Printer Friendly

Persons in Pieces: Race and Aphanisis in Light in August.

He turned the pages in steady progression, though now and then he would seem to linger upon one page, one line, perhaps one word. He would not look tip then. He would not move, apparently arrested and held immobile by a single word which had perhaps not yet impacted, his whole being suspended by the single trivial combination of letters in quiet and sunny space, so that hanging motionless and without physical weight he seemed to watch the slow flowing of time beneath him....

-- William Faulkner, Light in Augment.(1)

The subject is born in so far as the signifier emerges in the field of the Other. But, by this very fact, this subject--which, [sic] was previously nothing if not a subject coming into being--solidifies into a signifier.

-- Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis.(2)

It would be easy for you to write Joe Christmas into a separate novel, but the anthologist can't pick him out without leaving bits of his flesh hanging to Hightower and Lena.

-- Malcolm Cowley to William Faulkner.(3)

IN 1905, Miss ANNIE CHANDLER CAVE EIGHT-WAR-OLD William Faulkner a copy of Thomas Dixon's The Clansman.(4) Miss Chandler was Faulkner's first grade teacher; The Clansman was the primer of white supremacy. Either out of respect for Miss Chandler or appreciation of the novel itself, Faulkner kept the copy, which was in his Rowan Oak library at the time of his death.(5) The significance of Miss Chandler's gesture--the teacher transmitting the sacred cultural text to the student--should not be overlooked, nor should the influence that Dixon's novel had upon the images reverberating in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha novels and even his nonfiction rhetoric. Indeed, in the infamous 1956 interview with Russell Howe, which Faulkner later repudiated, he declared that he would oppose enforced integration "even if it meant going out into the street and shooting Negroes."(6) This statement evokes the Dixonian fantasy of armed Negro invasion supported by the Federal government, with Faulkner himself as the loyal son of the South, defending his homeland after the fashion of Ben Cameron in The Clansman. Statements like those he made in the Howe interview suggest that in spite of his critical role in reinterpreting the region's history, Faulkner was "caught up in the collective mind of the South."(7)

In Sanctuary, Light in August, Absalom, Absalom!, and Go Down, Moses, Faulkner struggles with the Negrophobe narrative as he self-consciously revises the Dixonian romance of the Negro Rapist and the White Avenger. Of these four novels, Light in August (1932) is the one in which Faulkner reckons most fully with the consciousness of a putatively African-American character, even though that consciousness is carefully contained inside narratives of white voices. Regina Fadiman's study of Faulkner's composition process suggests that Joe Christmas emerged gradually from early drafts. Faulkner wrote the Christmas flashback material (chapters 6 through 12) after writing the material involving Lena Grove, Byron Bunch, and Gail Hightower. Christmas's crime was originally a vehicle to bring together the lives of these other characters, but Christmas became so compelling that Faulkner kept adding episodes to his early life in the flashback.(8) The shift of dramatic emphasis from Lena, Byron, and Hightower to Joe Christmas reveals Faulkner's recognition of the Negrophobe myth at the heart of the (white) Southern consciousness. Moreover, Faulkner's revisions of earlier drafts reinforced the arbitrary nature of the Negrophobe definition of "nigger," for as Fadiman also notes, Faulkner deleted all definitive references to Christmas's racial origins (p. 42). The uncertainty surrounding his origins ("these country bastards are likely to be anything," says Max) reveals the extent to which "racial" identities are ideological and psychological constructions rather than biological facts.

Faulkner was born in 1897, just one year after the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which upheld the constitutionality of segregation and rigidified the "color-line." Although Plessy v. Ferguson dealt with the question of segregation ostensibly on interstate transportation, its "separate but equal" ruling was used as the legal basis for all public segregation in the United States until it was overturned by the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision in 1954. The Plessy decision not only defined American "race" relations for much of the twentieth century but also conferred reality on the very concept of "race." The team of lawyers and concerned citizens who wanted to challenge the constitutionality of Louisiana's "Jim Crow" railroad statutes purposely chose for their test-case Homer Plessy, a man who appeared "white" but who could be classified as a Negro according to the one-drop rule.(9) According to Albion Tourgee in his brief on Homer Plessy's behalf, the real question before the Court was "the right of the State to label one citizen white and another as colored" (quoted in Woodward, p. 226, emphasis mine). The decision thus confirmed racial difference as something that could be named, defined, and legislated, even if invisible. In his dissenting opinion in the case, Justice John Marshall Harlan compared the Court's decision to the Dred Scott decision of 1857,(10) which denied even freed men of African heritage rights as United States citizens. In Harlan's words, the "real meaning" of the Louisiana segregation statutes upheld in Plessy was that African-American citizens "are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches" with whites; the statutes themselves were designed to place "the brand of servitude and degradation upon a large class of our fellow citizens" (quoted in Olsen, pp. 118, 119-120).

As C. Vann Woodward notes, the Jim Crow Statutes, protected and mandated by the Supreme Court, "put the authority of the state or city in the voice of the street-car conductor, the railway brakemen, the bus driver, the theater usher, and also into the voice of the hoodlum of the public parks and playgrounds. They gave free rein and the majesty of the law to mass aggressions that might otherwise have been curbed, blunted, or deflected."(11) American race relations could have taken another course after the Civil War, but the Plessy v. Ferguson decision etched in stone the racist ideology that would shape race relations in the twentieth-century United States (Strange, p. 47). Plessy insured that the label "nigger" would have not only a psychological but a physical impact as well: the "namer" was legally sanctioned to exclude or separate "niggers" from (white) others and, by implication of statutory segregation, extralegally sanctioned to impose physical harm on "niggers" who tried to get too close--economically, socially, or sexually. The Supreme Court of the United States granted European-Americans the right to "cut" African-Americans socially and physically. In the words of Eric Sundquist, the Court's rulings reduced African-Americans "before the law, and at times literally in body, to human fragments."(12)

Like many other Americans in the first half of the twentieth century, Joe Christmas is subject to the legal, social, and psychological ramifications of the Jim Crow statutes that his very name echoes,(13) and his fragmented "black" body becomes a metaphor for the segregated United States. Joe's meditations, "All I wanted was peace" and "Something is going to happen to me" (pp. 112, 104), reveal the precarious nature of his psyche, for he is racked with tension that issues in broken bodies. His presence in the novel explains the narrative fragmentation, for his instability destabilizes the narrative. The stories of Lena, Joe, Hightower, Stevens, and the furniture merchant are all "formally distinct pieces"(14) that cohere in a radically unstable bond, "a six-plots-in-one-chaos."(15) The novel's "willfully centrifugal movement"(16) suggests the forces threatening to destroy Joe. Although Faulkner also uses multiple narrators in The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, this technique has a different effect in Light in August. While Caddy Compson and Addie Bundren are objects of desire in the narratives which revolve around their absence, Joe Christmas is a disruptive presence that the narrative refuses to incorporate/integrate in the spirit of racial segregation.

