“As I Lay Dying” is my first Faulkner (I’m ashamed to admit). I was supposed to read “Absalom, Absalom!” as part of my 2nd year university English class curriculum, but after reading a sentence that was more than a page long, Faulkner scared me and I was apprehensive to return. However, over the years, I have felt the call of his genius beckoning me from my bookshelves, until finally, on one fine day last month, I picked up “As I Lay Dying” and started reading.
From the first chapter, I KNEW I was reading something great. There was no doubt I was in the presence of genius. Though I had no background or knowledge as to what this book was about, or why it was hailed a literary masterpiece, or that Faulkner had reportedly written it in six weeks while working as a night watchman at a power plant (talk about NOT having excuses about having no time to write!)…None of it mattered. I could see in his words and phrasing that his writing carried WEIGHT. It meant something.
I am halfway through the book now, and although I may not fully understand all of the themes, motifs, nuances, profound inner meanings, etc…I know why Faulkner’s work is venerated and revered. I can see it leaping from the page as if he’s slapped me on the face. His genius is clear. I may not understand all of it, but even from the brief snapshots of 15 different narrators, I can see their clarity of voice and their depth.
Which brings me to my next question…Last month, Will Self wrote a provocative article bemoaning the Death of the Literary Novel (again). GROAN. But wait a minute, does he have a point? In this age of YouTube and Twitter and Netflix, does anyone have the cause or desire to flip open a mind-numbing, literary book? Are people like me going to be the new DODO bird? Will discerning, literary readers become extinct?
After all, when there is a cute kitten video to be watched, who cares what Faulkner was trying to say when Darl (*SPOILER ALERT) burns down the barn or Vardaman compares his mother is a fish? Why ponder literary merit at all??
I don’t know the answers, but it disturbs me. I see young people who cannot write or spell properly…In the era of texting and auto spell correct, who needs to read or write anymore? More pointedly – in the future, will anyone do as I have done: Pick up a William Faulkner book willingly, for fun, for the deep pleasure of pondering words and wrestling with their meaning, with no other purpose than to read a literary genius and stimulate our brains?
Read Will Self’s very long article: