Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sullivan on Faulkner and Race

A perceptive paragraph from near the end of John Jeremiah Sullivan's piece on Absalom, Absalom!, which I read and loved about a month ago as part of what's turning out to be a year of Faulkner for me:

No surer sign exists of the book’s greatness than how it seems to reconfigure itself and assume a new dimension, once we feel we know it, and these shifting walls of ambiguity were designed by Faulkner himself. They allow the text a curious liquid quality, so that it can seem alive, as if it might be modified by recent history too. I found it fascinating to read the book with a president sitting in the White House who comes from a mixed-race marriage, and with the statistic having just been announced that for the first time in U.S. history, nonwhite births have surpassed white ones. Some of the myths out of which the novel weaves its upsetting dreams appear quite different, like walking by a familiar painting and finding that someone has altered it. This is a strange time to be alive in America, in that regard. Close one eye, and we can seem to be moving toward a one-race society; close the other and we seem as racially conflicted and stratified as ever. Racism is still our madness. The longer that remains the case, the more vital this book grows, for Faulkner is one of the great explorers of that madness.

I agree with Sullivan's argument that Faulkner is a great explorer of the madness of racism, as well as his acknowledgment that Faulkner himself was tainted by this madness—as, indeed, are all of us Americans.

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