In spite of critical doubt about the efficacy of Light in August's structure, the novel-in-pieces is the fitting narrative form for the body-in-pieces. Leo Bersani notes the prominence of fragmentation in the modern narrative, and particularly in contemporary literature, where "putting `persons in pieces' ... becomes an appropriate image for the process of violently deconstructing the self."(17) Light in August anticipates the kind of narrative Bersani discusses, for unlike post-Plessy novels such as Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, where mutilated bodies are narratively peripheral, and Larsen's Passing, where Clare's "glorious body mutilated" is mysteriously preempted before Irene sees it, Faulkner's narrative foregrounds both broken bodies and the process by which human beings are reduced to fragments. The violent deconstruction of the self is another manifestation of aphanisis--what Lacan defines in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis as the eclipse of the subject by a signifier--because falling to pieces or alternately putting other persons in pieces is intimately connected to racist naming and defining, especially the ugly signifier "nigger."(18) In Light in August, as in many other early twentieth-century narratives of African-American subjectivity, corporal disintegration precedes the disappearance implicitly demanded in racist naming.

Signification and Subjectivity: Names and Words

Byron Bunch comments upon the radical disjunction between the word and the thing in Light in. August: "It was like me, and her, and all the other folks that I had to get mixed up in it, were just a lot of words that never even stood for anything, were not even us, while all the time what was us was going on and going on without even missing the lack of words" (pp. 401-402). For Byron, Lena's pregnancy and her lover's existence are unreal until he hears the baby's cry. Until then (and some would argue, even afterward), Byron, Lena, and all the residents of Jefferson are caught in a web of signifiers, what Faulkner calls "the lack of words" in uncanny anticipation of Lacanian rhetoric. According to Lacan, "the subject appears first in the Other, in so far as the first signifier ... emerges in the field of the Other and represents the subject for another signifier, which other signifier has as its effect the aphanisis of the subject" (Four Fundamental Concepts, p. 218). The subject is eclipsed in his dialogue with the Other by the signifier that represents him. For Byron Bunch, as for Lacan, the symbolic realm, the world of words, mediates the Real for the subject and mediates the subject for the Other. But for Joe Christmas, the dilemma of being represented by a signifier for yet another signifier is more dire than for Byron, who steps back from the web of signifiers after hearing the baby's cry and discerns the reality he envisions as independent of words. When Joe reads his detective magazine on the morning of Joanna's murder, "his whole being [is] suspended by the single trivial combination of letters" on the page (p. 112), a metaphor for the suspension of being he experiences in the word "nigger," a word that eventually leads to the violent discontinuity of body and being when Percy Grimm hacks away at him with bullets and knives. "The lack of words" for Joe is not merely their absence (although Joe himself is hardly loquacious), but the absence they create within him, as him: Lacan's manque-a-etre, the want-to-be (Four Fundamental Concepts, p. 29). Although James Snead claims that "Light in August depicts how Joe Christmas resists signification,"(19) arbitrary signifiers in fact have a very real impact on his physical being.(20) And as T.H. Adamowski notes. "le maitre mot, le mot magique" for Joe Christmas is "nigger."(21)

All the characters in Light in August are linked in a rigid social structure whose cornerstone is race. This structure becomes apparent in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha fiction even as early as 1930 in the short story "Dry September," in which Faulkner demonstrates the concomitance of the Southern definitions of "lady" and "nigger." In this short story, there is a radical disjunction between words and reality, but there is a rigid pattern in the relationship among the signifiers. To reclaim her status as Southern lady, Minnie Cooper must be defined in relation to a "nigger rapist," so she accuses Will Mayes. To secure their own definitions as white men, the members of McLendon's lynch mob sacrifice Mayes even though they recognize that the real person signified by "nigger" did not perform the acts of which he has been accused. When someone questions whether the rape really happened, McLendon cries with disgust, "Happen? What the hell difference does it make? Are you going to let the black sons get away with it until one really does it?"(22) In Light in August, a similar juxtaposition with an accused Negro rapist allows Lena Grove and Joanna Burden to be reassimilated by the society whose codes they have transgressed and allows Percy Grimm to establish his manhood, if not his humanity. Throughout Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha narratives, all definitions are relative to the term "nigger," even though that word, like all others, "never even stood for anything" (LIA, pp. 401-402).(23)

Perhaps because those surrounding Christmas have no concrete proof of his racial heritage, they label him insistently with the epithet "nigger," which appears in various forms 135 times in the novel.(24) When he is a small child at the orphanage, the other children (prompted by Doc Hines) holler "Nigger! Nigger!" when he attempts to play with them (p. 371). Breaking with her role as a nurturer, the dietitian calls him "little nigger bastard" when she fears he will reveal her sexual indiscretions to the matron (p. 122). The dietitian's verbal barrage sets the tone for all Christmas's intimate relationships, for he will have the epithet hurled at him by friends and lovers throughout his life. Bobbie Allen, the waitress/prostitute with whom he has his first love affair, screams out her anger at him, "Me f * king for nothing a nigger son of a bitch" (p. 218), an interjection accompanied tellingly by the physical blows with which Bobbie's male friends pummel Christmas, though her hateful words are perhaps the deadlier weapon. While Joe Brown (Lucas Burch) otherwise attempts to imitate Christmas's dress and behavior, he resorts to the inevitable racist naming when angry, telling Christmas he is "damn niggerblooded" and a "nigger" (pp. 103-104). Even Joanna Burden, who is too polite to say "nigger," relishes calling him "Negro" in bed and lets him know in other subtle ways that she wants him to play that role. For example, when she leaves food out for him in the kitchen instead of dining with him in the house, he understands her meaning: "set out for the nigger. For the nigger" (p. 238). Eric Sundquist's contention that "white nigger" is Joe Christmas's "true, schizophrenic name" (Faulkner, p. 73) reveals the power of insistent naming to shape the identity of the one so named, for no one--not the critics nor even Christmas himself--knows whether Christmas has African heritage.

