Beyond Lexicon: Biblical "Allusion" in Faulkner.
Every text is an intertext; other texts are present in it, at variable levels, in more or less recognizable forms: the texts of the previous culture and those of the surrounding culture; every text is a fabric woven out of bygone quotations.... A prerequisite for any text, intertextuality cannot be reduced to a problem of sources and influences; it is a general field of anonymous formulas whose origin is seldom identifiable, of unconscious or automatic quotations given without quotation marks.(1)
The impossibility of a complete disentangling of intertextuality's web, however, should not keep us from attempting a partial one--though in the face of Barthes's definition of intertextuality as almost infinite we may prefer to use the word "allusion," implying as it does an intention of the author that is at least partially a conscious one.
In the matter of Faulkner's biblical intertextuality--or, to use an older phrase, his uses of the Bible--it is generally accepted that there is a good deal of it. In Francois Pitavy's words, "... the Bible so permeates Faulkner's fiction that its dissemination in it may very well provide the most profound --though not necessarily the most obvious--instance of intertextuality in his novels."(2) It is also generally accepted that the resonance of the biblical text within Faulkner's fiction goes far beyond what Pitavy calls its most obvious examples--the kind of verbal allusion in which the words of one text "retain their status of more or less recognizable quotations" within another (p. 114). We recognize, perhaps especially in Faulkner, that "allusion" may be a quite delicate matter. Stephen M. Ross speaks, for example, in an essay on the relationship between the Bible's story of King David and Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!, of Faulkner's "uncanny power to immerse us in a reading process appropriate to but not simply imitative of his sources."(3) And Pitavy's own essay on the resonance of Psalm 137:1-6 within The Wild Palms declares that the functioning of the Bible as intertext in that novel is "not to be found primarily in the vocabulary itself or even in some of the images." Instead, it is to be found in certain concepts and motifs, such as the motif of the Babylonian captivity and the concepts of "eschatological reflection" and "memory" that accompany it (pp. 115, (116).
Aside from this kind of thematic allusion, what other forms might such non-verbal or conceptual allusion take? Criticism has not been altogether daring in this regard, despite our lip service to the "dissemination" of the biblical intertext in Faulkner. We have recognized, indeed, that a kind of allusion may operate through such non-verbal concepts as the pattern of relationships among a novel's characters: thus Ross's comparison of the Tamar-Amnon-Absalom triangle in David's household to the Judith-Charles Henry triangle in Thomas Sutpen's, in Absalom, Absalom!. And we recognize the conceptual kind of allusion also in a novel's plot: critics for a long time have seen the trial and death of Christ echoed, in a number of elements, in the trial and death of Joe Christmas, in Light in August.(4)
Nevertheless, for all our belief in Faulkner's uncanny power to make us feel the presence of the Bible as an intertext without ever becoming "simply imitative of his sources," we still feel far more comfortable in exploring that intertextuality if it seems anchored in something strictly verbal. Pitavy remarks about the editorial changing of Faulkner's title from If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem to The Wild Palms that it was a fortunate change, whatever its motives might have been: fortunate because the disappearance of this "too visible marker of intertextuality" prevents us from looking primarily for specific biblical analogies and sets us "free" to trace a deeper intertextuality at work and eventually to see that Psalm 137 functions in the novel in an ironical way. The barren "Jerusalems" of both Harry Wilbourne and the convict, Pitavy points out, are "ironical inversions" of the Jerusalem that kept the Jews sitting by the rivers of Babylon, weeping: for one a prisonlike hospital, for the other an aseptic prison (p. 121). But it seems doubtful that we would have Pitavy's rich exploration of that biblical intertextuality at all had it not been triggered by the original title--later called, after the fact, intertextuality's "too visible marker." In the same way it seems unlikely that we would have Ross's exploration of the parallels between the houses of King David and Thomas Sutpen, or the many studies of Joe Christmas as Christlike martyr, without the "visible markers" of intertextuality in the name of the character and the rifle of the novel.
