be read as an evidential fulcrum, containing both the case against and the case for L. Q. C.'s sexual guilt (Godden, Polk 321-24). Which is to say that Ike, as he executes a belated codicil to that will, passing Roth's money to James Beauchamp's granddaughter, does two things. Firstly, he proves to himself the exploitative persistence of his grandfather's will and properties, and the consequent irrelevance of his own repudiation of that will and of those properties. Secondly, and once again, as with the ledgers in 1883, he displaces alternative evidence relating to his father's sexual politics.

Given that he has spent over forty years (between 1884 and 1941) practicing a repudiation narrative and the case against the grandfather from which that narrative derives, evidence for its possible misconception is liable to prove recessive. Yet that evidence must exist, if only because the habit of negation--Ike's forte--breeds survivals in the form of semantic residues or clues to the very thing which has been set aside. Consequently, the tented meeting betrays secreted means to an alternative recognition of the Delta woman. She approaches the triangle "in a man's hat and a man's slicker" (263), entering it by boat. As a woman from the Delta, she arrives from the South, and may be presumed to gain access to the figure from its lower "apex" or "tip." Once in the tent, she meets Ike sans "pants," in a state of undress, seated on a cot (267). The scene doubly recalls the novel's sequence of encounters between changelings over beds; doubly, in that the cot rests in the ".," itself a version of a resting place marked female. True to the ur-narrative, over such a bed in such a place, a race and gender switch occurs. Ike, like the first-time reader, takes the woman for white, only to have her turn shockingly black at the mention of an aunt who "took in washing" (266). Cast by the ur-narrative towards evidence of crossdressing, the woman's apparel allows that "she" who is "white" may be (mis)taken for "he" who is "black." In which recessive and phantasmal case, the son s/he carries beneath a "man's slicker" might just be the child of a homosexual and miscegenous union, even, and yet more phantasmally, the descendant of Buck and Brownlee.

A "slicker" is a variety of waterproof coat, but the term also refers to tools used either in the scraping of leather or for the smoothing of the surface of molds in founding. Within the dynamic of the ur-narrative, "slicker" may shift, through "slick" and "slicken," from abrasion to erasure, thereby allowing Faulkner's choice and gendering of an outer garment to hint that the mother and child mime what they efface, an abraded masculinity.

Ike makes Roth's payment, but adds his own for the child, in the form of Roth's hunting horn, "the one which General Compson had left him in his will, covered with the unbroken skin from a buck's shank and bound with silver" (268). The horn, like so many of the scene's accessories, tells two stories: Ike counters Roth's last installment on L. Q. C.'s legacy with amelioration from the woods, though the horn's curative capacity is vitiated by the mere existence of its recipient. Alternatively, the horn, made from two aspects of a buck, recalls the buck (from "The Old People"):
 At first there was nothing.... Then the buck was there. He did not
 come into sight; he was just there, looking not like a ghost but as
 if all of light were condensed in him and he were the source of it,
 not only moving in it but disseminating it, already running, seen
 first as you always see the deer, in that split second after he has
 already seen you, already slanting away in that first soaring
 bound, the antlers even in that dim light looking like a small
 rocking-chair balanced on his head.

 "Now," Sam Fathers said, "shoot quick, and slow." (121)

Figured through Genesis, and sans antecedents, the buck is a luminous and seminal source. Yet, for all its originality, it proves duplicitous. The term "buck" refers to a male deer, but also and idiomatically to "any male, Indian or Negro." Since "buck" can also be used of a range of male animals--from goats to rabbits--male strength and sexuality may underpin its application to aboriginals. Just prior to the buck's emergence as the first image in "The Old People" (121), Rider dies (116). Rider's sexual repute (his name in African American slang refers to a sexual athlete), allows that he might be read as masked by a buck. Certainly, the buck carries multiple meanings, not least because its aura (reminiscent of "Let there be light" [Gen. 1.3]) sits ill with a rocking-chair. The antlers, so described, recall Buddy's favored furniture: Uncle Buddy, we are told, whether riding a horse or wagon, sits as he would "in his rocking-chair" (19), perhaps because the "housekeeper" to the McCaslin home practices, "sitting all day long in the rocking-chair from which he cooked the food, before the kitchen fire on which he cooked it" (197). With Buddy balanced precariously in the horns of buck, that buck, containing a black, must surely also nominate Buddy's twin? At which point male bodies triangulate in a female shape ("antlers" miming "[??]"), marked male. Granted such a genealogy, Ike's gift, compiled from a buck and paratactically freighted with whispers, becomes a closeted piece of homosexual memorabilia. The gift of the horn ensures that as the delta woman's African American child goes North, he will take with him an encrypted residue of same-sex love between black and white men.