In Yoknapatawpha County, where the white population controls the official discourse, the word "nigger" has an entrenched, tacitly accepted meaning. As Charles Nilon argues, Faulkner in Light in August explores "the social responses of an individual and the people around him" to those connotations.(25) One such connotation is crime, so that the sheriff automatically attempts to complete the crime scene by adding a "nigger" to it. Even before Christmas is suspected of killing Joanna, much less of having black blood, the sheriff says, "Get me a nigger," and the deputy promptly returns with a randomly selected man to interrogate (p. 291). The townspeople indulge in familiar, if pointless, racist rituals, beating the anonymous black man to obtain information that they, in fact, already possess: "`It's that fellow Christmas, that used to work at the mill, and another fellow named Brown," the third man said. `You could have picked out any man in Jefferson that his breath smelled fight and he could have told you that much'" (p. 293). Using a logic similar to the sheriff's, Lucas Burch plays the "race" card when he fears that he is a suspect in Joanna Burden's murder, deflecting all suspicion from himself simply by identifying Christmas as a "nigger."(26) Byron explains:
 Because they said it was like he had been saving what he told them next for
 just such a time as this. Like he had knowed that if it come to a pinch,
 this would save him, even if it was almost worse for a white man to admit
 what he would have to admit than to be accused of murder itself. "That's
 right," hie says. "Go on. Accuse me. Accuse the white man that's trying to
 help you with what he knows. Accuse the white man and let the nigger go
 free. Accuse the white and let the nigger run." (pp. 97-98)


Once labeled "nigger," Joe Christmas becomes a magnet for guilt and suspicion because the idea of blackness "becomes an almost magic fomenter of sexual fantasies and male violence.... Pronounce the word nigger and Joanna Burden's murder becomes a rape; the white man's behavior moves into satisfying ritual.(27) Even Joanna Burden indulges in these fantasies while intimate with Christmas, fantasies which convert her into a Medusa figure who, with "wild hair, each strand of which would seem to come alive like octopus tentacles" screams, "Negro! Negro! Negro? (p. 260).(28)

The racist fantasy of black sex crimes creates cohesion in the white community and even allows the "nigger-lover" Joanna Burden to be posthumously recuperated by the town, for once her death is ruled a black-on-white crime, the townspeople of Jefferson all "become characters in a play defending the honor and virtue of the white woman."(29) Even Percy Grimm expresses doubt that Joe Christmas raped Joanna Burden when he describes her as having "taken down [her] pants to" Christmas (p. 464), but "nigger" connotes rapist, and Grimm needs such a "nigger" to verify his own ideas of racial supremacy, in essence to fill his own lack. He believes "that the white race is superior to any and all other races and that the American is superior to all other white races and that the American uniform is superior to all men" (p. 451). Serving this belief as a member of the National Guard "saves" Grimm (p. 450), who, born between wars, has no other outlet for what Faulkner later suggested were fascist impulses.(30) Gavin Stevens, Jefferson's own Phi Beta Kappa and Harvard graduate, whom Faulkner later described as "representing the best type of Southern liberals,"(31) reduces the Burden murder and Christmas's subsequent behavior to a contest of his noble white blood and his cowardly black blood; Stevens's blood rhetoric in Chapter 19 confirms the one-drop rule as an essentialist view granting reality to the signifier "nigger." His version of Christmas's behavior is only slightly more sophisticated than that of Doc Hines, who equates Negro heritage with "Bitchery and abomination" (p. 370) and "the black curse of God Almighty" (p. 374). From the most ignorant--Doc Hines and Percy Grimm--to the most educated--Gavin Stevens--all the white citizens believe that black "blood" contaminates its bearer with moral depravity or evil, and that belief in turn stabilizes their own identities in the Yoknapatawpha play of signifiers.(32)

Ultimately, Joe is unable to resist the signification of the word "nigger" because he, too, has learned its definition, almost exclusively from a white perspective.(33) As Lee Jenkins points out, Joe cannot "conceive of himself without reference to racial identity."(34) The famous opening to the Christmas flashback in Chapter 6, "Memory believes before knowing remembers" (p. ]19), suggests the unconscious nature of Christmas's indoctrination in white supremacy. At the critical age predating conscious memory when Christmas should be receiving the adoring gaze of his mother, Doc Hines is present in his sphere, bestowing on Christmas his malevolent gaze:
 He knew that he was never on the playground for an instant that the man was
 not watching him from the chair in the furnace room door, and that the man
 was watching him with a profound and unflagging attention. If the child had
 been older he would perhaps have thought He hates me and fears me. So much
 so that he cannot let me out of his sight With more vocabulary but no more
 age he might have thought That is why I am different from the others:
 because he is watching me all the time. He accepted it. (p. 138)


Typically, the recognition of difference is crucial in the child's development of individuality, but according to Andre Bleikasten, this traumatic differentiation "marked the beginning of [Christmas's] schizoid sense of himself as self-estranged and heralded a future of isolation, alienation, and fragmentation."(35) Hines's hateful watching is reiterated in the distrustful gazes of many characters.(36) For example, Simon McEachern is incensed by his adoptive son's ability to commit lechery "beneath my eyes" (p. 201), eyes which Faulkner describes as "ruthless, cold, but not unkind" (p. 150). The Puritanical gazes of Hines and McEachern are ironically duplicated in Bobbie Allen's ferocious, "screaming eyes" in her last meeting with Christmas (p. 217). Joanna Burden further reinforces the meaning of "nigger" and Christmas's childhood experience of alienation by insisting that Christmas eat alone in the kitchen and that they conduct their affair in secrecy, apparently to heighten her enjoyment of the fantasy of violation. Finally, when all other methods fail, the community resorts to violence to force its meaning of "nigger" upon Christmas. Outraged by Christmas's refusal to act like either "a nigger or a white man" during his capture in Mottstown (p. 350), Halliday beats Christmas more in retaliation for this failure to play the stereotypical role than for his alleged murder of Joanna Burden: "he had already hit the nigger a couple of times in the face, and the nigger acting like a nigger for the first time and taking it, not saying anything" (p. 350).

