Printer Friendly

Faulkner's Black Holes: Vision and Vomit in Sanctuary.

I. "A power that disrupts the most well-ordered entrails."(1)

To READ FAULKNER'S SANCTUARY (1931) IS TO RISK GOING CRAZY: this, at least, is what we must surmise from the testimony of the novel's early reviewers. Henry Seidel Canby insists that no "sane reader" can possibly "doubt" that "the end of all sanity in fiction" lies "along the path" that the novel leads us.(2) Sanctuary, says another reviewer, threatens us because it gives "flesh" "to ... creatures almost too sick or too depraved to be called human" at all.(3) Granville Hicks calls Faulkner's characters "twisted shapes in the ... wreckage of a mad world," and goes on to suggest that the demented content has as its corollary a deranged form that prevents his novels from achieving tragic status.(4) And A.C. Ward condemns the book for going, in essence, "too far," claiming that "there must be limits of sanity beyond which literary experimentation can ... produce only pathological documents with no significance as works of art."(5)

There is, however, a strange division within this apparent critical unanimity. On one hand, these critics suggest that the derangement of Sanctuary results from the author's veering away from subjective expression towards a dementedly ocular "objectivity." Hicks, for example, locates the danger in Faulkner's peculiarly visual "detachment"--the "strangely focused powers of observation" we are forced to share (p. 124)--while Canby speaks derisively of "the dry light of complete objectivity" in which Faulkner "weighs his subjects" (p. 108). On the other hand, and despite the fact that the reviewers seem distempered by this detachment, it's also the case that the objects of Sanctuary are not for them finally objective enough. The world of the novel displays nothing more than "the exacerbated sensibilities of the author" (Canby, p. 110); it remains the subjectively spattered expression of a "mind" that's been confidently labeled "disordered" (Hicks, p. 127), even as it appears, at the very same moment, to give us all "object" and no "mind" at all. Sanctuary's supposedly clinical disinterest might thus be seen as a special form of interest. Faulkner "is cruel with a cool and interested cruelty" is how Canby goes on to put it; "he hates his Mississippi and his Memphis and all their works ... with a hatred that is neither passionate nor the result of thwarting, but calm, reasoned, and complete" (p. 108). A hatred simultaneously dispassionate and total, a cruelty that's cool yet also invested: Faulkner doesn't manage to repudiate his objects except insofar as he's already "touched" them; he invents a real world in the interest of trying to stand outside and hate it, calls into being an object of investment in order the better to reject that object, and he thereby gives birth to an objective world through an act of primal and hateful repulsion whose prolongation in the coolness of cruelty is meant to maintain him on the outskirts of a world "in" which he must be seen to be.

Or perhaps we should say that the world is in him. I want, at any rate, to argue here that this is what the critics rightly intuit in their collective confusion about the location of the novel's derangement. If Faulkner seems too much "in" and "out" of a world that he treats with ocular detestation--if the novel's madness appears to reside both in an excessively visual objectivity and in a surfeit of subjectivity--this is firstly because Sanctuary is itself "about" producing this confusion. My claim is that it produces that confusion by staging in its mode and content an oral drama of (failed) differentiation, by which the world of visible exteriority turns out once to have been swallowed before being born in a vomitory seizure that tries (but fails) to found a "self" by expelling the thing that the self will call "object." Such an hypothesis needs of course to be elaborated textually. Before elaborating it, however, I want to clarify the claim itself by turning for a moment to Freud. His late essay on "Negation" (1925) offers a striking theoretical description of the drama that Sanctuary textually enacts, even as Freud seeks to repress--by way precisely of his ambition to stand outside of the process he describes--the inescability of the psychic truths into which Faulkner's novel plunges us.

The relevant passage from "Negation" begins with a rumination on the faculty of judgment. It suggests that the judging "function ... is concerned" in part to "assert or deny that a thing has a particular property," and then continues as follows:
 Originally the property to be decided about might be either `good' or
 `bad,' `useful' or `harmful.' Expressed in the language of the oldest, that
 is, of the oral, instinctual impulses [Triebregungen], the alternative runs
 thus: `I should like to eat that, or I should like to spit it out'; or,
 carried a stage further: `I should like to take this into me and keep that
 out of me.' That is to say: it [the object] is to be either inside me or
 outside me. As I have shown elsewhere, the original pleasure-ego tries to
 introject into itself everything that is good and to reject from itself
 everything that is bad. From its point of view what is bad, what is alien
 to the ego, and what is external are, to begin with, identical.(6)


"What is bad," "what is external," "what is alien": the world, on this model, emerges from the start as nothing more or less than an inedibly bad object. Precisely inasmuch as the object exists, it's been primordially rejected as bad by a palate that knows how to tell a good feed; exactly insofar as there's something bad out there, "I" have ejected an indigestible portion that becomes for me, by the fact of its ejection, an external object of primordial abhorrence. Freud is therefore not merely describing the confrontation of a pre-formed ego with an object-world that can be said to precede it. Rather, this is a description of the process by which a subject and its world are created in an act of prodigiously oral destructiveness. The world begins by being "in me"--and it ends up by spilling out onto the floor; it can be "made up" in regurgitative fury only because it's already "inside," can be repudiated only on condition that I once chewed it up in the form of a something that becomes at once "not-me" and "not-good" from the moment I open my mouth to spit it out. "Bad" is accordingly a word I apply to the object of an alien and repulsed internality; that object is bad because it was (in) me, because its originally prehensile viscosity figures my muculent presence in an "object" I create by spitting both out and up--and because, moreover, it continues to do so even after the vomit of the world thus invented has hardened to a state of externally stable and apparent objectal solidity.

But let's be perfectly clear about this. If the object is bad for having once been "inside," it's nonetheless true that, even when "in" me, that object had never quite managed to be "me." The vomited thing begins by adhering to the gullet of a primally anonymous devouring. It starts by sticking in the throat of a no one (not-yet-a-subject), deprives that no one of a uniform amassment by refusing resolutely to go all the way down, and this must mean that there is in me, from before the beginning, something I cannot and must not call "self," something that's in fact much more than myself and that by the excess of its unintegrated tenacity signifies the paradox of an originary loss. The primal expulsion that founds "me" and "it" takes place in the orifice of a prior deprivation. Before there's an object or a subject to lose it, there's something within that robs "me" of being; before I've even egoically emerged, "I" have already been lost to myself by virtue of the nothing that begins by being in me and causes me literally to throw "myself' up, in order to heal a primordial breach in the proto-narcissistic and pre-egoic unit. Freud does not and cannot, of course, say this. For him there can be no loss without a subject, nothing to lose except an object that's known by a subject already to be an object. For him the way to secure a real world that's more than a vomitory projection of "self" is to forget the oral origin of that world and decree it always already to have been there in order that a subject might lose and then find it. When he goes on to suggest, therefore, that "an essential pre-condition for the institution of the function for testing reality is that objects shall have been lost which have formerly afforded real satisfaction" (p. 216), we must use the passage on orality against him to say that the drama of dissatisfied desire by which psychoanalysis comprehends our predicament is itself here a kind of reaction formation in which a bad (unavailable, frustrating) object is happily vomited,feared, and even lost, in order that there might at least be an object rather than the threat of a nameless nothing that the objectless object "is" when. it's in "me." Vomit spews forth--the object is born bad--in an effort to fill out the deprivation that I am. The subject must found itself in oral expulsion if it's to be saved from the faceless cavity that threatens quite literally to gnaw out its insides. To lose or fear the thrown-up thing--to spit up an object so that I might lose it--is at least to pretend that there's something out there which is separate enough to be found or mastered,(7) and therefore I meet the negation that's in me with the counter-negation of a primal repudiation: a gustatory hate or oral repulsion, which seeks to close off the ontological hemorrhage by vomiting it up in the form of an "object"; a regurgitative loathing that hallucinates a world whose objectal solidity is forever disrupted by "my" bespattered presence in it, and whose very condition is a certain "self-loss" that cannot be mourned, cannot be taken in, without introducing the black hole in being back into the very guts of a subject and opening me to be swallowed once more by an omnidirectional and internalized mouth.(8)

And Faulkner? What of Sanctuary's "shrewdly plotting madman" (Hicks, p. 126), the author with the frankly disordered mind? How does the oral origin of the object pertain to a book that would drive us insane by having us look on crazies whom it also appears to despise? Let us defer again to the judgment--the taste--of an early reviewer. The author of Sanctuary "writes ... with a power that disrupts the most well-ordered entrails," says Sherwood.(9) Why? Not--let us say--because of what the book makes us "see" so much as because it won't let us quite see it. Despite its apparently ocular "objectivity," despite what we'll discover is an unusually intense thematic interest in questions of vision, voyeurism, and narcissistic gazing, we must yet insist that what looks here like "looking" turns out to be "eating," and that what gets eaten is a vomitory (no)thing which cannot be assimilated without both eliminating the stuff of my world and reintrojecting the negated negation that will come now completely to devour me. Faulkner confronts us with our vomit-in-the-world by literally spitting it up in our eyes;he pretends to maintain a distance from the object that would keep it both solid and visibly apprehensible, only to expose the precariousness of that distance by disintegrating the object, decomposing it, rendering it again the barfed-out blob that's the infirm "ground" of all objectality--and asking us nonetheless to eat it with our eyes in a way that disrupts the most well-ordered entrails and causes us to throw it right up again. I cannot "see" this thing, after all, that's also a no-thing at all. I cannot visually appropriate an object that keeps becoming the bilious pile that's too much "me" to be an object, not enough of me ever to be truly mine. The novel's intense concern with intermediate states of being (mud, phlegm, vomit); its focus on bodies that--seeping and spilling, oozing out and even melting--tend to a certain decompositional viscosity that renders action an ineffectual gelatination; its interest in a sluggishness of human intentions that dissolves the will and consciousness itself into the torpor of semiliquidity; its subordination of significance and motive to a stubborn objectal recalcitrance; and its desire to instigate projects of visual mastery only to dramatize a breakdown of vision so severe that it doesn't even show us the corn-cob rape that is the book's central "event"(10)--these are all strategies, as we shall see, for making visible the non-representable and invisible stain which is our overpresence in the thing we try so desperately to see and master. Vision becomes here a kind of catastrophe, the apocalyptic encounter with an oral expulsiveness. Faulkner leads us down the path of insanity by keeping the object at a visual distance while also spilling us furiously into it, asking us to appropriate that "thing" in the object which is ourselves as voracious non-being. If he hates his world and is dispassionately cruel to it, it's only because he's already "in" it, and because to retain any sanity at all he must repudiate the vomited (no)thing that deranges all "vision" by returning through the eyes to engulf the viewing subject from within. We can hardly, then, be too surprised that the reviewers tend to repeat the detestation that they claim at the same time to abhor: encountering Sanctuary as vomit, they hate the novel and expel it from their purview; forced to visualize their expectorative investment in it, they judge it negatively in a secondary repulsion and encourage us to do so as well in order to be saved from the madness that comes from a vomitory besmirchment of vision.

II. Splitting up the spaces-between

I will return at the end of this essay to describe the effects of such a besmirchment on attempts to read Sanctuary "thematically" and, in particular, on what the, book has to say about gender. First, however, I want to give a more detailed account of what we can provisionally call the novel's "narrative mode." It is precisely in and through that mode that the ruin I've been describing takes place, as narrative strategy has everything to do with how a book's world "shows up" for us. Further, it's my contention that a novel which blots out what it reveals by smearing it with an impossible "subjectivity" gives rise to insoluble interpretive difficulties, and that any reading which fails to account for these will be proportionally impoverished. The task ahead of us will thus entail our defining the "laws" that govern a world revealed by a mode that also dissolves it. Subjectively splattered--objectally stained--the universe of Sanctuary is by that same token realistically non-realist in the rules of its operation. Its spatiotemporal unfolding, to begin with, may give the illusion of realistic integrity, but it tends at the same time towards forms of collapse that repeat and express the (il)logic of vomit and that therefore contribute to the maddened apocalypse of vision that we've just now begun to describe.

Take for example the novel's first pages:
 From beyond the screen of bushes which surrounded the spring, Popeye
 watched the man drinking. A faint path led from the road to the spring.
 Popeye watched the man--a tall, thin mare hatless, in worn gray flannel
 trousers and carrying a tweed coat over his arm--emerge from the path and
 kneel to drink from the spring.

 The spring welled up at the root of a beech tree and flowed away upon
 the bottom of whorled and waved sand. It was surrounded by a thick growth
 of cane and brier,of cypress and gum in which broken sunlight lay
 sourceless. Somewhere, hidden and secret yet nearby, a bird sang three
 notes and ceased.

 In the spring the drinking man leaned his face to the broken and myriad
 reflection of his own drinking. When he rose up he saw among them the
 shattered reflection of Popeye's straw hat, though he had heard no
 sound....

 Behind him the bird sang again, three bars in monotonous repetition: a
 sound meaningless and profound out of a suspirant and peaceful following
 silence which seemed to isolate the spot, and out of which a moment later
 came the sound of an automobile passing along a road and dying away.(11)


The passage condenses in monstrous miniature the features of an orally repudiated "object," and we shall return to it more than once. For now what's crucial is the blurriness of that image, its visually agglutinated opacity. No sooner are we given access to this world than it begins quite literally to thicken and break down; no sooner does the object come visually into focus than its precise location, in both space and time, becomes a matter of such radical uncertainty that it's almost impossible optically to apprehend it. When, does this opening "begin," for example? Is its first moment the one described in an initial sentence that has Popeye "watching" as "the man" (Horace) drinks from the spring? Or is it rather the instant to which the third sentence leads us, an instant that by the logic of chronology must clearly be prior to the "initial" point, since in it Horace "emerge[s] from the path and kneel[s]" in preparation to drink? Such questions insist--they clamor for answer--only to repulse all gesture of reply. It cannot suffice to "choose" one moment and grant it a definitive chronological priority, since the first effect of this abrupt inversion is to hold the past instant "within" the present in a manner expressive of a time so distressed as to wreck the ordered heterogeneity of flow while also conserving its traces. Sanctuary collapses the two points at issue in an image that struggles to keep them apart. It renders time spatial--and therefore, manipulable--in order to rip it apart by the instant and splice it together in disordered sequence that preserves and destroys the discrete points of time. It holds out the promise of an ocular clarity, proposes to the eye a punctual series, at the same time that it reneges on that promise by superimposing the past on the present in an image that registers too many "times."(12) And it performs this feat in a way that abolishes the very "now" of the present moment, hiding that moment--secreting it--seeping it into the spaceless space between points that can't be called "present" at all. Horace emerges from the path to drink water while Horace already drinks from the spring. The instant with which the novel "begins" is very precisely a doubly exposed one that spreads out the present in one profuse image which captures the actions belonging to two. If neither of these instants can be said to "come first," it's only and finally because both of them do: because their temporal ordering bleeds off in a present simultaneously captured and missed, as the novel enfolds us in a time that's on one hand extraordinarily compressed--accelerated in the virtual concurrency of its images--and on the other, a time distended, protracted, elongated into a practically undifferentiated and eternally monotonous "now."