Can we set ourselves free, in Pitavy's sense, from the merely verbal kind of allusion in order to explore a deeper kind of intertextuality in those Faulkner novels that are already without a "too visible marker" of biblical presence? Pitavy's assurance of the "permeation" of Faulkner's work by the Bible should encourage us to make his kind of exploration of conceptual intertextuality, an exploration not triggered (and therefore not hampered) by the presence of obvious biblical clues. We might look at novels such as As I Lay Dying, for example, whose title is Homeric, and whose only biblically named character, a farmer named Samson, is a minor one; or at Sanctuary, whose common-noun title may be, but certainly need not be, biblical; or at The Unvanquished, whose title seems as innocent of intertextuality as any set of words can be. In these novels we can see biblical traces not dependent on specific verbal allusions but rather on such conceptual structures as the pattern of relationships among the characters; the book's major action; and, farthest of all removed from the specifically verbal, the book's method of narration. We can also find biblical traces in Faulkner's style--a kind of allusion that is performed by Faulkner's language but nevertheless operates through concepts rather than a specifically biblical vocabulary. This is easiest to illustrate in a novel that does offer a biblical clue in its title, Go Down, Moses;, the rifle, however, seems to point to Exodus, whereas the stylistic clues in the following passage point to Genesis.
In "The Bear," we are told that Ike hears "the best of all talking":
It was of the wilderness, the big woods, bigger and older than any recorded document. ... It was of the men, not white nor black nor red but men, hunters, with the will and hardihood to endure and the humility and skill to survive, and the dogs and the bear and deer juxtaposed and reliefed against it, ordered and compelled by and within the wilderness in the ancient and unremitting contest according to the ancient and immitigable rules which voided all regrets and brooked no quarter....(5)
That there is something biblical here no one would deny. But if we compare it, for example, to the opening verses of the King James Genesis, we will say that in sound, diction, syntax and rhythm Hemingway is far more like the Bible than Faulkner is: "The deer hung still and heavy and empty, and small birds blew in the wind and the wind turned their feathers. It was a cold fall, and the wind came down from the mountains."(6) By contrast, Faulkner's style is so given to heuristic circumlocution, ramifying qualification, and latinate abstraction that the simple severities of the King James Bible have a hard time surfacing in it. The biblical quality of the Faulkner passage is not a matter of diction, sound, and syntax but of semantics. It is owing to certain concepts that are evoked in the passage and that we associate with the Bible--for example, the concepts of primeval conflict, primeval world, and primeval law. "Ancient and immitigable rules" evokes the Bible as surely as any phrase in literature, but it does so by what is said rather than by how it is said. Other conceptual allusions to Genesis occur in the concepts of races of men, classes of beasts, and orders of virtue ("humility and skill"). There is also something biblical in what might be called the conceptual rhythm of the passage. In its sense of overall movement accomplished through parallel structures of thought advancing through incremental repetition, it has something in common with the structure of the Psalms.
Having said this, however, one must point out that Faulkner's intertextuality is newer simple, and that the same concepts that allude to Genesis here allude also to other examples of ancient literature dealing with origins--Homeric epic, for example (within a few pages Old Ben, the bear, will be compared to "old Priam" in his bereavement), and Gilgamesh, and American Indian legends, at least as these are mediated through Longfellow's Hiawatha and other bits of popular culture; and they allude also to more modern and contemporary prelapsarianisms such as the Romantic, the Marxian, the Darwinian, and the conservationist. As he often does, Faulkner here seems to "allude" finally to some sort of ur-text underlying many texts. Our look at the biblical strand of his intertextuality. is not meant to be definitive, even for that single strand, but rather to suggest in what ways the Bible might be seen to "permeate" Faulkner's fiction when we "free" ourselves, in Pitavy's sense, from looking merely at the most obvious kinds of verbal allusion.
