Godden, Richard. William Faulkner: An Economy of Complex Words.
Opening on the observation that most of those who study the relationships between literature and the economy conceptualize those relationships in terms of analogy (i.e. "words have their economies ... because language and economy are both arbitrary systems of exchange" ), Richard Godden undertakes to "establish a causal rather than arbitrary connection between the work of Faulkner's words and the work of the economy" in the United States South in the 1940s and 1950s. More particularly he is interested in changes in agriculture and land ownership following the New Deal, the disappearance of the sharecropper, the increase in migration out of the region by displaced tenants, and the infusion of northern capital which "shifted" the landed class's "pattern of dependency from black labor to northern capital" (2). Exploring the mourning of the landed class over the loss of African American labor, and hence part of itself, in Faulkner's fiction of these decades, William Faulkner: An Economy of Complex Words is a continuation of the work begun in Fictions of Labor. Where the earlier study examined the impact of slavery, a "pre-modern labor trauma," on Faulkner's fiction of the thirties, this new book "argues that Faulkner spends the next two decades resolving the impact of that founding trauma's loss" (4).
Godden focuses on three novels: The Hamlet(1940), Go Down, Moses (1942), and A Fable (1954), returning in his analyses of each to the scene of southern white loss, mourning, and desire through the elucidation of subtle sexual and excretory associations that reveal a network of queer longings precipitated by the displacement of black labor by capital. In The Hamlet, Ratliffs longing for a "blackened" Flem, or at least what that Flem represents, a residual populism (in part), is a manifestation of Ratliffs own removal from the land and the tenant class to which he, like the Snopes clan, traditionally belonged.
Roth Edmunds's search for "his own face" in the face of Lucas attests to the momentary suggestion of an emancipatory pull in Go Down, Moses that could produce, if anyone wanted it, "an independent African American voice," but, Godden asserts, no one (i.e. neither Lucas nor Roth) wants it (86). What he terms the "floating phalloi" of Go Down, Moses " are ... fetishes: open to disavowal, they stand in the place of a lost thing," i.e. African American laboring bodies (155). Godden's discussion of "Pantaloon in Black" is excellent in its emphasis on Rider as "rogue labor" in a transitional southern economy. Reading the chapters on Go Down, Moses, I was reminded of Thadious B. Davis's Games of Property: Law, Race, Gender, and Faulkner's Go Down, Moses(2003), which is also very invested in questions of white guilt and shame and African American departures, and, read together, these two books make an invaluable contribution to the understanding of race in this period of Faulkner's career. In two chapters on the little-studied A Fable, Godden returns to the transitional moment in the southern economy by way of a compelling exploration of the hidden Jew as "an alien who defines the power elite" (178), subsequently linking the figure of the hidden Jew to the African American presence which has become an absence.
Throughout this study of loss, Godden resists the loss of the referent that characterizes Saussurean readings, tracing, instead, its displacement (Flem's black bowtie against the white expanse of shirtfront recalls Ab Snopes's club foot as it smears mud on an expensive rug in a landholder's home, then recalls male sexuality, then race, then the loss of black labor). As a result, his approach is appropriately temporal and historical. In his treatment of "Pantaloon in Black," Godden notes that he has been "fabricating a scene from the recurrent parts of other scenes" (98). In fact, this is his practice elsewhere in the book as well. Moreover, his "fabricated" (one might say, instead, "excavated" or "excreted") scenes are themselves part of the construction of a larger queer narrative detailing the unspoken intimacies of male labor relations. Dense in its close readings, in its word play ("Lucas" evokes "lousious," "looshiouse," "'lushious' and 'luscious' together" ), in its ultimately persuasive associative networks, and always returning to the material conditions that produce the textual associations, William Faulkner: An Economy of Complex Words is an important contribution to Faulkner studies.
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|Publication:||Studies in American Fiction|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2008|
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