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Dirimens copulatio and metalinguistic negation in Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!

In response to a question about Sherwood Anderson's style, William Faulkner described writing as "a matter of imagining any number of things. The writer at the moment of putting it down has got to be a censor, to say Now, this is right, this is wrong, and to throw away the wrong" (Faulkner 229). According to Faulkner, Anderson did not follow this mandate, yet to his style the concomitant "fumbling and clumsiness" were essential. Faulkner may have inherited something from his old mentor in New Orleans, for although Faulkner's own writing style is decidedly more complex than Anderson's, its very complexity, the lengthy adjectival and adverbial clauses that endlessly refine their subjects, also seems to violate this rule of self-censorship, of keeping the right and discarding the wrong. What might be just a stylistic and rhetorical tendency in Faulkner's prose is raised to a formative structural principle in Absalom, Absalom! (1936). For a novel ostensibly obsessed with the recovery of history, its narrators contradict each other and themselves, couch their narratives in negative and conjectural terms, and cast upon each version of Thomas Sutpen's history an essential indeterminacy. Absalom's characteristic uses of rhetorical negative clauses give the impression of throwing wrong narrative possibilities away; it is through these performed instances of negative supposition, however, that the narrative voice betrays its reluctance to purge the imaginary or suppositional and, in bifurcation, releases its claim to certainty.

Critical reading and interpretative practices in Faulkner criticism, as well as in literary criticism in general, have turned away from poetics and toward questions of history, culture, and power. Andre Bleikasten identifies this moment, as it pertains to Absalom criticism, as the publication of Eric Sundquist's "Absalom, Absalom! and the House Divided" in 1983. Bleikasten complains, "Faulkner's importance, [Sundquist] argued, is not to be sought in his contribution to the art of the novel but in the seriousness with which he addresses social and historical themes.... Nearly all recent Faulkner criticism starts from similar premises" (206-07). Depending on how accurately this claim describes the current state of Absalom criticism, my own study would appear to be obsolete, in dialogue with critics who regard Faulkner's literary style as constructive of aesthetic effect. My hope, however, is to show how formalist questions can illuminate the dynamics of the social and political registers which have made Faulkner so appealing to New Americanist criticism of the past two decades.

This essay locates the nexus of Absalom's swarming narratives in negative and collaborative narration. An investigation into the poetics of negative narration at the syntactic level will yield a model for the narrative strategy--the rhetorical figure dirimens copulatio--deployed in the larger compositional structure of the novel itself. In brief, I suggest that Absalom's narrative structure--the successive attempts to tell Thomas Sutpen's story that continually "one-up" each other by negating and amending the story immediately prior--adopts the same formal logic as that of the rhetorical figure "it was not x, but y" (dirimens copulatio). Drawing attention to the metalinguistic and temporal elements of that figure, this essay provides a way to understand the formal interrelation between the novel's conflicting accounts of Sutpen.

Such an understanding of Absalom can account for both rhetorical and political approaches to the novel. Whereas this study begins from structural analyses of syntax and discourse, it finds that the new categories, like metalinguistic negation, needed to explain the narrative logic on a rhetorical level are the same ones that on a theoretical level define the novel's racial, legal, sexual, and political ontologies of identity. This essay may not give the final word to the questions of race, class, gender and law that have made the novel so successful in politically-oriented and identity-sensitive literary criticism, nor may it exhaust the endless debate over Faulkner's style that makes his writing so frequently the subject of rhetorical and linguistic analyses. But it does bridge the two approaches, using the structure and logic provided by linguistic analysis to shape and clarify the political one. Narrative "fumbling," I argue, is a complex strategy of interrelation, one that can be read to model the complicated relation between categories of race, class, and sexuality.

The "fumbling" that arises from the use of negative narration exhibits authorial indeterminacy but also gestures at and obtains more complex relations between story and significance than either simple metaphoric allegory or metonymic realism would. Faulkner implies such recognition in a later statement about the effects of Anderson' s style: "That the truth did come out of all the heavy-footedness and the fumbling ... gave something to the final result that no imitator could match probably" (Faulkner 229). Despite his admiring criticism of Anderson's idiosyncratic style, Faulkner's own elaborate phraseology and seemingly endless strings of modifying clauses can also be seen as instances of narrative "fumbling." For example, Mr. Compson's description of Thomas Sutpen in Absalom also uses negative narration, as marked by the frequency of "nots" and "buts":
 [Sutpen] looked like a man who had been sick. Not like a man who
 had been peacefully ill in bed and had recovered to move with a
 sort of diffident and tentative amazement in a world he had
 believed himself on the point of surrendering, but like a man who
 had been through some solitary furnace experience, ... like an
 explorer say, who not only had to face the normal hardship of the
 pursuit which he chose but was overtaken by the added and
 unforeseen handicap of the fever also and fought through it ... not
 through blind instinctive will ... but to gain and keep it the
 material prize for which he accepted the original gambit. (24)


The image of the peacefully ill man living in gratitude for his recovery may be negated, but it still both counters and inflects the successive image of the feverish "furnace experience." And in the same sentence, the same rhetorical use of "not ... but" occurs to qualify the motives for recovery. The last clause, which identifies a material cause for fighting through the fever, would lose much of its descriptive force without the prior clause, which dismisses will to survive as a factor in the recovery. Without "not through blind instinctive will," the reader might not sense the irony of a man deliberately fighting a life-threatening fever only in order "to gain and keep it the material prize." In each of these cases we might say that the prior clause functions as an ironic cast, shaping then evacuating the space which the second clause is to fill. Thus the perversity of replacing an instinctual drive, such as the will to survive, with a questionably avaricious one, the will to gain a material possession, carries important ironic and descriptive weight.

I. Rhetorical and Linguistic Terminology

Terminology for negative figures of speech of the "not x, but y" form is confusing and somewhat arbitrary. Richard Lanham understands dirimens copulatio ("a joining together that interrupts") as applicable to both "not only x, but y" and "not x, but y." The term correctio, in which a speaker corrects a prior utterance, seems a better fit for an exclusive "not x, but y" construction. Another form of negative narration, praeteritio (sometimes called paraleipsis), professes to omit mention of events in the narrative only to do so under the mark of negation. Charles Bon's letter to Judith contains a number of examples of what Charles claims he will not say: "I won't say hungry ... and I won't say ragged or even shoeless.... You will notice how I do not insult you either by saying I have waited long enough" (103-04). In this essay, I use correctio strictly for "not x, but y" constructions, whereas I use dirimens copulatio for "not only x, but y" constructions and for those instances of "not x, but y" constructions which operate in a logically identical way. Classical rhetoric provides the terms correctio and dirimens copulatio, but linguistics approaches the logic of such figures with a term that can differentiate between them, not on the basis of their syntax, but on their logic.

Both dirimens copulatio and correctio (and also praeteritio, but for more complicated reasons) can be seen as examples of metalinguistic negation, defined by Laurence Horn as "a device for objecting to a previous utterance on any grounds whatever, including the conventional or conversational implicata it potentially induces, its morphology, its style or register, or its phonetic realization" (363). Horn argues for two types of negation, descriptive and metalinguistic, in order to differentiate between negation that merely asserts negative truth-value, and negation that denies a previous claim on any grounds, especially implication. Horn uses the following example to illustrate the difference:

a. Max has three children--indeed, he has four.

b. Max doesn't have three children--(* but) he has four.

c. Max doesn't have three children, (but) he has two.

