Faulker archive (1993)

Tebbs-1926

Here are four essays/fragments about William Faulker’s 1936 novel Absalom, Absalom!, written as part of Mike’s master thesis hopes at the University of Buffalo. He was working with prof Neil Schmitz. After the recent discovery of these writings Neil wrote to Mike’s son Sam: “You’ve retrieved the Faulkner archive of fragments. These papers were different approaches to Faulkner’s greatest novel. Bon is a major character in the novel who only speaks once, in a letter. Mike presented that essay as a presentation in my Faulkner seminar. I don’t know what literary value they would have today, theory and criticism sweeping on and on, but as exemplars of Mike’s virtuosity they’re priceless.”

1. Bon’s Letter
2. Absalom, Absolom! plot summary
3. From Absalom, Absalom! to The Sound and the Fury: the ‘Lack’ of Male Subjectivity
4. Seduction and Revenge

1. Bon’s Letter
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the story of Absalom in II Samuel 13-18. I just want to draw your attention to a couple of minor details pertaining to the way in which David receives the information that Absalom is dead. There are two messengers sent by Joab, Absalom’s killer: Ahimaaz asks first to be sent, but Joab denies him, and gives the task instead to a Cushite, who runs off. But Ahimaaz persists, asks again; Joab says, why do you want to run since you have no tidings to bear? But he relents, and lets Ahimaaz go. Ahimaaz overtakes the Cushite, and arrives first, but lacks the courage to tell the king the truth about what has happened. Instead he says, I saw a great tumult, but I knew not what it was. When the Cushite shows up, he is able to give David the actual news: The enemies of my lord the king, and all that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is. And as Edouard Glissant points out, Cushite means Ethiopian, he is in fact a slave, and his black skin marks him as the rightful bringer of bad news.

Neil asked me to do this today because 10 years ago I did a similar presentation in a seminar similar to this one. Unfortunately, the documentary evidence no longer exists; neither of us can lay our hands on the material, and our memories are clouded by time. But some fragments persist. I do remember extending my reading to the very edition of AA that I had owned since the 70s, that was different from everybody else’s because I’d gotten it in Canada: it was the Penguin Modern Classics edition, duly marked as “not for sale in the USA.” Designed by Germano Facetti, the cover shows a detail from a painting by American artist Ben Shahn, entitled “We Did Not Know What Happened to Us.” (I saw a great tumult, but I knew not what it was.) Which to my mind perfectly describes the condition of the characters in AA; all of them, at least, except possibly Shreve, also a Canadian, also one who may have read the book in this Penguin edition.

One more thing before we start: while I was working on this I was also helping a friend of mine, a fellow Canadian, with a Canada Council grant application. It was for a grant under the rubric of aboriginal media arts, aimed at first time film or video makers who would proceed with their projects with the help of an experienced “mentor.” That would be me. When I say that this is an “aboriginal” media arts grant, that means that it is open to anyone who defines him or herself as aboriginal, whether they have official status or not. My friend happens to be status Metis, and his project has to do with his family history, with life in the bush of Northern Ontario, with the problematic nature of metissage prior to its official recognition, with the necessity for secretiveness and censure even within the family, among family members, as to their actual racial origin. The point I want to make is that while racism is obviously a problem in Canada, the fact of miscegenation is a commonplace, especially in the north, and has been since the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century. And now we have a special division of the Canada Council to help promote its cultural heritage. And for me this presents an interesting contrast with the situation in the South today.

Recently I endured a 3 year exile in Mobile Alabama, a city as old as Charles Bon’s New Orleans, and one which fancies itself (deludes itself) as somehow maintaining a similar status in the overall picture of southern culture. I had occasion to teach a bit at the University of South Alabama, a regional state school which attracts (mostly white) students from southern Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida panhandle, whose parents are not of sufficient wealth to send them to Tulane. The grandparents, and in some cases even the parents, of many of these kids, were the ones you’ve seen in old newsreels throwing stones or spitting on black kids trying to go to high school in 1957, are the bulwark of the KKK, are the inventors of the city of Pritchard, a city within the city of Mobile (and somehow constitutionally under its purview), populated almost exclusively by black people. The students had a tendency to exhibit a profound sense of inferiority, especially under the glare of somebody (me) they took to be a Yankee; you probably think we’re a bunch of hicks, they said. They said this again and again. Every new class said it. I take this as part and parcel of what Neil calls “confederate discourse.” It’s dark underbelly, perhaps. You may be wondering where this is going, but I am going to connect it to the story of my friend’s project and the situation in Canada. I began to think about the fact that everybody, of whatever race, recognises that black people in the south, in the US generally, are not strictly African, but are “creolised” as Glissant says, are in fact metis. All you have to do is see a black person in a European movie, and that person’s African-ness is immediately obvious; he or she is obviously not African-American. And we understand that this has to do with the condition of slavery, the ability of white slave owners to impose, generation after generation, over 300 years, their genetic code upon the descendants of their slaves. And we also know that some descendants of slaves and slave owners were able to “pass,” appeared to be white, like Charles Bon, his mother, his son. Well, you can see where this is going now: what is unspeakable in the south is that creolisation has occured in all directions, that many of the white-identifying students at the University of South Alabama, “nimbused by freedom’s bright aura,” are in fact metis, rebel flags and pickup trucks and even white hoods notwithstanding. But unlike African Americans, they are obliged to endure under the sign of Ahimaaz’s failure of nerve before David (we saw a great tumult and knew not what it was), to repeat the title of Shahn’s painting “we did not know what happened to us.” Only those with pigment can deliver the tidings. Which begs the question of Wash Jones.

Bon’s letter
You could make the argument that AA is structured around various scenes of reading, and that the problem of reading as articulated in the novel provides a kind of metacommentary on the problem of reading the novel itself, and of reading Faulkner in general. You could even argue that it is the reading (and the failures thereof) of Bon’s letter that generates the novel, that provides the basis for the entirety of what is known (not much) and what is invented (most everything) by the characters about the Sutpen saga. You could make these arguments, if you had world enough and time. Since we don’t, a few general fragmentary remarks to begin with:

Sutpen’s challenge to his teacher during his 3 months of schooling. Quentin transmits (or invents) this scene supposedly related by Sutpen to General Compson during the hunt for the architect.

I learned little save that most of the deeds, good and bad both, incurring opprobrium or plaudits or reward either, within the scope of man’s abilities, had already been performed and were to be learned about only from books. (195)

Sutpen’s account makes reading not so much an alternative or supplementary way of learning about human nature or behavior, or about life itself: it is the only way. But at the same time, he admits that he “had not then learned to read my own name,” and so his awareness and understanding of human experience remains massively circumscribed by the voices of others’ readings. It is this constraint that produces what he calls his “innocence” in all its celebrated, tragic, even pathetic permutations. He confronts his teacher: “How do I know that what you read was in the book?” Because he cannot read, cannot test for himself, he uses his imposing physicality and the threat of violence to push beyond the human intermediary to gain access to the transcendent authority of the text; it’s an act of considerable faith and impelled by considerable naivete. Sutpen’s a reader who believes that the text contains the truth, and the possibility that the writer may have lied, distorted, misunderstood, exaggerated, fictionalized or omitted doesn’t occur to him. And for him reading, as practiced by the educated, especially by a teacher, is an innocent, transparent activity, a mechanical process of transmission. And since he can’t read for himself, he’s obliged to listen, trusting that the reader reads without misreading, whether inadvertently or incompetently. Listening is not reading, but might be construed as something simultaneously less and more than reading. (Consider how much listening goes on in AA, how it is that the dominant sensibility in the novel is hearing.) We can recognise in Sutpen’s primal scene of (not-)reading/listening a little allegory of our own difficult task as readers of AA: How do I know that what you read was in the book?

Letters take over from books as the texts to be read in AA. Compson’s letter to Quentin, Rosa Coldfield’s note to Quentin, several letters invented by Shreve in Chapter 8, and Bon’s letter to Judith in 1865 are the texts that most require to be read and are those in which Faulkner presents, represents, in detail the work of reading. This takeover, this displacement is emblematized in the repeated descriptions throughout the Harvard chapters of Compson’s letter to his son lying on an open textbook on the table at which Q and S are sitting shivering, as if the letter distracts them from their studies, Jefferson from Harvard, the past from the present, etc. These scenes of letter reading become considerations of the problematic nature of communication, intersubjectivity, selfhood, choice, authority and even love; and these problems necessarily constrain, inhibit Faulkner’s writing of the novel, and our reading of it.

Take Mr Compson’s reading of Bon’s letter, to come at last to the focus here: he can’t recover or discover, in this nearly anonymous text from the past, “without date or salutation or signature,” this fragment of remote circumstances, the sense of history, the cultural or imaginative contexts, texts, and codes that might make the letter legible. Compson wants to “reconstruct the causes,” to deduce, to derive a cogent interpretation of the past, of human history. But in Bon’s letter he finds a self-enclosing text of “spidery script,” a verbal web that he can neither read semantically nor from which he can disentangle himself. Instead of history he finds poetry. He doesn’t understand that the unreadability of the letter as poetic text allows him to go on, to generate his own reading, his own story, his own history. He looks in the letter for something that’s not there, and sees himself looking.

We might stop here and consider the distinction made by Foucault in Archeology of Knowledge between documents and monuments, and the different historical approaches privileging each in turn.

…history in its traditional form, undertook to “memorize” the monuments of the past, transform them into documents, and lend speech to those traces which, in themselves, are often not verbal, or which say in silence something other than what they actually say; in our time, history is that which transforms documents into monuments. In that area where, in the past, history deciphered the traces left by men, it now deploys a mass of elements that have to be grouped, made relevant, placed in relation to one another to form totalities. There was a time when archeology, as a discipline devoted to silent monuments, inert traces, objects without context, and things left by the past, aspired to the condition of history, and attained meaning only through the restitution of an historical discourse; it might be said, to play on words a little, that in our time history aspires to the condition of archeology, to the intrinsic description of the monument. (7)

Compson wants to read Bon’s letter as document, but the letter itself insists on its own textuality and temporality, its condition as monument in time. No credible, authoritative voice speaks to him out of the silence of the letter, and Compson admits that he can barely begin to decipher any resident fragile trace enclosed there. If we take Foucault seriously, and why not?, we have to engage the letter’s monumentality via a kind of semiotic play, allowing it to animate our reading(s) in terms of its own temporality and textuality. We have to play with it a bit, in a process that may not be terminable.

During a rainy quailhunt with his father, Quentin tries to read “a block of stone with scratches,” in the Sutpen graveyard where they are sheltering from the storm. “Here or there a carved letter or even an entire word momentary and legible in the faint light which the raindrops brought particle by particle into the gloom and released.” The problematic legibility of “the faint lettering, the graved words” underlines the nature and consequences of Quentin’s repeated acts of reading, and connects decipherment with disinterment: “It seemed to Quentin that he could actually see them.” This act of reading monumental scratches, along with the reading of Bon’s letter and that of his father, releases “violent and unratiocinative djinns and demons.” It makes momentarily present an absence, but this presence is ghostly. Quentin discovers in reading the Sutpen gravestones, and then rediscovers in reading Bon’s letter and then his father’s, the difficulty of arresting or transcending or subverting the interplay of tracings and effacings, of presence and absence, of now and then, or consciousness and the unconscious, of life and death. In short, the difficulty of reading itself. We have to raise the question here (and leave it unanswered, or at least reserve it for discussion) of whether Quentin’s mystical notreading is the recommended alternative to the tedious frustration of his father’s method.

The first thing we have to mark about Bon’s letter is that it is without salutation or signature; despite the assumptions everybody makes, there is something indeterminate about who it’s from and to whom it’s addressed: Judith gives it to Quentin’s grandmother, attests to what it is, and that she may “read it or not read it.” But is its origin certain? If we allow this ambiguity, then myriad others arise. For instance: Even if Bon transposes the words into his “faint spidery script,” Henry participates; Henry in fact authorizes the transaction by reading the letter, as Bon acknowledges in so many words:

And then Henry would begin to say ‘Thank God. Thank God.’ panting and saying … ‘Dont try to explain it. Just do it.’and Bon: ‘You authorize me? As her brother you give me permission?’ … and Henry: ‘Write. Write. Write.’ So Bon wrote the letter, after the four years, and Henry read it and sent it off.

Asking Henry whether he authorizes the letter, Bon asks whether or not Henry authorizes him, we might say even authors him, whether Henry allows him to write, in so many words, his own identity: lover brother son. The same act of writing inscribes Henry’s identity: “at last he could be something even though that something was the irrevocable repudiation of the old heredity and training and the acceptance of eternal damnation.” If Henry somehow writes, authors, himself through his reading of the letter, he nevertheless considers them all “just illusions” begotten by Sutpen. Henry’s acquiescence in an act of writing reading both repudiates and affirms his selfhood, as well as Bon’s and Judith’s. He appropriates and recognizes Bon and his letter as their first reader, and then he, not Bon, sends the letter to Judith. And all this according to the narrative voice in the novel: the question of whether this voice is somehow more reliable than any other is of course begged.

Inasmuch as the letter remains Bon’s, it and its writing constitutes a gesture, a sign between Bon and Henry, and even between Bon and Sutpen, as well as between Bon and Judith. “We have waited long enough” refers to all of these dyads. At least.

By the way, think of the insistence of the word “wait” throughout the latter part of the text, especially in its imperative mode. And the word “now.” Both punctuate the text, marking many complex tensions between urgency and patience, confrontation and deferral, isolation and community that emerge as the novel pursues its various scenes of trauma, its primal scenes if you will. And the most crucial moment of truth, the thing itself, is of course Henry’s killing of Bon, dead as a beef. “We have waited long enough” is Bon’s signal to Henry to do it now. Though Henry has urged Bon to do it and not explain it, the doing, the writing, necessarily constitutes an explanation that does not, that cannot explain. Through the letter, Bon attempts to write the unwriteable and name the unnameable, forcing Henry and Judith and Sutpen (and later Compson and all subsequent readers) to read the unreadable. And Henry, by authorizing Bon to write, by reading the letter, by posting it to Judith, gives Bon his agreement: Yes, we have waited long enough. Since the letter, its rhetoric, addresses Henry so directly, and by extension, his father, the repression of salutation and signature is further necessitated. But in a sense, Bon writes and Henry reads because they don’t understand whether things do or do not have to be written and read and understood, or—in terms of Bon’s pursuit of his supposed father—recognized.

In writing the letter Bon, in his moment of self-possession, dispossesses himself, effaces himself beyond recognition into traces of stove polish, “as though as a man he did not exist at all.” Even Rosa, who may not have known of the letter, says Bon “left no trace of himself, not even tears. Yes. One day he was not. Then he was. Then he was not …. he was absent, and he was; he returned, and he was not; three women put something into the earth and covered it, and he had never been.” This is an exact account of Bon’s primal scene of writing: writing into presence of absence and into absence of presence; writing as dying, dying as writing. The letter killeth.

Henry reads the letter, kills Bon. But the letter itself, its reading and writing, kills Bon as surely as Henry’s bullet. So one can conjure here the variety of contemporary theorizing about writing, “the distance and deathliness of written selfhood,” the idea that the writer must confront his own disappearance into words. What is unwritten, unknowable is whether Henry misreads the letter (tragically) or reads it perfectly and fulfills his role to the letter, as inscribed by Bon and authorized by himself. The dessicated square survives, but encloses its secrets like a grave. But Henry is merely the literary agent. Bon kills himself through the letter, in a more literal way than most suicidal gestures can accomplish. His death simultaneously confirms and denies his identity, once again making the signature superfluous. Because of the reading(s) authorized by Henry, Bon survives as “impenetrable and shadowy character. Yes, shadowy: a myth, a phantom: … as though as a man he did not exist at all.” The letters many readers patiently trace and retrace Bon’s ghostly presence in his “faint spidery script.”

