Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. They were coming toward where the flag was and I went along the fence. Luster was hunting in the grass by the flower bed. They took the flag out, and they were hitting. Then they put the flag back and they went to the table, and he hit and the other hit. Then they went on, and I went along the fence. Luster came away from the flower tree and we went along the fence and they stopped and we stopped and I looked through the fence while Luster was hunting in the grass.
—- William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, opening paragraph (Benjy Section)
The Difficult Reading Book Club – a group I belong to (we have read Gravity’s Rainbow, 1Q84, The Brother’s Karamazov, and Foucault’s Pendulum) – is now one week into Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. This week I read the infamous Benjy Section – the first part of the novel. Tonight we had a Zoom meeting to discuss (we will be meeting in person starting next week).
This is one of the most difficult hunks of text to read and understand. It is written in raw stream-of-consciousness from the mind of a severely mentally disabled man on his thirty third birthday. Benjy – is completely unable to understand the passage of time and his disjointed thoughts jump back and forth over a thirty-year span. It is amazingly difficult to figure out what is going one – Benjy knows what he sees – but he doesn’t know why. The text gives no context – you have to figure it out.
For example, read the opening paragraph above. How long did it take for you to realize Benjy is watching a group play golf through a fence?
I had an advantage, I have read the book before. It was almost fifty years ago – I was a mere teen – and had no idea of what was going on. However, I did understand what the structure of The Benjy Section was and, with that leg up, I was able to take notes and figure out most, or some, or a lot of what was actually happening.
The rest of the book is not as confusing and I look forward to reading it to understand more of what was presented. When I finish, I’m going to go back and re-read The Benjy Section with the knowledge gained in the others – it should make more sense then.
Oh, and The Sound and the Fury isn’t difficult enough for The Difficult Reading Book Club on its own – we will immediately jump into Absalom, Absalom!.