Acting as a go-between and extension of Roth's sexual exchange in all its duplicities almost kills Ike. When the woman leaves the tent with her child, he lies back "trembling, panting ... [a]nd cold too: he lay shaking faintly and steadily ... rigid save for the shaking ... his crossed hands once more weightless on his breast" (268-69). Funereal allusions combine with detailed echoes of Quentin Compson's preterminal "paralysis" at the close of Absalom, Absalom! (307) to ensure that we take the point: Ike vanishes from Go Down, Moses all but a corpse. The child delivers a double blow in that his obscured face points two ways, to a ruinous interethnic past reborn and to intimations of a future interethnic amity barely born. The faces together express, in masked form, a contradiction that might be called "1941."


I have space only for the briefest of explanatory historical interludes. Faulkner sets "Delta Autumn" in the year of its composition (1941), at which point, soon after U.S. entry into the war, the enforced (through largely unintended) removal of the Southern tenantry (enforced by the New Deal's Agricultural Adjustment Program [1933-38]), received the further stimulus of a needy North Eastern labor market, deprived of its Atlantic immigrants by European conflict. Historian of African American labor Jay Mandle notes that "America's entry into World War II marks the principal point of discontinuity in the black experience of the United States" (84). Between 1930 and 1940, the tenantry had declined by 62% in Mississippi. What the labor historian Pete Daniel terms "the Southern enclosure" marks the movement from "capital-scarce, labor-intensive plantation production to capital-intensive, labor-surplus neo-plantation production" (Woods 127; Daniel 52), a structural shift most manifest in eviction and black diaspora. Much of the migration during the thirties had been internal, but with the onset of global conflict, the war-driven needs of Northern industry ensured that during the '40s over one million African Americans left the plantation states. Mississippi alone, between 1940 and 1944, experienced a 23% decline in its predominantly black farm population. Startling figures for outmigration during the early '40s should be balanced against equally startling figures for capital inflow during the late '30s, as the enabling condition of that movement of people. Between 1933 and 1939, the federal government's direct expenditure in Mississippi totalled $450 million, while an additional $260 million entered state banks through ensured loans (Woods 143).

In effect, the landowning class shifted its pattern of dependency from black labor to Northern capital, while the tenantry, increasingly landless and welfare dependent, waited on the pull of Northern employment needs to renew its Great Migration. With blacks less and less in their laboring place, and capital more and more in that place, the substance of Southern plantation land was transformed--land as "sweat" gave way to land as "capital," though agribusiness and its destruction of the "labor-intensive rural order born of reconstruction" (Woods 127) should not be spoken of as fully in its place until the 1950s. As land changed, so necessarily did the substance of the landowning class: the linked impact of federal funding and enforced black mobility ensured that by 1941 historical conditions existed for the extraction of black from white. With the decline of tenantry and the relaxation of the debt structures (associated with share cropping and requiring the codependency of black and white), white, in the last instance, had less reason to be black. The proprietors of the '40s quite literally had to loose the bound body of black labor. The trick to the "creative destruction" (Marx 749-50) of themselves, required by a mutation in the form of their capital, was to expel their black substance without self-loss. But where the properties of that selfhood--from face, to skin, to sex, to land--were determined by the laboring other, to loose the other was to lose the self 's best parts. In Joel Williamson's terms, commenting on the legacy of Southern black/white relations at midcentury, for white to release black was to declare, "I am not going to be me anymore" (499). At which point demographic figures, or federal decisions concerning control of excess cotton production, condition the corporeality--the face, skin, sex, and land--of an owning class as it negotiates the expulsion from itself of what has made it what it is, African American labor.

All of which must serve as an explanatory context for Ike McCaslin's words as he touches the Delta woman's hand, so nearly white, only to feel that the hand he touches, by his own reiterated declaration, becomes that of a black man--"Tennie's Jim ... Tennie's Jim" (267). Of course, he simply identifies the woman's patrimony: by recovering a second gesture from the first, in the form of a homoerotic caress, I strain the evidence. Yet Ike's caress, both physical and verbal, once set among the whispered embraces of Lucas and Zack, Rider and the reader, Buck and Brownlee, implies the subsemantic availability of a counternarrative whereby, even as the body of African American labor migrates, that body shall be retained in hiding as the body not of labor but of love. Pushed beyond its limits, the counternarrative emerging through Ike's "gnarled ... fingers" as they touch "for a second the smooth young flesh" (267), draws double articulation from the novel's title. Go Down, Moses famously cites the sung injunction that Moses instruct Pharaoh to free the Hebrew people from "Egypt's land." Yet the phrase "to go down" had currency in America, by 1910, as an idiomatic expression for oral-genital contact. (17)