The procedure in question has, moreover, just as profound implications for space. An object that's liquidated by the time I'm describing can neither quite remain "right there" nor disappear into nowhere, as it carries around with it the traces of its past locations as much as its past points of time. It can't, therefore, be disclosed where it "is" without bleeding back into the places it's been and dissolving the logic of fixed place in time. Horace is both at the edge of the spring and out on the path that approaches it. He is in the one spot as much as the other--is "at the same time" in two different places--as the narrative prevents him from being in either but stretches him rather "between" those points, in an image that soaks the two places back into the blurry compression of a fugitive "here" that's no more properly fixed or localizable than is the novel's first instant. Space--like time--is both doubled and abolished. Distance collapses as places proliferate in the oxymoronic expanse of an "image" that is "in itself" the conflation of two. The object of vision becomes here the casualty of a method that seeks to register and destroy it, as the novel both captures the visualized thing in images of tantalizing objective clarity and handles those images, spatiotemporally, in a way that empties the visible into the spaceless space and timeless time "in-between" the points actually seen.

There results an intensely disquieting experience in which the promise of escaping such vision by attributing it to a (deranged) character oscillates with the panic of aporia to short-circuit even the most basic forms of sense-making. We might, for example, be tempted to ascribe this first perception to Popeye; he's after all the one who "watches" in the scene at hand. But the novel systematically prevents us from making this attribution with certainty. Most significantly, in the opening scene, the move is thwarted by the textual registration of the bird's song, which repeats auditorily the spatiotemporal compression-distension of the novel's first image. The notes of that song proceed in a "monotonous repetition," appearing to be sequentially distinct while threatening the very principle of sequence. They issue from a place at once "nearby" and "hidden": a place, that is, that's marked and effaced by the resonance of a sound which collapses location by occluding the specific site of its issue while expanding to fill all available space. If we're to limit the lunacy to Popeye, then, we must attribute this perception to him--and nothing in the passage allows us to do so. He's nowhere shown to be listening to the song and isn't, anyway, the type to hear it in terms like "meaningless and profound." If the sound belongs to any character, indeed--and not to an "objective" perspective that all of us must share--that figure would surely have to be Horace, who does meditate on profundities and is shown to be listening.(13) But this confronts us with the prospect of a shared derangement that solves strictly nothing. We're forced now to superimpose two options if we're to entertain either, to locate distortion both(-and-neither) in Popeye's perspective and(-nor) in that of Horace. The interpretive act of choosing between options collapses into the very same process of "seeing" the unseeable space-in-between that it's meant to escape by explaining. And what that space both "is" and "contains"--what it in fact envelops by being--turns out to be the vomitory (no)thing that must be expelled from the perceiving subject and then fended off in the apprehended object if a self and its world are ever to "meet" in the visual field at all.

Here is a first piece of evidence for this claim:
 Popeye said nothing. He squatted in his fight black suit, his right hand
 coat pocket sagging compactly against his flank, twisting and pinching
 cigarettes in his little, doll-like hands, spitting into the spring. His
 skin had a dead, dark pallor. His nose was faintly aquiline, and he had no
 chin at all. His face just went away, like the face of a wax doll set too
 near a hot fire and forgotten. (p. 5; my emphasis)


The spit with which Popeye here spoils the spring is, I suggest, the "substance" of disturbance, the stuff that disintegrates vision and object and makes it impossible to distinguish between them. It signals the enactment, within this first scene, of a drama that repeats and textually amplifies the modal derangement I've been describing, recasting that mode as the "content" of Sanctuary and permeating the novel's thematic register with the formal effects of an optical besmirchment that the novel will now explicitly link to a confrontation with oral expulsiveness. For let us make no mistake: the spring that Popeye expectorates into is the same one from which we have seen Horace drink. It's also--and more crucially--the spit-stained mirror upon whose surface the latter sees and fails to see himself reflected, since in "lean[ing]" to drink he first discovers "the broken and myriad reflection of his ... drinking," only to find upon rising up that this splintered and alien image of "self" has itself been replaced by the "shattered reflection of Popeye's straw hat" (p. 4). Vision becomes here a self-encounter that fails at the same time to find the self. Sanctuary starts with a specular scene--begins with a moment of narcissistic gazing--that wrecks the objectivizing function of vision by putting the "subject" in the externally visible place where the object should be. It proceeds to expose a self-alienation at the heart of psychic identity, supplanting the reflected "ego" with an alter (ego) in order to show that selfhood is grounded in visual identifications with an other who can't but take me away from "myself." But beyond both of these--and this is what's central--the novel insists that this specular drama cannot even enable the subject to find a coherence-in-self-alienation, since when the alien image "is" "me" it's already torn into bits and pieces, and since what comes then to take its place is less a human figure at all than an anti-figural dispersion of matter ("hat") that's triply incapable of reflecting back to me even the most fleeting or transient sense of egoic self-sufficiency. This "self" that I see when I look at my world--it's not-me, not-human--above all, not-whole. "I" can discover it only in pieces--only in liquid shards of refraction--and only in order to lose it once more in the slivered ruins of an obdurately fluid and self-obliterative objectality. Vision here fixes on nothing but "self" in the form of an anti-material matter that tends towards catastrophic dissipation. The subject who sees "is" the thing that it sees--is, indeed, all there is to be seen--but only inasmuch as the optical process is caught in the static turbulence of a "mirror" that breaks the two down as it scrambles them up, blending and rendering not subject and object but rather a kind of liminal stuff dispersed and suspended in a liquid that joins as it tears them--together--apart.(14)

But the point here is not just that Popeye's expulsion causes this ocular ruin. It's also that he embodies such spit, that he is vomit, and that he is it in anti-reflection of self in and as expulsive dispersion. His face is "like the face of a wax doll set too near a hot fire and forgotten." "He smells ... like that black stuff that ran out of Bovary's mouth and down her bridal veil when they raised her head" (p. 7). He is, in short, before he spits up, a viscous expulsion-in-disintegration,(15) which the novel insists is no less than "Horace" by capturing it from the very beginning in a mirror that repeats it by breaking apart in the act of reflecting the self in the other. Popeye "is" the insistently ocular return of self-as-oral-expulsion. His presence haunts this opening scene because it thickens the field of the optical, soiling it with a destructive viscosity that's both something "out there" to-be-seen and a nothing that cannot be "seen" at all because it is that part of the self that persists in the object that was once "within." Bovary's bilious oral ejection; the face that becomes a featureless mass by melting in ontological dissolve; the mirror reflection of splintering not-me, of myself as dispersed and liquid non-matter: these are expressions, though different in kind, of self as anti-material stuff in devolvingly liminal decomposition, whose ultimate logic is to break wholly down--catastrophically to implode--and to reveal itself in the process as the hole-in-being that the "subject" projects and builds up as object in order to be spared the terror of its own internal self-consumption. What Popeye forces Horace to see is both the seeping muculescence that he "is" and the nothing that such stuff can only stand in for. He makes him confront the space in between these liquidly shattered pieces of "me," and thus requires him optically to assimilate the tear or interior rent in being, whose original and nameless subjective recognition prompts a first projection of vomit-as-(no)thing into and as the world.

It's therefore useless to talk anymore of a "narrative mode" that's distinct from its "content." The novel spits out as contentual stuff the confrontation between eye and world enacted in the mode of its telling, just as--conversely--the book is "about" the ruin of vision performed by a mode whose dementing commitment to seeing-in-between is cast by the content as vomitory. Vomit spills over, ceaseless and sticky, from matter to mode and back again, and this means that "I" am mixed up in this world no less than Horace himself. I'm in it because the novel requires me to see it trough a narrative eye whose lunatic vision is also (and not) a disturbance on the side of a world into which I have been disgorged. I'm in it since "eye" and the world it discloses are mutually embroiled in a maddening process which is in fact caused by the fact of embroilment, and which by that token becomes a derangement that cannot ever be contained. And I'm in that world, above all else, in alien, viscous, and fractured non-being that must be described as regurgitative, because Sanctuary asks me to identify in it with selves that it labors before my eyes to turn into vomitory and inhuman "objects" that become the dispersed dissipation of "me" and tend to break down into (no)thing--a hole. Placed to begin with in Popeye's mad mind, I'm then forced to look quite helplessly on as that place where `T' begin by being is turned to an anti-figural reflection of "self" as shattered expectoration; asked then to identify optically with Horace, I not only have to confront that spit as an incoherent mirror-image of self, but am also haunted by the identificatory memory of a moment when Horace was himself no more than the blurry blot of an "object" lost in the space-in-between that he is.