The physical object, “which you now hold in your hands.”
Stove polish on french watermarked paper from the house of a ruined aristocrat.
As the stove polish inscribes, darkens, the French watermark, the North inscribes itself on the South, the new on the old, the conqueror on the defeated, the practical on the pretty, the technological on the aesthetic, the living on the dead, (and following Shreve, the black on the white), etc.
Stove polish, and minstrelsy.
Polishing the stove, as winding the clock.

Finally, what about Shreve? Why is he Canadian? Why is Quentin left with only pink nude shivering Shreve to shrive him? Is he the theorist of metissage, of creolization?

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2. Plot summary of Absalom, Absalom!
What are we to make of this slippery and elusive novel? At its narrative heart is the story of one man’s attempts to make a place for himself in the class and race stratified society of the pre-Civil War South. Thomas Sutpen arrives in Faulkner’s famous Yoknapatawpha County with a wagonload of slaves, a captive French architect, and an endless supply of personal energy and determination. He has it in his mind to carry out his “design.” “I had a design. To accomplish it I should require money, a house, plantation, slaves, a family incidentally of course, a wife. I set out to acquire these, asking no favor of any man.” [p. 218] But more important than the wealth such a plantation can create is the status that the plantation, the wealth, and the family can give him. Sutpen’s quest is for respectability and social acceptance.

While the narrative heart of the novel is Sutpen, the emotional center is Quentin Compson. Quentin is from Yoknapatawpha, and his grandfather was Sutpen’s only friend. Now a student at Harvard, he is attempting to make sense of the Sutpen story, with help from his Canadian roommate, Shreve. Two primary narrators (Rosa Coldfield and Quentin’s father) have related their version of events to Quentin and Quentin himself has briefly met Sutpen’s son Henry. It is from these raw materials that Quentin and Shreve attempt to reconstruct the story.

sutpen

Absalom, Absalom! is the story of the creation of the story (or history, or myth, or legend) of Thomas Sutpen. The story is told by a variety of narrators at a variety of times. Making sense of the various narratives will be the primary difficulty for any reader, just as it is for Quentin and Shreve. Yet it is the use of varying, even conflicting, narratives that gives the novel its power. Were the Sutpen story told in a simple, linear, narrative form, it would be gothic, perhaps melodramatic. By forcing the reader to participate in creating the Sutpen story, the revelations, the anguish carry emotional weight.

The primary difficulty in evaluating the narratives is that so much of what they relate is inferred, guessed, even invented. Cleanth Brooks has gone so far as to qualify many points from the narratives as fact, supposition, or unknowable [p. 429]. Even one of the most critical facts of all, the knowledge of Charles Bon’s negro blood, is never explicitly proved. Many critics argue that Quentin, one of the novel’s primary narrators, knows it. We can at best think of it as highly likely that he knew; we cannot be certain.

As in so many of Faulkner’s novels key developments in the novel are introduced in pieces. The killing of Charles Bon (Sutpen’s son by his first wife) by Sutpen’s son Henry is alluded to in the opening pages of the novel: “the son who widowed the daughter who had not yet been a bride” [p. 9]. Mention of this event recurs throughout the novel. But it is not until near the end that the scene is played out in full. In between we get bits and pieces, fragments, suppositions, and brief glances of that event. The same is true of Sutpen’s history. It is not until Chapter VII, nearly two thirds into the novel, that we understand the events driving Sutpen to implement his design.

Thus the reader is put in the same position as Shreve. Like Shreve, the modern reader is likely to be somewhat skeptical. Like Shreve the reader does not have the intimate connection to the Sutpen saga, or the old South, or history in general that Quentin and the other narrators have. In fact the modern reader does not have the connection to history that causes Quentin such anguish. One may find oneself asking a question of Shreve’s: “Because it’s something my people haven’t got…What is it? something you live and breathe in like air? a kind of vacuum filled with wraithlike and indomitable anger and pride and glory at and in happenings that occurred and ceased fifty years ago?” [p.297] For Shreve this exercise is almost like a game. It is an intellectual pursuit. But for Quentin this attempt to make sense of history causes him almost physical pain: “And now, although he was warm and though while he had sat in the cold room he merely shook faintly and steadily, now he began to jerk all over, violently and uncontrollably until he could even hear the bed” [p. 296].

Critics have spent a great deal of effort to account for these narratives as well. Millgate quotes a class discussion in which Absalom, Absalom! is compared to “Thirteen ways of Looking at A Blackbird” a poem by Wallace Stevens: “But the truth, I would like to think, comes out, that when the reader has read all these thirteen different ways of looking at the blackbird, the reader has his own fourteenth image of that blackbird which I should like to think is the truth” [p.152]. Note that even Faulkner does not say that fourteenth image is the truth, just that he would like to think it is. I think that we can at best pass along that fourteenth view to others. They, in turn, will add a fifteenth, and a sixteenth view, which will become the truth for them.

I think Millgate correct when he writes that Quentin “remains to the end that fatally divided and ghost-dominated personality to whom we are introduced at the beginning of the book” [p.156]. As such, Quentin cannot manage a re-interpretation of the Sutpen myth. Because he is “ghost-dominated” he cannot step outside the legend to reinvent the legend. He can only do so from within the perspective, traditions, and values of the legend itself. Thus he is attempting to make the legend “fit” within these traditions and values. Quentin, in fact, comes from a family that is part of the aristocracy of the old South. While the Compsons have fallen into decline (the fall of the Compsons is the narrative heart of The Sound and the Fury) they are nonetheless beneficiaries of the value that the South places on history, social status, and respectability.

Olga Vickery sees the narratives as being representative if the way in which society creates its myths, legends and histories: “with successive generations the diverse versions coalesce, the inconsistencies are ironed out, and the legend assumes an independent existence” [p. 102]. Thus it is not a fact-based truth that society seeks. I would argue that the novel illustrates the importance of a history that is “true enough” rather than literally true.

It seems clear, to me at least, that Quentin’s insight seems to be much the same as Sutpen’s: “he was learning that there was a difference between white men and white men not to be measured by lifting anvils or gouging eyes or how much whiskey you could drink then get up and walk out of the room.” [p. 187] The difference not in what a man could do, but what a man owned. Not in what he earned of his own labor and energy, but of what society conferred on him as a result of his being born into the right family, or of holding a certain position, sheriff or preacher or farmer. It is from this revelation that Sutpen begins to shape his design. He is about fourteen and he starts thinking about his design:

“‘If you were fixing to combat them that had the fine rifles, the first thing you would do would be to get yourself the nearest thing to a fine rifle you could borrow or steal or make, wouldn’t it?’ And he said Yes. ‘But this ain’t a question of rifles. So to combat them you got to have what they have that made them do what he did. You got to have land and niggers and a fine house to combat them with. You see?’ and he said Yes again.” [p. 197]

Vickery notes: “Both designs, Sutpen’s and the South’s, are based on concepts which deny human values in a large area of conduct and on social rather than natural definitions of the individual.” [p. 94] She sees the novel as illuminating a “choice between one’s responsibility to man and to social tradition” [p. 100]. Quentin, as an inheritor of this tradition is faced with that same choice.

Where Sutpen is moved to furious action, Quentin remains passive. The insight has run through him like a fever, leaving him physically immobilized with shaking. He has realized that the society from which he has grown is held up by the weight of history and tradition, and that escaping from that history is extremely difficult, sometimes even impossible. In his attempts to come to grips with the Sutpen legend, he never sees that he is in a position to literally change history. Were he able to radically reinterpret the legend, that new legend would be passed on, effectively becoming part of the raw material from which the next generation would repeat the process.

This, for me, is the thematic heart of the novel. The reader is in a position to arrive at a new truth. The reader must therefore avoid both Quentin’s mistake, as well as Sutpen’s. Quentin is capable of learning, of changing, of growing. But his inability or refusal to critically evaluate the entire history of which he is a part prevents him from doing so. The novel ends on this note. Shreve is still trying to understand Quentin’s part in the whole story when he realizes that his friend his trapped. “Why do you hate the South?” he asks. Quentin cannot admit to himself that he does, and his denial of that fact has him “panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark” [p. 311]. Unable to embrace or reject his history, Quentin is immobilized, physically and morally.

Sutpen, on the other hand, has fundamentally misunderstood that tradition, and never alters his thinking about it. Even as an old man seeing his design crumble around him, he still thinks that if he can just understand what mistake he made, he can save his design. He is oblivious to the fact that his design is fundamentally flawed. He is attempting to compress into twenty or thirty years a process that took generations to build. Because he is a man whose personal history is unknown to the community, the community will always remain suspicious of him, regardless of how successful he is. He is unable to escape the analogy that has guided his thinking: that social position is akin to owning a fine rifle. In fact he has never answered a critical question that crossed his mind at the time the design first appeared: “and how in the world could a man fight another man with dressed-up niggers and the fact that he could lie in a hammock all afternoon with his shoes off? and what in the world would he be fighting for if he did?” [p. 189] Certainly Sutpen never allowed himself the leisure of lying in a hammock all afternoon with his shoes off.

William Faulkner: Novels 1936 — 1940, Library of America, 1990.
William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, Harold Bloom, ed., Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
The Novels of William Faulkner: A Critical Interpretation, by Olga Vickery, LSU Press, 1959.
The Achievement of William Faulkner, by Michael Millgate, University of Georgia Press, 1963.
William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country, by Cleanth Brooks, LSU Press, 1963.

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3. From Absalom, Absalom! to The Sound and the Fury: the ‘Lack’ of Make Subjectivity

Introduction: Faulkner and Feminist Discontents
In 1988, a special issue of The Faulkner Journal was published under the title of “Faulkner and Feminisms,” in which Minrose C. Gwin, one of the leading feminist Faulknerians, wrote an essay entitled: “What’s a Radical Feminist Doing with a Canonical Male Text Anyway?” Her conclusion to the essay simply affirms that a feminist should write about black female writers rather than Faulkner or other “canonical male” authors. The rhetorical question in the title not only shows her critical attitude toward feminists who write literary essays on Faulkner, a representative “canonical male author,” without problematizing their theoretical base, but points to the fact that many feminist Faulknerians are at a loss to find out what to do with a canonical male text in an era when even the positionality of “feminism” is problematized. What can a feminist do with a canonical male text? I would like to bring up this meta-critical question before discussing Faulkner’s texts, because it does not only explain why I write about Faulkner, but also represents my reading of male subjectivity in/outside his texts. The problem between feminism and the male subject (of writing, speaking, etc.), I believe, can be more deeply and carefully examined through Faulkner’s texts.

The earliest feminist approach to Faulkner that appeared in the 1970s began with reading female characters in Faulkner’s novels, just as Sally R. Page did in Faulkner’s Women, and gradually turned into a psychoanalytic approach through John T. Irwin and Andre Bleikasten. In the 1980s, the feminist approach seems to have founded a firm base although it split into two major streams of French and Anglo-American, and in the 1990s, feminist critics are losing their theoretical ground, ironically exposing the gap between “feminism” and “a canonical male text.”

The relationship of the feminine and Faulkner, however, have actively been discussed until now mainly on the basis of French feminist theories: the “bisexual artistic consciousness” Gwin herself proposed in The Feminine and Faulkner, the notion of “the semiotic” Doreen Fowler and many others apply to their readings of Faulkner, the creativity of “the body” Deborah Clarke affirms in her conclusion to Robbing the Mother, and so on. These richly inquired ideas of femininity in Faulkner prove that his text has the power to subvert the symbolic system of language, or what may be expressed as phallocentrism. Their tendency to use terms such as Cixous’s “bisexual” or Kristeva’s “the semiotic” rather than ecriture feminine may show their standpoint that the works of Faulkner, a male author, should not be categorized under masculine or feminine writing, and that biological sex cannot be a determinant of a text’s femininity or masculinity. These claims may have validity to the extent that the radical power to subvert a certain ideology, or what history has centralized by authority, does not necessarily lead to the feminine nor to women. However, they require identification as the marginal that challenges the center, or as the antithesis that cannot exist without presuming the authoritative thesis as the center. When the notion of the marginal applies to women or at least the feminine, and this happens all the time, we come to the deadend theory that the feminine should be celebrated, because it signifies the marginal, the silenced, and the speaker of irrational language outside the symbolic. As Philip Weinstein points out, female characters marginalized in Faulkner’s novels share the same project with Western phallocentrism (97): it is men who invented “woman,” the Other.

On the basis of the problematics Weinstein brings up, that is the “woman” as other, Gwin claims that the most important thing is to listen to the voice(s) of female characters in Faulkner (The Feminine and Faulkner 164), even to those extremely difficult to hear such as Caddy or Eula, because reconstruction of the feminine voice contributes to free them from the silencing system more effectively than leaving it labeled “the Other.” Accordingly, she might have recognized between The Feminine and Faulkner and “Feminism and Faulkner” that looking to a female writer’s text is much more meaningful than hearing fictional female characters in a canonical male text. In “Feminism and Faulkner: Second Thoughts,” however, her arguments appear to me even more misleading than her first thoughts:

To discover women as real subjects in history, we need to look to Hurston rather than Faulkner, Woolf rather than Joyce, Morrison rather than Barth. In the end it is perhaps not so surprising or even theoretically naive to conclude that, to find real women, we need to read real women. (“Feminism and Faulkner” 64)

Her claim here might be extremely important in the sense that we need to read texts neglected and buried in literary history simply for the reason that their authors are female or/and black. But theoretically speaking, her argument above shows the deadlock of her feminist theory, for, on one hand, she authorizes some women as “real” and others as fake or fictional, and on the other, generalizes (perhaps biologically) female writers into “real women,” or “real subjects in history.” When one takes into account the danger of naturalizing the sexual difference and of distinguishing “real” women from fictional female characters, it is almost impossible to understand what she wants to say about the relation between “real” women and feminism. The biggest risk residing in her conclusion is the fact that her feminist theory simply has its basis in the same ideology that she criticizes, in terms of authorization of women and humanist empiricism.

The controversial status of feminism returns us to the fundamental question, “what can a feminist do with Faulkner?” Although I recognize many problems that underlie her essay, I agree with Gwin to the extent that Faulkner needs to be identified as a representative white male author, whose works established the status of “canon,” or at least one of the main streams in literature. It seems to me, nevertheless, that to pin down Faulkner’s silenced female characters as “unreal” women is irrelevant. To throw away Faulkner with a tag saying “canonical male text” does not help to find a way to understand what a woman is, so far as the antithesis between the margin and the center relates to the binary logic of male and female. In Weinstein’s words, the patterns of Faulkner’s renderings of women as Other do not detract from Faulkner’s greatness; indeed, they make it more interesting (96). Although I am hesitant to call it “greatness,” I share with him the idea that Faulkner is quite interesting because his description of women is white/male-centered. Besides, as Foucault points out, silence is “less the absolute limit of discourse […] than an element that functions alongside the things said” (27). In other words, silence is that which makes discourse function effectively, not merely as the margin or boundary that demarcates discourses, but more significantly, as the central element of discourses that penetrate them. Thus Gwin’s turning her viewpoint from women in male texts to “real women” could cause more serious problems if she really believes that to discard an authorized discourse makes it possible to hear the voice of silence. And this silence, as Clarke suggests, leads to what she calls the mother, or what possibly subverts the boundary between the body and language. Now, as the reader of French feminist theories might recognize, we have returned to the feminist discontent with remaining as the margin, or as “the other” to the symbolic system. At this point, I agree with Clarke to the extent that the notion of the feminine occupies the position of subverting power in patriarchal society, but disagree with her claim that Faulkner’s language provides no refuge from the body, and this is why Faulkner’s great creativity should be celebrated. Rather, it seems to me that Faulkner’s novels are full of desperate efforts to take refuge in the symbolic system of language from non-Being, or what does not exist at the level of language. For this reason, I also oppose Gwin’s conclusion in the sense that Faulkner should be read again and again because he is a representative white-male author in whose novels the silenced characters function simultaneously as the limit of the language and the center of it. In this essay, I attempt to discuss the functions of “the woman” and “the black” that maintain the symbolic world of the speaking subject in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! (hereafter The Sound and Absalom!), as well as how they return to collapse his fantasy built on white/male centered ideologies at the end of each story.

