Absalom, Absalom!

It’s because she wants it told, he thought, so that people whom she will never see and whose names she will never hear and who have never heard her name nor seen her face will read it and know at last why God let us lose the war: that only through the blood of our men and the tears of our women could He slay this demon and efface his name and lineage from the earth.

—-William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!

Mural outside of Sandwich Hag, The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

So, about a month ago my Difficult Reading Book Club started in on Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. We finished it up last week – it certainly makes the cut as a difficult book – but I made it through relatively unscathed.

And this week we started in on the second tome in our Faulkner journey – Absalom, Absalom!. I am now three chapters in. I had heard a lot of talk about how difficult a book it is – but after The Sound and the Fury I’m finding the second book quite a bit easier to read and understand. Now, there are sentences that run on for pages (although Ulysses by James Joyce has a 4,491 word sentence in a soliloquy, The Guinness Book of Records lists the longest proper sentence as one from Absalom, Absalom! at 1,287 words – I haven’t reached it yet), the story is frames within frames within frames, and the language (is wonderful) is difficult… For example I made a note of one phrase on page 53:

presbyterian effluvium of lugubrious and vindictive anticipation,

Ok… I know all those words… but I never thought of seeing them strung together in one place like that.

Oh. Seeing that phrase that I had highlighted reminded me of something. I bought a paperback copy of the book, plus a Kindle copy. I then discovered something I never knew about reading on a Kindle. I have been reading books on my Kindle for well over a decade – hundreds of books. During all this time I have been highlighting passages that I wanted to remember. Only this week did I discover that there is a web page:

https://read.amazon.com/notebook

That contains all the highlights (and notes) that I have made in all those books over all those years on all my devices. It’s pretty damn amazing. Looking through it is like going back in time. There are books in there I didn’t remember reading until I perused the feedback I input at the time – then it came rushing back.

I am now going through these highlights and hand copying the ones that still mean something to me into my commonplace book. Cool! Also a huge waste of time… but it is what it is.

Well… better go read. I’ve heard that chapter Four is a doozy.

The Benjy Section

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!.