As a child, Christmas struggles to understand the meaning of the identity others foist upon him, so he turns to the only other person in his realm who seems to share that identity, the yard man at the orphanage. (Significantly, this anecdote is provided by Doc Hines and is not presented in the flashback. Apparently, Christmas repressed the painful memory of this event.) When Joe asks the man, "How come you are a nigger?" (p. 383), he is simply trying to grasp what he does not understand. The yard man, however, takes the question as an insult, telling Joe that he is "worse than" a nigger. When Joe asserts the knowledge of race he has learned from Doc Hines--"God ain't no nigger"--the man responds with a reminder of Joe's indeterminate origins: "I reckon you ought to know what God is, because dont nobody but God know what you is" (p. 384). The man's cruelty to a child of no more than three or four years old is at first incomprehensible, but Faulkner uses this episode to reveal the African-American self-hatred that psychiatrists William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs describe in Black Rage(37) as the inevitable internalization of ambient white racism. The yard man, himself the object of the white man's scorn and hate but powerless to strike out against the real source of his rage, refuses Joe sympathy and instead spews vitriol about Joe's bastardy.(38) Thus Joe finds himself excluded from both the white and the black worlds. In the hours shortly before the adult Christmas kills Joanna, he thinks about God once more: "He could see it like a printed sentence, fullborn and already dead God loves me too like the faded and weathered letters on a last year's billboard God loves me too" (p. 105). The image of the Sunday-school maxim as a stillborn infant ("fullborn and already dead") reveals that he has internalized the white community's hatred so well that even God's love seems foreclosed to him; any hope of redemption for himself must be "faded," "weathered," and "already dead." What Alan Rose refers to as "Christmas's total acquiescence to the social idea of his blackness"(39) and David Minter, "Joe's secret affiliation with the world that pursues and mutilates him,"(40) is the culmination of years of learned self-hatred, enforced by the white community and reinforced by his few encounters with the black community. "The American image of the Negro lives also in the Negro's heart," James Baldwin writes in Notes of a Native Son, "and when he has surrendered to this image life has no other possible reality."(41)

The Black Body as Sign

In his reading of Intruder in the Dust, Wesley Morris notes that Faulkner "tells again of bodies that cannot be buried, erased, repressed, of identities that cannot be exchanged, disguised, or supplemented. Associated with the world of symbolic order are the violences on the body that put Lucas's life at risk `not because he was a murderer but because his skin was black'."(42) The aim of this body-threatening symbolic order in Light in August, however, is precisely to erase bodies, at least "black" ones.(43) The invocation of negative racial epithets precedes a violent shattering, which in turn brings about the disappearance of the subject, the erasure of self and body.(44)

In "The Mirror Stage," Jacques Lacan suggests that subjectivity is grounded in corporal integrity since it is "the total form of the body by which the subject anticipates in a mirage the maturation of his power."(45) Because corporal disintegration subverts the subject's image of mastery and unity, the prominent display of the mutilated black body during lynchings served to destabilize the subjectivity of African-Americans and reinforce the myth of white supremacy. In the Oxford, Mississippi, of Faulkner's childhood, the black body was used to "tell the story" of white supremacy and the inflexibility of Southern racial codes. Nelse Patton, a black man accused of murdering a white woman, was violently transformed from a subject to a signifier to be read, bearing literal marks of the white community's rage and violence. According to the Lafayette County Press report of September 9, 1908:
 ... the limp and lifeless body of the brute tom the stray.... This morning
 the passersby saw the lifeless body of a negro suspended from a tree--it
 told the tale, the murder of a white woman had been avenged--the public had
 done their duty.(46)


In The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry notes that torture involves "an excessive display of agency that permits one person's body to be translated into another person's voice, that allows real human pain to be converted into a regime's fiction of power."(47) Racially motivated lynching is torture as spectacle, meant to force the white "fiction of power" upon the entire African-American community. As John Cullen recalls in his account, anonymous Oxfordians shot Patton, then threw him from the jail, "cut his ears off, scalped him, cut his testicles out, tied a rope around his neck, tied him to a car, and dragged his body around the streets. Then they hanged him to a walnut-tree limb just outside the South entrance to the courthouse" (pp. 91-92). In a curiously belated act of humanity or censorship, Cullen's father, who was sheriff at the time, "brought a new pair of overalls and put them on [Patton's corpse] before the next morning" because Patton's clothes had been torn off during the lynching (p. 92). But Sheriff Cullen did not remove the body from public display, perhaps because, like the sheriff in Light in August, he was heavily invested in the ideology dictating abuse of the black body in relation to a crime. At that time Faulkner was eleven years old, and although he may not have been one of the "passersby" who saw the body the next day, the image of Nelse Patton's mutilated corpse resonates throughout Light in August. At the end of the novel, Joe Christmas's body, like that of the historical Nelse Patton before him, is made to "tell the story" when Percy Grimm castrates him, declaring, "Now you'll let white women alone, even in hell" (p. 464).

Christmas becomes the passive medium for Yoknapatawpha's white voice, telling the story as a sign rather than as a writing or speaking subject, and the novel's narrative structure facilitates this transformation. John Duvall notes that a community is defined by an land a you sharing "a code or circuit of communication," and in this circuit the third person is always the excluded "other" (p. 26). Within the flashback, Christmas is I, but in the frame, he is third person, the excluded other whose voice is forbidden to intrude. For example, Faulkner refuses to represent verbatim Christmas's message to the sheriff, inscribed "on the white innerside" of "an empty cigarette container": "It was addressed to the sheriff by name and it was unprintable--a single phrase--and it was unsigned" (p. 326, emphasis mine). Elsewhere in the novel, however, Faulkner prints (albeit under partial erasure) Bobbie's bon mot, the forbidden wordsymbol "f* king" (p. 218). Faulkner refuses to allow Christmas his own voice in the frame narration, so Christmas's voice, like his body, is carefully contained in the narrative. Indeed, the key moments of his consciousness--Joanna's death and his own--are omitted from the narrative: Joanna's murder occurs "between paragraphs" (Parker, p. 88) and the third person narrator recounts Joe Christmas's death from the perspective of his white witnesses.(48)