1. The Old Testament and Moral Law
Quentin Compson, the major narrator common to The Sound and Absalom!, is the key character to a better understanding of white/male subjectivity in my discussion, because he not only registers his ambivalent feelings toward incest in relation to the moral law in his narratives of both novels, but appears to be the only character who “returns” from The Sound in order to narrate an old story of the same structure as his own. Perhaps he could not tell everything about why he is fated to commit suicide. Actually, these two novels not only share the same narrator but seem to have a close relationship in terms of the structure of the story. Although it is not so important to argue whether they are sequential or not, to read one without the other means to lose a significant perspective, from which the problem of intertextuality comes into being, as Irwin points out. At the same time, several critical differences between the two novels also seem notable; for instance, as Carolyn Porter argues, the figures and functions of “the father” dramatically change from The Sound to Absalom!, in coincidence with Faulkner’s own change in the biographical sense. What I am going to emphasize in this thesis is both the similarities (or what Irwin calls repetition) and differences between the two stories. To be more precise, the failure to repeat the archetypal story of incest that gives the impression of repetition.

In 2 Samuel 13, the story of incest and murder of a brother is written in detail. A son of King David, Amnon, loves his fair sister, Tamar, and on his friend’s advice, he pretends to be ill so she comes close to his bed. After raping Tamar, however, he suddenly hates and sends her away so he will not see her. Tamar blames Amnon for his evil of hating her, which is greater than that of rape itself. Another son of David, Absalom, murders Amnon, his own brother, in order to punish his evil and avenge their sister’s rape.

Regarding both The Sound and Absalom!, Irwin analyzes in detail the structure of incest and its repetition on the basis of Freudian psychoanalysis. According to him, the two novels repeat the archetypal trianguler structure of seducer, victim, and revenger in the act of incest (25, 43). In Absalom!, therefore, the triangular relation of Bon, Judith and Henry is a repetition of that of Amnon, Tamar and Absalom: as for The Sound, the triangle is more complicated, for, as Irwin suggests in his discussions about “double,” Quentin in his fantasy of incest becomes (or tries to become) both seducer and revenger. This explains why Quentin’s suicide can be said to have the same structure as Henry’s murder of Bon in Absalom! (Irwin 43). However, as I have argued above, the failure to repeat is more important than the repetition itself in the sense that the narrator who may represent the author repeatedly makes efforts to narrate, to symbolize, the same story in different settings in vain. What always fails to be symbolized into his narration is, “the incest which he would not commit” (“Appendix” 229), or, to be more precise, the death that can never be put into words. Regarding repetitions in Faulkner’s novels, Irwin affirms that those repetitions are attempts to use narration in order to take revenge against time, or to prove that through the process of substitution and repetition, time is not really irreversible. After all, tragically, the narrator comes to understand that the whole process has no effect on the reversal of “time” (3-4). The repetitive character of the narrations, therefore, simultaneously shows the narrator’s strategy to reverse the flow of time, and his ironic fate to know the unalterability of the past he is bound to. It is in this sense that Irwin focuses on “what is repeated” in Faulkner’s novels, which is the story of incest. This idea seems to come from the equation of repeating and remembering, or to repeatedly narrate the past and to remember the past. Based on Freudian notion of repetition on which Irwin’s essay is dependent also, the distinction between repeating and remembering needs to be made, because the distinction shows us something additional to Irwin’s interpretation of “repetition” in Faulkner. Freud says: “He [the patient] is obliged to repeat the repressed material as a contemporary experience instead of […] remembering it as something belonging to the past” (Beyond the Pleasure Principle 19). In Freud, repetition appears as a psychic apparatus to repress the past, in order not to remember something that causes the repetition. In short, the narrator repeats the same story because he does not remember it. I would like to focus on the repressed material which the narrator does not remember but (or therefore) repeats, that is, the center of the story that paradoxically never be verbalized in it. Through The Sound and Absalom!, Quentin transforms a story into another, narrates different stories of incest, and yet, paradoxically, repeat the same story. The core of the repetitive story that is not verbalized in the novels, or strictly speaking, the element that is never repeated but makes the narrator repeat the same structure, is incest. According to Irwin, incest, which is equated with seduction, is an element that constitutes the triangular structure in an interactive relation with revenge (= the punishment of the seduction). In Faulkner, however, the lack of seduction never influences the revenge, or the punishment of the seduction. Or rather, the revenger’s murder of the seducer, that is, Henry’s murder of Bon and Quentin’s suicide, seems like a significant moment that corresponds to the climaxes of the novels. How can we explain the paradoxical relationship between seduction and punishment in Faulkner’s texts? A possible explanation is the “paradox” that the seduction of the victim that never occurs in Faulkner is constructed only after the revenger’s murder of the seducer. The two novels expose the paradox of the triangle structure that is different from, or possibly concealed in, the Old Testament.

This paradox of cause-effect relationship may not be new to the reader of Faulkner if he remembers the notoriously eloquent nihilism of Mr. Compson. He explains to his son, Quentin, how virginity can exist as virginity:

Henry […] may have been conscious that his fierce provincial’s pride in his sister’s virginity was a false quantity which must incorporate in itself an inability to endure in order to be precious, to exist, and so must depend upon its loss, absence, to have existed at all (AA 76-7).

In this paragraph that indicates Quentin’s own predicament of “pride in his sister’s virginity” too, Mr. Compson tries to tell his son how unfruitful the efforts to believe in the sister’s virginity, and how ironic the result of the efforts would be. Mr. Compson’s “lesson” to Quentin, however, implies not only the irony of virginity, but a very ironic yet meaningful explanation of the relation between existence of virginity and its absence: the existence of virginity is completely dependent on its loss. We find the same kind of paradoxical relationship of existence, which cannot be explained by the cause-effect relationship: virginity doesn’t exist before having sex, but only after losing virginity, a woman is paradoxically able to prove her virginity, or at least that she was virgin before the sex. Those who cannot bear the paradox, just like Quentin and Henry, may have invented (or cited the Old Testament to find) a way to prove the existence of virginity by becoming “the revenger,” who punishes “the incest which he would not commit.”

Let me develop this argument of paradox along with The Sound and Absalom! In the world of Faulkner, the seducers in both the Sutpens and the Compsons intend to have sex with each sister and are thus murdered (by the other brother or the self), while nothing actually happens in terms of incest. A number of explanations about Quentin’s impotence and his incapacity to actualize the imaginary have already been given, but the other seducer, Bon, has been introduced as a man who not only has experience of the pleasure of sex but is tired of it, and thus attracts unexperienced country boys at Mississippi. Though he is supposed to know the pleasure of sex and effortlessly attracts Henry, Judith, and her mother, it is also an important characteristic of Bon that he is sexually impotent to his half sister, Judith, and that he does not show sexual desire toward her, for a different reason from that of Quentin. In Chapter 8, for instance, Bon implicitly confesses that the reason why he makes approaches to Judith is not to have sex with her, but that he is waiting for Thomas Sutpen, his father, to intervene between them, because Sutpen’s intervention may indicate the fact that Judith is the prohibited object of Bon’s desire, that is “sister.” For Bon, therefore, Sutpen’s acknowledgment of him as son has more significance than incest itself: Bon even thinks that any sign of Sutpen’s unpleasant feeling about the marriage of Bon and Judith, say, a returned letter from him (266), would be enough to verify Bon’s unspoken status as the eldest son of the Sutpens. In comparison with Amnon, Bon is exactly at the opposite to him in the same structure: although Amnon rapes Tamar, his father does not punish him because, according to the Douay-Rheims translation, 2 Kings 13: 21, Amnon is the eldest son. This implies that the father’s acknowledgment of his son occurs simultaneously with the son’s acquirement of sexual ability. And if it is appropriate to take the seducer as a double of the revenger as Irwin suggests, the revenger inherits his father’s position as the law by murdering the seducer on one hand, and successfully becomes enabled to demonstrate his sexual ability in the proper way by repressing his own desire for the prohibited object. The victim of this triangular relation, in a deeper sense, is Amnon, for he plays the role of the scapegoat sacrificed for the Father, the Law. Accordingly, what Bon hopes to detect is a mere hint of Sutpen’s acknowledgment, for it could mean that Judith is an inaccessible object for Bon on the one hand and that he is the eldest son the father cannot explicitly blame for the rape. He unfortunately cannot desire his sister because his father does not prohibit it. Speaking in another way, the moment that he becomes the seducer is exactly when he dies as seducer as a result of the sibling murder. In a psychoanalytic way, this paradox can be explained as follows: the son’s castration and his acquirement of the phallus happen at the same time. Without the victimization of Amnon, or the punishment of incestuous desire, Absalom cannot come into being as the revenger, the one who reigns over the domain of the Law: moreover, the seduction does not attain to completion without/before the death of seducer. How can this theoretical paradox in the incestuous triangle be explained?

For a better understanding of the relationship between the law of the father and the prohibition of incest, let us go back to the Old Testament, for it provides the best and most typical example of the law: the Ten Commandments. Yet, the Ten Commandments do not refer to incest, which in the story of Absalom and Amnon seems to be an evil act that deserves death, and in Faulkner the heaviest sin that deserves the eternal punishment Quentin painfully longs for. And despite of this fact, incest is severely problematized morally and religiously in Faulkner’s works, as well as ethically and genetically in our society. It is at least clear that the prohibition of incest functions at a different level from that of the Ten Commandments which function as interdiction, a prohibitive law on the level of language. Lacan explains this bizarre structure of the moral law and its function in his seminar about Freud’s pleasure principle and its beyond.

The Ten Commandments may be interpreted as intended to prevent the subject from engaging in any form of incest on one condition, and on one condition only, namely, that we recognize that the prohibition of incest is nothing other than the condition sine qua non of speech.

This brings us back to questioning the meaning of the ten commandments insofar as they are tied in the deepest of ways to that which regulates the distance between the subject and das Ding ? insofar as that distance is precisely the condition of speech, insofar as the ten commandments are the condition of the existence of speech as such. (Seminar VII 69)

What Lacan suggests above is that the prohibition of incest is a necessary condition for the subject to speak, by keeping distance from das Ding (=the Thing, or “incest” in this case) thanks to the existence of the Ten Commandments. Das Ding is, therefore, that which remains repressed in order to endorse the speaking subject. Accordingly, the Thing is empty of any sense because it is what drops out of the system of language, or even out of the concept of time if time never precedes language as Benjy’s narrative shows. Lacan’s notion of the Thing comes from Freud’s studies about the pleasure principle, in which subject-object relationship has most significance in connection to the Thing. A short essay on “negation” Freud wrote helps to understand how the subject represses the existence of the external object (=the Thing) and perceives a representation of it. He gives us two kinds of judgment of the object in the essay. One is the judgment of attributes, exemplified by good, bad, sweet, salty, etc.; the other is the judgment of existence as such. Freud does not believe that the subject perceives the existence of the object, but that the subject re-finds a representation of the object which is always already lost when it’s perceived:

[A]ll presentations originate from perceptions and are repetitions of them. Thus originally the mere existence of a presentation was a guarantee of the reality of what was presented. The antithesis between subjective and objective does not exist from the first. It only comes into being from the fact that thinking possesses the capacity to bring before the mind once more something that has once been perceived, by reproducing it as a presentation without the external object having still to be there. The first and immediate aim, therefore, of reality-testing is, not to find an object in real perception which corresponds to the one presented, but to refind such an object, to convince oneself that it is still there. (SE 237-8)

The existence itself of an object repressed to guarantee the reality is what is called das Ding by Lacan in the seminar. In other words, it is a presentation of the object one has once perceived that constitutes his reality, and he does not have to perceive the existence of the object any more because his thinking simply traces the route he once made as well as the trace facilitates him to follow it. Then, one might ask, when did he perceive the first thing, and find the first trace by losing it? As Freud points out in the quotation above, the antithesis of subjective and objective never precedes the mind’s successful symbolization of something lost into a presentation, which means that, before the re-production of the object as a representation, the external object absent from him is a matter of loss of part of the subject. According to Lacan, Freud’s relationship between the judgment of attributes and of existence leads to that of the Ten Commandments and the prohibition of incest.

Das Ding in terms of the prohibition of incest signifies the mutually constitutive relationship between the subject that desires thanks to the language system, and the inaccessibility of the object of desire kept by the system of prohibition. The moral law on the level of language, for instance, sustains the distance between the subject and incest, but it does not necessarily mean that incest is realizable unless the law interdicts it:

Is the Law the Thing? Certainly not. Yet I can only know of the Thing by means of the Law. In effect, I would not have had the idea to covet it if the Law hadn’t said: “Thou shalt not covet it.” But the Thing finds a way by producing in me all kinds of covetousness thanks to the commandment, for without the Law the Thing is dead. (Seminar VII 83)

It is possible to infer from the quotation above that the Thing is connected to the Law in a very complicated way, in which, if one lacks, the other loses its power. Paradoxically, incest loses its meaning unless the Commandments does not prohibit it. To apply this paradoxical interrelation to the incestuous triangle, the seducer can seduce the sister only when the revenger kills him because of his sexual capacity. A problem of sex that resides in the Sutpens and Compsons is this inability to seduce, caused by the failure of the law. Bon does not seduce Judith: it’s Henry that wants Bon to seduce her, probably because Henry needs someone to be victimized, thanks to whom he holds the position of the paternal law. The same can be said about Quentin in The Sound. He does not actually long to commit the incest nor even love his sister as a human being, but adheres to the idea of incest that will guarantee both the eternity of punishment for treading into das Ding, and the restoration of the symbolic law his father abandons. It is in this sense that Quentin is in interchangeable relationship to Bon on one hand, and to Henry on the other. Like Bon, he “uses” his sister as a means to be punished, and like Henry, to reconstruct the paternal law by victimizing her. As Porter suggests, they are suturing, or properly speaking seaming, the wound of subject, the split left by the lack of the paternal law (98).

The relationship between prohibition and sexual desire should not be reduced to a facile contrarious attitude toward prohibition, such as “I do it because it’s prohibited!” To summarize the argument above, the triangle of incest does not signify that the revenger castrates the seducer because the latter sexually desired a woman inside their own family as Irwin says, but that it is not until the symbolic law effectively functions that the sexual desire for the sister is only retroactively produced temporally before its prohibition by the law. I have argued the paradoxical connection of subject and the Thing in terms of the prohibition of incest and the Commandments, but, in order to problematize The Sound and Absalom!, it is necessary to develop the argument from a broader perspective. From the next chapter, referring to both of the two novels, I will try to explain the Thing and its concealment by positing the notion of “the woman” and “the black” at the level of the Thing.

1. Screen and Non-Existence of the Woman: The Sound and the Fury
The structure of The Sound obviously shows who or what is the object of desire in the novel. It consists of three sections narrated by each of the Compson brothers, each of which pursues the perfect representation of their sister, Caddy, and the last one section by Faulkner, which never successfully capture any representation of Caddy, nor that of Quentin, her only daughter. The narratives are, so to speak, one consistent process of their (re-)constructing “Caddy,” even though they see her very differently: for Benjy, Caddy equates with tree, fire, or another non-human thing, for Quentin, a virginal membrane that reigns over the pride of the family, and for Jason, a bitch that degrades it. Aside from the contents of her representations, what is common to the first three sections is that their act of reconstructing her (representation) guarantees their realities, whether their “realities” appear realistic to the reader or not. Let us examine the function of “Caddy” in this chapter, for she is simultaneously located at the center of the novel and perfectly foreclosed from it. It may help us to understand her function to explain why she is “absence itself,” as Bleikasten named her, and how the brothers, especially Quentin, build up their “reality” on her, a victim of patriarchy robbed of voice and body as feminists might call her.