There is indeed here no one to "see" through that doesn't turn into a vomitory (no)thing, no chance (conversely) of seeing through eyes that don't encounter the world vomitorily. Temple's face is said to be "putty" (p. 59) and thereby equated with the (no)thing of Popeye's. Snopes's face looks "like a pie took out of the oven to soon" (p. 210). The face of the woman who lets Ruby board with her is described as no less than a kind of "collapse" (p. 201), and Ruby is identified by way of her name with the stains of pink and dripping shrimp that Horace insensible feels himself to die into and become (p. 17). The "Negro murderer's" hand is a "blob" (p. 134). Temple's "insides move in small trickling clots" (p. 90), which then become linked to her outward appearance as her hair is called "clots" and "a curled spill of red" (pp. 56, 136, 36; my emphasis). Miss Reba's body is a "billow" amorphousness (p. 143), the faces of travelers are smeared into "stain" (p. 168), and Ruby's child is a slimy little mass, "slick with faint moisture, its hair a damp whisper" and its liquid eyes the color of "weak milk" (pp. 116, 160). Examples like these cannot--again--be made to say quite the same thing. What links them is their dementing insistence on making us "see" the human being, not in its hard or well-sculpted outline, but rather as a kind of material blur or incontinence of matter, which effaces its form in the act of devolving from solid into imperfect states, and which far from staying visually "in place," seeps out from under every attempt optically--imagistically--to fix it. Vomit becomes here a general condition that is the aberrant agony of matter. The human figure is haunted by its own material and a-figural dissipation, so that to "see" through any such figure is also to be made to regard oneself--to see the site from which one sees--transformed into one stage or other of matter collapsing vomitorily into (no)thing. At the extreme, and just as with Popeye, such matter resolves itself into a breach or anti-material hole, which the novel insists I visually take in as truth and destiny of "my" psychic being. Red's dead head has "a small blue hole" in it (p. 249). Temple's eyes are "empty as two holes," "with the blank rigidity of a statue's eyes" (pp. 69, 238). Her mouth opens "round ... like a small empty cave" and is "gaped and ugly like that of a dying fish" (pp. 138, 238). The woman whom the "Negro murderer" kills is visually reduced to the hole in her throat that spurts a "bloody regurgitation" (p. 114). Sleeping travelers are "sprawled ... open-mouthed, their heads turned ... upward as though waiting the stroke of knives" (p. 168). Miss Reba's mouth is a yawning cavity that gapes and chokes at every mention (p. 157), and even her dogs are said to have mouths that "gape ... pinkly upon needle-like teeth" (p. 146). It's pointless to extend the catalogue further. The list already tells us that, "beneath" the vomitory stuff in which I'm forced to find myself, there opens a hole or space-between being which the novel repeatedly thinks of as mouth, as if to insist that the "thing" that begins by being in me is a gnawing deprivation which is fantasized orally, and which "I" project and seek to call object in order at least to be spared self-consumption. The vomitory object "is" at bottom this exteriorization of an internal orifice. It appears here equally as regurgitating wound and in the form of devouring hole, because it bears the trace of a state in which "I" am both wounded and wounding--both the faceless interior cavity and the object of "oral" consumption--and in which to consume is therefore to cause a kind of internal bleeding or drain that spits my lifeblood out into the limitless void that opens within. The point of throwing up such a "thing" is to render objectal and practically assailable a devouring propensity that otherwise remains so bound up with "self" as to make it literally unmasterable. The fullest measure of Sanctuary's power resides perhaps just here: in that it requires us to see this (no)thing, not as an alien hostility out there, but as the self-consuming passion by which "I" am the unlovable "object," forcing me visually to take in as image an anti-imagistic being-as-nothing that makes me again the agentless agent of an unlocalized and bewildering violence.(16)

We already know that this is not what vision is meant to achieve. It should surmount the condition in question by establishing and sustaining a requisite distance between "myself" and the thing I spit up. It's meant to perfect an oral hatred that fails to keep me "out" of the object, and so to let me master a world that continues to threaten to impinge upon consciousness but now can appear to do so "from without," with a violence in which I remain unimplicated. We might even say that the "badness" of the world is the psychic rationale for the subject's drive toward that world's affectless visual mastery. If the object seeks to invade and devour me, do I not need, then, to repel and subdue it? If the world is "bad" by virtue of being the externalization of my internal mouth, must I not sublimate a failed oral hatred into a kind of optical triumph that lets me deny my own implication in the destructiveness of an object I can then keep at bay?

Sanctuary insists on this project's failure by running the eye inexorably back in the direction of a mouth that it merely repeats in images of violent and deranged reciprocity:
 Often in the night [Temple] would wake to smell tobacco and to see the
 single ruby eye where Popeye's mouth would be. (p. 225)

 She leaned beside the door, peering out, then came to the woman, her face
 small and pale, her eyes like holes burned with a cigar.... (p. 92)

 [Temple's] head was tousled, her face puffed, two spots of rouge on her
 cheekbones and her mouth painted into a savage cupid's bow. (p. 214; all
 emphases mine)


The mouth becomes here a burning "eye" that returns to sear an oral hole in the [)lace where the visual organ should be. It turns--equally--into a lethal weapon which requires the precision and distance of sight ("bow"), but which both is wielded from the site of blindness and takes for its target the ocular orbs ("cupid" is blind, and shoots out the eyes) in a manner that signals the debasement of sight into anti-visual and destructive orality. Such a debasement by way of equation is exactly the terrifying point of these moments. Sanctuary doesn't want merely to say that the mouth "destroys" or "spoils" the eyes, but also that it is an "eye"--that it's an agent of (blinded) vision--and that it is this only in the name of ruining sight by shooting or burning the eyes into oral-ocular holes. Vision fails to surmount the oral because it finds "itself" in the world, in and as a mouth that "sees" in order to wreck the eye that it is. Far from being an organ of distance that would let me stay out of the object and master it, the eye becomes lost in an oral proximity of which it is both subject and object.(17) "Eye" is mouth and mouth is "me"; the visual organ is a visionless hole that's forced to take in an "eye" called mouth; the mouth is an eye or instrument of sight that hollows the orbs into oral abysses ...: there is here no way out of a fantasy that makes the two organs exchangeable sites for the visually ruinous "imbibing" of a hole that the eye should not be--but that it "is"--and that it cannot now keep at bay. Popeye's eyes of "soft black rubber" (p. 4) represent merely art alternate image for this oral-ocular collapse. If they look like "knobs" that would "give to the touch and then recover with the whorled smudge of the thumb on them" (p. 6), this is because the identity of the seer is here "in" the object as much as in the eye, and the mark of the other has always already imprinted itself on an ocular organ that's thereby degraded to a vomitory consistency somewhere "between" a liquid and a solid. Nothing--finally--is more striking in this regard, and nothing more frightening either, than the blinded figure of the aged man that the novel labels "Pap": his eyes are simultaneously holes and filled with a vomitory stuff that makes them look like "clots of phlegm"; his name refers to a food that gives the impression of prior mastication, and so suggests that he is himself an expression of this "ocular" vomit; and the novel has him--irresistibly, inexorably--consume the very stuff that he "is" and that's already spit into his eyes, since it makes him a creature "whom the world can reach only through [the oral] sense," even as it insists he can't eat unless the disparate things on his plate are chopped and mixed and drenched with sorghum in a way that makes what he takes in a vomitory pap or mush (p. 12).

