Monday, June 07, 2010

DQW: 2

"It used to be I thought of death as a man something like Grandfather a friend of his a kind of private and particular friend like we used to think of Grandfather's desk not to touch it not even to talk loud in the room where it was I always thought of them as being together somewhere all the time waiting for old Colonel Sartoris to come down and sit with them waiting on a high place beyond cedar trees Colonel Sartoris was on a still higher place looking out across at something and they were waiting for him to get done looking at it and come down Grandfather wore his uniform and we could hear the murmur of their voices from beyond the cedars they were always talking and Grandfather was always right"

—William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

I’ve never read The Sound and the Fury. The book was assigned in one of my college lit courses, and though I neglected to read it then—probably because I was wrestling with a paper that was late, or reading something else for another class—I must have decided to hold onto it. The other night I woke up fitfully, and when I couldn’t get back to sleep I reached for the bookshelf in the dark. I pulled the first spine I touched—I had a feeling it was a Norton Critical Edition, glossy with hard-squared edges—and opened the book. When I turned on the lamp I saw the passage above on page 111.

I have another book of Faulkner’s, a collection of hunting stories, which I started not long ago and put down soon after. The lead story was about a boy on a bear hunt with his father and some other men—a good premise—but the writing felt so ponderous and overwrought to me that I lost interest. Like this excerpt, the story was written in a stream-of-consciousness style, but in the third person, and without the same simple lyricism and beauty. The lack of punctuation in this kind of experimental writing can be jarring at first, at least for me—the prose seems to ramble on without inflection. But once I get past my presumptions about grammar and fall into the author’s rhythms, the effect is less confusing and more impressionistic. Especially in the quote above, where Faulkner lulls the reader into something that is not so much a scene as an atmosphere, one character's gauzy vision of the afterlife. It’s the sort of passage that makes me feel badly for never giving his books a fair chance.

It also got me thinking about my own grandfather. He died a few years back. Last week I was in the house where he lived, and where my grandmother now lives alone. I walked onto the porch where he used to sit during the summer in his olive green recliner, reading the newspaper or the Bible, pens jutting from his shirt pocket. Sometimes there was a tumbler on the side table, his daily martini. I would sit on the swinging sofa and we would have well-meaning conversations about banal things. Sports, the weather, what I was up to at school or work. Now, his absence was palpable. It struck me that losing people we love results in a strange irony, making our lives heavier by a process of subtraction. The longer we live the more people vanish around us and our day-to-day experience becomes weighted, full of memory and longing, or regret, or thoughts of our own impermanence, how nothing we know can stay the way it is. We go on and assume it gets better with time, but it doesn't really.

Maybe one way to help ourselves is to try and coax our minds back to how they were in childhood, when it might have been easier to imagine the dead as the narrator in Faulkner’s story does, talking and moving quietly through the light beyond the cedars.



Post a Comment

<< Home