Caddy and her daughter’s absence from the last section of the novel narrated in the third person suggests that she, or they, is not only to disappear from the brothers’ views, but from Faulkner’s and the reader’s also: from any point of view, she doesn’t exist at the level of language, or isn’t embodied in their narratives. This problem does not signify whether Caddy really exists, or what the brothers want Caddy to be, but in what way they narrate her, and how they capture Caddy’s representations in their narratives. Throughout the first three sections, Caddy appears only as “trace” she left in her brothers: not only the brothers but the reader are always too late to capture “Caddy.” It is not difficult to find in their narratives a number of her representations, such as “bitch” or “membrane.” The whole representations, however, are produced based on the fact that she is absent, lost, or escaped. The numerous representation of “Caddy” and her complete absence are dependent on each other like the two sides of the same coin. Let us return to the arguments Freud made about the subject-object relation, that the subject re-finds a representation of an object. What he problematizes in the essay is not the process that the ego perceives an object and takes it into the ego, but that what the subject has already has (to be more precise, lost at the moment the subject-object antithesis is established) re-appears and thus helps him to keep the reality. The point to be emphasized is that the subject doesn’t look for the object he once perceived, but repeatedly pursues the trace and finds a representation of the first object. In the Freudian sense, the object is always already lost; otherwise, one cannot re-find its representation. To use more accurate terms, what is lost from the subject is not an object but a part of the subject, as we have already seen. If the subject becomes subject only when he loses a part of his being as suggested by Freud’s affirmation that object-subject antithesis never comes before the loss, the loss is paraphrasable with the lack of being itself in the subject. This lack of being by which one can become a subject, or the non-being of the pre-discursive “Thing,” comes into the world full of representations. Lacan calls the lack quite simply “the subject.” The brothers’ recognition of Caddy’s “being” may signify exactly the opposite to Caddy as the lack of being: nevertheless, paradoxically, they are closely connected to, and conditioned by, each other. So far as she functions as the hole of the subject, her non-existence is the postulate for the brothers to perpetuate their desire for her. Therefore, to desire Caddy as das Ding that corresponds to the lack of being leads to desire for nothing, or ultimately for death. To avoid the dreadful nothingness of death, the subject replaces the unbearable fact that he is the lack itself, with the fantasy that an object he desires is lost, and thus desires a substitute for a substitute for a substitute… for the Thing to fill the lack, through the eternal concatenation of substitute representations. Based on these notions of the subject and object, it is appropriate to say that Faulkner’s The Sound is their struggle for the perfect representation to fill their lack. While framing the fantasy that Caddy is lost or escaped, they persistently make efforts to conceal their own lack. In other words, Caddy is not a signified, or at least doesn’t exist as the object of desire signified by “Caddy,” but merely a signifier, such as Benjy’s fire, Jason’s bitch, Quentin’s repetitive, fetishistic utterance of “Caddy,” scent of honeysuckle, etc. As Bleikasten says, Caddy is a mere name: or, Caddy is a name for the unnameable. What determines their fantasy is the Thing that happens to be named Caddy, or in a word, the sin.

In The Sound, there are at least three kinds of fantasies (one may include Faulkner’s own as the fourth) in accordance with the various contents of the sections. Each section reflects its narrator’s distinctive character. But why do these fantasies require brother-sister relationship? Why do they limit the domain of their fantasies inside the category of family? Bleikasten’s idea that the brothers share the same disease while they express different symptoms throughout their narratives (173-4), leads us to another question, what the disease is. If the symptoms indicate their fantasies with different characteristics, or different kinds of efforts to overcome their trauma, the disease/cause of the symptoms has something to do with incest, or sexual desire for Caddy, for it is the thread that penetrates through the narratives. Among the Compson brothers, Quentin especially seems to suffer from the disease, for he not only heavily depends on the system of punishment unlike the other two, but also directly confronts the nothingness beyond it, which drives him into the dilemma of death and life. It is in this sense that Quentin is worth to be the only narrator throughout The Sound and its re-citation, Absalom! The analysis of Quentin, I believe, might help to clarify the relationship between the system of the Law and the woman that doesn’t exist.

In “Appendix: Compson 1699-1945,” Faulkner writes that Quentin “loved not the idea of incest which he would not commit, but some Presbyterian concept of its eternal punishment” (229). The author seems to have a sharp insight into Quentin’s fantasy, in which incest is a mere means, Caddy is a tool, to justify his escape into “eternal punishment.” If the reason for his longing of Caddy is his religious belief that incest is the sin significant enough to eternize punishment, what is indispensable for Quentin’s fantasy is not love or sex, but the system of interdiction. Even though Quentin’s father, Mr. Compson, indulged in nihilism and alcohol in parallel to the collapse of the South, imposes no paternal law on him but simply exposes his impotence desperately, Quentin, instead of his biological father, finds the function of the Law in the Father, or Christian ideology. His suicide does not make any sense without God, because nothing but the Father guarantees the meanings residing in his death, which paradoxically include both the possibility of resurrection at the moment of the final judgement and the eternity of punishment. At this point, it is necessary to make a distinction between the two kinds of death implied in Quentin’s suicide: one is the death for the purpose of reconstruction of his fantasy, or the death he loved so much almost like a pervert (“Appendix” 229), and the other, the death he meets at the moment that his world of fantasy collapses, which is also the moment of his losing the distance between himself and das Ding. In this sense, Quentin’s suicide, although it is supposed to be the end of his life, inversely appears as a strategy to adhere himself to the reality, or to his symbolic world supported by the religious fantasy. Although he commits suicide in The Sound, he does not meet his death: the “death” he deliberately chooses here is his “beloved,” as Faulkner says (“Appendix” 229). This “death” is less the end of Quentin’s life than finding a way to survive the crisis of his subjectivity. Porter claims, for instance, that there are two ways to escape from recognizing the split of the subject one confronts through the cataclysm of Southern patriarchy (97): one is to absorb oneself in nihilism, or any “ism” of nothingness, just like Mr. Compson does. This is not to leave the split open, but to transform it into an aesthetic and succeeds in quasi-concealment. The other is to patch up the split of the subject with the thread of fantasy, mostly in vain for others and satisfyingly for himself. Unlike his father, Quentin tries to reconstruct his subjectivity using any kind of ideologies and memories that might be useful for it, and chooses the Law most dominant in the West. The other two brothers, Benjy and Jason, more easily (or with less difficulty) maintains their fantasies; the former, by being an idiot who is lacking in the ability of language and the notion of time, using servants as keepers of his fantasy, the latter, by persistently attaching himself to money, which is the only connection for him to keep disconnected from Caddy. But Quentin, unlike his happy brothers, excessively depends on the most authoritative and dominant ideology in the West, which is, unfortunately, regarded as dead when the South lost the Civil War. The last way to hold on to his fantasy might have been suicide, for he knows his ideological scaffold is severely limited.

In or through the system of prohibition Quentin pervertedly loves, how does “Caddy” function? First of all, she is essential only because she is their sister, the prohibited object of desire. In short, she is the inaccessible itself. One might ask if she would be still inaccessible unless she was not a sister. Or, in the world without the prohibition of incest, how does the “Caddy” function? Zizek gives us an explanation about the unattainability of the Woman on the basis of Lacanian thesis that the woman doesn’t exist:

The assertion ‘Woman does not exist’ does not in any way refer to an ineffable feminine Essence beyond the domain of discursive existence: what does not exist is this very unattainable Beyond. In short, by playing upon the somewhat worn-out Hegelian formula, we can say that the ?enigma of woman’ ultimately conceals the fact that there is nothing to conceal. (143)

From the notion of the unattainability we see in the quotation above, we can infer that Caddy is unattainable, not because she is a sister, but because “sister” is a fiction that conceals the fact that the woman is unattainable. This “woman” argued above should not be confused with a woman biologically categorized in relation to penis, womb, or hormone, for it has nothing direct to do with this psychoanalytic woman as Beyond. We also should not regard Zizek’s indication that the Beyond doesn’t exist, as his simplistic conclusion that puts the discussion of non-existence away from his notion of the Woman. The Woman as non-being points to the idea that the being is registered in the domain of discourse: the Woman is exactly the deadlock of discourse. It’s worth noting that the inaccessible Thing, or the “nothing” concealed by “the enigma of woman,” has to be a “sister” in the Faulknerian world, a position doubly limited by the categories of sex and family. In controversies surrounding “Caddy,” ironically, many critics following Freud and Lacan has enthusiastically participated in Faulkner’s (or at least the Compsons’) concealment of nothingness, by depicting Caddy as “enigmatic” or “elusive.”

When the position of Caddy at the “beyond” is considered in relation to concealment, the explanation that Caddy is the lack of being is one-handed. If we accept Zizek’s assumption that what does not exist is this beyond, the problem of the woman revolves around the nothingness we cannot bear without covering it with the conceptions like “woman” or “sister.” Thus, as well as the non-being of the woman, I would like to put emphasis on the function of Caddy as screen also, which is, in other words, the limit of his fantasy that secures his subjectivity. The brothers’ identification of Caddy with “a sister that vanished” is itself a screen that conceals the non-existence of the woman. She maintains Quentin’s fantasy of incest in particular, by means of remaining as a sister who belongs to the aristocratic Christian family, apart from undecidability of whether Caddy herself intended to do or not. She is the screen that simultaneously reflects Quentin’s fantasy at the limit of any meanings and covers the beyond of it. In this way, she not only functions as the limit of his reality, or his symbolic world, but prevents his unbearable “real” to invade into his subjectivity. His desire for Caddy, therefore, is merely a security apparatus to conceal his narcissistic love toward her, which requires her to remain as nothing but mirror; what his fantasy necessitates is his one-way relationship to his object of desire, which is not actually desired after all. Caddy is nothing more than a mere representation for him. Nevertheless, Caddy sometimes seems to threaten his subjectivity by rejecting to obediently fit into his fantasy.

it wont take but a second Ill try not to hurt
all right
will you close your eyes
no like this youll have to push it harder
touch your hand to it
but she didnt move her eyes were wide open looking past my head at the sky
Caddy do you remember how Dilsey fussed at you because your drawers were muddy
dont cry
Im not crying Caddy
push it are you going to
do you want me to
yes push it
touch your hand to it
dont cry poor Quentin (SF 118)

In this conversation that implies his attempt either to put a knife into her or to have sexual intercourse with her, Caddy appears as seducer who is supposed to know the pleasure of sex, rather than the victim of incest who wishes the other brother to revenge. In spite of his illustration of her as “gone” or “lost,” it seems that Caddy is foreclosed from his fantasy because of her radical invasiveness as subject rather than object of desire; this fact is what the fiction of “loss” screens.

3. The Ontological Black: Absalom, Absalom!
A. From Incest to Race
A significant difference between The Sound and Absalom! is the content of prohibition, or the fiction of unattainability the brothers are dependent on. Quentin in Absalom! intends to find out what happened to the Sutpens, collecting information from a witness of the case, Rosa, and a son of the closest friend of Thomas Sutpen, Mr. Compson, as well as imaginatively recreating the fragmented stories of the Sutpens in conversation with his friend at Harvard, Shreve. Let us illustrate how the “secret” of the Sutpens gradually becomes clear, or why Henry prevents Bon and Judith’s marriage, following Quentin’s process of putting together his collected information.

In Chapter 4, in which Mr. Compson tells his son the story of the Sutpens he heard from his father, General Compson, the romantic relationship between Bon and Judith becomes clear. A possible obstacle for their marriage, according to Mr. Compson, is bigamy: Bon is married to an octroon, and there is a son between them in New Oleans. This mulatto woman, in spite of her looking like a white, is identified in that racist society as black, not exceptionally under the law that an eighth of black blood surpasses the rest seven eighths of white blood. It was not unusual for a white man of the upper class in the South to have a few (slave) children as a result of sex with slave women. Although he cannot come to terms with the fact that Bon held a wedding ceremony (if one could call it “ceremony”), Henry after all takes her simply as a slave. Mr. Compson concludes that Henry prohibited the marriage because of “not the fact that Bon’s intention was to commit bigamy but that it was apparently to make his [Henry’s] sister a sort of junior partner in a harem” (94). In spite of Henry’s voices of “I will” and “I believe” that repetitively break into Mr. Compson’s narrative, what he will do and believes still remain quite ambiguous. In Chapter 7 that illustrates Sutpen’s childhood, Sutpen explains to General Compson why he came to aim the realization of his “design,” and implies what possibly nullifies it in the future. In the following chapter, the factor that could collapse the design becomes clear through a dialogue between Quentin and Shreve; that Judith cannot marry Bon because he is her brother (235). The problem of incest we are already familiar with in The Sound foregrounds here again, but the story goes farther than incest. In Chapter 8, the setting of which is around the end of the Civil War, Henry visits his father, the colonel, to tell his decision to realize the marriage of his brother and sister, and confronts a new fact that completely upsets his plan: Bon is black. Henry oscillates between Bon as brother and as “nigger,” until Bon definitively identifies himself as follows:

You are my brother.
No I’m not. I’m the nigger that’s going to sleep with your sister. Unless you stop me, Henry. (AA 286)

If it is true that he is a black, or if they form it into the truth, Bon, who is only a sixteenth or thirty-second black, is not a white suitor for Judith but a black who conspires to rape a white lady. In this sense, it is quite important that Henry, who convincingly says he makes them marry because God is dead, cannot stand a black’s having sex with his sister whether the suitor is his brother or not. Bon also recognizes Henry’s predicament based on racism and says: “[s]o it’s the miscegenation, not the incest, which you cant bear” (AA 285). Absalom!, in spite of its title, problematizes race rather than incest.

From the moment that (Bon thinks) Henry knows that he is black, Bon doesn’t hesitate to insist on his identity as black who intends to rape Judith. However, it is doubtful whether Bon actually wants to sleep with her; rather, based on the conversation above, it seems more plausible that Bon wants Henry to stop him, or probably to kill him in accordance with the story of Absalom in the Old Testament. Returning to what they wish to prohibit, that is the seduction of a woman, what Mr. Compson points out in his comment seems to explain the relationship of seduction and prohibition. He tells Quentin that there was no engagement or courtship between Bon and Judith. And yet Henry had to kill Bon to keep them from marrying, because “it must have been Henry who seduced Judith, not Bon” (79). In other words, it is Henry that entices Bon to seduce Judith, and prohibits him from doing it: oddly enough, after the incestuous triangle loses its meaning as a result of the death of God or the South, the triangle structure finds its place in miscegenation, a sin only from the viewpoint of a racially discriminative society. Through Judith’s identificatory change from sister to white lady, Bon kindly plays his role as Amnon the seducer; furthermore, his sacrificial death enables Henry to gain the status of the law. Bon seems to perform Amnon in the triangle structure especially when he incites Henry to shoot him, and it becomes clear at his death that he exchanged Judith’s picture with the octroon’s, in order to prove that he is not worth grieving. Judith remains as a Southern white lady saved from the danger of the black sexual assault, perfectly aside from the fact that Bon in no way seduced nor even desired her.
We have seen how the notion of the black is centralized in Absalom!, but deflects the role of incest in the Bible. Another significant example that shows “the black” added to Absalom! after The Sound is the difference in the sound of an idiot, a kind of tragic climax that determines the end of each story. The meaningless, wordless, but surely tragic sound changes from the bellow of a white idiot that does stop after all by re-finding his beloved objects, to that of a black idiot that never ends reverberating through the South and even Massachusetts, into which Quentin’s cry of “I don’t hate the South” seems to merge. Benjy’s sound, on one hand, stops when he re-finds his beloved objects such as fire, a flower, or any substitute for Caddy: in other words, the sound appears when the fantasy that conceals his lack collapses, and thus the concatenation of substitutes could break into pieces. In Benjy’s case, therefore, his properties and the condition that he can re-find them in the same order fill in the hole Caddy as the Thing left. Unlike Quentin, he does not lose distance from the Thing thanks to his idiocy and inability to speak, and creates his self-centered world in order by substituting object for object forever. On the other hand, Jim Bond never stops making “the sound,” which suggests that the subject fails to find something to screen the lack: more precisely, in this sense, Jim Bond is not a subject. He repeatedly comes back to the site of Sutpen’s Hundred to scream. Quentin tells Shreve that he still hears the bellow of Jim Bond (302). Why is the last Sutpen determined to be black? Does blackness represent anything?