Eye as Pap, then, "Pap" as person--and "person" itself as nothing more than an oral orifice that blindly ingests the eye-mouth-pap that it already is. This is the nightmare that Sanctuary enacts as much in the mode of its representation as in its thematic "content." Pap is in fact a perfect figure for the novel's implied or ideal reader, whose "eye" the narrative mode solicits only in order to spit up into it, and whom it lets neither in nor out except in oral-ocular consumption of self in the mode of vomitory (no)thing. Words like "spluttered" (p. 55), "whorled" (pp. 3, 6), "clotted" (pp. 56, 316), "guttering" (p. 55), and "smutty" (p. 121); the "viscid smears" of heaven-tree blooms that lie on the sidewalk outside the jail; the inexplicable "smudge" that Popeye leaves, as a child, in a wastepaper basket (p. 304); and the "loblollies" that Horace and Narcissa make in the "canal of mud" of their childhood (p. 122)--these, too, are no more "motifs" than narrational attempts to render visible a visually obscene opacity of matter, which is the optical-oral black hole of a book that deploys a self-canceling mode in order to make me consume that breach. Let us sum up by counting the ways: the narrative eye is subjective-objective; the world that it sees is real-but-unreal; every moment is both now and then, and place is always here-over-there; the object is stickily present-but-absent, me-not-me, being-nothing; interpretive options are optionless options that suspend us between incommensurate explanations; the content of the book is a mode that ruins the visual access to content itself; and derangement--lastly--is everywhere-nowhere, a generalization of disturbed particularity that's indistinguishable from a narrative vision which at least pretends to objective apprehension.(18) What could a reader possibly "take away" from such an implosive encounter? How can anything like a meaning survive a mode that requires each element to take back in its determinate negation, failing even to respect in the process the inviolable distinction between seer and seen, subject and object, reader and the object of readerly attention?

It cannot, of course--and does not--survive. Meaning is here, like everything else, sucked back swirling into the field of its internal self-consumption. It's made at every determinate moment to include an opposite term that destroys it--to swallow again an alien portion whose expulsion alone lets it be itself--and then force-fed to the reader in the form of a significatory (no)thing, "meaningless and profound" (p. 4), which "roar[s] silently out of a peaceful void" that it thereby opens up in our insides (p. 296). Any attempt at a reading that's more "thematically" oriented than the one so far offered will have to confront this vomitory tendency toward oxymoronical (anti-)significance. It will have to confront the novel's tendency to "say" things that it also does not say, to equate thematic elements that it also seeks to pose in opposition. It will have to confront a book in which there is no sense but (non)sense, and in which all moral pronouncements or judgments are swallowed up by this meaningless meaning in order to keep us from finding "ourselves" at the site of any incorporable "good" that doesn't include, from before the beginning, the terror of a transitive and bad devouring. And it--this reading--will have to confront, perhaps above and beyond all else, the effects of such meaningful-moral collapse on the novel's treatment of gender and sexuality, by which the female object-to-be-mastered flows ceaselessly into the subject to-be-loved, and any attempt to spit out the bad is blocked by the introjective projection of "self" in the mode of a muculent hole. I want in a moment to sketch the contours of such a "thematic" reading of Sanctuary. For now it's enough to close, by noting that, if Pap is a figure for the ideal reader implied by such a ruinous process, the bird whose singing punctuates the opening stands perhaps as an expression of the novel's oxymoronic mode, as well as for the only "muse" that this (anti-)aesthetics of self-consumption could possibly manage to invoke: a vomitory muse, for a vomitory novel, spitting the meaningless profundity that we are up into our ears--our eyes--our mouths.

III. "Nature is `she' and Progress is `he'"(19)

Yet Sanctuary at least attempts to contain the threat of the (no)thing that it invokes by way of a certain "thematics" of gender. There are two central aspects to this containment. On one hand, the novel will try to project vomit "outward" and label it feminine, and so to insist that material incontinence and devouring hole are essentially "external" to the masculine self. On the other hand--and this is a corollary to the first--this movement requires that vision turn out to "work" and to be "masculine," since, though what it finds in the world may be (no)thing, at least that (no)thing is not for the moment an (anti-) reflection of masculine self, but is instead a feminine "object" that can in theory be found and mastered.(20) I'll argue later that Sanctuary also subverts the misogyny of such gestures in ways that are decisive. For now what's crucial is that we grasp that the defenses I've described are first performed (for us) by Horace, who retains a centrality at the level of theme that the novel modally denies to all characters.(21)

For the (no)thing that, as we have seen, Popeye ought to make Horace take in is almost immediately disavowed in the name of a certain "image" of woman. Horace sits in the very next scene with the men at the bootlegger's house, speaking of his wife and his reasons for leaving her in terms that both repeat and refigure the vomitory terms we've already encountered. "[I]t wasn't Little Belle that set me off.... It was a rag with rouge on it," he says. "[T]here it was, stuffed behind the mirror: a handkerchief where [Belle] had wiped off the surplus paint when she dressed ..." (p. 15). Or again, two pages later, in a passage to which I've already alluded:
 [I left my wife because] she ate shrimp.... And I still don't like to smell
 shrimp. But I wouldn't mind the carrying it home so much. I could stand
 that. It's because the package drips. All the way home it drips and drips,
 until after a while I follow myself to the station and stand aside and
 watch Horace Benbow take that box off the train and start home with it ...
 thinking Here lies Horace Benbow in a fading series of small stinking spots
 on a Mississippi sidewalk. (p. 17)


The incontinence of matter that the mode renders general is here thematically constrained, as it were, by a gesture that re-presents the stain as an exterior threat to a masculine psyche that finds in it a metonymy for a feminine sex that instigates horror. The rag stained red by his wife's "surplus paint," the stinking series of small pink spots that portend and consummate masculine death: both quite clearly figure for Horace the threat of an explicitly sexualized femininity. They rewrite vomit as a fluid whose color makes it the trigger of male revulsion, precisely inasmuch as that color enables the rouge on the rag and the spots of shrimp--the latter of which have the added "benefit" of an olfactory reference to the female genitals--to stand in for the menstrual fluid expelled by the woman as legible mark of a full-blown sexual maturity. Vomit is kept in check by its displacement onto an orifice belonging only to the "opposite" sex. Horace "knows" he isn't the stain--knows he is not the vomitory (no)thing that Popeye reflects back to him--because he has already learned that this stain refers to a female emission, and it's in the name of exactly this "knowledge" that he in fact flees from his wife in the first place. The fact that he does flee indicates the fragility of his projective defense, however. Knowledge of "woman" risks always becoming an epistemologico-sexual calamity in ways we shall have to determine. To fathom the depths of that threat, meanwhile, as well as how it flows from the menstrual, it's important to look at another account that Horace gives of the crisis that leads him to leave his wife and the "rich and foul" Delta whose swamps remind him of her (p. 15).

Here is the account I have in mind:
 From my window I could see the grape arbor, and in the winter I could see
 the hammock too. But in the winter it was just the hammock. That's why we
 know nature is a she; because of that conspiracy between female flesh and
 female season. So each spring I could watch the reaffirmation of the old
 ferment hiding the hammock; the green-snared promise of unease. What
 blossoms grapes have, that is. It's not much: a wild and waxlike bleeding
 less of bloom than leaf, hiding and hiding the hammock, until along in late
 May [Little Belle's] voice would be like the murmur of the wild grape
 itself. (p. 13)


This "waxlike bleeding less of bloom than leaf," which is meant as part of the projective guarantee that nature is a feminine exteriority to man, refers us back to the wax face of Popeye that Horace has encountered as "self," and it therefore makes visible the defensive transformation of vomit into feminine fluid that I'm describing. More crucial for our present purpose is the character of this female "nature," however. The "conspiracy" between femininity and season turns out to be linked to the cosmetic artifice that's contained in the reference to rouge we've examined, since the "feminine" bleeding that this passage calls nature is a kind of rampant and fecund unfolding which produces a native space of deception--of overtly feminine dissimulation--at the very core of the natural world. Nature is "she" because nature conceals, "hiding and hiding the hammock" from view; it conspires with the woman by abetting her purportedly inborn propensity for furtiveness, repeating and expressing the tendency of the female to wrap herself up in exfoliating and self-occluding self-extensions. Such self-extensions can no more be called "natural" than they can in any simple sense be labeled "artificial." Cosmetic artifice is the nature of woman--the "truth" or principle of feminine being--and it follows that, exactly inasmuch as nature is "she," the natural world itself takes on the character of its own self-perversion into artifice. The feminine bleeding that "is" nature's "ferment" becomes synonymous with an oxymoronical process of natural subterfuge. And since this generative artifice-nature hides the hammock precisely from view, the female principle with which it's equated must too be seen to be anti-visual. Femininity is, on this account, the oxymoronical seeping smear that opens up (by closing off) an invisible space in the field of the visible, becoming thereby both origin and "substance" of an anti-ocular hole-in-being that remains in this case, at the level of theme, stubbornly exterior to "man."