Horn asks how (a) and (b) can express the same proposition while alternately asserting that Max does have three children and that he does not have three children. The difference, according to Horn, is that the "not" in (b) "operates on a metalinguistic level to reject the implication that may be associated with the assertion of that proposition (viz., that he has only three children). By uttering (b), the speaker conveys an unwillingness to assert a sentence that would induce a misleading implication, even though this sentence would be true under these circumstances (as (a) makes clear). As for (c), its negation is naturally taken descriptively as attaching to the proposition that Max has three children" (384-85). In this example, the difference between the metalinguistic negative proposition "Max doesn't have three children" in (b) and the descriptive negative proposition "Max doesn't have three children" in (c) is that the former is descriptively false (Max does indeed have three children, and another one as well) and the latter is descriptively true. What makes metalinguistic negation special is that it does not negate statements on the basis of truth, but on the conditions of assertability. That is, what metalinguistic negation negates may very well be true or false, but the reason for its negation is that it does not meet some other criteria, depending on context, for its being able to be said.

In defining metalinguistic negation, Horn comments that "the metalinguistic uses of negation tend to occur in contrastive environments, either across speakers in a given discourse context or within a single speaker's contribution, and the English representation par excellence of contrast is but. The archetypal frame for metalinguistic negation is the not X but Y construction, functioning as a single constituent within a sentence" (402). The primary definition of metalinguistic negation, then, that it negates a prior utterance on any grounds regardless of descriptive truth-value, also operates in the negative rhetorical forms of Faulkner's storytellers, in which what is at stake is not truth, but implication or assertability.

Now that we have got the rhetorical and the linguistic terms straight, we can say that all uses of dirimens copulatio (not only x, but y) and some uses of correctio (not x, but y) employ metalinguistic negation. (1) Furthermore, I hazard the hypothesis that most, if not all, of the "not ... but" constructions in Absalom are metalinguistic in character. (2) To that end, I propose to expand the definition of dirimens copulatio to include the instances of correctio that employ metalinguistic, not descriptive, negation. I call for this terminological re-shuffling so that, by associating metalinguistic negation with dirimens copulatio and descriptive negation with correctio, we will be able to speak more clearly about the peculiar function of negation in Absalom.

Dirimens copulatio occurs throughout Absalom, often at crucial moments of revelation and in the voices of each of the narrators. Rosa uses the form to illustrate Ellen's discovery that her husband, Sutpen, not only oversees brutal fights between slaves, but participates in them as well: "Ellen seeing not the two black beasts she had expected to see but instead a white one and a black one" (20). According to Mr. Compson, Henry's motive for murdering Bon was "not the two ceremonies but the two women; not the fact that Bon's intention was to commit bigamy but that it was apparently to make his (Henry's) sister a sort of junior partner in a harem" (94). Quentin uses dirimens copulatio to correct Shreve on the gender of Sutpen's last child: "it wasn't a son, it was a girl" (234). And later Shreve corrects Quentin about who was wounded: "it was not Bon, it was Henry" (275). At the crucial moment of Henry's confrontation with Bon, Henry claims "You are my brother," to which Bon's reply is a form of dirimens copulatio: "No, I'm the nigger who is going to sleep with your sister" (286). There are perhaps hundreds of other examples, but my point is not to exhaustively catalogue their occurrence. Instead, I want to show how dirimens copulatio is not only the predominant figure of the novel's style on the sentence level, but also the trope spanning the novel's heterogeneous whole.

II. Dirimens Copulatio and Tropological Interpretation

Identifying a central and definitive rhetorical figure to explain the structure of a work of art aligns my investigation with tropology. Seeded by the linguistic structuralism of Levi-Strauss and Jakobson and nourished by Northrop Frye's resuscitation of medieval genre distinctions, tropology is brought to fruition in Hayden White's Metahistory, a book whose opening move, to join linguistic phenomena to literary style by means of trope, sets the terms for tropological theory. For White, the four tropes of classic antiquity--metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony--constitute four poles of linguistic figuration. White maps the four tropes onto the four master genres given by Frye: romance, comedy, tragedy, and satire. By aligning trope to genre (what White calls "modes of emplotment"), White is able to suggest that tropes are "paradigms, provided by language itself, of the operations by which consciousness can prefigure areas of experience that are cognitively problematic in order subsequently to submit them to analysis and explanation" (36). The initial promise of yoking specific rhetorical figures to specific genres is that it provides a framework for mapping such and such narrative to its generic, rhetorical, and ultimately metaphysical paradigm.

James Mellard, taking the cue from White, performs an extended tropological reading of Absalom, Absalom! Mellard categorizes the novel's five narrators into four generic positions, arguing that the novel shifts from genre to genre, from figurative paradigm to figurative paradigm, in the ascending sequence from metaphor to irony as White hypothesizes. Although this tropological charting of narrators is the main assertion of Mellard's argument, it is his use of the Greimasian Quadrangle (sometimes called the semiotic square) to chart White's tropological scheme that ultimately reveals the paradigmatic logic underlying tropology itself.

A Greimasian quadrangle maps the logical propositions which can be unfolded from a single binary, such as man/woman or alive/dead. A single dyad of opposition, A. J. Greimas shows, can be negated to generate two other terms, such as not-man/not-woman or not-alive/not-dead. Greimas situates the resulting four terms at corners of a quadrangle to illustrate their logical positions (see Greimas's definition of the semiotic square in Semiotics and Language 308-11). Mellard's use of the Gremasian quadrangle allows for a three-fold system of analogy that brings together rhetorical figure, literary genre, and narratorial character in Absalom. Using the variables x and y to stand for an oppositional dyad, I reproduce Mellard's square below in order to show Mellard's identification of each narrative voice in the novel with a trope, a genre, and a logical polarity.

The question that my study poses, then, is how does the complex figuration of dirimens copulatio fit into the exclusive, tight, and static scheme of Mellard's fourfold tropology? It would be tempting, for example, to notice that the not x but y structure of dirimens copulatio entails a movement from tragedy to satire, from metonymy to irony--but such a conclusion treats the variables as static, when x and y are merely placeholders. Switching the terms to not y but x shows that it can just as easily be seen as the crossing from metaphor to synecdoche. Such specificity does not seem altogether useful, however, since there is a categorical error in reducing rhetorical figures to algebraic variables which are themselves then assembled into rhetorical figures.

I do sense, however, that a consideration of dirimens copulatio will help reveal the essence of the divisions and the possibilities of their transversal, but it does so from outside the quadratic scheme. The quadratic scheme is useful in that it shows one, static and symmetrical, version of the relationship between figuration and narrative, but dirimens copulatio introduces an asymmetrical dynamism that emphasizes opposition as deviation. Dirimens copulatio, by virtue of its linguistic form as well as its incorporation of metalinguistic conditions, seems not to be a form of any of one of the tropes White discusses, but rather an approximation of White's definition of trope itself: "tropes are deviations from literal, conventional, or 'proper' language use, swerves in locution sanctioned neither by custom nor logic" (Tropics 2). And just as dirimens copulatio embodies the metalinguistic requirement White adduces--"neither by custom nor logic"--it also fits the ends of troping according to White: "troping is both a movement from one notion of the way things are related to another notion, and a connection between things so that they can be expressed in a language that takes account of the possibility of their being expressed otherwise" (2).