B. The Split of the White/Male Subjectivity
The “black” can be explained only in relation to the subject, which is necessarily white in both The Sound and Absalom! An attempt to define the black based on biological facts or color would not help to understand blackness in Faulkner’s novels, as clearly shown in characters like Joe Christmas. The meaning of “black” is produced only through the process of the white subject’s giving meanings to his world. Otherwise, blackness may expose its emptiness as a signifier. The process of giving meanings to the empty signifier, “black,” can be found in Quentin’s narrativization of the past in Absalom!, at the end of which, the black remains as something that drops out of his story-telling. In other words, his signifying process coincides with the emptying of the signifier. Before discussing the function of “the black,” we need to make a detour and clarify how Quentin uses “the black” to maintain his Southern white subjectivity, and confronts a literally inconceivable scene and fails to “clear” and “burn” the whole ledger” (302). As I have argued in the previous chapters, Quentin in The Sound doesn’t die in a sense but chooses to live by acting out the suicide. He comes back to a different version of the same story in order to liquidate, burn the ledger of the South, and unfortunately, meets his own death, which, unlike when he averts it by throwing himself into the extreme of religious fantasy, exposes the split of his subjectivity.

The most controversial motif in Absalom! critics have dealt with is the doors of Sutpen’s Hundred, which seem exceedingly metaphoric in the novel. Many critics’ interests are in the implication of the doors, and what waits, or is concealed, behind them, protected by the gatekeeper, Clytie, and broken into by Rosa and Quentin. Here we see the making of a secret: the “beyond” of the doors has so much importance in reading of the novel. Let us see what kind of Hell Quentin sees behind them kept by Cerberus:

And you are
Henry Sutpen.
And you have been here
Four years.
And you came home
To die. Yes.
To die?
Yes. To die.
And you have been here
Four years.
And you are
Henry Sutpen.
(AA 298)

If the italics indicate that Quentin is recollecting here, not speaking out his memory in the dialogue with Shreve, the strange order of the conversation may point to the fact that Quentin encounters something he cannot put into words, but cannot help revolving around it. The doors here function exactly like a screen that allows an enigma to be an enigma, or like the safety apparatus that keeps him away from the fact that nothing exists behind them. From his conversation with Henry that stops and returns at the limit of “to die,” it can be inferred that he, the subject, is recoiling from something he cannot bear, suppressing himself at the limit of his reality. He meets his nothingness beyond the words “to die” located exactly at the center of the dialogue. What Quentin barely does in order to cope with the crisis of his subjectivity is to gradually and carefully re-traces his memory backwards toward his symbolic world, or his reality guaranteed by the language system and time. Yet, he confronts the split unrecoverable for him: he sees himself at this point, as implied by the fact that Henry is the character who becomes one with Quentin throughout the story; and in terms of the triangle structure too, he is the one who occupies the same role as Quentin. As Freud insists, the most fearful thing is nothing but oneself: in this context, what he meets is the subject as such, the fact that he is the lack itself. Besides, what has the radical power to invade and could completely deconstruct his fantasy is also himself. Based on the assumption that the screen functions simultaneously as a kind of mirror that reflects and demarcates his reality and as a blanket that covers nothingness of the beyond, Quentin loses his screen here.

What is the ideology that props up Quentin’s fantasy? The moment that he sees the uncanny in himself behind the doors is the point on which implications of the collapse of white/male centrism center. The burning-down of Sutpen’s Hundred may symbolize not only the collapse of the Southern family but of the white/male-centric ideology the Sutpens represent. However, Kevin Railey for example, assumes in his essay about Southern ideologies that “Sutpen’s rebellion and success are motivated by his claim of equal rights and his desire to achieve according to his strength and merit”: that is, “a capitalist social order based on liberalism” (122). Faulkner himself also comments on Sutpen’s motive of his design that “he wanted to establish the fact that man […] cannot be inferior to another man through artificial standards or circumstances” (35). The motivation Sutpen’s design puts its basis on might seem like revenge as Faulkner says, but it’s more important to look to what Sutpen does to realize his design, to revenge the system that allows the man in hammock to be “superior” to others including Sutpen himself. For example, Sutpen implicitly criticizes the rich man’s logic that “[b]ecause I own this rifle, my arms and legs and blood and bones are superior to yours” (185). However, as Faulkner adds in the same interview, Sutpen after all chooses to be as rich as the man: despite Railey’s finding the notion of “equal rights” in Faulkner, Sutpen rather supports the rich man’s discourse, by slightly changing it to: “because my arms and legs and blood and bones are superior to yours by nature, I own this rifle.” His discourse ingeniously covers the other side of the same ideology.

When did the Southern ideology die, and accordingly fail to support the white/male subjectivity? This question does not require an objective answer that should be arrived at historically or politically, for it is more important to inquire into the time the author of Absalom! born after the War settles as the death of the South, as well as Henry does as the death of God. The moment of the death is eloquently explained in Bon’s letter to Judith, that also shows his brilliant insight into the relationship of the sound and death:

Because what WAS is one thing, and now it is not because it is dead, it died in 1861, and therefore what IS? (There. They have started firing again. Which ? to mention it? is redundancy too, like the breathing or the need of ammunition. Because sometimes I think it has never stopped. It hasn’t stopped of course; I dont mean that. I mean, there has never been any more of it, that there was that one fusillade four years ago which sounded once and then arrested, mesmerised raised muzzle by raised muzzle, in the frozen attitude of its own aghast echo jarred by the dropped musket of a weary sentry […]). (AA 104)

The time when Bon wrote this letter is probably 1865, that is when the defeat of the South became clear to the Confederate, too. Although it is unclear what the “one fusillade” that sounded in 1861 means, it seems that Bon identifies the moment of “fusillade” with the time of WAS’s death. The sound we hear in both The Sound and Absalom! might have started, for Faulkner, when the South was destined to fail in the War. At least we can see that the sound’s reverberation comes to an end in The Sound in a way, but foregrounds again in Absalom!, without Quentin’s finding a means to stop it. In short, the split successfully covered in The Sound does lay open to Quentin in Absalom!. The novel leaves the subject exposed to the ideological collapse, and thus leaves the surplus of his narrativization, Jim Bond, also.

C. The Black as Surplus
Let us develop the argument about the surplus of the story named Jim Bond. Why does the element of “the black” determine the system of prohibition, much more critically and tragically that incest, the prohibition at the level of “the woman”? Why did Faulkner locate the origin of the South in the miscegenation, the sin, during the Civil War? The last Sutpen, or the echo of the sound of the subject’s collapse as such, does not give us any explanation about why he has to return to the Hundred and bellows, unlike Benjy, but a narrator who eloquently cuts in Quentin’s narrative interprets the function, or the fate, of the black idiot. Shreve summarizes, at the end of their cooperative narrativization of the past, their story as follows:

“So it took Charles Bon and his mother to get rid of old Tom, and Charles Bon and the octroon to get rid of Judith, and Charles Bon and Clytie to get rid of Henry; and Charles Bon’s mother and Charles Bon’s grandmother got rid of Charles Bon. So it takes two niggers to get rid of one Sutpen, dont it? […] Which is all right, it’s fine; it clears the whole ledger, you can tear all the pages out and burn them, except for one thing. And do you know what that is? […] You’ve got one nigger left. One nigger Sutpen left. Of course you cant catch him and you dont even always see him and you never will be able to use him. But you’ve got him there still.” (302)

Shreve satirically epitomizes the history of the Sutpens, comparing it to a simple arithmetic of addition and subtraction. In his ironic comments, however, a significant implication of the problem of “race” can be found. Following the quotation above, he predicts that the Jim Bonds will conquer the West. Obviously, Shreve is not accounting for a specific man called Jim Bond, nor human beings with black skin who will spread over the West, but for something invisible, indistinct, and direful for those who had caught and used it. Shreve adds to his idea of the conquest by the Bonds, that the Bonds will be as white as the white races, and still be Jim Bond. Let us shed light on the idea in his prediction that the color is not a determinant of the Jim Bonds, even though Jim Bond will forever be Jim Bond, the discriminated because of genealogical difference. Actually, unlike Jim who has dark brown skin, his grandfather and -mother, Bon and the octroon, are seemingly white, though labeled “black.”

Shreve’s notion of the Jim Bonds suggest that the determination of the black has nothing to do with his/her attributes such as color of skin and hair or the extent of education. Does this mean that a black becomes a black only because people around him determine him to be black by networking the discourse that he is black, completely apart from any biological proof, social status, or money? Does the black exist in spite of the empty signifier, “black”? It is clear at least in Absalom! that the only difference between black and white is whether one performs as black or white, as Bon shows: at the same time, this is true only to the extent that we assume that the difference is that which can be explained at the level of language. The problem we confront here is, so to speak, the hell/utopia of differencelessness. If the difference is simply discursive, there may be no objection to a deconstructivist claim, like Haraway’s. Nevertheless, discrimination exists, not because we do not understand the fact that no difference exists between white and black, but because we know that there is no difference unless we produce it. If “we” is too general, the Southern whites in Absalom! know it. Otherwise, how could they so enthusiastically hunt the mulattoes who are possibly “passing” in the white-dominated society? Why, in the Faulknerian society where no distinction can ultimately be made between a man who performs as black and a man as white, does the legal, and especially ethical, boundary between the two races have so much importance?

What I infer from this paradoxical notion of difference is that to theoretically deconstruct the discourse of racial difference has nothing direct to do with annulling the (non-)existence of the black. In other words, Harawagian voluntaryism does not necessarily result in happy deconstruction of racial difference, when it is considered in relation to those characters in Faulkner’s novels who act out the paradoxical difference. Charles Etienne Bon, for instance, confronts this deadlock of difference: as a son of two white-looking blacks, he at first grows up in an aristocratic private space inside which he is served by a servant. As he is taken to the Sutpen’s Hundred and gradually learns his racial identity from the perspective of the Southern slavery, he comes to suffer from the ambiguity of his racial identity. After all, he marries a “monkey woman” who is black as if she could merge into darkness, and has a black, mentally disabled child: Jim Bond. His desperate act of marriage to a black who has difficulty in understanding her husband, or even in speaking understandable words, shows that, in a society where the categorization and differentiation of races obsesses people, his identification as black becomes possible only retroactively. In other words, “the black” as signifier precedes any meanings of it, which means that, on the basis of Freud’s notion of judgment, the black is not posited at the level of attributes but of the existence repressed and concealed by black/white representation. That is to say, the black is less epistemological than ontological.

Regarding the relationship (or relationlessness) between sexual and racial difference, Copjec affirms that sexual difference is inscribed in the real unlike racial, class, or ethnic difference inscribed in the symbolic (21). Her claim here means that the racial difference is epistemological, unlike sexual difference, which is registered in the domain of the being. However, I’d like to claim that the black in Absalom! is located in the domain of existence rather than attributes, for the black exposes itself as perfectly empty signifier only through the epistemological level of the linguistic practice of attributes in difference, which was the role of the woman in The Sound. The black in Absalom! is also equatable with the woman in the sense that the relation of black/white comes into being only through the binary logic (in spite of the fact that there are more than two races unlike sex), and one of the binary is supposed to be the failed version of the other. The intersection of the two non-existences can be found in a minor character in the novel, the octroon: she is the emptiest character, prohibited to name, and absolutely voiceless. She tends to be interpreted (especially by feminists) as a typical victim, oppressed and deprived of voice, disembodied by the system of the Southern patriarchal society and slavery: yet, she appears as a radical element eroding inside, or invading from outside, the white/male subjectivity. For instance, she is the only character who is simultaneously a mother and prostitute, a black and white, a distributable commodity traded by money and a decadent lady much more aristocratic than any female characters in the novel. She has to be ingeniously repressed; otherwise, her existence threatens, and perhaps destroys, the boundary that insures difference.  Mr. Compson calls her a woman created of by and for darkness whom the artist Beardsley might have dressed (157). He doesn’t mean that her skin or hair is black, nor her clothes, but probably that she appears dark to him, or any other subject that hopes her to remain as dark enigma. Just like “the dark continent” Freud compared women to, she is dark because she functions as the enigma, or the screen that creates a fantasy of something beyond her. To illustrate her in the way Zizek explained “the enigma of the woman,” there is nothing to conceal under her gown dressed by Beardsley that perfectly matched “a garden scene by Wilde” (157), and thus it makes us believe that there might be a dark, naked female body behind it.

Why does the black, not the woman, remain as the surplus of the story? The surplus, by definition, means an excess of something that can be added to it if necessary. The Ten Commandments, however, suggests to us a different type of surplus: the prohibition of incest, as we have seen, is not the 11th commandment God forgot to add, but a tacit prohibition that functions only by means of penetrating through the symbolic law, in cooperation with which the law functions as interdiction. Similarly, the surplus that remains after the narrativization of the past is not a surplus by itself, but that which always drops out of speech but therefore makes the speech possible. The ledger of the Sutpens will never be able to make its end meet, torn and burn , without leaving the remainder, Jim Bond; for the “last nigger Sutpen” is what Thomas Sutpen paid in order to obtain his white/male-centered fantasy, or in other words, the lack of his being. The problem for the Sutpen’s ledger, and Quentin too, is the fact that the surplus, or more precisely its echo, returns to the ledger during the process of liquidating the past, and its narrator not only hears it but gets involved in the chaotic reverberation of the echo that destroys his subjectivity. It is in this sense that Quentin loses the distance from das Ding, and meets his death when the sound of death as such returns to him, triggered by the death of the South in the Civil War.

Why, then, did he successfully recoil from the death of subject in The Sound? It may be because the brothers including himself cooperatively construct a fantasy, which is so beautiful and rich that even the reader has participated in the discursive practice. It is not surprising to say that kind of fantasy still has validity today: the fantasy of the beautiful that successfully constructs the enigma of woman. The black, on the other hand, has collapsed, or has been collapsing, since the War that fatally destroyed the conception of black maintained by the system of slavery, exposing the split of the subject unrecoverable in the South. When the emptiness of racial difference is emphasized, the paradoxical status of “the black” in Faulkner seems to lose its signification. However, this does not mean that post-Faulkner people have lost racial fantasies or other kinds; rather, it is quite easy to find a new one in our time too, such as the Jews and the Orient. A feminist theory that celebrates the feminine beyond the discursive construct of “woman” also has the risk of supporting the same fantasy. Shreve’s prophesy that “I,” a Canadian white, will be regarded as a Jim Bond is not out of point, for the position of “Jim Bond” does not require any essential element of race but accidental victimization of an object which is the most useful for the concealment of das Ding.

Conclusion
Faulkner’s position as “a canonical male author” in literary history has caused a number of arguments about whether it is important for feminists to write literary essays on Faulkner. In this paper, I have treated Faulkner’s works as Southern-white-male-centered text and attempted to articulate how Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! use “the woman” and “the black” in order to support the fantasy of the subject position.

The Sound and Absalom! repeat, or fail to repeat, the archetype of the incest that happens in the triangle relationship of Absalom, Amnon, and Tamar. The function of the prohibition of incest inside/outside the Ten Commandments explains why Quentin and Bon fail to become the “seducer.” Although the story of incest seems to follow the order of seduction, rape, and revenge, Quentin and Bon’s case shows that their incestuous desire is retroactively produced after the Father’s prohibition of incest at a different level from that of the Ten Commandments. This prohibition of incest functions as das Ding in a Freudian/Lacanian sense, which is repressed to produce the sense of “reality.”

Caddy, who has been called “absence itself,” is supposed by the Compson brothers to function as fantasy that conceals the fact that she doesn’t exist at the level of language (the symbolic). The Lacanian notion of the subject helps to understand that the Compson brothers don’t lose her, but that “Caddy” is a mere representation of existence that screens the lack of their own being. They construct their symbolic worlds full of signifiers thanks to the fantasy of the “unattainable Beyond” of Caddy.

In Absalom!, however, Quentin confronts a significant crisis of the subject. Although he successfully symbolizes the incestuous fantasy by committing suicide in The Sound, “the black” appears to him as a historically more traumatic lack through the story of the Sutpens. When he speaks to Henry behind the doors, he meets his death; which means that Quentin sees the unbearable split of the subject. The central element of the triangle relationship of Henry, Bon, and Judith, that is “the black,” has more subverting power than “the woman” in Faulkner. Historically speaking, the burning-down of Sutpen’s Hundred represents the collapse of Southern-white-male ideologies triggered by Civil War that dominate Sutpen’s design.

After the fall of the Sutpens, Jim Bond remains as the surplus of the story. What is this “black”? In Absalom!, the black is presented not as the race that has black skin, is uneducated, and of the slave class, but as that which shows no difference from the white: in short, “the black” in Absalom! is not epistemological but ontological. This “black” as surplus is a part of the subject, by paying which the Sutpens bought their fantasy.

Notes
To be inserted

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—. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 1959-1960. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. Dennis Porter. New York & London: Norton, 1992.
Moi, Toril. Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. Ed. Terence Hawkes. London & New York: Routledge, 1985.
Porter, Carolyn. “Symbolic Fathers and Dead Mothers: A Feminist Approach to Faulkner.” Faulkner and Psychology. Ed. Donald M. & Ann J. Abadie Kartiganer. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1991. 78-122.
Railey, Kevin. “Paternalism and Liberalism: Contending Ideologies in Absalom, Absalom!” The Faulkner Journal 7.1-2 Fall-Spring (1991-2): 115-32.
Silverman, Kaja. Male Subjectivity at the Margins. New York & London: Routledge, 1992.
Warren, Marsha. “Time, Space, and Semiotic Discourse in the Feminization/Disintegration of Quentin Compson.” The Faulkner Journal 4.1-2 Fall-Spring (1988): 99-111.
Weinstein, Philip M. “Meditations on the Other: Faulkner’s Rendering of Women.” Faulkner and Women. Ed. Doreen Fowler & Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1986. 81-99.
Zizek, Slavoj. The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and Causality. London & New York: Verso, 1994.
Bibliography

I. Primary Sources
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—. Faulkner in the University. Ed. Frederick L. Gwynn & Joseph L. Blotner. Charlottesville & London: UP of Virginia, 1995.
—. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Random House, 1956.
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A.1.0 Books
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—. Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood. Ed. James Strachey. Trans. Alan Tyson. New York&London: Norton, 1989.
Gwin, Minrose C. Black and White Women of the Old South: The Peculiar Sisterhood in American Literature. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1985.
—. The Feminine and Faulkner: Reading (Beyond) Sexual Difference. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1990.
Irigaray, Luce. This Sex Which Is Not One. Trans. Catherine Porter. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985.
Irwin, Johm T. Doubling and Incest/ Repetition and Revenge: A Speculative Reading of Faulkner. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1975.
Lacan, Jacques. Ecrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York & London: Norton, 1977.
—. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Bokk VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 1959-1960. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. Dennis Porter. First Edition ed. Vol. 7. New York & London: Norton, 1992.
—. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.
Matthews, John T. The Play of Faulkner’s Language. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1982.
Moi, Toril. Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. Ed. Terence Hawkes. London & New York: Routledge, 1985.
Page, Sally R. Faulkner’s Women: Characterization and Meaning. Deland, Fla.: Everett/Edwards, 1972.
Roberts, Diane. Faulkner and Southern Womenhood. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1994.
Ross, Stephen M. Fiction’s Inexhaustible Voice: Speech and Writing in Faulkner. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1989.
Silverman, Kaja. Male Subjectivity at the Margins. New York & London: Routledge, 1992.
Zizek, Slavoj. The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and Causality. London & New York: Verso, 1994.
Zizek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology. London & New York: Verso, 1989.
A.1.1 Book Sections
Blake, Nancy. “Creation and Procreation.” Intertextuality in Faulkner. Ed. Michel (ed. & introd.) Gresset and Noel (ed.) Polk. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1985. 128-143.
Bleikasten, Andre. “Fathers in Faulkner.” The Fictional Father: Lacanian Readings of the Text. Ed. Robert Con Davis. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1981. 115-146.
—. “For/Against an Ideological Reading of Faulkner’s Novels.” Faulkner and Idealism: Perspectives from Paris. Ed. Michel (ed. & introd.); Samway Gresset, Patrick, S.J. (ed. & introd.). Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1983. 27-50.
Butler, Judith. “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” Inside/Out. Ed. Diana Fuss. New York & London: Routledge, 1991. 426.
Case, Sue-Ellen. “Toward a Butch-Femme Aesthetics.” The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Ed. Henry Abelove Michele Aina Barale & David M. Halperin. New York & London: Routledge, 1993.
Copjec, Joan. “The Sartorial Superego.” Read My Desire. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994. 65-116.
—. “Sex and the Euthanasia of Reason.” Supposing the Subject. Ed. Joan Copjec. London & New York: Verso, 1994. 16-44.
Clarke, Deborah. “Of Mothers, Robbery, and Language: Faulkner and The Sound and the Fury.” Faulkner and Psychology. Ed. Donald M. & Ann J. Abadie Kartiganer. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1991. 56-77 of Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha.
Devlin, Albert J. “History, Sexuality, and the Wilderness in the McCaslin Family Chronicle.” Critical Essays on William Faulkner: The McCaslin Family. Ed. Arthur F. Kinney. Boston: Hall, 1990. 189-198.
Douglas, Ellen. “Faulkner’s Women.” ‘A Cosmos of My Own’: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1980. Ed. Doreen (ed.); Abadie Fowler, Ann J. (ed.). Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1981. 149-167.
Folks, Jeffrey J. “Women at the ‘Crossing of the Ways’: Faulkner’s Portrayal of Temple Drake.” Heir and Prototype: Original and Derived Characterizations in Faulkner. Ed. Dan Ford. Conway: U of Central Arkansas P, 1987. 59-69.
Fowler, Doreen. “”Little Sister Death”: The Sound and the Fury and the Denied Unconscious.” Faulkner and Psychology. Ed. Donald M. & Ann J. Abadie Kartiganer. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1991. 3-20 of Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha.
Freud, Sigmund. “Psychoanalytic Notes upon an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia.” Three Case Histories. Ed. Philip Rieff. New York: Macmillan, 1993. 87-160.
Freud, Sigmund. “Negation.” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Ed. James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 1955. 235-9. Vol. 19.
—. “The Uncanny.” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Ed. James Strachey. Trans. James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 1955. 217-52. Vol. 17.
Haraway, Donna J. “”A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”.” Simias, Cyborgs, and Women. New York: Routledge, 1991. 149-81.
Harbison, Sherrill. “Two Sartoris Women: Faulkner, Femininity, and Changing Times.” Critical Essays on William Faulkner: The Sartoris Family. Ed. Arthur Kinney. Boston: Hall, 1985. 289-303.
Haselswerdt, Marjorie B. “’Keep Your Muck’: A Horneyan Analysis of Joe Christmas and Light in August.” Third Force Psychology and the Study of Literature. Ed. Bernard J. (ed. & introd.) Paris. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1986. 206-224.
Jones, Anne Goodwyn. “Male Fantasies?: Faulkner’s War Stories and the Construction of Gender.” Faulkner and Psychology. Ed. Donald M. (ed. & introd.) Kartiganer and Ann J. (ed.) Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1994. 21-55. Vol. xviii of Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha.
Lind, Ilse Dusoir. “Faulkner’s Women.” The Maker and the Myth: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1977. Ed. Evans Harrington, Abadie, Ann J., Noyes, C. E. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1978. 89-104.
Martin, Jay. “Faulkner’s ‘Male Commedia’: The Triumph of Manly Grief.” Faulkner and Psychology. Ed. Donald M. (ed. & introd.) Kartiganer and Ann J. (ed.) Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1994. 123-64. Vol. xviii of Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha.
Morrison, Toni. “Faulkner and Women.” Faulkner and Women: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1985. Ed. Doreen (ed. & introd.) Fowler and Ann J. (ed.) Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1986. 295-302. Vol. xiv of Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha.
Muhlenfeld, Elisabeth. “The Distaff Side: The Women in Go Down, Moses.” Critical Essays on William Faulkner: The McCaslin Family. Ed. Arthur F. (ed. & introd.) Kinney. Boston: Hall, 1990. 198-212.
Polk, Noel. “Woman and the Feminine in A Fable.” Faulkner and Women: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1985. Ed. Doreen & Abadie Fowler, Ann J. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1986. 180-204.
Porter, Carolyn. “Symbolic Fathers and Dead Mothers: A Feminist Approach to Faulkner.” Faulkner and Psychology. Ed. Donald M. & Ann J. Abadie Kartiganer. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1991. 78-122 of Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha.
Rich, Adrienne. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” Blood, Bread, and Poetry, 1986.
Seed, David. “The Evidence of Things Seen and Unseen: William Faulkner’s Sanctuary.” American Horror Fiction: From Brockden Brown to Stephen King. Ed. Brian Docherty. New York: St. Martin’s, 1990. 73-91.
Sensibar, Judith L. “’Drowsing Maidenhood Symbol’s Self’: Faulkner and the Fictions of Love.” Faulkner and the Craft of Fiction: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1987. Ed. Doreen (ed. & introd.) Fowler and Ann J. (ed.) Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1989. 124-47. Vol. xviii of Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha.
Wagner, Linda W.; Black, Victoria F.; Harrington, Evans. “Faulkner and Women.” The South and Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha: The Actual and the Apocryphal. Ed. Evans Harrington, Abadie, Ann J. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1977. 147-51.
Weinstein, Philip M. “Meditations on the Other: Faulkner’s Rendering of Women.” Faulkner and Women. Ed. Doreen Fowler & Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1986. 81-99.
Wittenberg, Judith Bryant. “William Faulkner: A Feminist Consideration.” American Novelists Revisited: Essays in Feminist Criticism. Ed. Fritz Fleischmann. Boston: Hall, 1982. 325-338.
B. Articles
Allen, Dennis W. “Horror and Perverse Delight: Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’.” Modern Fiction Studies 30 Winter (1984): 685-696.
Barker, Deborah E.; Kamps, Ivo. “Much Ado about Nothing: Language and Desire in The Sound and the Fury.” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 46 Summer (1993): 373-93.
Batty, Nancy E. “The Riddle of Absalom, Absalom!: Looking at the Wrong Blackbird?” 47 Summer (1994): 461-89.
Bleikasten, Andre. “Terror and Nausea: Bodies in Sanctuary.” The Faulkner Journal 1 Fall (1985): 17-29.
Broughton, Panthea Reid. “The Economy of Desire: Faulkner’s Poetics, from Eroticism to Post-Impressionism.” The Faulkner Journal 4 Fall-Spring (1988): 159-77.
Buchanan, Ron. “’I want you to be human’: The Potential Sexuality of Narcissa Benbow.” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 41 Summer (1988): 447-458.
Clarke, Deborah L. “Familiar and Fantastic: Women in Absalom, Absalom!” The Faulkner Journal 2 Fall (1986): 62-72.
—. “Gender, Race, and Language in Light in August.” American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography 61 (1989): 398-413.
Coleman, Rosemary. “Family Ties: Generating Narratives in Absalom, Absalom!” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 41 Summer (1988): 421-431.
Dale, Corinne. “Absalom, Absalom! and the Snopes Trilogy: Southern Patriarchy in Revision.” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 45 Summer (1992): 321-37.
Dalziel, Pamela. “Absalom, Absalom!: The Extension of Dialogic Form.” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 45 Summer (1992): 277-94.
Desmond, John F. “From Suicide to Ex-Suicide: Note on the Southern Writer as Hero in the Age of Despair.” Southern Literary Journal 25 Fall (1992): 89-105.
Dickerson, Lynn. “A Possible Source for the Title Absalom, Absalom!” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 31 (1978): 423-24.
Donaldson, Susan V. “Subverting History: Women, Narrative and Patriarchy in Absalom, Absalom!” The Southern Quarterly: A Journal of the Arts in the South 26 Summer (1988): 19-32.
Duvall, John N. “Authentic Ghost Stories: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Absalom, Absalom!, and Beloved.” The Faulkner Journal 4 Fall-Spring (1988): 83-97.
—. “Murder and the Communities: Ideology in and around Light in August.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 202 Winter (1987): 101-122.
Dwyer, June. “Feminization, Masculinization, and the Role of the Woman Patriot in The Unvanquished.” The Faulkner Journal 6 Spring (1991): 55-64.
Ferrer, Daniel. “Editorial Changes in the Chronology of Absalom, Absalom!: A Matter of Life and Death?” The Faulkner Journal 5 Fall (1989): 45-48.
Foerst, Jenny Jennings. “The Psychic Wholeness and Corrupt Text of Rosa Coldfield, ‘Author and Victim Too’ of Absalom, Absalom!” The Faulkner Journal 4 Fall-Spring (1988): 37-53.
Fowler, Doreen. “”Matricide and the Mother’s Revenge.” The Faulkner Journal 4 Fall-Spring (1988): 113-125.
Geoffroy, Alain. “Through Rosa’s Looking-Glass: Narcissism and Identification in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 45 Summer (1992): 313-21.
Godden, Richard. “Absalom, Absalom! and Faulkner’s Erroneous Dating of the Haitian Revolution.” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 47 Summer (1994): 489-95.
—. “Absalom, Absalom! and Rosa Coldfield: Or, What Is in the Dark House.” The Faulkner Journal 8 Spring (1993): 31-66.
Gwin, Minrose C. “Femininism and Faulkner: Second Thoughts: Or, What’s a Radical Feminist Doing with a Canonical Male Text Anyway?” The Faulkner Journal 4 Fall-Spring (1988): 55-65.
Hagan, John. “Deja Vu and the Effect of Timelessness in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!” Bucknell Rerview 11.March (1963): 31-52.
Halden, Judith. “Sexual Ambiguities in Light in August.” Studies in American Fiction 10 Autumn (1982): 209-216.
Haury, Beth B. “The Influence of Robinson Jeffers’ ‘Tamar’ on Absalom, Absalom!” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 25 (1972): 356-58.
Heywood, Leslie. “The Shattered Glass: The Blank Space of Being in Absalom, Abasalom!” The Faulkner Journal 3 Spring (1988): 12-23.
Johnson, Karen Ramsay. “Gender, Sexuality and the Artist in Faulkner’s Novels.” American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography 61 (1989): 1-15.
Jones, Anne Goodwyn. “Female, Feminine, Feminist, Femme, Faulkner?” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 47 Summer (1994): 521-45.
Krause, David. “Opeining Pandora’s Box: Re-Reading Compson’s Letter and Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!” Centennial Review 30 (1986): 358-52.
—. “Reading Bon’s Letter and Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!” PMLA 99 (1984): 225-41.
—. “Reading Shreve’s Letters and Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!” Studies in American Fiction 11 Autumn (1983): 153-69.
LaRocque, Geraldine E. “A Tale of Two Cities and Absalom! Absalom!” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 35 Summer (1982): 301-304.
Michel, Frann. “William Faulkner as a Lesbian Author.” The Faulkner Journal 4 Fall-Spring (1988): 5-20.
Miller, David M. “Faulkner’s Women.” Modern Fiction Studies 13 Spring (1967): 3-17.
Mortimer, Gail L. “The Smooth, Suave Shape of Desire: Paradox in Faulknerian Imagery of Women.” Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 13 (1986): 149-161.
Muhlenfeld, Elisabeth S. “Shadows with Substance and Ghosts Exhumed: The Women in Absalom, Absalom!” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 25 (1972): 289-304.
Polk, Noel. “The Manuscript of Absalom, Absalom!” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 25 (1972): 359-67.
Price, Steve. “Shreve’s Bon in Absalom, Absalom!” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 39 Summer (1986): 325-335.
Radloff, Bernhard. “Dialogue and Insight: The Priority of the Heritage in Absalom, Absalom!” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 42 Summer (1989): 261-272.
Ragan, David Paul. “’That Tragedy Is Second-Hand’: Quentin, Henry, and the Ending of Absalom, Absalom!” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 39 Summer (1986): 337-350.
Railey, Kevin. “Paternalism and Liberalism: Contending Ideologies in Absalom, Absalom!” The Faulkner Journal 7 Fall-Spring (1991-2): 115-32.
Robbins, Deborah. “Desperate Eloquence of Absalom, Absalom!” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 34 Summer (1981): 315-324.
Roberts, Diane. “A Precarious Pedestal: The Confederate Woman in Faulkner’s Unvanquished.” Journal of American Studies 26 (1992): 233-46.
Rollyson, Carl E., Jr. “The Re-Creation of the Past in Absalom, Absalom!” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 29 (1976): 361-74.
Rosenman, John B. “Anderson’s Poor White and Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 29 (1976): 437-38.
Ryan, Heberden W. “Behind Closed Doors: The Unknowable and the Unknowing in Absalom, Absalom!” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 45 Summer (1992): 295-312.
Schmidtberger, Loren. “Absalom, Absalom! What Clytie Knew.” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 35 Summer (1982): 255-263.
Sciolino, Martina. “Woman as Object of Exchange in Dickens’ Great Expectations and Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.” Mississippi Review 17 (1989): 97-128.
Slaughter, Carolyn Norman. “Absalom, Absalom!: ‘Fluid Cradle of Events (Time)’.” The Faulkner Journal 6 Spring (1991): 65-84.
Tanner, Laura E. “Reading Rape: Sanctuary and The Women of Brewster Place.” American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography 62 (1990): 559-582.
Tully, Susan Hayes. “Joanna Burden: ‘It’s the dead folks that do him the damage’.” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 40 Fall (1987): 355-371.
Warren, Marsha. “Time, Space, and Semiotic Discourse in the Feminization/Disintegration of Quentin Compson.” The Faulkner Journal 4 Fall-Spring (1988): 99-111.
Wilson, Deborah. “’A Shape to Fill a Lack’: Absalom, Absalom! and the Pattern of History.” The Faulkner Journal 7 Fall-Spring (1991-2): 61-81.