I'm suggesting that there is here a troubling of male vision which serves nonetheless to secure the distinction and psychic singularity of the masculine self. Horace sees the (no)thing "out there," as optico-representational ruin ([in]invisible, [un]natural), and this sight confirms his egoic integrity by showing him that the oxymoronical object is not after all "in here." Vision now breaks from the narcissistic circuit to find a properly external "object," despite the fact that the novel has thoroughly implicated sight in the oral. The vomitory confusion between inside and outside--which threatens the subject with self-consumption at the hands of a bad object outside-within--is stabilized by an optics that no longer finds a "self" in the object at all, but projects the threat of psychic self-canceling onto a feminine externality whose revealing-concealing natural artifice formally repeats the original experience of being a self-negating nothing. Sight thus becomes the psychico-cultural support for Horace's disavowals and projections. It mutates mysteriously, but not too surprisingly, into the sign and psychic mechanism for a culturally sanctioned displacement of (no)thing from mouth to vaginal opening. It transforms into the sense that "knows" the difference between the inside and outside, turning a genderless interior vomit into external female blood. And it performs this weird mutation in order to help secure a gendered opposition whose banal familiarity hardly mitigates its significance or cultural force. Horace has said that "nature is `she" in the mode of self-perversion into artifice; but he also believes that "Progress is `he'" (p. 15), in and as the masculine triumph of "law, justice, civilization" (p. 132). Woman takes on the burden of (no) thing as anti-ocular and seeping non-being, in order that man might always already appear to have progressed beyond it. Man is now in essence defined as the civilized and scopic surmounting of the violently disintegrative effects of vomit. When, accordingly, Horace later, in looking at a photograph of Little Belle, finds the image suddenly troubled "like something familiar beneath disturbed ... water," and discovers himself in horror and despair confronting a face "more blurred than sweet," "older in sin than he would ever be" (p. 167), the visual disturbance is rapidly righted and the image restored to its tender musings precisely because the troubling has been contained in advance by its association with a feminine exteriority over which male vision in principle always triumphs. Nothing--perhaps--speaks louder of this triumph, of both its assurance and its ultimate fragility, than the transformation of the mirror itself from a narcissistic implement into an instrument of objective vision and masculine knowledge. "There was a mirror behind [Little Belle] and another behind me," says Horace. "[S] he was watching herself in the one behind me, forgetting about the other one in which I could see her face, see her watching the back of my head with pure dissimulation. That's why nature is `she' and Progress is `he'; nature made the grape arbor, but Progress invented the mirror" (p. 15). The disasters of narcissism are here rewritten as a kind of natural female deceit where the woman successfully perverts the mirror in bleeding and "green-snared" self-multiplication, while man makes proper use of its surface for the progressive purpose of discovering and repudiating a coagulated female dissimulation "out there."(22)

This opposition between "he" and "she" is not, moreover, restricted to Horace, but is one that Sanctuary in part endorses. The primary site of this endorsement is Temple. Its mechanism parallels one with which we are by now familiar. Just as Horace displaces the (no)thing from Popeye-himself onto woman, so too the novel will humanize Popeye-the-corn-cob rapist by exposing the cruelties he has suffered in childhood and letting us hear the vulnerable "whinny" of his anguished and impotent sexual desire,(23) while at the same time dehumanizing Temple by making her nymphomaniac grotesqueries the final sign that she got what she deserved because she "wanted it" all along. More than Gowan's drunken irresponsibility in leaving her alone at the Old Frenchman place; more than the Jefferson District Attorney whose incendiary remarks, in prosecuting Goodwin, incite the lynching of an innocent man; more than the Southern patriarchy that made her, or even the gangster who kidnaps and rapes her, it's Temple's "grimace of taut, toothed coquetry" (p. 48) that the novel holds responsible for the terrible events of which she is one victim.(24) The terms in which it couches this censure bear a striking resemblance to those of Horace's cultural fantasy of woman, moreover. Unable not to play the coquette, even with men decidedly ungentlemanly, Temple manifestly acts out a "nature" whose purpose is to flaunt through artifice a sexualized body that it never in fact intends to give up. Her "clotted curls" and "curled spill of red' (pp. 56, 36) are now the involuntary outer expressions of an inner menstrual-sexual "ferment," but this exterior coagulation merely smears the sexual object with an inaccessible (in)visibility (the "clot" resists clear objectivization), in much the same way that the young girl herself is repeatedly shown to frustrate male vision in "running," "speeding," and "vanishing" "silhouette" while at the same time provoking that vision with a "squatting swirl of knickers or whatnot," "a fleet revelation of flank and thigh" (pp. 28, 30). Temple becomes the novel's main figure for the natural orifice of a sexual "bleeding" that reveals by concealing the object from view. The protraction of her bloody emission on the journey following her assault--during which time she sits "with her legs close together, listening to the hot minute seeping of her blood [and] saying ... to herself, I'm still bleeding, I'm still bleeding" (p. 137)--merely makes disturbingly clear the extent to which the novel rethinks the ontic hemorrhage at the heart of being in terms of an explicitly feminine draining which it--the book--has linked already to a natural-unnatural destruction of vision and of the male culture that vision secures.

It is exactly here, however, that Sanctuary also begins to undermine its effort at misogynist mastery. Three basic gestures are crucial to that subversion, and I want now to close by sketching them briefly as a way of suggesting the political stakes of the novel's ultimate commitment to vomit. The first point is simple: Sanctuary seeks to implicate itself in the toxic male violence which it is "about," in order to expose the extraordinary cost of the defenses which it requires us to perform. Popeye's assault on Temple is in fact an almost exact replication of the book's repudiations: an attempt to make the object bleed, and so to bring to the visual field the (in)visible and (un)natural (no)thing that man must not be--but that he is--and that he will try to escape by seeing. Rape is thus here the logical conclusion of the masculine mechanisms of projection and disavowal in which the novel and its characters engage. It's impossible for Horace--and through him, us--to repudiate Temple as stain or (no)thing without "becoming" the corncob rapist, as Popeye's action reveals the futility of masculine projects of visual mastery except as eroticized violation. It's unsurprising, in this regard, that the tool of such violation has itself here been orally ravaged ("gnawed bone-clean" [p. 93]). The detail suggests that if man is impotently incapable of the mastery that rape attempts to secure, this is not just because the phallus is prosthetic, but also because the tool of mastery bears the marks of a "prior" encounter with a (vomit)orality from which it cannot ever escape.