Thus, on the most abstract level, it would appear that dirimens copulatio would be, at least structurally, a special case in the tropological scheme. Its principle of joining a negative proposition with a positive one seems to enact the same polar opposition that empowers the axes of division in the tropological quadrangle. It might be called the asymmetrical emplotment of symmetrical polarity. Or, for brevity's sake, we might call it simply the trope of crossing tropes.

The fundamental asymmetry of dirimens copulatio manifests itself in two related ways. First, the sequence and logical polarity of the terms usually gives priority to the final, positive, proposition. Second, the positive and negative terms do not have to be symmetrical in the semantic or ideational sense. For example, Quentin's dirimens copulatio "It wasn't a son, it was a girl" may be symmetrical along the existential axis--the negative statement is countered with a positive statement--but it is asymmetrical along the semantic axis--the son/daughter dyad has interrupted and replaced with a term from the boy/girl dyad.

In this view, dirimens copulatio is positioned astride the divisions drawn by conventional tropological systems. Mellard charts how Absalom moves between all four tropes and a fifth overtrope as well. But the principle behind this movement, the figurative leaps of dirimens copulatio, show how these tropes are joined by oppositional and asymmetrical semantic categories derived from the apparent symmetry of existential binary logic. This certainly doesn't invalidate Mellard's reading, or the tropologicai project, but it does assert the necessity of incorporating asymmetrical and dynamic processes into the coordination of figurative and generic categories with logical ones.

Absalom's use of dirimens copulatio, then, suggests that what Mellard calls the novel's "closed system of internal relations" is in actuality a complex structure of position, negation, and substitution that is always in the process of closing. Tropological shifts may occur between each of the various "takes" on Sutpen's story, but the residual and rhetorical force of putting these takes in sequence and under the mark of negation is itself a mode of figuration, that of dirimens copulatio, which stands "over" the other tropes only to the degree that the authorial Faulkner stands over each of his storytelling characters. What makes this figure so central to both the novel and the tropological project is that it demonstrates, in its complex of asymmetrical semantic dyads and symmetrical logical propositions, the generation of ideational dyads (white/black, male/female, inside/outside) through the binary logic of the existential dyad (presence, absence). But in figuring the logic of presence and absence, dirimens copulatio invites symmetrical oppositions even as it reveals the fundamental asymmetry of the dyads derived from its logic. To put it more simply, the novel does not merely shift cleanly from one genre or trope to another. Instead it shapes and reshapes its conceptual categories by passing them through a gauntlet of tropaic paradigms, gaining in each negation and adjustment a thickening of discourse and a redistribution of stakes that accrue to each posited term.

III. Critical History of Negation in Absalom

Faulkner's negative rhetoric has been noticed by several critics. But while studies like Hayakawa's "Negation in William Faulkner" identify and categorize rhetorical trends, few have argued for a significant relationship between syntactical forms and thematic contents. For example, J. E. Bunselmeyer's article, "Faulkner's Narrative Styles," notices how Faulkner's use of negation "stretches the reader's consciousness by the syntax" (429), but concludes that the purpose of such stretching is merely contemplation on the part of the reader: "By bringing into consciousness both what is and is not present in the process of thought, the syntactic style invites a point of view toward contemplation" (434). What Bunselmeyer suggests is that this contemplation is of "intricate relationships and interconnections" (435). But what might be said about such intricate relationships? By focusing directly on dirimens copulatio, I maintain that those intricate relationships and interconnections are discoverable in the relationship between the negative and positive terms of dirimens copulatio. (3)

Three critics, each publishing articles in the same volume in 1989, have focused exclusively on the function of negation in Absalom: Francois Pitavy, James Snead, and Winfried Herget. While Pitavy's and Snead's articles are of some interest for the present study, the first falls into the seductive critical trap of believing that everything narrated under the mark of negation is an admission of that which is repressed: "a negation should be read or heard as acknowledgement, since the denied content is formally present in discourse" (25). (4) Pitavy is correct that denied content is present in discourse, but incorrect when he attributes this to a Freudian inner division of self. When Quentin says "I dont hate it" Pitavy reads this as an admission that Quentin "also hates it and himself for being a part of it" (30). It is certainly a strange feature of language and human understanding that one has to name, and thus acknowledge, that which one denies, but I disagree that every such acknowledgement is a window to the repressed "schizoid" self. Possibly Quentin also hates the South, but that is going a step further than what can be inferred from his statement. The metalinguistic character of Quentin's denial may or may not be descriptively true; all we know is that he objects to the proposition that he hates the South (for any number of reasons, including the implication that he hates the part of himself that belongs to it--his history).

Henri Bergson puts the case more succinctly when he analyzes the less dramatic proposition "the ground is not damp": "Keep strictly to the terms of the proposition, 'The ground is not damp,' and you will find that it means two things: (1) that one might believe that the ground is damp, (2) that the dampness is replaced in fact by a certain quality x" (309). To apply strictly to Quentin's statement, all we can say is (1) that one might believe that Quentin hates the South, and (2) that Quentin's hatred for the South is replaced in fact by a certain quality, or feeling, x. Now, we may choose not to believe Quentin, but his negation of hatred cannot be seen simply as an affirmation of hatred. Negation is a kind of affirmation, but it is, as Bergson writes, "an affirmation of the second degree: it affirms something of an affirmation which itself affirms something of an object" (304). Keeping the first and second degrees of affirmation separate and analyzing their relation will avoid the pitfalls of making every second-order affirmation (negation) into a first-order affirmation.

Snead's article on "Cloaking Tropes in Absalom, Absalom!" also reads negative constructions in the novel as hiding repressed material. Freud

informs this study as well, providing legitimacy for the belief that "negation ... fights back external threats and social disruptions that are economic, racial, sexual, or historical in nature" (24). Snead identifies the structure of negation in the rhetorical form of litotes (the negation of a negative state) and chiasmus, but he does not explain the ways in which negation accomplishes this fighting back. It will be my conclusion that negation does not fight back economic, racial, sexual, and historical disruptions, but that it, in Absalom, sublimates and fuses their underlying affinities.

The third, and most astute, of the three studies on negation in Absalom in the volume is Herget's piece which acknowledges, via Bergson, what the Freudian studies ignored--that each utterance of negation is related to some expectancy: "Absalom, Absalom! is a case in point, not only as a significant example of a modernist poetics of negation but also because the novel is conceived as a series of speech acts in which the expectations and frustrations of the fictional characters come to the foreground" (34). The action of Absalom's narrative does not occur simply within one's own head, be it Quentin's or Miss Rosa's, but between characters speaking.

I argue, with Herget, for the fundamentally dialogic nature of negative narration. I compare this to the fundamentally dialogic structure of Absalom. By comparing the surface syntax of the rhetorical operation of metalinguistic negation, in the figure of dirimens copulatio in particular, to the deep structure of semantic and thematic content, this essay posits that the relationship between negative and positive terms defines an axis or category that joins them. Expanding from the metalinguistically-negative relationship on the syntactical level to the posited, negated, and revised unfolding of Absalom's plot, this essay identifies the relationship between the various acts of narration in Absalom as also metalinguistically-negative, and, as such, determinative of a central axis upon which the themes and plot of the novel turn. Whereas most critical attention paid to negation in Faulkner, especially in Absalom, either rewrites negation, via Freud, into affirmation or refuses to explicate the relation between negation and plot, this essay identifies the peculiar metalinguistic logic of negation in dirimens copulatio and thus is able to show the structural and logical debt the categories of race, sex, and family owe to the principal rhetorical figure of the novel.

IV. Metalinguistic Negation and Discourse

Like Herget, Stephen Ross identifies a "rhetorical expectation" produced by the internal logic suggested by the nature of Faulkner's elaborate syntax. Quoting Kenneth Burke, he writes: "Repetitive verbal patterns 'awaken an attitude of collaborative expectancy in us ... Once you grasp the trend of the form, it invites participation regardless of the subject matter'" (202). Dirimens copulatio, by this account, gains its argumentative force by establishing a pattern that subconsciously appeals to the auditor's ability to anticipate the positive element from the negative. Simply put, one is more apt to accept an assertion when it is formulated as a conclusion.

That all of the narrators in Absalom make frequent recourse to negative narration, and especially to dirimens copulatio, shows not only Faulkner's inheritance of the southern oratorical style--Ross's argument--but also the confluence of competing authorial claims within the text. Almost all of Absalom's narration is spoken in a discursive environment; and in each case the narrator must not only compete with other versions of the same story--Sutpen's notoriety--but also with the assumptions of the auditor and with the force of historical fact.

Dialogue is central to the structure of the novel. Sutpen's story is delivered through three large units of discourse: Mr. Compson's account told to Quentin, Miss Rosa's account presumably also told to Quentin, and Quentin and Shreve's late-night collaborative narration. Within these three long acts of telling is an embedded act of telling: Sutpen's account of his youth to Grandfather Compson. We also notice that the crucial moments of revelation and tension are more often pieces of dialogue than actions: Quentin's final encounter with Henry Sutpen, Charles Bon's final confrontation with Henry Sutpen, Wash Jones's declaration of Charles Bon's murder, and of his intent to murder Sutpen. This matrix of storytelling and of discourse, oftentimes confused by the tendency of the narrators to treat their admitted conjecture as fact, has left more than one critic scurrying to untangle the epistemological mess by separating the known from the conjectural. (5) These analyses never seem, however, to produce the kind of clarity and key to the text for which their authors so ambitiously hope because the indeterminacy of the narrative seeks to blend discrete elements rather than separate them. The critics suffer from the same compulsion as Absalom's argumentative and conjectural narrators. Both critics and narrators want to distill the frayed and tangled narrative into a single coherent fabula; but in order to do so both are forced to exclude alternate interpretations.

The prevalence of negative narration in Absalom belongs to, or stems from, the dialogic and agonistic character of a narrative almost completely delivered through spoken discourse. By phrasing her narrative in the negative, first acknowledging the versions of stories she assumes "they will have told you" (107), and later by refuting their connotations, Miss Rosa employs negative narration to contend with other imagined voices (107-40). That which she negates and denies, we understand, are indirect quotations of fantasized objections to her story; by preempting their vocalization by voicing them herself under the mark of negation, Miss Rosa strives to clear a space for her own authority. Negative narration thus coopts the voice of the other, of the townspeople in this case.

Indeed, dirimens copulatio always presents a double voice. Several pages after Shreve--and the reader with him--has begun to mistake Sutpen's daughter by Milly Jones as a son, saying, "Wait, you mean he had a son?" Quentin corrects him with the dirimens copulatio, "It wasn't a son, it was a girl" (234). Obviously, the first element, "It wasn't a son" responds and re-voices the protestations of Quentin's frustrated Shreve and Faulkner's exasperated reader. But at the same moment it corrects the voice of the other, it also sets up a false binary opposition between "son" and "girl," in which we can glimpse Sutpen's ventriloquised voice in the alienation and filial rejection implied by substituting the word "girl" for "daughter."

Bergson, in defining negation, comments upon its presupposition of another voice or belief which it corrects:
 When we deny, we give a lesson to others, or it may be to
 ourselves. We take to task an interlocutor, real or possible, whom
 we find mistaken and whom we put on his guard. He was affirming
 something: we tell him he ought to affirm something else....
 Negation aims at some one, and not only, like a purely intellectual
 operation, at some thing. (304)


While Bergson posits merely another person ("Negation aims at someone"), it is important to notice that negation does not oppose a person as an object, but a proposition held, either in actuality or in the speaker's imagination, by an auditor. One does not oppose a person, but a proposition held by a person. From this I assert that negative narration, especially in Faulkner, contains within it a dialogical quality, an inherent acknowledgment of a perceiving other's voice or expressible belief.

Negative narration, on one level, is a function of spoken story-telling because it acknowledges the fact that there is an audience, and, on another level, because it presents another voice in negative contrast to its own--recalling the spoken modality of discourse. Negative narration, then, belongs to a Bakhtinian inner dialogism in which two languages contend with each other. (6) But the equation of negative narration with spoken discourse can be reversed. It is not just the case that negative narration conjures spoken discourse, but that discourse itself contains the seeds of negative negation. For instance, when Henry confronts Bon with the conjectural, "You are my brother," Bon responds in the negative, "No, I'm the nigger that's going to sleep with your sister" (286). The moment utilizes multiple voices to perform the positive and negative terms of dirimens copulatio. Here, a modified form of negative narration is shared between speakers merely speaking, one giving a single positive clause, the other refuting it and at the same time delivering another positive clause. By widening the definition of dirimens copulatio to accommodate collaborative statements between multiple voices, we see that many collaborative or revisionist tendencies are also instances of negative narration. We will return to Bon's negation of Henry's postulation, but for the moment it is important merely to notice that negative narration is patently dialogic and, conversely, that discursive storytelling of the collaborative type has a metalinguistically negative character. Thus, Shreve and Quentin's collaborative reconstruction of the Sutpen story, full of contradictory and argumentative redefinitions, can also be seen, at a larger scale, as a form of dirimens copulatio.

V. Criteria for Negation and the Assertion of Tragedy

Although Shreve' s suppositions at first accept Quentin' s authority over the story of Sutpen--his first contributions are always phrased as interrogatives to be validated by Quentin--Shreve later becomes a participant in the narration. Since Quentin does not clearly wield authority over the story, Shreve's conjectures often are silently accepted by Quentin and the reader. (7) This lack of clear authority or consequence allows both narrators to stray from their authoritative sources; at one point, Shreve throws off the authority with a vengeance: "wait, now; wait! ... Because your old man was wrong here, too! He said it was Bon who was wounded, but it wasn't.... it was not Bon, it was Henry" (275). There is no material evidence for Shreve's reasoning and no available means to ascertain validity, so his conclusion, in the form of dirimens copulatio, must be justified by something else. Here, and throughout Shreve and Quentin's collaboration, narrative events arrived at through speculation are not distinguished in any clearly marked way from those narrative events that are given and not assumed. As Shreve, parroting Rosa, reminds Quentin to distinguish between "some things that just have to be whether they are or not" and "other things that maybe are and it don' t matter a damn whether they are or not" (258), the metalinguistic force of "just have to be" comes to supercede existence as a governing principle upon which events of the narrative are conjectured and admitted. Albert Guerard, remarking on this conjectural narration, deems it a "great technical step forward," because in it, "the boring obligation to demonstrate authority has been largely removed" (337).

