Absalom, Absalom

Finally finished this one. How about this part, about New Orleans:

I can imagine him, with his puritan heritage – that heritage peculiarly Anglo-Saxon – of fierce proud mysticism and that ability to be ashamed of ignorance and inexperience, in that city foreign and paradoxical, with its atmosphere at once fatal and languorous, at once feminine and steel-hard – this grim humorless yokel out of a granite heritage where even the houses, let alone clothing and conduct, are built in the image of a jealous and sadistic Jehovah, put suddenly down in a place whose denizens had created their All-Powerful and His supporting hierarchy-chorus of beautiful saints and handsome angels in the image of their houses and personal ornaments and voluptuous lives.

The Civil War approaches:

And who knows? there was the War now; who knows but what the fatality and the fatality’s victim’s did not both think, hope, that the War would settle the matter, leave free one of the two irreconciliables, since it would not be the first time that youth has taken catastrophe as a direct act of Providence for the sole purpose of solving a personal problem which youth itself could not solve.

The cover of my 1987 edition:

MW tells me he doesn’t approve, because Sutpen’s beard is supposed to be red (I myself didn’t clock that in the text, which probably requires a couple readings).

The barebones plot of this book: ambitious youth sets out to make his fortune, rises through courage and violence, through will hacks out an empire for himself, is dest on its own could make for a pretty sexy TV miniseries or something: ambition, pride, violence, incest. But the way it’s told, with the story embedded in retellings of retellings, and sentences that fold upon themselves for six or seven pages isn’t too breezy. From Wikipedia:

The 1983 Guinness Book of World Records says the “Longest Sentence in Literature” is a sentence from Absalom, Absalom! containing 1,288 words.[8] The sentence can be found in Chapter 6; it begins with the words “Just exactly like father”, and ends with “the eye could not see from any point”. The passage is entirely italicized and incomplete.

Strange analogy but some of the verbal pyrotechnics of this book sort of reminded me of the FX show Dave.

when Dave busts out one of his long raps. Indisputably impressive feat of language and cognition but… to what end? A stunning demonstration of what a person might be capable of, itself maybe a worthy achievement, but do I need to pretend that it made me feel anything other than kind of numbed? At what point are we just showing off, or just pounding the reader’s head in?

I don’t think Faulkner would necessarily appreciate that comparison.

Shelby Foote, in one of his interviews, tells us that Faulkner had hopes this would be a bestseller:

I wonder if more people last year read Absalom, Absalom or Gone With The Wind.

The story of David’s rebellious son Absalom is recounted in the Bible and the subject of a popular (?) Sacred Harp song.



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