It's clear from Popeye's name, moreover--and this is the second point--that this erotico-scopic violence belongs to the masculine law that prohibits it as much as does the (no)thing it denies. "Pop" = father, and "eye" = sight. Popeye is both a "Daddy" to Temple (p. 236) and a creature of visual predilections, who begins the novel as a nameless pair of eyes, takes his sexual "pleasure" in watching (p. 258), and is evoked throughout the book as a will-to-visual-mastery. The fathers whom "justice" serves in the novel can thus be seen as disguised repetitions of an impotent voyeur who rapes a girl to deny that he in fact "is" her. A member of the mob that lynches Goodwin says when he

sees Horace: "Do to the lawyer what we did to [Goodwin]. What he did to her. Only we never used a cob. We made him wish we had used a cob" (p. 296). "Justice" quite literally repeats here the act that it seeks at the same time to punish. "We got to protect our girls," says another man, because we "Might need them ourselves" (p. 298), and the ominous implication of the statement is of a kind of paternal rape of "our girls" in the name of their incorporative protection. Temple is, in this regard, exactly like the dogs at the whorehouse who hide from the drunken violence of their mistress: "savage, petulant, spoiled, the flatulent monotony of their sheltered lives snatched up without warning by an incomprehensible moment of terror and fear of bodily annihilation at the very hands which symbolized by ordinary the licensed tranquility of their lives" (p. 155). She too is violated by the (paternal) hand that symbolizes the licensed tranquility of her existence. Popeye's hand is her father's hand--and her father's hand is Popeye's--since if Popeye is on one hand "Daddy," Judge Drake is on the other Popeye, both in the mode of vomitory (no)thing and of its sexually violative denial. When the Judge comes to take Temple from the courthouse after she has doomed Goodwin to the bonfire, the language is so explicitly sexualized as to suggest that the father performs the act that he's meant here to avenge (he walks "erect" "down the aisle" beside her; she "cringe[s] back, her body arching slowly" in a "shrinking and rapt abasement" [p. 289]). When the judge sits, in the book's final scene, with "his hands crossed on the head of his stick" (p. 317), the novel reveals his implication in the (no)thing that the violence of "justice" disavows, since the detail links him to the patriarch Pap, whom we know is a blind and self-eating expulsion, and who also sits "in a splint-bottom chair [with] his hands crossed on the head of a ... stick" (pp. 4243). It's not by chance then that Temple invokes and accuses the "old man with ... clots for eyes" at the moment of her rape. "`Something is happening to me!'" she says, "scream[ing] at [the old man], sitting in his chair ... his hands crossed on the top of his stick.... `I told you all the time!'" (p. 102). Pap is the internal truth of a Judge who "is" at the same time Popeye, and the scream is thus both a plea to be saved and a charge that's leveled at a masculine law that enacts by proxy the rape it deplores. Temple's repeated "my father's a judge" (p. 51) performs in this light an identical function. It invokes as protection against her assault a figure of the law that sanctions it, indicating also that justice is blind by linking this patriarch implicitly to the one with whom she pleads when raped, and indicting the father in advance for the miscarriage of justice--internal to justice--that convicts and kills both Goodwin and Popeye for crimes they did not commit.

Finally, though, the collapse in question is perhaps most evident in the rape scene itself. For the structural amnesia within that scene, whereby the narrative mode elides the book's horrific central "event," signals the triumph of mode over theme at the moment of Temple's most brutal desecration. Sanctuary seeks here to spill us modally into a rape that it thus (un)depicts. Refusing to give us the act itself as a simple "object" of knowledge--ceaselessly circling "around" the event, representing it repeatedly in displaced form and leading us up to it only to blot it--the book no more lets us decline to envision the assault than it allows us to "see" it. It forces us, indeed, to visualize it, but only from the position of a radical internality. It makes us want to see the rape while refusing ever to "represent" it. It gives us an external vantage point on it only in the "phlegm-clots" which Faulkner has watch over it (p. 102), and which--as we know--aren't external at all. And it thus makes us regard the event as the blot of a narrative space-in-between, requiring us to place ourselves "in" it in order to see what it doesn't quite "show," and so to engage in an ocular consumption which spatters us out across the act's surface and swallows us into the "objects" that we "see." To try to know the event "objectively" would be to be essentially Popeye, who also strives for an affectless mastery of an object that he insists isn't him. To be smeared, on the other hand, by the novel, into its vomitory textures, is to be forced to "see" oneself instead as Popeye-Temple: victim and victimizer, subject and object, eye and mouth, culture and nature--and of course, perhaps most importantly, masculine-feminine, (wo)man. Horace is himself seeped into this collapsing "extensive identity"(25) when Temple tells him the story of her rape in a way that elides it as much as the narrative, focusing exclusively on "the night which she had spent in comparative inviolation" (p. 215). For within the impossibility of knowing and mastering an event that's never "given," he's forced (if he's to "know" it at all) to collaborate in the attack itself by psychically placing himself in it. He's forced--we're forced--to circulate in the "space" of Popeye-Temple. We're made not only to be Popeye at the moment of the latter's most toxic self-assertion, but also to confront the vomitory collapse of all the distinctions that such an assertion attempts to establish. We're made to participate in a rape in which the male "tool" has been orally savaged, and in which--conversely--the female victim says that she "thought about being a man and, as soon as [she] thought it, it happened. It made a kind of plopping sound, like blowing a rubber tube wrong-side outward," and "It felt cold, like the inside of your mouth when you hold it open" (p. 220). We're forced to inhabit this penile cavity as we spill into the narrative lacuna, and so to become at once a woman who invents for herself a phallic instrument while hollowing it into an oral hole ("like the inside of your mouth ...") and a man who "has" no such tool except in the form of a phallic prosthesis that has been "gnawed bone-clean." And we're forced--accordingly--to rape and be raped, to be the excessively "civilized" violator and the (un)natural object of violation, and so to circulate in a (vomit)orality that spreads us out as the spaces between the distinctions that culture both sanctions and requires.

Vomit is thus what modally abrupts here to ruin the violence of gender identity. Sanctuary gives thematic voice to an almost gynocidal misogyny, only the better to spew us into the object of our dispassionate detestation. The rape at its "center" is both an expression of the violence inherent in the Mil-to-singularity in which the book encourages us to engage, and a kind of modal subversion of that gynophobic intention. Such a subversion entails, in its turn--and I think we can see what's at stake in this now--a complete and radical renunciation of the act of signification itself. Sanctuary does not in any sense seek to give us an anti-misogynist "message." It causes us, rather, as we have seen, to be dispersed within the "images" of its defensive misogyny, in a way that collapses all the distinctions that allow such images to "communicate" at all. The novel's most serious political statement resides in just this gesture, which links misogyny to the thematico-ocular attempt to master an external object, and then sets out systematically to thwart the psychic mechanisms that sustain the differences enabling such confident appropriations. The result is that there is no longer a place "outside" from which to receive the book's misogynist communication. Nor is there a way to be "in" it, except by submitting to be dispersed within the viscosity of its self-devouting and the muculent fluidity of its identificatory poles. Finally then, if, as Horace says elsewhere, "there's a corruption about even looking upon evil" (p. 129; my emphasis), we might in the light of what we have gathered rewrite the statement as follows: the vomitory (no)thing which I try to call "woman" is one that "corrupts" because it's already (in) me, and because the novel demands "I" consume it in a ruinously masculine and ocular ingestion that prevents the thematic imbibing of significance. Sanctuary could then itself be thought of as a monstrous and non-sanctuarial "object" which devours by making us see ourselves "there": spilled into the object of vision as a vomitory and (anti-)ocular hole within what we like to call our "selves."

(1) Thanks to Seth Moglen and Danny Kim for their invaluable assistance--editorial and otherwise--in preparing this essay for publication.

(2) "The School of Cruelty," Saturday Review of literature, 21 (March 1931), reprinted in William Faulkner: The Critical Heritage, ed. William Bassett (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975), p.108.

(3) Times Literary Supplement, September 24, 1931, p. 732.

(4) "The Past and Future of William Faulkner," Bookman, September 1931, reprinted in Critical Heritage, pp. 120, 123-125.

