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Absalom, Absalom


Binker
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I'm in Chapter 8 and we have learned a LOT.  My assumption about New Orleans was on the right track, but there was so much more than that.  Faulkner does a great job of exploring class and race and where they intersect.  

 

Sutpen's big design is to never, ever again be the poor white who was turned away from a great house by a slave footman, obviously on the orders of the white people who own the house.  Yet Sutpen identifies race as being the problem and so is shocked when he realizes in Haiti that his wife had some black blood (how it was possible to live and work in Haiti and not see that that was often the case is beyond me and makes me wonder if he isn't just a little disingenuous in his shocked suprise).  Although it's allegedly the fact that Bon is his son (whew!) that's the problem, I don't think it's the potential incest that troubles him.  It's that Bon has some black blood and 

that's what will ruin his legacy.  Even Wash's poor miserable granddaughter was better than that.

 And yet, he "kept clear of the sheets and hoods and night-galloping horses with which men who once his acquaintances even if not his friends discharged the canker suppuration of defeat."

 

There are some themes the Faulkner explored in The Sound and the Fury that show up here as well.   Brothers being obsessed with their sister's virginity, which Faulkner calls "a false quantity."   The South having wasted everything that was great about it in defense of something as sinful as slavery, with Biblical language:  "the South would realise that it was now paying the price for having erected its economic edifice not on the rock of stern morality but on the sifting sands of opportunism and moral brigandage."

 

Side note:  the Battle of Pittsburg Landing was the Yankee name for what is much more commonly called the Battle of Shiloh.  Usually, Southern partisans made a point of calling the battles by the name of the nearest city or town whereas the Yankees called it by the nearest natural feature.  It's...interesting...that Faulkner used the Yankee name, especially when the Confederate name is the one used widely.  At the time, the Battle of Shiloh was the bloodiest battle in American history, although there were 2 even bloodier battles to come.

Edited by Binker
Further Civil War naming convention discussion.
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Sometimes his prose feels overdone and then all of a sudden, I realize that it's NOT and that every word is important.  Very interesting.  Glad you are enjoying it.  I've made very slow progress and am still in chapter 8.  Of course there are only 9 chapters, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm near the end with any author, but particularly with Faulkner.

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2 minutes ago, Binker said:

Sometimes his prose feels overdone and then all of a sudden, I realize that it's NOT and that every word is important.  Very interesting.  Glad you are enjoying it.  I've made very slow progress and am still in chapter 8.  Of course there are only 9 chapters, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm near the end with any author, but particularly with Faulkner.

 

I thought that the chapters in this one were long and then decided that it was just me.  

 

I'll start chapter seven tomorrow.

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I finished the book last night, through to the final resolutions.  I think the last 2 paragraphs sum up Faulkner's attitude toward the South and its myths better than almost anything.  And the last line is very telling about Quentin.  Poor Quentin is unable to reconcile his highly conflicting emotions about the South as embodied in this book and I think that leads him to where we saw him in The Sound and the Fury.  I think Absalom, Absalom takes place only a short time before the events of the Sound and the Fury just because they both concern Quentin's time at Harvard and his roommate appears in both.

 

I've just re-visited the story of Absalom from the Bible.  I knew he was David's son who began a revolt against David and who was killed while putting down that revolt.  Despite his treachery, David is heartbroken and cries for "Absalom, my son, my son."  But what I forgot was that Absalom had a sister Tamar who was raped by their older half-brother, Amnon and that Absalom killed Amnon 2 years later in revenge.  

 

Well, that's an easy comparison:  Tamar is Judith, Amnon is, more or less, Charles Bon, Henry Sutpen is Absalom, and David is Thomas Sutpen.  The difference is that Henry/Absalom kills Charles/Amnon 

before he can "despoil" Judith/Tamar and that act is not one of rebellion (everything Henry did up until then was an act of rebellion).  That also suggests that the main character in this book is the highly elusive Henry.   Despite moving a lot of the action along, Henry is something of a cipher in the book.  I'm not sure this comparison is all that helpful except that both stories point to the vanity of trying to create a great legacy according to a plan that involves the willing cooperation of people who might have their own desires and goals.  That's a pretty thin source of unity, though.

 

Faulkner is known as an author of Southern Gothics and some of his books fall into that category more than others.  This is one of the ones that does and it felt a bit much to me.  I don't think The Sound and the Fury feels quite that much that way, which is probably why I prefer it.  Still, a great read.  

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I finally finished this. I lost interest when it got to chapter 8 and Quentin and Shreve were telling each other the story, seemingly making it up from fragments and supposition. Much of the last half of the book was repetitive, tedious, melodramatic and unlikely. I was particularly irritated at the ultimate reason for Henry's murder of Bon. And that is assuming that Quentin and Shreve were correct in their assumptions, about which I am by no means certain. The very last chapter was a joy to read, although possibly that was just my relief that it was the last chapter. I had to force myself to keep reading on in chapters 7&8, in hopes Faulkner would fix this mess. But he never did. And there was a good story in here, if he'd just left out the incestuous engagement. Or, at the very least, told the tale through the voice of Henry himself. By far my least favorite book by Faulkner. In fact, it is the only one I have read which I would not recommend. 

Edited by Dan
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I have now finished this book, and what a book it is!

 

My bias towards Faulkner is well known so I won't disappoint when I say I loved every difficult to understand word - even those that I had to look up. I struggled with this one more than I have ever struggled with Faulkner but that only made the reading sweeter.  I had online notes to consult and, hidden at the back of my copy in a late discovery, a chronology and list of characters which helped enormously.  I just know that I'll get more out of it the next time I read it.

 

A jaw dropping literary achievement, incredible to the point of miraculous prose and a magnificent story.  I couldn't want anything more.  It, frankly, makes life worthwhile.

 

Highly recommended (but only if you like a challenge!)

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1 hour ago, momac said:

I never got past the first few pages, it is still sitting on my list looking at me accusingly - I wonder if I'll ever feel the need to tackle it?:hmm:

 

 

If you like the feeling of having your brain turned upside down and expanded out of the back of your head then I'd recommend it, Momac. *Laughs*  Good thing I like that feeling!

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On 24/04/2017 at 23:17, momac said:

You've just convinced me that not reading this book is the right decision for me.:)

It is truly difficult Momac and I know you prefer to enjoy your reading.

 

I have been surfing the internet and reading snippets here and there about Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!  It is considered to be his best work and also his most difficult - thank goodness for that, I was beginning to think that I'd lost something there!  It is also considered to be a towering achievement in literature.  Everything else will be easier then, won't it?  lol

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Yes, Luna, I don't want to have to puzzle my way through a book I'm reading for entertainment, I think literature and myself are quite happy to live separately.  Faulkner is to be commended (posthumously) for his achievement, I had enough of him reading The Sound and the Fury!  :)

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Yes, this book was difficult at times, and needed to be read slowly. But I don't agree that it was such a great literary achievement. One of the more confusing aspects was that it was repetitive in a way that kept leading me to think something new was going to be said, and oftentimes nothing new was offered. The only question I missed on the Cliff Notes quiz had to do with that style being called circumlocution, which is an accurate description of this thing which repeated itself like an old man with Alzheimer's. 

 I felt like it was more a story about how the story itself affected people, primarily Rosa and Quentin and Shreve, and it seemed less involved with really getting to the bottom of the story.

 

And that story, of Bon's bastardy and his decision to marry his sister to spite his father for not recognizing him, and Henry's acceptance of that until he found out that, God forfend!!, Bon had a drop or two of Negro blood in him, after which time he murdered his brother Bon in cold blood, having apparently no problem with with the biological land mine of incest, but huge problems with the tainting of the race,

, that story was just too melodramatic and soap operaish, and really too trivial in terms of the overall human condition, for my tastes. And if I am to be subjected to such  trash, I at least want to hear the story from the fratricidal horse's mouth, rather than a lot of speculation from folks who never even knew the parties involved, and seemed to be almost completely lacking in actual evidence to back up their suppositions. These are the reasons I didn't care for this, since I was disgruntled at working so hard for something that wasn't, ultimately, worth the effort. 

Edited by Dan
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Dan, I think the issue in your spoiler is the point of the book and much of Faulkner's writing.  What sort of bizarre system would be offended by one and shrug off the other?  Faulkner is pretty clear that he's criticizing, not endorsing, that view.  I think you and Faulkner would be nodding your heads in agreement.  

 

It reminds me of The Great Gatsby, in which Fitzgerald is seen as glorifying the times when what he was actually doing was criticizing them with every sentence that he wrote.  

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3 hours ago, Binker said:

Dan, I think the issue in your spoiler is the point of the book and much of Faulkner's writing.  What sort of bizarre system would be offended by one and shrug off the other?  Faulkner is pretty clear that he's criticizing, not endorsing, that view.  I think you and Faulkner would be nodding your heads in agreement.  

I never doubted that Faulkner was being critical of that bizarre system. And, possibly in 1936 it was more shocking to hear about, or to be critical of such unreasonable racism. But this is old news to any reasonable person of today. I'm not even saying that it isn't applicable to the thought system of many today. But I find that I am not interested in that as a storyline, unless it really delves into the mind of the racist theirself. I would have been interested to hear Henry speak of his thoughts, although I'd have still preferred it to be a part of the bigger story, rather than the focus. 

But it all just boils down to the fact that I completely lost interest in the story once I realized where it was heading, and for me, the experimental way he explicated that story, telling it from the fantasy viewpoint of people only very indirectly connected to it, only lowered my interest in it, rather than raising my interest level. 

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7 hours ago, Dan said:

 

I never doubted that Faulkner was being critical of that bizarre system. And, possibly in 1936 it was more shocking to hear about, or to be critical of such unreasonable racism. But this is old news to any reasonable person of today. I'm not even saying that it isn't applicable to the thought system of many today. But I find that I am not interested in that as a storyline, unless it really delves into the mind of the racist theirself. I would have been interested to hear Henry speak of his thoughts, although I'd have still preferred it to be a part of the bigger story, rather than the focus. 

But it all just boils down to the fact that I completely lost interest in the story once I realized where it was heading, and for me, the experimental way he explicated that story, telling it from the fantasy viewpoint of people only very indirectly connected to it, only lowered my interest in it, rather than raising my interest level. 

 

 

It came as news to me.  Yes, I knew that racism existed at that time, as it does now, but was shocked to find that Henry didn't mind the incest but did mind the mixed race of Charles.  What would you need to know about the mind of a racist?  In my experience, very limited I'm glad to say, racists don't have a word to say justifying their claims, or, for that matter, a thought in their heads.  To me, the bigger problem was the incest, which Thomas didn't seem prepared to do anything about until he told Henry the whole story knowing full well what Henry would do about it, which is even more shocking.  Thomas Sutpen manipulated one son into killing another just so that he didn't have to acknowledge the mixed race son.  In the end Thomas ended up with nothing, his 'Grand Design' falling apart.  If he'd acknowledged Charles Bon and stopped an incestuous marriage he may have faired a little better with his Grand Design.  So that's what racism gets you, the novel appears to be saying.

 

I thought that the circumlocution style was mesmerising, having never read anything like that before.  It had me totally engaged with the story and made it, for me, fascinating. Two young men pondering something that happened 70/80 years ago using what they knew of the South and the family to fill in the blanks brought a fresh perspective to the whole, imho. Miss Rosa's narration would not have held the story together for the whole book.

 

I wonder if there are any more books with circumlocution in it?  It's not that common is it?

Edited by Lunababymoonchild
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