Throughout Absalom, an authority that exerts itself from outside the ascertainable facts of Sutpen's story sloughs off the authority of history. The disjunction between historical fact and authorial truth leads Peter Brooks to define Absalom as a novel in which the hermeneutic codes, the significance of the events of the narrative, are given prior to the proairetic codes, the actual events and actions of the narrative. His formulation of the novel's poetics in terms of reversed hierarchies also points to another assumed structuralist hierarchy: the presupposed cause-effect relationship between fabula and sjuzet. Fabula refers to what we might call the facts of the narrative, the events and actions that the narrative recounts. Sjuzet, on the other hand, refers to the way those events are narrated. In the act of reading any novel, a reader must, then, continually distinguish fabula from the sjuzet. But in Absalom, it is precisely in this process of distinguishing the historical--the what--from the accounts by which it is known--the how--that the storytellers of the novel depart from the logic of cause and effect, and fail or refuse to separate conjecture from established fact.

In the passage in Absalom that most forcefully echoes Faulkner's comments on Anderson's "fumbling" style, the narrator explicitly addresses the historical inaccuracy and the slippage of authority in the collaborative and negative narration:
 That was why it did not matter to either of them which one did the
 talking, since it was not the talking alone which did it, performed
 and accomplished the overpassing, but some happy marriage of
 speaking and hearing wherein each before the demand, the
 requirement, forgave and condoned and forgot the faulting of the
 other--faultings both in the creating of this shade whom they
 discussed (rather, existed in) and in the hearing and sifting and
 discarding the false and conserving what seemed true, or fit the
 preconceived--in order to overpass to love, where there might be
 paradox and inconsistency but nothing fault nor false. (253)


Like Anderson's inability to "throw away the wrong," Quentin and Shreve may sift and discard the false, but that process is always on display. The specific choices they make, their fumbles with regard to accuracy, are absolved here by the assertion that they are necessary means to some higher truth. Even their criteria for choosing what "seemed true, or fit the preconceived," draw attention to the departure from historical accuracy; and the "preconceived" may resonate with the perceptible force of the sjuzet over the fabula. But the "demand, the requirement," indicates that fabula also exerts a pressure over the sjuzet, and that while history cannot answer questions it raises, it can still raise them.

One remarkable passage of Quentin and Shreve's conjecture illustrates:
 the son would recall later how he had seen through the window
 beyond his father's head the sister and the lover in the garden,
 pacing slowly, ... to disappear slowly beyond some bush or shrub
 starred with white bloom--jasmine, spiraea, honeysuckle, perhaps
 myriad scentless unpickable Cherokee roses ... and it would not
 matter here that the time had been winter in that garden too and
 hence no bloom nor leaf even if there had been someone to walk
 there and be seen there since, judged by subsequent events, it had
 been night in the garden also. (236)


We see that the negation of the florid summer day in the reminder that the scene takes place on Christmas night does not serve fully to erase the image of the garden from the reader's mind. The narrative implies that there should or, in Miss Rosa's terms, has to be a typically romantic setting of Bon and Judith in the garden for Henry to see. The problem of historical accuracy not mattering might at first seem at odds with the entire project of Quentin and Shreve's reconstruction until one notices that what is at stake in their storytelling is not accuracy, but something more profound and less definable, the requirements of tragedy.

According to Jonathan Culler, "tragic power" relies upon a "contrary logic" in which "event is not cause but an effect of theme" (174-75). Culler's definition of tragedy in terms of this contrary logic also applies to Absalom. The prophecy of eventual destruction hangs over the destiny of the Sutpens, as Mr. Compson suggests in the beginning of the novel:
 Because the time now approached ... when the destiny of Sutpen's
 family which for twenty years now had been like a lake welling from
 quiet springs into a quiet valley and spreading, rising almost
 imperceptibly and in which the four members of it floated in sunny
 suspension, felt the first subterranean movement toward the outlet,
 the gorge which would be the land's catastrophe too, and the four
 peaceful swimmers turning suddenly to face one another, not yet
 with alarm or distrust but just alert, feeling the dark set, none
 of them yet at that point where man looks about at his companions
 in disaster and thinks When will I stop trying to save them and
 save only myself? (58)


Acknowledgement of that destiny, the profound sense that even knowing cannot prevent the eventual tragic outcome, is always in danger of slipping to the conclusion that the tragic outcome will occur, ineluctably, because it was prophesied and believed. The lawyer's written ledger performs, not without an ironic humor, the play between prophecy and self-fulfilling prophecy: "Query: bigamy threat, Yes or No. Possible No. Incest threat: Credible Yes and the hand going back before it put down the period, lining out the Credible, writing in Certain, underlining it" (248).

But even with the powerful force of tragic destiny looming over the narrative, or perhaps because of it, there are still narrative decisions that must be made. Mr. Compson, after summarizing his version of Sutpen's story--the one in which Henry kills Bon because of Bon's negro mistress--negates it himself by saying:

"It just does not explain. Or perhaps that's it: they don't explain and we are not supposed to know.... you re-read, tedious and intent, poring, making sure that you have forgotten nothing, made no miscalculation; you bring them together again and again nothing happens: just the words, the symbols, the shapes themselves." (80)

What does not add up in Mr. Compson's narrative is an equation that squares the deep sense of tragedy that is Sutpen's legacy. Causes for all effects have been posited and explained, yet the something "missing" is the grotesque, overly dramatic, impossibility that could fulfill the tragic requirements. Interracial bigamy, it seems, just does not cut it as a powerful tragic agent. Incest comes closer, and it is not until miscegenation is added to the mix that both sides of the story--the effects and causes on one side, the prophecy and hermeneutic meaning on the other--achieve something like tragic solvency.

The consequence of tragedy's authority in the novel is that the narration received as true does not bear the badge of historical authority and thus does not exist in any "positive" state. But it does bear the stamp of some truth outside historical authority. This is the function of metalinguistic negation; what is at stake is not truth, but something else, something Horn identifies as assertability, and with which I equate Culler's "tragic power." Tragic requirements, it turns out, do not coincide with the requirements for descriptive truth.

Peter Brooks notices the disjunction between proairetic and hermeneutic codes, and the unique ascendancy of the sjuzet over the fabula, and even the troubling stamp of indeterminacy that these distortions of logical approaches to the narrative induce. "Yet," Brooks writes,
 it would also be a mistake simply to note the "arbitrariness" of
 the narrative and its undecidable relations of event and
 interpretation: so simplistic and sweeping a deconstructive gesture
 eludes the challenges the text poses to us. We should rather, I
 think, consider further how the text may suggest a remotivation of
 narrative through narration and the need for it. (307)


The motivation of narrative, the desire to narrate, in Brooks's final account, stems from the overlayed motifs of incest and miscegenation in the novel, two rival "elements of design" that never achieve "significant interweaving" (308). His thesis explicitly refutes John Irwin's reading that proposes a significant link between incest and miscegenation in Absalom and The Sound and the Fury. Brooks describes both incest and miscegenation as analogous to two kinds of figurative language:
 Incest thus would belong to the pole of metaphor, but as static,
 inactive metaphor, the same-as-same; whereas miscegenation would be
 a "wild," uncontrollable metonymy. The story of the House of Sutpen
 as told by the younger generation seems to be caught between these
 two figures, never able to interweave them in a coherent design.
 (308)


Besides the questionable alignment--one might just as well think that metaphor, the description of one thing in terms of a different other by similarity, would approximate miscegenation, and metonymy, the reduction of a whole to one of its parts, would more reasonably describe the problem of categorical sameness in incest--the translation of the novel's themes into these particular figurative tropes becomes problematic for two additional reasons: first, despite Jakobson's hypothesis that metaphor belongs to verse and metonymy to prose, the difference between them is not of exclusive opposition, but of degree. (8) Second, neither metaphor nor metonymy figures prominently as a strategy for the novel's narration. It would be better to follow James Guetti, who ventures that the novel can be read as an extended simile, corresponding to the frequent uses of "as if," "perhaps," and "maybe."