(5) American Literature, 1880-1930 (1932), reprinted in Critical Heritage, p. 134. See also the final sentence of the TLS review cited above (p. 732). It's worth perhaps remarking that, despite the preponderance of comments like those quoted, the early reviews are not wholly negative and, indeed, often rank the novel higher in the Faulkner canon than most critics would today. See R.E. Sherwood's review, Scribner's Magazine, April 1931, 13 and Oakley Johnson's review, Modern Quarterly (Winter 1931-32), 123, for largely positive assessments. More ambivalent responses, which praise the novel's power while bemoaning its lack of moral vision, include those of Hicks, Canby, and John Chamberlain, "Dostoyefsky's Shadow in the Deep South," The New York Times Book Review, February 15, 1931, p. 9.

(6) General Psychological Theory, ed. Philip Rieff (New York: Collier, 1963), pp. 214-215.

(7) Jacqueline Rose makes a similar point when, in a remarkable essay on negativity in Klein, she argues that "The lost object is not ... only the hallucinated object of satisfaction. but also "an object which ... is required--is actively sought after--in order to be bad." On this reading "the genesis of the ... Kleinian bad object is nothing less than the genesis of the object itself." "The persecutory object-relation rises up as the first defence against something without `definite name and shape,'" and "Object-relations are `improvements on' ... primordial ... anxiety" to the exact extent that "distrust of the object is better than despair." (Why War?--Psychoanalysis, Politics, and the Return to Melanie Klein [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1993], pp. 151-152.)

(8) I'm here elaborating on Klein's basic claim that "The fear of the destructive impulse seems to attach itself at once to an [external] object," and that this "destructive impulse projected outwards is first experienced as oral aggression." It is, from here, just one short step to the further speculation I derive from Faulkner: that the "first" experience of the death drive within is also bound up with oral fantasy, and that the thing "I" originally spit up is a mouth that seeks internally to devour me. See Klein, "Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms" (1946), in the Selected Melanie Klein, ed. Juliet Mitchell (New York: Macmillan-Free Press, 1986), pp. 179-180.

(9) Review of Sanctuary, Scribner's Magazine April 1931, p. 13. My emphasis.

(10) My thinking on some of the points here enumerated is much indebted, as will become clear, to three of the finest pieces written on a book that's been graced with an impressive amount of good scholarship: Andre Bleikasten's Sanctuary section in The Ink of Melancholy (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990); George Toles's "The Space Between: A Study of Faulkner's Sanctuary." Twentieth Century Interpretations of "Sanctuary," ed. J. Douglas Canfield (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1982), pp. 120-128; and John T. Matthews's "The Elliptical Nature of Sanctuary," Novel 17 (1984), 246-265.

(11) Sanctuary: The (Corrected Text (New York: Vintage, 1993), pp. 34.

(12) Cf. Toles, "Space Between," p. 120. I like to think of the current discussion as an extension of Toles's provocative remarks into a fully psychoanalytic terrain.

(13) It's perhaps worth noting here that, by eliminating a more recognizable "subjectivism" while also refusing a simple "objectivity," Faulkner's revisions to the original manuscript contribute to obscuring attributions such as this one: the early version has Horace explicitly "listen to" the singing, and makes the entire auditory cluster a less ambiguous function of this consciousness. See Sanctuary: The Original Text, ed. Noel Polk (New York: Random House, 1981), pp. 21-22.

(14) Lacan speaks of "the affective value which the gestalt of the vision of the whole body-image [in the mirror-phase] may assume," contrasting that image with "a background of organic disturbances and discord, in which all the indications are that we should seek the origins of the image of the `body in bits and pieces' ... This illusion of unity, in which a human being is always looking forward to self-mastery, entails a constant danger of sliding back again into the chaos from which he started." ("Some Reflections on the Ego," International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 34 [1953], p. 15). I'm suggesting that Sanctuary may be thought to effect just such a "sliding back" in the visual, to eclipse the image of bodily integrity with the "background" of a body in bits and pieces, and to do so by forcing vision to discover a vomitory object that "is" the self in the place where reflected unity should be.

(15) It is for this reason irrelevant that the scene of Horace's failed reflection takes place "before" Popeye spits in the spring. From the moment that the latter's image even touches the water's surface, he has in fact already "spit" into it because he is the vomitory "object" that he also expels.

(16) See here Bleikasten's discussion of the mouth in Sanctuary, Ink of Melacholy, pp. 247-248.

(17) It would not be too difficult to show here that Freud's account, in "Instincts and Their Vicissitudes" (1915), of the scoptophilic instinct corroborates this breakdown, even though the essay itself will toy to insist that vision represents the surmounting of oral proximity. See "Instincts," General Psychological Theory, pp. 94-95.

(18) Walter Slatoff's Quest for Failure: A Study of William Faulkner (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1960) performs a brilliant analysis of the centrality of oxymoron in Faulkner's work. My essay owes a general debt to his descriptions and analyses. It would also be possible to use this trope in an effort to give some speculative content to the common critical claim for Sanctuary as a kind of "modern gothic": the gothic is, as Rosemary Jackson suggests, an historical instance of a more capacious mode that she calls "fantasy," and "What emerges as the basic trope of fantasy is [once more] the oxymoron, a figure of speech which holds together contradictions and sustains them in an impossible unity" (Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion [London: Methuen, 1981], p. 21).

(19) The arguments in this section draw eclectically and implicitly on a wealth of recent insights by feminist Faulknerians, especially Gall Mortimer, Faulkner's Rhetoric of Loss (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983) and Carolyn Porter's anatomy of patriarchy in "Symbolic Fathers and Dead Mothers," in Faulkner and Psychology: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1991, ed. Donald M. Kartiganer and Ann J. Abadie (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994), pp. 78-122.

(20) For reasons of space, I've elected here not to look in detail at Sanctuary's scenes of "actual" vomiting, but it would be possible to show that such scenes conform to the logic I am describing, in that they both seek to expel the (no)thing as a feminine exteriority and--ultimately--fail to do so.

(21) Here I am in partial agreement with Cleanth Brooks's claim that the masculine "discover), of evil [in Sanctuary] is bound up with [Horace's] discovery of the true nature of woman." The difficulty is that Brooks--like Fiedler, Guerard, and Maxwell Geismar--in fact complies with the novel's misogyny in a way that blinds him to its critique, since he is himself incapable of stepping outside of the novel's gynophobic equations. See William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), pp. 127-128. For a critique of this tendency in Faulkner's male critics, see Judith Bryant Wittenberg, "William Faulkner: A Feminist Consideration" (1982), in Modern Critical Views: William Faulkner, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea, 1986), pp. 23-245.

(22) Matthews offers a brilliant account of nature's relation to culture in the novel, focusing on the figure of ellipsis as what both marks and effaces their boundary ("Elliptical Nature"). In seeking--in part--to gender his reading, my argument at points leans heavily on his.

(23) On the role of these two moments--the account of Popeye's voyeuristic "sexuality" and the final chapter's description of his childhood--in revealing a new dimension to Popeye, see T.H. Adamowski, "Faulkner's Popeye: The `Other' As Self," in Twentieth Century Interpretations, pp. 3248.

(24) Recent critics often behave as if to say this is to endorse the novel's misogyny. My point is rather that Faulkner invents a character who satisfies the male fantasy that female sexuality is incipiently depraved and women are responsible for their own violation. To miss this is to miss something crucial about the novel, and thus quite seriously to cripple attempts to get at what might be less politically disturbing--indeed, more politically promising--in it.

(25) I borrow this term from Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit's extraordinary chapter on Alain Resnais in Arts of Impoverishment: Beckett, Rothko, Resnais (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993).

FORTER GREGORY

University of California3
COPYRIGHT 1996 Mississippi State University
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:FORTER, GREGORY
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 1996
Words:12774
Previous Article:Jason's Role-Slippage: The Dynamics of Alcoholism in The Sound and the Fury.
Next Article:Sutpen's Designs: Masculine Reproduction and the Unmaking of the Self-Made Man in Absalom, Absalom!
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters