William Faulkner as anti-globalization prophet

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Aug 4 19:49:32 MDT 2002

(received from Gerard Smith)

"tragic mulattos, embittered small-town spinsters and Confederate colonels
clattering around decaying antebellum homes."

One must ask what was the "local" in which Faulkner's characters live before
one claims he was an "anti-globalization" prophet.  The
culture of which Faulkner writes decayed because the economy no longer
functioned: it no longer functioned because the oppressed slave/worker was
free. One lynch pin removed and the South's hegemonic economy (itself a
global market)failed: the South struggled to regain that economic power
using various methods of which Faulkner writes.

The novels, at least in my review, were about how successive generations
could not cope ith that fundamental change. Because they could not adapt,
they fell further into a distopian despair: dysfunctional at the individual,
social, and universal level. "remarkably timely, theme: how important it is
for localities to stand upto the disruptive force of progress."And what
should be kept from these "local cultures" in the face of the disruptive
force of progress"?  These "tales of lost innocence and declining fortunes,"
are a rare look at the results of the fall of an oppressive economic system:
the Confederate generals, their supporters and descendants.  Sure one can
feel sorry for characters, not because of their declining fortunes, but
because they were unable to adapt, or they were victims of those "jim crow"
laws that represented the "locals" trying to "stand up to the disruptive
force of progress."

"People who turn their back on their neighbors -- like Goodhue Coldfield,
who protests Mississippi's seceding from the Union by nailing
himself in his attic -- meet disastrous ends."Was Coldfield defending his
local or supportive of the "disruptive force of progress."  If one seceded
from the Union, then one supports the Confederacy and slavery, but if one
opposes secession, then one might see "war" as an ultimate disaster or see
slavery as a bankrupt economic system.  These weren't people fighting
against "globalization." To the contrary, they were a competing
"globalizing" economy, an American imperialism we'd rather forget, but which
enriched the lives of successive generations of Americans, both North and
South. Some Southern aristocratic families didn't do so well adapting to the
change in economic systems: of
these Faulkner writes.

In _The Sound and the Fury_, Caddy marries a Nazi.  The darling of the
ante-bellum South seems to predict one method of reviving the "local"
traditions disrupted by the Civil War. Faulkner's "historical allusion" to
Nazi-American relationships should convince anyone that the novel isn't
about "anti-globalization" within the local community.To wit: "The mentally
retarded Benjy Compson, unloved by his mother, finds his only emotional
support in his sister Caddy. But after the land near their
home is sold to developers for a golf course, the hapless Benjy hears
golfers shouting for their caddies and mistakenly believes his beloved
sister is nearby."  Cosmic irony, not a prophecy about "globalization"?

I'm not saying that Faulkner wasn't dismayed by the disintegration of local
tradition, but he seem more interested in chronicling the fall of the middle
class and the ruling class of the South after the Civil War, not in
prophesying anti-globalization. Claiming that Faulkner was an
anti-globaliation prophet is far too simplistic of a reading.  However,
stretching the meaning of novels, and reinventing the meaning of literary
worlds, is ever the job of the literary critic in the publish or perish
world of academia:

 "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone,
"it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many
different things."

"The question is,"said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master--that is all."

Impenetrably yours,Gerard


Louis Proyect

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