Disintegration is the sine qua non of Plessy-era American narratives of race, so inevitably the novel revealing what Charles Nilon calls "the connotative meanings of `Negro'" (p. 73) becomes littered with the body in pieces. Because Christmas perceives his self-image only "through the hate-filled eyes" of whites (Bleikasten, p. 87), he is deprived of the initial image of power and mastery mirrored in the mother's adoring gaze and is therefore already vulnerable to psychological disintegration.(49) The insistent racist naming leads to a fragmentation that infects even the way Joe Christmas sees the world, a vision that precedes his violence to Joanna and the violence ultimately done to himself.(50) When he curses Joanna, for example, his words invoke the image of a "drowned corpse in a thick still black pool of more than water" (p. 107). As a youth, Joe learns but cannot accept the fact of menstruation; in response to this knowledge, he shoots a sheep and then kneels, "his hands in the yet warm blood of the dying beast, trembling, drymouthed, backglaring" (p. 185). Even among the mundane scenes of Jefferson, Christmas injects the suggestion of lethal violence. Taking the path from Jefferson to the Burden place on that fatal day, his "pacing dark legs died among long shadows bulging square and huge against August stars: a cotton warehouse, a horizontal and cylindrical tank like the torso of a beheaded mastodon, a line of freight cars" (p. 116, emphasis mine). This latent violence also operates when he is at work at the mill, where Byron watches Christmas "jabbing his shovel into the sawdust slowly and steadily and hard, as though he were chopping up a buried snake (`or a man,' Mooney said)" (p. 40).

Inevitably, Joe projects his disintegration upon the bodies of others. His irrational violence becomes apparent in his youth, when he beats the young black girl with whom his friends have arranged a sexual encounter. Joe kicks her, strikes her "with wide, wild blows," and ends in a melee with the five other boys (p. 157). Tellingly, when McEachern inevitably whips Joe for fighting, "the sentient part of [Joe] mused like a hermit, contemplative and remote with ecstacy and selfcrucifixion" (p. 160, emphasis mine). The same vacillation between sadism and masochism occurs when Joe "tricked or teased white men into calling him negro in order to fight them, to beat them or be beaten" (p. 225). Once, during the altercation in which Brown calls Christmas "niggerblooded," he reaches for the razor to kill Brown but does not use it, realizing, "This is not the right one" (pp. 103-104). While confronting a group of blacks on the night of the murder, he finds the same razor in his hand, but he does not open it because these men are also the wrong ones: "`What in the hell is the matter with me?' he thought. He put the razor back into his pocket and stopped and lit a cigarette.... In the light of the match he could watch his own hands shake" (p. 118). As his trembling hands suggest, Christmas's other-directed violence is but a symptom of his own disintegration; these episodes of violence (or near-violence) are what Bersani would call staged "spectacles of pain" through which Christmas experiences "a masochistic identification with the suffering object.(51) The movement from passivity to aggression in Christmas's litany, "Something is going to happen to me. I am going to do something," verifies this identification.

Ultimately, violence is Joe's response to Joanna's insistence that he accept a Negro identity, an identity which connotes sexual prowess, but social impotence, alienation, disintegration, disappearance, and, in Calvin Burden's words, "the weight of the wrath of God' and sin-stained "blood and flesh" (pp. 247-248). When she summons him after a long hiatus, Joe naively assumes that she desires a reconciliation, and his romantic delusions reveal touchingly that in spite of his traumatic childhood and youth, he perhaps remains capable of love: "all that damn foolishness. She is still she and I am still I ..." (p. 272). That Joe's existence as I depends upon his relationship with Joanna is both very dangerous and very telling, for he seeks the affirmation of his worth, the mother's adoring gaze, from a woman whose remorseless theology is the same as Doc Hines's and McEachern's. Her response to Joe's implicit query, "What am I to you?"(52) destroys Joe's delusion. She desires to send Joe to "a nigger school," not to renew their relationship:
 "But a nigger college, a nigger lawyer," his voice said quiet, not even
 argumentative; just promptive. They were not looking at one another; she
 had not looked up since he entered.

 "Tell them," she said.

 "Tell niggers that I am a nigger too?" She now looked at him. Her face
 was quite calm. It was the face of an old woman now.

 "Yes. You'll have to do that. So they wont charge you anything. On my
 account." (pp. 276-277)


Joanna expresses in this exchange her desire for Joe Christmas to attend segregated schools, to announce himself to be what she has decided he is. Her invocation of Jim Crow provokes a doubleness in Joe, a division of self indicated by the disconnection between body and consciousness: "his mouth said," "his voice said," and "it was as if he said suddenly to his mouth: `Shut up. Shut up that drivel. Let me talk'" (pp. 276-277, emphasis mine). He also experiences this self-division during their final meeting moments before he murders her: "his body seemed to walk away from him" (p. 282). Joanna's desires, then, prompt Joe's disintegration, and thus she teaches him that he is not "still I."(53)

Joe's psychological tension, his precarious I, manifests itself gruesomely in Joanna's murder, which is, as Robert Dale Parker notes, "committed between paragraphs" (p. 88). Like Joe's message to the sheriff, the murder is obscene (Bersani might say "shattering") and therefore unprintable. We get the aftermath, or the echo, of the act as Byron reports it to Hightower:
 She was lying on the floor. Her head had been cut pretty near off; a lady
 with the beginning of gray hair. The man said how ... he was afraid to try
 to pick her up and carry her out because her head might come clean off....
 And he said that what he was scared of happened. Because the cover fell
 open and she was laying on her side, facing one way, and her head was
 turned clean around like she was looking behind her. (pp. 91-92)


Byron's words, "What he was scared of happened," literally echo Christmas's refrain, "Something is going to happen to me." What Joe expects and the narrative itself anticipates finally happens. The images of the "drowned corpse," the "beheaded mastodon," and the slaughtered lamb are all fulfilled in Joanna's decapitation with the razor, for she is apparently the "right" victim--or at least one of them. What Michael Millgate calls the novel's "willfully centrifugal movement" (p. 32) now finds persons literally in pieces.