In As I Lay Dying, if we seek for conceptual rather than verbal traces of the Bible we come very soon upon the concept of conventional wisdom. It is the conventional wisdom of the countryside, as expressed by Cora and Vernon Tull, the Samsons, and the Armstids, among others, that condemns the `journey of the Bundrens to bury their wife and mother in Jefferson as foolish, scandalous, outrageous, and sacrilegious. Among the Bundrens themselves only Darl is finally brought to resist the journey; but his brother Cash, for all his heroic efforts on behalf of the journey, himself pays homage to the concept of conventional wisdom, lamenting that folks seem to get away from "the olden right teaching" that tells us that anything worth doing is worth doing well, and deciding finally, about conventional wisdom's verdict that Dad is crazy, that "they aint nothing else to do with him but what the most folks say is right.(7)
Conventional wisdom in the novel often gets expressed in proverbial platitudes, and often these echo, if only conceptually, biblical wisdom sayings. Concerning Addie's death, the characters say things like "The Lord giveth," and "It comes to all of us," and "If God wills it" (pp. 30, 33). The last two echo the sentiments, not the words, of texts like Ecclesiastes 3:20 and Proverbs 16:33. The first saying, because of the archaic "giveth," is made to seem a more nearly verbal echo of Job 1:21: "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither; the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."(8) This is a text that gets a more complicated and complete echoing in the words of Peabody ("that abject nakedness which we bring here with us, carry with us into operating rooms, carry stubbornly and furiously with us into the earth again") and Moseley ("The Lord gave you what you have, even if He did use the devil to do it; you let Him take it away from you if it's His will to do so") (pp. 46, 203).
Beyond the level of the restatement of proverbial sayings, there is a conceptual echo of the book of Proverbs in the pattern of relationships among the characters. The two teachers of the novel, Cora and Addie, are set against one another like the Lady Wisdom of Proverbs 8 and the Dame Folly of Proverbs 7: and 9:13-18, one teaching the ways of life, the other the ways of death. On a more earthly level, Cora embodies the virtuous wife of Proverbs 31, while Addle seems to represent the "strange woman" who is the bete noir of many of Proverbs' warnings. As for their husbands, Vernon is easily seen as the wise and diligent man of Proverbs, who prospers because he follows (though he doesn't always understand) his wife's teachings; and Anse is easily seen as the foolish, lazy, and wicked "sluggard" of Proverbs. No doubt the full allusion Faulkner makes in all of this is more complicated and deserves further comment, but the point is that biblical allusion operates here in the pattern observable in the relationships among the characters, and in conceptual restatements of biblical sentiments, rather than by purely verbal echoes.
If we look for conceptual allusion to plot, however, we do better to look at Sanctuary, whose plot has allegorical resonances that were noticed, and objected to, by George Marion O'Donnell already in 1939. In O'Donnell's summary, the plot of Sanctuary is an all-too-abstractly allegorized version of the battle, in what he called Faulkner's mythology, between forces represented by Sartorises and those represented by Snopeses:
Southern Womanhood Corrupted but Undefiled (Temple Drake), in the company of the Corrupted Tradition (Gowan Stevens, a professional Virginian), falls into the clutches of amoral Modernism (Popeye), which is itself impotent, but which with the aid of its strong ally Natural Lust ("Red") rapes Southern Womanhood unnaturally and then seduces her so satisfactorily that her corruption is total, and she becomes the tacit ally of Modernism....(9)
In the rest of O'Donnell's summary, Lee Goodwin, a bootlegger whom Temple helps convict for a crime he did not commit, is allegorized as "Poor White Trash," and Horace Benbow, who unsuccessfully defends Goodwin, as "the Formalized Tradition." One may or may not choose to see in Sanctuary the kind of allegory that O'Donnell does; but that there is something allegorical about the novel's plot is suggested by the fact that a very similar plot is used by the prophet Ezekiel in his allegories about the fall of Jerusalem, which is personified as a fallen and hypersexed woman, in chapters 16 and 23. The woman of Ezekiel's plot is called "Jerusalem" rather than "Southern Womanhood," and she falls into the clutches of various heathen lovers, notably the Babylonians, rather than "amoral Modernism"; but the point of each story is that the allegorized woman is carried off to be humiliated and punished among the very heathen she has promiscuously allowed herself to be associated with. Of course in Popeye's carrying off Temple to a Memphis brothel there are also suggestions of the rape of Persephone; Faulkner as usual gives his intertextuality more than one dimension. But in regard to the biblical intertext one must say either that the plot of Sanctuary makes allusion to Ezekiel or else that Faulkner reinvents Ezekiel's plot, complete with the moral dimension of punishment for wrongdoing and the use of the metaphor of degraded sexuality for social and moral evil. And, once again, if there is biblical allusion here, it operates conceptually, without benefit of verbal quotation.