But even Guetti's translation of the novel's themes to figurative language is ultimately unsatisfying, mainly because it leads him to read the novel as a narrative failure, one that can approximate only through simile. Rather than scrapping the initially promising project of describing Absalom in terms of figurative language, though, I have been working towards a more specific term--dirimens copulatio--as the basic rhetorical principle of the novel. Dirimens copulatio forges a new figurative relationship between terms, a relationship that may be akin to metaphor and metonymy, but must still be distinct from them.

VI. Metalinguistic Relation

I have already noted how the negative element of dirimens copulatio molds and inflects and determines in advance the significance of the positive element. We may be more precise now by showing that in a statement of the form,

z is not x but y,

z maintains a metaphorical relation to y and something like a negative metaphorical relation to x. But the relationship between x and y cannot be termed as either metaphorical or metonymical. It appears metaphorical or descriptive because it exhibits a substitution, the y coming to stand in place of the x. It also appears metonymical, however, because the two elements form a contiguous sequence; the full significance of the second, positive element relies upon the negative condition of the first element. The relationship between x and y, then, can be defined as existing alongside metaphor and metonymy in figurative language, but, because it incorporates elements of both, we might call it, for lack of a better term, a "metalinguistic" relationship.

Allowing a metalinguistic relationship supplements Bergson's finding that negation does not have "the power of creating ideas sui generis, symmetrical with those that affirmation creates, and directed in a contrary sense" (305). He explains, "No idea will come forth from negation, for it has no other content than that of the affirmative judgment which it judges" (306). But Bergson is only concerned with negative propositions here, and not with the conjunction of negative with positive in dirimens copulatio. By connecting a positive proposition with it, the negative proposition may still not create an idea sui generis, but it does have the effect of raising a first-order affirmation to a second-order affirmation. That is, a simple positive statement in fiction is simply a description of the world of the text. That same statement made as the positive pole of a dirimens copulatio is both objective description and subjective contention. Conversely, the negative proposition, by way of apparent symmetry, plots the axis, defines the ground, shapes the mold that the positive term will fill. (9)

Instead of anticipating the voice of the other in dialogue in order to remove it from contention, Faulkner's use of dirimens copulatio speaks the voice of the other to set the foundation, even under erasure, that inflects and produces the conditions for the positive element. At the syntactic level, this valence of dirimens copulatio signifies by defining x as not y. For example, in the description of the sheltered and silver-spoon-fed Etienne Bon's horror at Clytie, who "gave him not teacakes but the coarsest cornbread spread with as coarse molasses" (158), the cornbread is doubly cursed: not only is it coarse, but it is also "not teacake." Without the negative clause, cornbread alone would merely have signified cornbread, and the suggestion of economic and class-based codes would not have surfaced. The binary categorization may identify the axis of difference between the two elements, cornbread and teacake, but it does so by imbuing the one, cornbread, with the signifying weight of the teacake's absence. This example may seem spurious, but its structural analog resounds within even the broadest themes of the novel.

Of course, many of the instances of dirimens copulatio in Absalom are not metaphorical at all and do not appear to invoke any figurative language. But without importing the ideational dynamics of figuration, it would be difficult to describe the relationship between the "son" and the "girl" of Quentin's "it wasn't a son, it was a girl." On one hand, we might simply see the binary opposition and the category of gender that it evokes. But we should also note that as a binary that has been evacuated of ambiguity--one term positive the other negative--the phrase necessarily taints the actual, the positive, with the remainder of the binary that is absent. The substitution of one thing for another, a metaphorical function, is not clean; and the substituted, by proximity and contiguity thus metonymical, emerges as a necessary component of the positive element. By moving through negative images to a positive one, the form of dirimens copulatio "sifts and discards," and in doing so, enables a relatively unexplored feature of spoken language, what I have called a metalinguistic relationship, to perform significant narrative work.

This distinction may serve to answer a debate over Faulkner's style in general. Many have noticed that Faulkner's style withholds or suspends comprehension until the end of either the sentence or the novel. Conrad Aiken writes that Faulkner's writing is "a persistent offering of obstacles, a calculated system of screens and obtrusions, of confusions and ambiguous interpolations and delays with one express purpose; and that purpose is simply to keep the form--and the idea--fluid and unfinished, still in motion, as it were, and unknown, until the dropping to place of the very last syllable" (138). Aiken's comment is remarkable, not just because it imitates that which it describes, but because it prioritizes the determinative and hermeneutically-sealing last word over the protracted process that leads to it. Walter Slatoff responds by suggesting that the '"last syllables' of Faulkner's novels, as much as any other part of them, seem designed to prevent resolution, to leave the reader with conflicting thoughts and feelings" (136). Between these two positions, one maintaining that the final term is dominant and the other maintaining that the prior terms subvert that dominance and result in indeterminacy, there is another possibility. The "final syllables," like the final terms in dirimens copulatio, provide resolution, but for questions that are determined by the prior, negative, terms. When the final syllable drops it enters a space that has been prepared for it by the prior terms, so that the suspension serves the purpose, not of merely heightening tension, nor of increasing indeterminacy, but of determining in advance the meaning and implication of the final word. What makes that last syllable so powerful is not that it powerfully asserts determinacy or indeterminacy, but because it has been formulated as determined itself. One could say that it "falls into place" because it must; everything holding it up has been removed.

The first and last halves of Mr. Compson's letter bookend and frame the last four chapters of the novel, nearly the entire exchange between Quentin and Shreve. Quentin and Shreve's fumbling, conjectural, and negative narration, then, allows the letter to be completed. In finishing their narration, the last half of the letter, as well as the deferred narrative of Quentin and Rosa's trip to Sutpen's Hundred, concludes the novel: "Now he (Quentin) could read it, could finish it--the sloped whimsical ironic hand out of Mississippi attenuated, into the iron snow" (301). Quentin's struggle with Sutpen's story, formulated as something "he still was unable to pass" (142), undergirds the hypothetical and collaborative narration of the final chapters. Thus, the final chapters are cast as a pragmatic exercise, an elaborate prior clause that must be worked out before any progress can be made. This working out or passing through in the hiatus of Mr. Compson's letter departs, as we have seen, from historical accuracy, yet still fulfills or replaces the absent "something" in Mr. Compson' s diagnosis of the narrative: "Yes, Judith, Bon, Henry Sutpen: all of them. They are there, yet something is missing" (80).