Joanna's murder is both Joe's attempt to avoid his own disappearance and his partial acquiescence to it. He realizes belatedly that Joanna had loaded the gun with two bullets, intending murder and suicide: "For her and for me," he says twice (p. 286). He finally determines to hasten the denouement by allowing himself to be captured. "Yes I would say Here I am I am tired I am tired of running of having to carry my lip like it was a basket of eggs" (p. 337). Realizing his own fragility (like "a basket of eggs"), Joe asserts the self "I am I am ... I am," only to relinquish it.(54) Byron says of Hightower that he "had given over and relinquished completely that grip upon the blending of pride and hope and vanity and fear, that strength to cling to either defeat or victory, which is the I-Am, the relinquishment of which is usually death" (p. 393). Joe, too, has given over "that grip upon blending" which constitutes the integrated self, the "I-Am," or simply the subject's I. As he nears the end of the "street which ran thirty years," he senses the "mark ... ineradicable of the black tide creeping up his legs, moving ... as death moves" (p. 339). Faulkner's language echoes the Dred Scott decision of 1857, in which Justice Roger B. Taney wrote that "the unhappy black race" was "separated from the white by indelible marks, and laws long established" and upon whom had been "impressed such deep and enduring marks of inferiority and degradation" (quoted in Sundquist, To Wake, p. 236). Cited as a precedent for segregation in the Plessy decision, the Dred Scott decision found that the "indelible marks" excluded African-Americans from citizenship; the mark "ineradicable" will similarly exclude Joe Christmas from humanity. Joe's I fades, eclipsed by "nigger," the Other signifier whose mark is black and ineradicable and lethal.

The very idea of fading, or vanishing, pervades the novel. Characters seem to fade in and out of Christmas's vision, as when the Negroes he passes on the night of the murder "dissolve and fade" after he confronts them or when Joe Brown "vanished from the fall of light ... clattering to earth in complete disintegration" beneath the force of Christmas's blows (pp. 117, 274). The third-person narrator also describes Percy Grimm and Christmas alternately "vanishing" from sight during the chase scene (pp. 460-461). Disappearance is a condition of existence for Christmas, dating from his earliest childhood. When he was three, his friend Alice "vanished, no trace of her left, not even a garment" (p. 136). At first, he considers her "grown heroic at the instant of vanishment beyond the clashed to gates, fading without diminution of size into something nameless and splendid" (pp. 136-137). He later learns that this "vanishment" is rather routine at the orphanage, so when Doc Hines kidnaps him, he believes that his turn to disappear has come. Because Doc Hines is both the agent of this disappearance and the instigator of the children's calling Joe "nigger," the infantile fantasy of disappearance is linked inextricably with his identification as "nigger." Just as Hines is present in the primal scene of vanishment, so is he also present during Christmas's surrender in Mottstown thirty years later, claiming the "right to kill the nigger" (p. 351). This association between vanishing and the word "nigger" is reinforced for Joe by the dietitian, Bobbie, and ultimately Joanna, all of whom identify him as a nigger and reject him violently, expressing the desire for his disappearance.

After some thirty-five years of prompting, Christmas facilitates his own disappearance. He no longer waits for something to happen but takes the initiative (ironically, to be the masochist victim) as he sets out "to passively commit suicide" (p. 443) at the hands of the vigilante Grimm:
 He just lay there, with his eyes open and empty of everything save
 consciousness, and with something, a shadow, about his mouth. For a long
 moment he looked up at them with peaceful and unfathomable and unbearable
 eyes. Then his face, body, all seemed to collapse, to fall in upon itself,
 and from out the slashed garments about the hips and loins the peru black
 blood seemed to rush like a released breath. (pp. 464-465)


This moment of castration and disintegration marks Joe's ironic apotheosis to nigger. "upon that black blast the man seemed to rise soaring into their memories forever and ever" (p. 465). The sigh of blood ("like a released breath") marks his final acquiescence to the identity that shatters and destroys him. The "something" which happens to Joe is the most violent form of aphanisis, his lethal mutilation in the service of white Southerners' definition of "nigger."

If Joe Christmas dies and disappears, the memory of the "black blast" lives on, for his witnesses are "not to lose it.... It will be there, musing, quiet, steadfast, not fading and not particularly threatful, but of itself alone serene, of itself done triumphant" (p. 465, emphasis mine). Ironically, in death Joe finally achieves the heroic vanishing he envisioned for his friend Alice at the orphanage, "grown heroic at the instant of vanishment beyond the clashedto gates, fading without diminution of size into something nameless and splendid, like a sunset" (pp. 136-137).

Like the witnesses of Christmas's death, Faulkner himself could not forget; hence in Absalom, Absalom! (published four years after Light in August), he reincarnates Christmas as Charles Etienne St.-Valery Bon, Charles Bon's son. Eric Sundquist characterizes the transition between the two novels as Faulkner's inevitable turning "from the tragedy of Jim Crow to the tragedy that made it possible"--slavery (Faulkner, p. 100). For Charles Etienne, slavery's legacy is a double disinheritance, since his grandfather Sutpen's racially motivated repudiation of Eulalia Bon is reiterated in Charles Bon's own willingness to reject Charles Etienne's octoroon mother in order to marry Judith Sutpen. His traumatic education in race begins at Sutpen's Hundred, where he learns that he is legally a Negro and where Clytie scrubs him "with a repressed fury as if she were trying to wash the smooth faint tinge from his skin as you might watch a child scrubbing at a wall lang after the epithet, the chalked insult, has been obliterated."(55) The "epithet" is, of course, "nigger." Both Judith and General Compson encourage Charles Etienne to go North and pass for white, but they believe--and he intuits--"Better that he were dead, better that he had never lived" (p. 205). He dies conveniently of "yellow fever" (perhaps an ambiguous reference to his racial designation) and is buried in the Sutpen family cemetery with his "black" father Bon and "white" grandfather Sutpen. The only trace of Charles Bon's line at the end of Absalom is the disembodied howling of Jim Bond. Although Shreve associates Quentin's hatred of the South with Bond's continued presence as the "one nigger left" (p. 378), the "one nigger left" has been reduced to pure sound (no body): "there was only the sound of the idiot negro left" (p. 376). Bond's disembodied howling thus evinces the siren's "unbelievable crescendo" that accompanies and mimics the "black blast" of Christmas's evisceration in Light in August (p. 465), for both are inarticulate sounds heralding the erasure of a troubling black presence in their respective novels.