Can one find biblical allusion on a still more ratified level, the level of narrative method? One begins by noting that Southern thinking about the "Lost Cause," the South's brief and doomed existence as an independent nation, often made use of parallels between Southern history and the history of biblical Israel. That is, thinking about the Lost Cause made of the South itself a conceptual allusion to the Bible.(10) Faulkner himself made use of this habit of thought, as in his use of parallels between the Southern-house of Sutpen and the Israelite house of David in Absalom, Absalom!. More interesting, though, is the fact that Quentin Compson in his Northern exile at Harvard parallels the work of the biblical exilic and post-exilic redactors, revising older versions of the Sutpen story as the biblical editors revised and reshaped earlier versions of the history of Israel.(11)
Still more interesting is the fact that if Absalom, Absalom! is Faulkner's Southern version of Israelite history as told by a late source, The Unvanquished is his Southern version of Israelite history from a very early source. Like the story of David's rise and the Solomonic succession (1 Samuel 16 to 1 Kings 2), said to be based on sources that must have been contemporary with the times they dealt with, Bayard's story is a political succession document; and like most such documents it is not all without political self-interest. We tend to read the Solomonic succession document in the hermeneutic of suspicion, extrapolating a background of political controversy behind such events as David's choosing of Solomon as his heir over his rival, Adonijah. Is The Unvanquished performing an allusion to the Bible's Solomonic succession document? Walter Taylor has suggested that something like the brotherly rivalry, between Charles Bon and Henry Sutpen existed also in The Unvanquished between Bayard Sartoris and his black servant Ringo, and he implies that this was something of a problem for Faulkner: "another novel," he says, "was threatening to emerge from beneath the smug nostalgia of Bayard's narrative. That new novel was about two boys who really were brothers...."(12) But perhaps the "threat" of this second story's emergence is exactly the threat that Bayard as narrator, rather than Faulkner as author, is trying to suppress. If so, we see Bayard in the position of' the biblical author of the Solomonic succession document. But to pursue further the interesting possibility Taylor suggests, and to see the "threatened" story as part of Faulkner's intention, though not Bayard's, we would have to explore fully the notion that there is an allusion to biblical narrative method in Bayard's "early" version of Southern history as well in Quentin and Shreve's "late" one.
The web of Faulknerian intertextuality, even if we attend only to its biblical strands, is indeed extensive--but not so extensive that it cannot be at least partially unravelled. Between the level of verbal quotation, on the one hand, and the "general field of anonymous formulas whose origin is seldom identifiable," on the other, there is the realm of what I have called the conceptual allusion, where such intertextual exploration can be fruitful.
(1) Roland Barthes, "Texte [Theorie du]" in Encyclopedia Universalis, vol. XV (Paris, 1973). Quoted in Michel Gresset, "Introduction: Faulkner between the Texts," in Intertextuality in Faulkner, ed. Michel Gresset and Noel Polk (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985), p. 4.
(2) Francois Pitavy, "Forgetting Jerusalem: An Ironical Chart for Wild Palms," in Gresset and Polk, p. 114.
(3) Stephen M. Ross, "Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! and the David Story: A Speculative Contemplation," in The David Myth in Western Literature, ed. Raymond-Jean Frontain and Jan Wojcik (West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1980), p. 148.
(4) See for example Francois Pitavy, Faulkner's "Light in August (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973), pp. 75-77.
(5) William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses (New York: Random House, 1942), pp. 191-192.
(6) Ernest Hemingway, "In Another Country," The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1938, 1966), p. 267.
(7) William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying , The Corrected Text (New York: Vintage International, 1990), p. 234.
(8) All Scripture quotations in the text are from the King James version.
(9) George Marion O'Donnell, "Faulkner's Mythology," Kenyon Review, I (Summer 1939), 292-293.
(10) See Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980), pp. 58-78.
(11) See Glenn Meeter, "Quentin as Redactor: Biblical Analogy in Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!," in Faulkner and Religion: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1989, ed. Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991), pp. 103-126.
(12) Walter Taylor, Faulkner's Search for a South (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983), pp. 97-98.
GLENN A. MEETER
Northern Illinois University3
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|Author:||MEETER, GLENN A.|
|Publication:||The Mississippi Quarterly|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1996|
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