caspar-neher-faulkner-absalom-2

4. Desire and Revenge

seducer victim revenger
AA Bon Judith Henry
SF Quentin Caddy Quentin

In Faulkner, however, the lack of seduction never influences the revenge, or the punishment of the seduction. The “paradox” is that the seduction of the victim never occurs prior to revenge, but is constructed only after the revenger’s murder of the seducer. ie. the primal scene/incest (or miscegenation) occurs only at the level of the immemorial (the unconscious)

Mr. Compson: Henry […] may have been conscious that his fierce provincial’s pride in his sister’s virginity was a false quantity which must incorporate in itself an inability to endure in order to be precious, to exist, and so must depend upon its loss, absence, to have existed at all (AA 76-7).

In this paragraph that indicates Quentin’s own predicament of “pride in his sister’s virginity” too, Mr. Compson tries to tell his son how unfruitful the efforts to believe in the sister’s virginity, and how ironic the result of the efforts would be. Mr. Compson’s “lesson” to Quentin, however, implies not only the irony of virginity, but a very ironic yet meaningful explanation of the relation between reality of virginity and its absence: the very concept of virginity is completely dependent on its loss. Virginity doesn’t exist before sex occurs; so in a sense, only after losing virginity, a woman is able to prove her virginity, or at least that she had virginity before the sex. Those who cannot bear the paradox, just like Quentin and Henry, may have invented (or cited the Old Testament to find) a way to prove the existence of virginity by becoming “the revenger,” who punishes “the incest which he would not commit.”

Bon, is a man who not only has experience of the pleasure of sex but is tired of it, and thus attracts unexperienced country boys at Mississippi. Though he is supposed to know the pleasure of sex and effortlessly attracts Henry, Judith, and her mother, it is also an important characteristic of Bon that he is sexually impotent toward his half sister, that he doesn’t show sexual desire toward her, for a different reason from Quentin’s non-desire for Caddy in SF.

In Chapter 8, for instance, Bon implicitly confesses that the reason why he makes approaches to Judith is not to have sex with her, but that he is waiting for Thomas Sutpen, his father, to intervene between them, because Sutpen’s intervention may indicate the fact that Judith is the prohibited object of Bon’s desire, that is “sister.” For Bon, therefore, Sutpen’s acknowledgment of him as son has more significance than incest itself: Bon even thinks that any sign of Sutpen’s unpleasant feeling about the marriage of Bon and Judith, say, a returned letter from him (266), would be enough to verify Bon’s unspoken status as the eldest son of the Sutpens. In comparison with Amnon, Bon is exactly at the opposite to him in the same structure: although Amnon rapes Tamar, his father does not punish him because, according to the Douay-Rheims translation, 2 Kings 13: 21, Amnon is the eldest son. This implies that the father’s acknowledgment of his son occurs simultaneously with the son’s acquirement of sexual ability. And if it is appropriate to take the seducer as a double of the revenger as Irwin suggests, the revenger inherits his father’s position as the law by murdering the seducer on one hand, and successfully becomes enabled to demonstrate his sexual ability in the proper way by repressing his own desire for the prohibited object. The victim of this triangular relation, in a deeper sense, is Amnon, for he plays the role of the scapegoat sacrificed for the Father, the Law. Accordingly, what Bon hopes to detect is a mere hint of Sutpen’s acknowledgment, for it could mean that Judith is an inaccessible object for Bon on the one hand and that he is the eldest son the father cannot explicitly blame for the rape. He unfortunately cannot desire his sister because his father does not prohibit it. Speaking in another way, the moment that he becomes the seducer is exactly when he dies as seducer as a result of the sibling murder. In a psychoanalytic way, this paradox can be explained as follows: the son’s castration and his acquirement of the phallus happen at the same time. Without the victimization of Amnon, or the punishment of incestuous desire, Absalom cannot come into being as the revenger, the one who reigns over the domain of the Law: moreover, the seduction does not attain completion without/before the death of seducer.

The Ten Commandments do not refer to incest, which in the story of Absalom and Amnon seems to be an evil act that deserves death, and in Faulkner the heaviest sin that deserves the eternal punishment Quentin painfully longs for. And despite of this fact, incest is severely problematized morally and religiously in Faulkner’s works, as well as ethically and genetically in our society. It is at least clear that the prohibition of incest functions at a different level from that of the Ten Commandments which function as interdiction, a prohibitive law on the level of language. Lacan explains this bizarre structure of the moral law and its function in his seminar about Freud’s pleasure principle and its beyond.

The ten commandments may be interpreted as intended to prevent the subject from engaging in any form of incest on one condition, and on one condition only, namely, that we recognize that the prohibition of incest is nothing other than the condition sine qua non of speech.

This brings us back to questioning the meaning of the ten commandments insofar as they are tied in the deepest of ways to that which regulates the distance between the subject and das Ding ? insofar as that distance is precisely the condition of speech, insofar as the ten commandments are the condition of the existence of speech as such. (Seminar VII 69)

What Lacan suggests above is that the prohibition of incest is a necessary condition for the subject to speak, by keeping distance from das Ding (=the Thing, or “incest” in this case) thanks to the existence of the Ten Commandments. Das Ding is, therefore, that which remains repressed in order to endorse the speaking subject. Accordingly, the Thing is empty of any sense because it is what drops out of the system of language, or even out of the concept of time if time never precedes language as Benjy’s narrative shows. Lacan’s notion of the Thing comes from Freud’s studies about the pleasure principle, in which subject-object relationship has most significance in connection to the Thing. A short essay on “negation” Freud wrote helps to understand how the subject represses the existence of the external object (=the Thing) and perceives a representation of it. He gives us two kinds of judgment of the object in the essay. One is the judgment of attributes, exemplified by good, bad, sweet, salty, etc.; the other is the judgment of existence as such. Freud does not believe that the subject perceives the existence of the object, but that the subject re-finds a representation of the object which is always already lost when it’s perceived:

[A]ll presentations originate from perceptions and are repetitions of them. Thus originally the mere existence of a presentation was a guarantee of the reality of what was presented. The antithesis between subjective and objective does not exist from the first. It only comes into being from the fact that thinking possesses the capacity to bring before the mind once more something that has once been perceived, by reproducing it as a presentation without the external object having still to be there. The first and immediate aim, therefore, of reality-testing is, not to find an object in real perception which corresponds to the one presented, but to refind such an object, to convince oneself that it is still there. (SE 237-8)

The existence itself of an object repressed to guarantee the reality is what is called das Ding by Lacan in the seminar. In other words, it is a presentation of the object one has once perceived that constitutes his reality, and he does not have to perceive the existence of the object any more because his thinking simply traces the route he once made as well as the trace facilitates him to follow it. Then, one might ask, when did he perceive the first thing, and find the first trace by losing it? As Freud points out in the quotation above, the antithesis of subjective and objective never precedes the mind’s successful symbolization of something lost into a presentation, which means that, before the re-production of the object as a representation, the external object absent from him is a matter of loss of part of the subject. According to Lacan, Freud’s relationship between the judgment of attributes and of existence leads to that of the Ten Commandments and the prohibition of incest.

Das Ding in terms of the prohibition of incest signifies the mutually constitutive relationship between the subject that desires thanks to the language system, and the inaccessibility of the object of desire kept by the system of prohibition. The moral law on the level of language, for instance, sustains the distance between the subject and incest, but it does not necessarily mean that incest is realizable unless the law interdicts it:

Is the Law the Thing? Certainly not. Yet I can only know of the Thing by means of the Law. In effect, I would not have had the idea to covet it if the Law hadn’t said: “Thou shalt not covet it.” But the Thing finds a way by producing in me all kinds of covetousness thanks to the commandment, for without the Law the Thing is dead. (Seminar VII 83)

It is possible to infer from the quotation above that the Thing is connected to the Law in a very complicated way, in which, if one lacks, the other loses its power. Paradoxically, incest loses its meaning unless the Commandments does not prohibit it. To apply this paradoxical interrelation to the incestuous triangle, the seducer can seduce the sister only when the revenger kills him because of his sexual capacity. A problem of sex that resides in the Sutpens and Compsons is this inability to seduce, caused by the failure of the law. Bon does not seduce Judith: it’s Henry that wants Bon to seduce her, probably because Henry needs someone to be victimized, thanks to whom he holds the position of the paternal law. The same can be said about Quentin in The Sound. He does not actually long to commit the incest nor even love his sister as a human being, but adheres to the idea of incest that will guarantee both the eternity of punishment for treading into das Ding, and the restoration of the symbolic law his father abandons. It is in this sense that Quentin is in interchangeable relationship to Bon on one hand, and to Henry on the other. Like Bon, he “uses” his sister as a means to be punished, and like Henry, to reconstruct the paternal law by victimizing her. As Porter suggests, they are suturing, or properly speaking seaming, the wound of subject, the split left by the lack of the paternal law (98).

The relationship between prohibition and sexual desire should not be reduced to a facile contrarious attitude toward prohibition, such as “I do it because it’s prohibited!” To summarize the argument above, the triangle of incest does not signify that the revenger castrates the seducer because the latter sexually desired a woman inside their own family as Irwin says, but that it is not until the symbolic law effectively functions that the sexual desire for the sister is only retroactively produced temporally before its prohibition by the law. I have argued the paradoxical connection of subject and the Thing in terms of the prohibition of incest and the Commandments, but, in order to problematize The Sound and Absalom!, it is necessary to develop the argument from a broader perspective. From the next chapter, referring to both of the two novels, I will try to explain the Thing and its concealment by positing the notion of “the woman” and “the black” at the level of the Thing.

Quentin
In “Appendix: Compson 1699-1945,” Faulkner writes that Quentin “loved not the idea of incest which he would not commit, but some Presbyterian concept of its eternal punishment” (229). The author seems to have a sharp insight into Quentin’s fantasy, in which incest is a mere means, Caddy is a tool, to justify his escape into “eternal punishment.” If the reason for his longing of Caddy is his religious belief that incest is the sin significant enough to eternize punishment, what is indispensable for Quentin’s fantasy is not love or sex, but the system of interdiction. Even though Quentin’s father, Mr. Compson, indulged in nihilism and alcohol in parallel to the collapse of the South, imposes no paternal law on him but simply exposes his impotence desperately, Quentin, instead of his biological father, finds the function of the Law in the Father, or Christian ideology. His suicide does not make any sense without God, because nothing but the Father guarantees the meanings residing in his death, which paradoxically include both the possibility of resurrection at the moment of the final judgement and the eternity of punishment. At this point, it is necessary to make a distinction between the two kinds of death implied in Quentin’s suicide: one is the death for the purpose of reconstruction of his fantasy, or the death he loved so much almost like a pervert (“Appendix” 229), and the other, the death he meets at the moment that his world of fantasy collapses, which is also the moment of his losing the distance between himself and das Ding. In this sense, Quentin’s suicide, although it is supposed to be the end of his life, inversely appears as a strategy to adhere himself to the reality, or to his symbolic world supported by the religious fantasy. Although he commits suicide in The Sound, he does not meet his death: the “death” he deliberately chooses here is his “beloved,” as Faulkner says (“Appendix” 229). This “death” is less the end of Quentin’s life than finding a way to survive the crisis of his subjectivity. Porter claims, for instance, that there are two ways to escape from recognizing the split of the subject one confronts through the cataclysm of Southern patriarchy (97): one is to absorb oneself in nihilism, or any “ism” of nothingness, just like Mr. Compson does. This is not to leave the split open, but to transform it into an aesthetic and succeeds in quasi-concealment. The other is to patch up the split of the subject with the thread of fantasy, mostly in vain for others and satisfyingly for himself. Unlike his father, Quentin tries to reconstruct his subjectivity using any kind of ideologies and memories that might be useful for it, and chooses the Law most dominant in the West. The other two brothers, Benjy and Jason, more easily (or with less difficulty) maintains their fantasies; the former, by being an idiot who is lacking in the ability of language and the notion of time, using servants as keepers of his fantasy, the latter, by persistently attaching himself to money, which is the only connection for him to keep disconnected from Caddy. But Quentin, unlike his happy brothers, excessively depends on the most authoritative and dominant ideology in the West, which is, unfortunately, regarded as dead when the South lost the Civil War. The last way to hold on to his fantasy might have been suicide, for he knows his ideological scaffold is severely limited.

miscegenation/Jim Bond
In Chapter 4, in which Mr. Compson tells his son the story of the Sutpens he heard from his father, General Compson, the romantic relationship between Bon and Judith becomes clear. A possible obstacle for their marriage, according to Mr. Compson, is bigamy: Bon is married to an octroon, and there is a son between them in New Oleans. This mulatto woman, in spite of her looking like a white, is identified in that racist society as black, not exceptionally under the law that an eighth of black blood surpasses the rest seven eighths of white blood. It was not unusual for a white man of the upper class in the South to have a few (slave) children as a result of sex with slave women. Although he cannot come to terms with the fact that Bon held a wedding ceremony (if one could call it “ceremony”), Henry after all takes her simply as a slave. Mr. Compson concludes that Henry prohibited the marriage because of “not the fact that Bon’s intention was to commit bigamy but that it was apparently to make his [Henry’s] sister a sort of junior partner in a harem” (94). In spite of Henry’s voices of “I will” and “I believe” that repetitively break into Mr. Compson’s narrative, what he will do and believes still remain quite ambiguous. In Chapter 7 that illustrates Sutpen’s childhood, Sutpen explains to General Compson why he came to aim the realization of his “design,” and implies what possibly nullifies it in the future. In the following chapter, the factor that could collapse the design becomes clear through a dialogue between Quentin and Shreve; that Judith cannot marry Bon because he is her brother (235). The problem of incest we are already familiar with in The Sound foregrounds here again, but the story goes farther than incest. In Chapter 8, the setting of which is around the end of the Civil War, Henry visits his father, the colonel, to tell his decision to realize the marriage of his brother and sister, and confronts a new fact that completely upsets his plan: Bon is black. Henry oscillates between Bon as brother and as “nigger,” until Bon definitively identifies himself as follows:

You are my brother.
No I’m not. I’m the nigger that’s going to sleep with your sister. Unless you stop me, Henry. (AA 286)

If it is true that he is a black, or if they form it into the truth, Bon, who is only a sixteenth or thirty-second black, is not a white suitor for Judith but a black who conspires to rape a white lady. In this sense, it is quite important that Henry, who convincingly says he makes them marry because God is dead, cannot stand a black’s having sex with his sister whether the suitor is his brother or not. Bon also recognizes Henry’s predicament based on racism and says: “[s]o it’s the miscegenation, not the incest, which you cant bear” (AA 285). Absalom!, in spite of its title, problematizes race rather than incest.