After Christmas's death in Light in August, Gavin Stevens promises Mrs. Hines that he will attend Christmas's corpse to the train station, where Christmas will be Jim Crowed for the last time. As the servant of the law, Stevens has sworn to uphold the Jim Crow statutes. Metaphorically, then, his overseeing of the burial of Christmas's corpse is an extension of his juridical function in the novel. It is no accident that in Go Down, Moses, Stevens plays the very same role by arranging the shipment of Samuel Worsham Beauchamp's corpse, by rail, from Chicago. (And no accident that in Intruder in the Dust, Chick Mallison doesn't ask for his Uncle Gavin's help in disinterring the white body of Vinson Gowrie to prove that Lucas Beauchamp--Stevens's black client--is innocent. Stevens is very good at burials and plea bargains, but not at resurrections and acquittals.) While Christmas will rise in the memories of his Jeffersonian witnesses, he will nonetheless be contained corporally and narratively, and therefore to some degree he will be dismissed, exorcised, forgotten. The attempt at narrative forgetting is signified by the furniture merchant's recounting of Lena and Byron's comic courtship. Lena's path from Alabama to Tennessee, "My, but a body does get around," is open-ended since Lena is free. Her body and her voice seem to extend beyond the confines of the novel. At any rate, she literally has the last word. By contrast Joe is both inscribed and circumscribed. His circle, the circle he cannot get outside, is ultimately the grave.

(1) (New York: Vintage, 1987), p. 112.

(2) Trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1978), p. 199.

(3) Quoted in Eric J. Sundquist, Faulkner: The House Divided (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983), p. 74.

(4) Joseph Blotner, Faulkner: A Biography (one-volume edition: New York: Random house, 1984), p. 20.

(5) Joseph Blotner, William Faulkner's Library: A Catalogue (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1964), p. 27.

(6) William Faulkner, "Interview with Russell Howe," in Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner, 1926-1962, ed. James B. Meriwether and Michael Millgate (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1968), pp. 260-261.

(7) Charles D. Peavy, Go Slow Now: Faulkner and the Race Question (Eugene: University of Oregon Press, 1971), p. 48.

(8) Regina K. Fadiman, Faulkner's "Light in August: A Description and Interpretation of the Revisions (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1975), pp. 24-25, 64. David M. Toomey argues that Gail Hightower, not Christmas, is the center of the novel and "Reverend Hightower is paranoid schizophrenic, and that the entire narrative represents his interior monologue." See "The Human Heart in Conflict: Light in August's Schizophrenic Narrator," Studies in the Novel, 23 (1991), 452.

(9) C. Vann Woodward, American Conterpoint: Slavery and Racism in the North-South Dialogue (Boston: Little Brown, 1971), p. 219.

(10) Otto H. Olsen, The Thin Disguise: Training Point in Negro History, Plessy v. Ferguson, A Documentary Presentation (1864-1896) (New York: Humanities, 1967), p. 117.

(11) C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York: Oxford University Press, 1955), p. 93, emphasis mine.

(12) Eric J. Sundquist, To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1993), p. 239.

(13) Eric Sundquist is one of many critics who remarks the connection between "Joe Christmas" and "Jim Crow." See "The Strange Career of Joe Christmas" in Sundquist's Faulkner: The House Divided (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983).

(14) Martin Kreiswirth, "Plots and Counterplots: The Structure of Light in August," in New Essays on "Light in August," ed. Michael Millgate (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 56-57.

(15) Robert Dale Parker, Faulkner and the Novelistic. Imagination (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), p. 20.

(16) Michael Millgate, "`A Novel: Not an Anecdote': Faulkner's Light in August," in New Essays on "Light in August," p. 32.

(17) Leo Bersani, A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature (1976; rpt. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), pp. x-xi.

(18) For a thorough discussion of the Lacanian subject and its manifestation in modern fiction, see James M. Mellard's Using Lacan, Reading Fiction (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991). Particularly instructive is the discussion of aphanisis in James's "The Beast in the Jungle," a discussion in which Mellard emphasizes the ways in which Marcher is constructed as a subject through language used within "a social relation" (p. 116). This recognition of the social dimension of aphanisis is crucial to understanding African-American subjectivity in Light in August. For an extended discussion of aphanisis, also see Mellard's "The Disappearing Subject: A Lacanian Reading of The Catcher in the Rye," in Critical Essays on Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye," ed. Joel Salzburg (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1990), pp. 197-214.

(19) James Snead, Figures of Division: William Faulkner's Major Novels (New York: Methuen 1987), p. 88.

(20) For further discussion of the power of words in Light in August, see Richard Godden, "Call Me Nigger!: Race and Speech in Faulkner's Light in August," Journal of American Studies, 14 (1980), 235-248; James Leo Spenko, "The Death of Joe Christmas and the Power of Words," Twentieth Century Literature, 28 (1982), 252-268; and Judith Lockyer, Ordered by Words: Language and Narration in the Novels of William Faulkner (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991).

(21) "Joe Christmas: The Tyranny of Childhood," Novel 4 (1971), 241.

(22) Collected Stories of William Faulkner (New York: Vintage, 1977), pp. 171-172.

(23) Eric Sundquist discusses the fear of "internalization of black within white" pervading Jefferson in Light in August. This fear of contamination is, as Sundquist points out, simultaneous with the need for the black as the defining Other. See Faulkner: The House Divided, p. 79.

(24) Jack L. Capps, "Light in August": A Concordance to the Novel (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI, 1979), 1036.

(25) Charles Nilon, Faulkner and the Negro (Boulder: University of Colorado Press. 1962), p.73.

(26) For a presentation of the case against Lucas Butch, see Stephen Meats's essay "Who Killed Joanna Burden?" Mississippi Quarterly, 24 (Summer 1971), 271-277. See also John Duvall, Faulkner's Marginal Couple: Invisible, Outlaw, and Unspeakable Communities (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990), for a discussion of whether Joanna Burden's death qualified as "murder" under Mississippi statutes of the 1920s. Duvall argues that Joe's actions would have been considered self-defense if all of the facts of the case (including Joanna's firing of the gun) had been made known (p. 20).

(27) Philip M. Weinstein, Faulkner's Subject: A Cosmos No One Owns (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 50-51. Ironically, Weinstein himself falls into this trap when he assumes that Joe's mother', Millie Hines, was raped by the circus man (p. 102). Byron's account in Chapter 16, however, suggests that Millie sought the relationship with Joe's father.

(28) See Maxwell Geisnar, Writers in Crisis, for a discussion of Faulkner's "twin Furies, the odd conjunction in the Faulknerian epic of the Negro and the Female" (p. 145).