The operation of dirimens copulatio as a means to bring the conclusion into focus by degrees, by passing through negative clauses, is most explicit in Mr. Compson's description of Bon's disclosure of his negro mistress to Henry:
 So I can imagine him [Bon], the way he did it: the way in which he
 took the innocent and negative plate of Henry's provincial soul and
 intellect and exposed it by slow degrees to
 this esoteric milieu, building gradually toward the picture he
 desired it to retain, accept. I can see him corrupting Henry
 gradually into the purlieus of ellegance ... watching him with cold
 and catlike inscrutable calculation, watching the picture resolve
 and become fixed and then telling Henry, "But that's not it. That's
 just the base, the foundation. It can belong to anyone": and Henry,
 "You mean, this is not it? That it is above this, higher than this,
 more select than this?" (87-88)


Bon continues to change the image by degrees, even negating his second cultivated image of southern cosmopolitanism: "But even this is not it." Henry's incredulous, "You mean, it is still higher than this, still above this?" (88) balks in the same way that Quentin balks at Sutpen's story.

Getting Henry to overcome his puritanical objections to the final image becomes, for Bon, a task of subtly using a modified form of dirimens copulatio: "A dialogue without words, speech, which would fix and then remove without obliterating one line the picture, this background, leaving the background, the plate prepared and innocent again: the plate docile ... waiting for the next picture which the mentor, the corruptor, intended for it" (88). The removal of the picture without removing the line describes a palimpsestic modulation of narration that fits the model of dirimens copulatio. Metalinguistic negation does not remove the image entirely because it does not assert non-existence, just non-assertibility. It leaves the prior term as an afterimage that continues to inform the subsequent images and prepare Henry to accept what he might have recoiled from if not tactfully approached through a sequence of negated assertions.

Like Bon's gradual revelation to Henry, negating what came before to deliver an even more shocking revelation, so too the structure of Absalom gradually reveals, through negation and revision of prior narratives, the picture Faulkner intends for the reader to have. From Mr. Compson's version to Miss Rosa's version to Quentin and Shreve's version, the novel enacts a succession of narrative "takes" on the story. Each take on Sutpen's story trumps and erases the preceding, so that Miss Rosa's avowed ignorance of Henry's motive for killing Bon is trumped by Mr. Compson's revelation of Bon's black wife in New Orleans. Even this is not enough, and Quentin and Shreve must eventually conclude that Bon is Henry's brother and that Bon's mother is black, so that incest and miscegenation together present an insurmountable obstacle for Henry. The final formulation, by all accounts, strains even the most liberal of suspended disbeliefs, and perhaps it is through the gradual approach that Faulkner intends it to be palatable. But in passing through Mr. Compson's version, the narrative never quite erases the portrait given there of Bon or Henry. The threat and taboo of bigamy, then, linger over the spaces that will be filled by incest and miscegenation. Though incest and miscegenation are posited over and above bigamy, they are not diametrically opposed to it (it is difficult to see how they could be). And at the conclusion of the story, in voices that reenact the form of dirimens copulatio, Bon shows Henry that it is not incest, but miscegenation that will draw the final brutal confrontation: Henry says, "You are my brother," to which Bon replies, "No, I'm the nigger that's going to sleep with your sister" (286). This crux echoes Bon's former dirimens copulatio capitulation to Henry, "so it's the miscegenation, not the incest, which you can't bear" (285). Despite the fact that the ostensible function of these remonstrations is to make the claim for miscegenation, the other two key terms, bigamy and incest, remain legible yet negated behind the ultimate term.

Without Mr. Compson's narrative, or the gradual revelations of Bon's background, the final version of the story would connote a very different sense of closure. The "fumbling" towards the conclusion certainly builds tension, but on the other hand it bridges gaps between thematic (and tropaic) codes and colors the conclusion by what comes before. Incest and bigamy overlay miscegenation so that, like the difficulty in separating fact from conjecture, borders between all three terms become diffuse. Bon may say that it is the miscegenation Henry cannot pass, but the reader knows that it is all three combined, that in the final event Bon is polygamist, black, and brother, and that the revelation that Bon is half-black is not as much the final straw as it is a confirmation of the implied deep connections in the novel between sex, family, and race. The ostensible "answer" to the novel is race, but at the moment race comes into focus, it enters the already established space of negated possibilities that still retain a signifying force in their lingering afterimage. Like the cornbread/not-teacake distinction, the form of dirimens copulatio confers a greater binary categorization at play in the decision. Cornbread instead of teacake may function along an axis of social class, but the analogous "race" instead of family (incest) or law (bigamy) functions along a much more complex axis--one that might be termed power, but that, for the purposes of the novel, operates at the level of truth and tragedy. Metalinguistic relation, discernible by and generated from the dialogic nature of Absalom's narrative, fuses the major themes of race, patronymics, incest, and miscegenation by tipping the symmetrical mechanics of tropological differentiation that would hold them apart. But this asymmetrical fusion, this joining together, does not mean that all of these taboos are finally the same thing, but that each occupies a space, defines an axis, or establishes a ground separate from them all. And it is in that metalinguistic, metaphysical, and negative space that the conditions and requirements of poetic and tragic truth reside.

J. Paul Hurh

University of California, Berkeley

Works Cited

Aiken, Conrad. "William Faulkner: The Novel as Form." 1939. William Faulkner: Three Decades of Criticism. Ed. Frederick J. Hoffman and Olga W. Vickery. Ypsilanti: Michigan State UP, 1960. 135-42.

Anderson, Sherwood. Winesburg, Ohio. 1919. New York: Viking P, 1960.

Bakhtin, M. M. "Discourse in the Novel." 1934. The Dialogic Imagination. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Ed. Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981. 259-434.

Bergson, Henri. Creative Evolution. Trans. Arthur Mitchell. London: MacMillan, 1919.

Bleikasten, Andre. "Faulkner in the Singular." Faulkner at 100: Retrospect and Prospect. Ed. Donald M. Kartiganer and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2000. 204-18.

Brooks, Cleanth. "What We Know about Thomas Sutpen and His Children." 1963. Critical Essays on William Faulkner: The Sutpen Family. Ed. Arthur F. Kinney. New York: G. K. Hall, 1996. 268-74.

Brooks, Peter. Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984.

Bunselmeyer, J. E. "Faulkner' s Narrative Styles" American Literature 53 (1981): 424-42.

Culler, Jonathan. The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1981.

Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! 1936. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

--. Faulkner in the University: Class Conferences at the University of Virginia, 1957-1958. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 1959.

Greimas, A. J. and J. Courtes. Semiotics and Language: An Analytical Dictionary. Trans. Larry Crist and Daniel Patte and James Lee, Edward McMahon II, Gary Phillips, Michael Rengstrof. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1982.

Guerard, Albert J. The Triumph of the Novel: Dickens, Dostoevsky, Faulkner. New York: Oxford UP, 1976.

Guetti, James. The Limits of Metaphor: A Study of Melville, Conrad, and Faulkner. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1967.

Hayakawa, Hiroshi. "Negation in William Faulkner." Studies in English Grammar and Linguistics: A Miscellany in Honour of Takanobu Otsuka. Ed. Kazuo Araki, et al. Tokyo: Kenkyusha Ltd., 1958. 103-16.

Herget, Winfried. "The Poetics of Negation in Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!" Faulkner's Discourse: An International Symposium. Ed. Lothar Honnighausen. Tubingen: Max Nielmeyer Verlag, 1989. 33-37.

Horn, Laurence. A Natural History of Negation. 1989. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2001.

Irwin, John T. Doubling and Incest: Repetition and Revenge: A Speculative Reading of Faulkner. 1975. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996.

Jakobson, Roman. On Language. Ed. Linda Waugh and Monique Monville-Burston. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1990.

Kuyk, Dirk Jr. Sutpen's Design: Interpreting Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1990.

Lanham, Richard. A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms. Berkeley: U of California P, 1991.

Lockyer, Judith. "Postulating What Is: Faulkner's Negative Constructions." Chiba Review 18 (1996): 12-23.

Mellard, James M. Doing Tropology: Analysis of Narrative Discourse. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1987.

Parker, Robert Dale. Faulkner and the Novelistic Imagination. Urbana and Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1985.

Pitavy, Francois. "Some Remarks on Negation and Denegation in William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!" Faulkner's Discourse: An International Symposium. Ed. Lothar Honnighausen. Tubingen: Max Nielmeyer Verlag, 1989. 25-32.

Porter, Carolyn. Seeing and Being: The Plight of the Participant-Observer in Emerson, James, Adams, and Faulkner. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 1981.

Pothier, Jacques. "Negation in Faulkner: Saying No to Time and Creating One's Own Space." Faulkner's Discourse: An International Symposium. Ed. Lothar Honnighausen. Tubingen: Max Nielmeyer Verlag, 1989. 38-45.

Ross, Stephen. Fiction's Inexhaustible Voice: Speech and Writing in Faulkner. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1989.

Schoenberg, Estella. Old Tales and Talking: Quentin Compson in William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! and Related Works. Jackson: U of Mississippi P, 1977.

Slatoff, Walter. Quest for Failure: A Study of William Faulkner. Westport: Greenwood P, 1960.

Snead, James A. "Litotes and Chiasmus: Cloaking Tropes in Absalom, Absalom!" Faulkner's Discourse: An International Symposium. ed. Lothar Honnighausen. Tubingen: Max Nielmeyer Verlag, 1989. 16-24.

White, Hayden. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1973.

--. Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978.

Notes

I would like to thank Mark Allison, Aileen Feng, Hsuan Hsu, Len Von Morze, Samuel Otter, and Carolyn Porter for reading prior versions of this essay, negating mistakes, and suggesting alternatives.

(1) The quick argument for this claim is that in the phrase "not only x, but y," x is not being denied because it is descriptively false. That is, x is not being denied at all. What is denied is the assertion only x. Since what is denied is the assertability of only x, for the reason, presumably, that it does not account for y, every instance of "not only x, but y" employs metalinguistic negation.

(2) This hypothesis is supported by the fact that none of the narrators of Sutpen's story "were there." As Rosa says at the end of her narrative, "But I was not there," so too are Mr. Compson's, Quentin's, and Shreve's marked by the fact that they are historical conjecture. Thus, most of the statements of correction in the novel, even those of merely descriptive value, are marked as metalinguistically determined.

(3) Jacques Pothier's "Negation in Faulkner: Saying No to Time and Creating One's Own Space" treats the same subject of dirimens copulatio as I do. Pothier, however, comes to a different conclusion, equating negation with Faulkner's use of space and time, yielding a conclusion that is frankly mystifying.

(4) Judith Lockyer, in a more recent essay on negation in Faulkner, holds a position similar to Pitavy's. Lockyer notes that, "A negative construction only appears to deny; always in the denial remains the suggestion of what is or was.... Language substitutes for actual experience, but as the expression of that experience, it holds the potential power any idea does to influence thought and even behavior" (14). Unlike Pitavy, though, Lockyer asserts that negative narration simply allows Faulkner to be more precise: "By being both exact and inexact, Faulkner claims wider powers to reach us and to demand that we think about the process of articulating experience" (16).

(5) See Cleanth Brooks's article, "What We Know about Thomas Sutpen and His Children," in which Brooks charts the major narrative events with their epistemological certainty and their source or authority. Also, Ellen Schoenberg writes, "What does happen in Absalom, Absalom!, sure enough? ... Its consideration, I believe, will reveal not only what happens but what does not, and also why attempts at ordering the chronology have been so inconclusive and so strewn with errors" (72-73), and Peter Brooks attempts to cut through the knot by asserting, "We need to ask three straightforward, quite naive questions: What do they recount? How do they know it? What is their motive, their investment in what they recount?" (297). More recently, Dirk Kuyk begins his book-length study of Absalom by rewriting Absalom's plot into a fabula: "Since plot won't serve our purposes, we construct an alternative framework, the fabula of Absalom" (45). The list goes on, showing that neither will the novel be "solved" by simple questions nor will it ever stop provoking such attempts to do so.

(6) Bakhtin's sense of inner dialogism takes account of multiple voices but asserts that the dialogue is not between characters, but between languages. Bakhtin's hypothesis that every word contains an antagonistic relation to other words and that the meaning of it arises from that contention accords with my treatment of dirimens copulatio as essentially meaning-making: "The word is born in dialogue as a living rejoinder within it; the word is shaped in dialogic interaction with an alien word that is already in the object" (279).

(7) Both Carolyn Porter and Robert Parker have commented on how Faulkner's style requires the participation of the reader. Parker sees the participation called for as detective work: "The constant placing of effect before cause, coupled with the succession of newly discovered causes, each more plausible than the last--from Rosa's ... to Mr. Compson's ... to incest, to miscegenation--force the reader to join in, constantly revising, as the characters must, our idea of what happened" (130). Porter argues that the novel constructs its reader, drawing him or her into the wrestling with history and tragedy by virtue of dialogue: "the novel is itself one voice in a dialogue with the reader, who, like Quentin Compson, struggles in vain to secure a detached position from which to assemble and confront a chaotic and inexplicable set of events" (260).

(8) See Jakobson, "Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances" (115-33). Jakobson sees that metaphor involves comparison between two things based upon a shared similarity and metonymy upon some shared contiguity in time and space. The assumed opposition between metaphor and metonymy has recently been exposed to significant criticism.

(9) My difficulty in choosing an adequate figuration for this process might arise because the process itself is figuration. I like the term "axis" because it fits well with the positive and negative "poles" of the figure. One term, one point, alone does not determine a figure. The addition of a negative term charts a line connecting the two, an axis, that defines a trajectory. I like the term "ground" because Faulkner's description of Bon's corruption of Henry uses a printing and erasing metaphor. I like the term "mold" because it seems best to capture the process of negation, of the ability for an absence to define a potential presence. That in lieu of using a consistent single metaphor for the negative metalinguistic relationship, I have chosen to use all of them is, I suppose, apropos of this essay's subject.
Figure 1.

x y

Figure: Metaphor Figure: Irony (as trope)
Genre: Romance Genre: Satire
Narrator: Rosa Narrator: Shreve

not y not x

Figure: Synecdoche Figure: Metonomy
Genre: Comedy Genre: Tragedy
Narrator: Grandfather Narrator: Mr. Compson
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Title Annotation:William Faulkner
Author:Hurh, J. Paul
Publication:Style
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2008
Words:11251
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