From the moment that (Bon thinks) Henry knows that he is black, Bon doesn’t hesitate to insist on his identity as black who intends to rape Judith. However, it is doubtful whether Bon actually wants to sleep with her; rather, based on the conversation above, it seems more plausible that Bon wants Henry to stop him, or probably to kill him in accordance with the story of Absalom in the Old Testament. Returning to what they wish to prohibit, that is the seduction of a woman, what Mr. Compson points out in his comment seems to explain the relationship of seduction and prohibition. He tells Quentin that there was no engagement or courtship between Bon and Judith. And yet Henry had to kill Bon to keep them from marrying, because “it must have been Henry who seduced Judith, not Bon” (79). In other words, it is Henry that entices Bon to seduce Judith, and prohibits him from doing it: oddly enough, after the incestuous triangle loses its meaning as a result of the death of God or the South, the triangle structure finds its place in miscegenation, a sin only from the viewpoint of a racially discriminative society. Through Judith’s identificatory change from sister to white lady, Bon kindly plays his role as Amnon the seducer; furthermore, his sacrificial death enables Henry to gain the status of the law. Bon seems to perform Amnon in the triangle structure especially when he incites Henry to shoot him, and it becomes clear at his death that he exchanged Judith’s picture with the octroon’s, in order to prove that he is not worth grieving. Judith remains as a Southern white lady saved from the danger of the black sexual assault, perfectly aside from the fact that Bon in no way seduced nor even desired her.

We have seen how the notion of the black is centralized in Absalom!, but deflects the role of incest in the Bible. Another significant example that shows “the black” added to Absalom! after The Sound is the difference in the sound of an idiot, a kind of tragic climax that determines the end of each story. The meaningless, wordless, but surely tragic sound changes from the bellow of a white idiot that does stop after all by re-finding his beloved objects, to that of a black idiot that never ends reverberating through the South and even Massachusetts, into which Quentin’s cry of “I don’t hate the South” seems to merge. Benjy’s sound, on one hand, stops when he re-finds his beloved objects such as fire, a flower, or any substitute for Caddy: in other words, the sound appears when the fantasy that conceals his lack collapses, and thus the concatenation of substitutes could break into pieces. In Benjy’s case, therefore, his properties and the condition that he can re-find them in the same order fill in the hole Caddy as the Thing left. Unlike Quentin, he does not lose distance from the Thing thanks to his idiocy and inability to speak, and creates his self-centered world in order by substituting object for object forever. On the other hand, Jim Bond never stops making “the sound,” which suggests that the subject fails to find something to screen the lack: more precisely, in this sense, Jim Bond is not a subject. He repeatedly comes back to the site of Sutpen’s Hundred to scream. Quentin tells Shreve that he still hears the bellow of Jim Bond (302). Why is the last Sutpen determined to be black? Does blackness represent anything?

The meaning of “black” is produced only through the process of the white subject’s giving meanings to his world. Otherwise, blackness may expose its emptiness as a signifier. The process of giving meanings to the empty signifier, “black,” can be found in Quentin’s narrativization of the past in Absalom!, at the end of which, the black remains as something that drops out of his story-telling. In other words, his signifying process coincides with the emptying of the signifier. Before discussing the function of “the black,” we need to make a detour and clarify how Quentin uses “the black” to maintain his Southern white subjectivity, and confronts a literally inconceivable scene and fails to “clear” and “burn” the whole ledger” (302).

And you are
Henry Sutpen.
And you have been here
Four years.
And you came home
To die. Yes.
To die?
Yes. To die.
And you have been here
Four years.
And you are
Henry Sutpen.
(AA 298)

If the italics indicate that Quentin is recollecting here, not speaking out his memory in the dialogue with Shreve, the strange order of the conversation may point to the fact that Quentin encounters something he cannot put into words, but cannot help revolving around it. The doors here function exactly like a screen that allows an enigma to be an enigma, or like the safety apparatus that keeps him away from the fact that nothing exists behind them. From his conversation with Henry that stops and returns at the limit of “to die,” it can be inferred that he, the subject, is recoiling from something he cannot bear, suppressing himself at the limit of his reality. He meets his nothingness beyond the words “to die” located exactly at the center of the dialogue. What Quentin barely does in order to cope with the crisis of his subjectivity is to gradually and carefully re-traces his memory backwards toward a stable symbolic, something that can guarantee his reality and selfhood. Yet, he confronts the split unrecoverable for him: he sees himself at this point, as implied by the fact that Henry is the character who becomes one with Quentin throughout the story; and in terms of the triangle structure too, he is the one who occupies the same role as Quentin. As Freud insists, the most fearful thing is nothing but oneself: in this context, what he meets is the subject as such, the fact that he is the lack itself. Besides, what has the radical power to invade and could completely deconstruct his fantasy is also himself. Based on the assumption that the screen functions simultaneously as a kind of mirror that reflects and demarcates his reality and as a blanket that covers nothingness of the beyond, Quentin loses his screen here.

What is it that props up Quentin’s fantasy? The moment that he encounters the uncanny (ie. himself) behind the doors is the point upon which implications of the collapse of white/male centrism center. The burning-down of Sutpen’s Hundred may symbolize not only the collapse of the Southern family but of the white/male-centric ideology the Sutpens represent. But Sutpen’s rebellion and success are motivated by his claim of equal rights and his desire to achieve according to his strength and merit: in other words, a capitalist social order based on liberalism. Faulkner himself also comments on Sutpen’s motive of his design that “he wanted to establish the fact that man […] cannot be inferior to another man through artificial standards or circumstances” (35). The motivation Sutpen’s design is based upon might seem like revenge as Faulkner says, but it’s more important to look to what Sutpen does to realize his design, to revenge the system that allows the man in hammock to be “superior” to others including Sutpen himself. For example, Sutpen implicitly criticizes the rich man’s logic that “[b]ecause I own this rifle, my arms and legs and blood and bones are superior to yours” (185). However, as Faulkner adds in the same interview, Sutpen after all chooses to be as rich as the man: despite the notion of “equal rights,” Sutpen rather supports the rich man’s discourse, by slightly changing it to: “because my arms and legs and blood and bones are superior to yours by nature, I own this rifle.”

When did the Southern ideology die, and accordingly fail to support the white/male subjectivity? The moment of the death is eloquently explained in Bon’s letter to Judith, that also shows his brilliant insight into the relationship of the sound and death:

Because what WAS is one thing, and now it is not because it is dead, it died in 1861, and therefore what IS ? (There. They have started firing again. Which ? to mention it ? is redundancy too, like the breathing or the need of ammunition. Because sometimes I think it has never stopped. It hasn’t stopped of course; I dont mean that. I mean, there has never been any more of it, that there was that one fusillade four years ago which sounded once and then arrested, mesmerised raised muzzle by raised muzzle, in the frozen attitude of its own aghast echo jarred by the dropped musket of a weary sentry […]). (AA 104)

The time when Bon wrote this letter is probably 1865, that is when the defeat of the South became clear to the Confederate, too. Bon identifies the moment of “fusillade” (Sumpter?) with the time of WAS’s death. The sound we hear in both The Sound and Absalom! might have started, for Faulkner, when the South was destined to fail in the War. At least we can see that the sound’s reverberation comes to an end in The Sound in a way, but is foregrounded again in Absalom!, without Quentin’s finding a means to stop it. Absalom! leaves the subject exposed to the ideological collapse, and thus locates the surplus of his narrativization, Jim Bond.

nigger / surplus / dangerous supplement Jim Bond.

Why does the element of “the black” determine the system of prohibition, much more critically and tragically that incest, the prohibition at the level of “the woman”? Why did Faulkner locate the origin of the South in the miscegenation, the sin, during the Civil War? The last Sutpen, or the echo of the sound of the subject’s collapse as such, does not give us any explanation about why he has to return to the Hundred and bellow. It’s Shreve who summarizes, at the end of his and Quentin’s cooperative narrativization of the past, the story as follows:

“So it took Charles Bon and his mother to get rid of old Tom, and Charles Bon and the octroon to get rid of Judith, and Charles Bon and Clytie to get rid of Henry; and Charles Bon’s mother and Charles Bon’s grandmother got rid of Charles Bon. So it takes two niggers to get rid of one Sutpen, dont it? […] Which is all right, it’s fine; it clears the whole ledger, you can tear all the pages out and burn them, except for one thing. And do you know what that is? […] You’ve got one nigger left. One nigger Sutpen left. Of course you cant catch him and you dont even always see him and you never will be able to use him. But you’ve got him there still.” (302)

Shreve satirically epitomizes the history of the Sutpens, comparing it to a simple arithmetic of addition and subtraction. In his ironic comments, however, a significant implication of the problem of “race” can be found. Following the quotation above, he predicts that the Jim Bonds will conquer the West. Obviously, Shreve’s idea reaches beyond any specific man called Jim Bond, nor does he mean human beings with black skin who will spread over the West; he’s indicating something invisible, indistinct, and direful. The Bonds will be as white as the white races, and still be Jim Bond. Actually, unlike Jim who has dark brown skin, his grandfather and -mother, Bon and the octroon, are seemingly “white,” though identified as “black.” Shreve’s notion of the Jim Bonds suggest that the determination of the black has nothing to do with attributes such as color of skin and hair or the extent of education or what have you. In Absalom! the only difference between black and white is whether one functions as black or white, as Bon shows: at the same time, this is true only to the extent that we assume that the difference is that which can be explained at the level of language. The problem we confront here is, so to speak, the hell/utopia of nondifference. Nevertheless, discrimination exists, not because we do not understand the fact that no difference exists between white and black, but because we know that there is no difference unless we produce it.

What I infer from this paradoxical notion of difference is that to theoretically deconstruct the discourse of racial difference has nothing direct to do with annulling the (non-)existence of the black. In other words, Harawagian voluntaryism does not necessarily result in happy deconstruction of racial difference, when it is considered in relation to those characters in Faulkner’s novels who act out the paradoxical difference. Charles Etienne Bon, for instance, confronts this deadlock of difference: as a son of two white-looking blacks, he at first grows up in an aristocratic private space inside which he is served by a servant. As he is taken to the Sutpen’s Hundred and gradually learns his racial identity from the perspective of the Southern slavery, he comes to suffer from the ambiguity of his racial identity. After all, he marries a “monkey woman” who is black as if she could merge into darkness, and has a black, mentally disabled child: Jim Bond. His desperate act of marriage to a black who has difficulty in understanding her husband, or even in speaking understandable words, shows that in a society where the categorization and differentiation of races is an obsession, his identification as black becomes possible only retroactively. In other words, “the black” as signifier precedes any meanings of it, which means that, on the basis of Freud’s notion of judgment, the black is not posited at the level of attributes but at the level of existence repressed and concealed by black/white representation. That is to say, the black is less epistemological than ontological.

Regarding the relationship (or relationlessness) between sexual and racial difference, Copjec affirms that sexual difference is inscribed in the real unlike racial, class, or ethnic difference inscribed in the symbolic (21). Her claim here means that the racial difference is epistemological, unlike sexual difference, which is registered in the domain of the being. However, I’d like to claim that the black in Absalom! is located in the domain of existence rather than attributes, for the black exposes itself as perfectly empty signifier only through the epistemological level of the linguistic practice of attributes in difference, which was the role of the woman in The Sound. The black in Absalom! is also equitable with the woman in the sense that the relation of black/white comes into being only through the binary logic (in spite of the fact that there are more than two races unlike sex), and one of the binary is supposed to be the failed version of the other. The intersection of the two non-existences can be found in a minor character in the novel, the octroon: she is the emptiest character, prohibited to name, and absolutely voiceless. She tends to be interpreted (especially by feminists) as a typical victim, oppressed and deprived of voice, disembodied by the system of the Southern patriarchal society and slavery: yet, she appears as a radical element eroding inside, or invading from outside, the white/male subjectivity. For instance, she is the only character who is simultaneously a mother and prostitute, a black and white, a distributable commodity traded by money and a decadent lady, much more aristocratic than any female characters in the novel. She has to be ingeniously repressed; otherwise, her existence threatens, and perhaps destroys, the boundary that insures difference. Mr. Compson calls her a woman created of by and for darkness whom Beardsley might have dressed (157). He doesn’t mean that her skin or hair is black, nor her clothes, but probably that she appears dark to him, or any other subject that hopes her to remain as dark enigma. Just like “the dark continent” to which Freud compared women, she is dark because she functions as the enigma, or the screen that creates a fantasy of something beyond her. But there is nothing to conceal under her Beardsley gown that perfectly matched “a garden scene by Wilde” (157), and thus it’s only at the level of fantasy that there might be a dark, naked female body behind it.

Why does the black, not the woman, remain as the surplus? The Ten Commandments: the prohibition of incest is not the 11th commandment God forgot to add, but a tacit prohibition that functions only by means of penetrating through the symbolic law, in cooperation with which the law functions as interdiction. Similarly, the surplus that remains after the narrativization of the past is not a surplus by itself, but that which always drops out of speech but therefore makes the speech possible. The ledger of the Sutpens will never be torn and burnt without leaving the remainder, Jim Bond; for the “last nigger Sutpen” is what Thomas Sutpen paid in order to obtain his white/male-centered fantasy; it’s the register of his lack of his being. The problem for the Sutpen’s ledger, and Quentin too, is the fact that the surplus, or more precisely its echo, returns to the ledger during the process of liquidating the past, and its narrator not only hears it but gets involved in the chaotic reverberation of the echo that destroys his subjectivity. It is in this sense that Quentin loses the distance from das Ding, and meets his death when the sound of death as such returns to him, triggered by the death of the South in the Civil War.

I don’t hate the South because there’s nothing there to hate.

The black has collapsed, or has been collapsing, since the War that fatally destroyed the conception of black maintained by the system of slavery, exposing the split of the subject unrecoverable in the South. When the emptiness of racial difference is emphasized, the paradoxical status of “the black” in Faulkner seems to lose its signification. Shreve’s prophesy that “I,” a Canadian white, will be regarded as a Jim Bond is not out of point, for the position of “Jim Bond” does not require any essential element of race but accidental victimization of an object which is the most useful for the concealment of das Ding.