Before proceeding, I remind myself that in 1939 Faulkner called his Hollywood novel If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem. The titular phrase, from Verse 5, Psalm 137, addresses the Babylonian captivity. Verse 5 reads in full, "If I forget thee, Oh Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning." The writer Harry Wilbourne, imprisoned for killing his wife in a botched abortion, ensures that he will not forget her: he masturbates using his memory of her body as a stimulant. Faulkner renders Harry's "right hand ... cunning" by confusing its onanistic and "wri[gh]terly" motion with the clashing of "wild palms" outside the cell (714-15). Faulkner, it would seem, has used a biblical phrase in order barely to occlude sexual innuendo in an earlier albeit discarded title. (18)

Go Down, Moses, as title and novel, read for its secondary gestures, allows that emergent and floating phalloi, so much a part of its second story, may be both black and desirable. Yet the members are themselves fetishes, open to disavowal and standing in place of a lost thing. To desire to "go down on" Rider's tumescence, whether masked in bear or buck, or imperiously to suggest that he offers similar service, is to desire the lost labor for which that complex tumescence stands and to glimpse a consolatory fiction of amity between male bodies, black and white, even as black bodies are seen to depart from their place.

I have read Faulkner's representation of the big woods and its bestiary in "The Bear" and "Delta Autumn" as encoding echoes or displacements of a prior scene, whose source is itself a scene hidden within the McCaslin ledgers. In the process of my reading, associative interaction has set one moment beside another and often unlike moment, across paratactic caesurae--caesurae formed in the last instance by a faltering will-to-see Brownlee in his master's arms. The generative condition for the coming into hiding of that sight unseen resides in a drastic historical transition, desired by those who suffer it. By the early 1940s, the differential order of Jim Crow had begun, structurally at least, to disintegrate, allowing the tacit emergence of a postplantation south --a region where, according to the paratactic poetics of Go Down, Moses, that which has been kept apart will be set side-by-side in a labor revolution, at once catastrophic to the social order of the ruling class, yet deeply desired by that class as the only route to its survival. As the planters modernized, ceasing to be their prior selves, so Faulkner (their historian), traces in the expulsion of African American labor, a displaced retention of the expelled--a retention, that is, of the migrant body of African American labor, recovered not as labor but as amity in deniable form.

(1) "On the first morning that Lion led the pack after Old Ben, seven strangers appeared in the camp. They were swampers, gaunt, malaria-ridden men appearing from nowhere, who ran trap-lines for coons or perhaps farmed little patches of cotton and corn along the edge of the bottom, in clothes but little better than Sam Fathers" (163). In allowing their request to follow the hunt, Major de Spain points out that Old Ben is "more your bear than ours," adding, "[i]f you see game in front of my dogs, shoot it" (164). The swampers' existence plainly depends on their unimpeded taking of what game they can from de Spain's woods.

(2) For an earlier attempt, see my essay, "William Faulkner, Addie Bundren, and Language."

(3) Addie recalls lying beside Anse, with Cash, their first child, asleep in a cradle next to her, and observes, "My aloneness had been violated and then made whole again by the violation: time, Anse, love, what you will, outside the circle" (AILD 116).

(4) My thought here owes much both to Sartre and Taussig on negation. See particularly, Sartre 91-101, and Taussig, My Cocaine Museum 126, 175. Sartre defines the praxis involved in negation as "at once a refusal and a realization" in that "the project retains and unveils the surpassed reality which is refused by the very movement which surpassed it" (92). Taussig's notion of "miasma" enabled me to clarify what I meant by that process through which negation leaves subsemantic residues:
 There must be some sort of trick here, and that is why we encounter
 the dramatic flourish of the murder of the thing because far from
 eliminating the thing, murder ensures its perpetuation by
 strengthening the feeling of the presence of the thing erased as
 visceral memory traces and ghostly returns, real and unreal at the
 same time. Language founders and thrives on the ambiguity, so long
 as we are capable of blinding ourselves to it; to the hole, as
 Anthony Wilden puts it, "through which meaning pours." (186)

(5) For a fuller version, see my essay, "Agricultural Adjustment, Revenants, Remnants, and Counter-Revolution in Faulkner's 'The Fire and the Hearth.'"

(6) For fuller details on possible sources for "Spintrius," see Taylor (151).

(7) I borrow the term "non-homosexuality" from D. A. Miller (122). Judith Butler offers a useful gloss on the implications of reading Ike's celibacy (or refusal of heterosexuality) as non-homosexuality: she notes of masking,
 If every refusal is finally a loyalty to some other bond in the
 present or the past, refusal is simultaneously preservation as
 well. The mask [in this instance Ike's celibacy] thus conceals this
 loss, but preserves (and negates) this loss through its
 concealment. The mask has a double function which is the double
 function of melancholy. The mask is taken on through the process of
 incorporation which is a way of inscribing and then wearing a
 melancholic identification in and on the body; in effect, it is the
 signification of the body in the mold of the Other who has [been]
 refused. (49-50)

(8) Michael Moon comments on Butler's analysis of the melancholia of gender, "'Properly' gendered persons, according to Butler's rereading of Freud, are compelled to deny (first to themselves) that they ever felt desire 'inappropriate' to their supposed desire, and are not permitted to grieve over the loss of this 'other desire.' I want to supplement this perception by arguing that 'melancholy,' homo or hetero, is not just about the disavowal and lack of grieving for 'the other' desire; there are 'many other' desires--the entire range of perversions--which many people feel compelled to deny and to omit grieving the loss of." Moon's unpublished commentary ("Memorial Rags, Memorial Rages") is quoted by Sedgwick 258.

(9) A smell "evocative of all knowledge" (244), emerging from a snake possessed of prelapsarian limbs, necessarily refers to that with which Eve was tempted, i.e., "knowledge," both cognitive and carnal.

(10) It will be recalled that the biblical serpent, at least initially, walked in Eden, not being put "upon [its] belly" until after the eating of the apple. Perhaps Gen. 3.14 may be taken as the model for Ike's perception that his rattlesnake, "erect yet off the perpendicular," moves as though "walking on two feet," those notional "feet" in effect deriving from prelapsarian nubs.

(11) The concept is Merleau-Ponty's. See particularly Merleau-Ponty 82-83, 106-07, 142-44.

(12)I echo Sartre, "In relation to the given, the praxis is negation. In relation to the object aimed at, praxis is in positivity, but this positivity opens onto the 'non-existent,' to what has not yet been" (92). Ike's "quenchless" and Addie's "unvirgin" share the same problematic.

(13) A single adverb would serve to fix the sentence as proposing a comparison based on memory; without that adverb (for example "once" in "as he had [once] watched a fish"), the subject who recollects is subsumed by the object recollected ... which is exactly Faulkner's point.

(14) As the linguist V. N. Volosinov notes of what he calls "quasi direct discourse," when an author simultaneously identifies with and yet retains distance from a creation (sidling up to and away from the consciousness or voice of a character), more is involved than a "mixture" or "average" of subject positions and modes of enunciation. Instead, "an author and a character speak at the same time." Although, in particular passages and phrases, a single enunciation may take precedence, the reader is always likely to be aware that any word, as the potential locus of "two differently orientated voices," may carry a "double intonation" in which two speech acts interfere with one another. See Volosinov 142, 144, 157; and also Bakhtin 304-05.

(15) "He [Ike] watched it for the next two years from that moment when Boon touched Lion's head and then knelt beside him, feeling the bones and muscles, the power. It was as if Lion were a woman--or perhaps Boon were the woman. That was more like it--" (162). For Boon's sharing of a bed with Lion, see also 163, 166.

(16) Ike senses the double temporality of his own gesture as he attempts to make Roth's payment:
 He fumbled at the envelope. It was not to pick it up, because it
 was still in his hand; he had never put it down. It was as if he
 had to fumble somehow to co-ordinate physically his heretofore
 obedient hand with what his brain was commanding of it, as if he
 had never performed such an action before, extending the envelope
 at last. (264)

(17) The Cassell Dictionary of Slang notes that "to go down" may refer to both fellatio and cunnilingus. The Random House Dictionary of American Slang grants the phrase currency from the first decade of the twentieth century. The Dictionary of American Underworld Lingo notes additionally that "to go down" is "to commit oral sodomy," though this suggestion remains undated. The last definition may derive from a penal association, in that "to go down" refers also to conviction for a crime, and by implication to serving a term of imprisonment in a closed male environment.

(18) Robert Hass, Faulkner's editor, decided to change Faulkner's chosen title to The Wild Palms. See Blotner 1002.


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Richard Godden

University of Sussex
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Title Annotation:William Faulkner
Author:Godden, Richard
Publication:The Faulkner Journal
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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