(29) Thadious Davis, Faulkner's Negro: Art and the Southern Context (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University press, 1983), pp. 148-149.

(30) Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner, eds. Faulkner in the University: Class Conferences at the University of Virginia 1957-1958 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1959), p. 41. In one of his sessions at the University of Virginia, Faulkner stated that Grimm "was a Nazi Storm Trooper, but then I'd never heard of one then, and he's not prevalent but he's everywhere. I wouldn't say that there are more of him in the South, but I would say that there are probably more of him in the White Citizens Council than anywhere else in the South ..." (Gwynn and Blotner, p. 41).

(31) Cowley; quoted in Noel Polk, "Man in the Middle: Faulkner and the Southern White Moderate," in Faulkner and Race: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1986, ed. Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1987), p. 131.

(32) In "Faulkner and the Black Shadow" (in Southern Renascence: The Literature of the Modern South, ed. Louis D. Rubin, Jr., and Robert D. Jacobs [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1953]), Irene Edmonds discusses "the theme of Negro blood as a source of defilement," which is presented in Faulkner's novels as "an abomination in the collective psyche of the South" (p. 193). Philip Weinstein notes that every time Christmas is called "nigger," "someone's (or some group's) integral identity is under pressure or found lacking" (p. 113). Thadious Davis notes that many of Faulkner's novels, including Light in August and Absalom, Absalom!, depend "significantly upon notions of blacks as counterpoints to whites" (p. 64). Edmonds, Davis, and Weinstein imply the white community's use of the negative connotations of "nigger" to ensure its own positive construction of identity.

(33) Walter Taylor Faulkner's Search for a South [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973]) notes that Faulkner's use of the mulatto figure allows him to "isolate what blacks learned about their identity from whites. Such a man would have no knowledge of what it meant to be black except what the whites taught him" (pp. 66-67). Similarly, Irene Edmonds finds that Faulkner "usually approached his Negro characterizations from the outside and seldom worked from the inside outwards" (p 205).

(34) Lee Jenkins, Faulkner and Black-White Relations: A Psychoanalytic Approach (New York: Columbia University Press, (1981), p. 46.

(35) Andre Bleikasten, "Light in August. The Closed Society and Its Subject," in New Essays in "Light in August, "p. 83.

(36) In "Joe Christmas: The Tyranny of Childhood," T.H. Adamowski discusses the importance of the gaze in the development of Christmas's psyche. Adamowski notes that Joe is "objectified by Hines.... Involved with Hines's gaze is the name by which the other children taunt Christmas. Again, `nigger'" (p. 241). Adamowski argues that Joe ultimately murders Joanna "to avoid becoming her object" (p. 245).

(37) (1968; rpt. New York: Basic Books, 1992).

(38) This episode is perhaps the exception to Walter Taylor's criticism of Faulkner's black characterization in Light in August, a criticism implicit in the title of Chapter 6 of his Faulkner's Search for a South: "How to Visit the Black South Without Visiting Blacks."

(39) Alan Henry Rose, Demonic Vision: Racial Fantasy and Southern Fiction (Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1976), p. 113.

(40) David Minter, William Faulkner: His Life and Work (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), p. 132.

(41) (Boston: Beacon, 1955), p. 38.

(42) Wesley Morris, with Barbara Alverson Morris, Reading Faulkner (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), p. 225.

(43) Morris discusses Vinson Gowrie's corpse in Intruder in the Dust and Addie's in As I Lay Dying. Gowrie's and Addie's bodies, however, are white bodies. "Black" bodies like Christmas's, Charles Bon's, and Samuel Worsham Beauchamp's tend to stay in their caskets, underground, less likely than Addie Bundren to "corrupt the symbolic order" (Morris, p. 163).

(44) In his study of Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, James M. Mellard also notes the connection between images of dismemberment and aphanisis, particularly in Holden Caulfield's fantasies of suicide ("The Disappearing Subject," p. 201).

(45) Jacques Lacan, "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience," in Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1977), p. 2.

(46) Quoted in .John B. Cullen, with Floyd C. Watkins, Old Times in the Faulkner Country (1961; rpt. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1975), p. 96; emphasis mine.

(47) Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the Worm (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 18.

(48) James Snead notes the number of metaphors throughout Light in August that suggest Christmas is a "background for society's `writing'": Christmas's skin is "parchment colored," his body like a "kodak print" or "a picture in chalk being erased from the blackboard" (Snead, pp. 91-92).

(49) For this Kohutian insight into Joe Christmas's plight, I am indebted to the participants of the "Faulkner and Psychoanalysis: Minding the Gap" session of the 1992 Midwest Modern Language Association Meeting: Karen R. Sass, William Veeder, Susanne Skubal, Brent Keever, and Paul J. Emmett. Professor Emmett's response to an early version of this essay, presented at the M/MLA, was particularly helpful in my subsequent revisions of the essay.

(50) The disintegration that Christmas experiences in the novel seems to emanate from him to the other characters, even retroactively to characters like the long-dead Mrs. Hightower, who precedes her own suicide with a symbolic gesture: "The police found her rightful name where she had written it herself and then torn it up and thrown it into the waste basket" (p. 67).

(51) Leo Bersani, The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art (New York: Columbia University Press), pp. 4041.

(52) Ellie Ragland-Sullivan, Jacques Lacan and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), p. 48.

(53) Faulkner's language here suggests W.E.B. DuBois' notion of African-American "double-consciousness." See "Of Our Spiritual Strivings," in The Souls of Black Folk (1903; rpt. Millwood, New York: Kraus Thomson Organization, 1973).

(54) Walter Slatoff (Quest for Failure: A Study of William Faulkner [Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1960]) notes "the incredible states of tension or torment" in which many of Faulkner's characters exist (p. 68); Christmas is "conceived as tension between white and black blood and between conflicting needs to hurt others and to be hurt himself" but "gains no release through his violent actions" because he is his own enemy (p. 70).

(55) William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (19S6; rpt. New York: Vintage, 1972), p. 198.

M. NELL SULLIVAN

University of Houston-Downtown3
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:SULLIVAN, M. NELL
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 1996
Words:9534
Previous Article:Faulkner's Big Woods and the Historical Necessity of Revision.
Next Article:Jason's Role-Slippage: The Dynamics of Alcoholism in The Sound and the Fury.
Topics:

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters