The Wanderer on Faulkner

William Faulkner smoking a pipe in Paris

The day dawned bleak and chill, a moving wall of gray light out of the northeast which, instead of dissolving into moisture, seemed to disintegrate into minute and venomous particles, like dust that, when Dilsey opened the door of the cabin and emerged, needled laterally to her flesh, precipitating not so much a moisture as a substance partaking of the quality of thin, not quite congealed oil.

From William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury

Part I: The Long Winter 

Here recently The Wanderer has turned his efforts inward… he’s had to close down the body & move deeper into the mind. Yes indeed, in a physical sense, this aberrantly long east Tennessee winter has finally gotten to the man…         

The joy-warmth & sunshine bright colors of spring & summer, he so desperately needs back. And through soiled layers of rotten wool, through lingering breaths of expressed oxygen, The Wanderer can be heard bemoaning about the incessant iced glare shouts of the seemingly endless cold mornings & frigid post-work twilights!

His mind, through self-survival instincts alone, has been forced to come alive! The Wanderer’s body has become noticeably frail & weakened through the sad snowballing of lessened training sessions & multiple vitamin deficiencies. His weight & muscle mass has bottomed out, dipping far below the healthiest of fighting weights. The Wanderer’s empty vessel, tightened & bent through lack of any real kung fu stretching, remains a constant unfulfilled, a sun-hungry muscled shell of the warrior we’re all so admiringly accustomed to!

In running, he’s slackened, preferring the slow, ingenuous hike spotted with random uphill sprints. In training, he’s omitting & short-cutting. And in basketball, The Wanderer’s a slight ghost, seemingly just barely strong enough to pull it altogether & express what little hard chi he has in reserve.

So we’ve come together, The Wanderer & I, and moved inward… a physical hibernation of sorts –at least until the sunlight fully returns & he can begin planting his tiger-striped seeds of body strength once again. And until then, it’ll have to be a mental flexing of sorts. This type of transition, he’s reminded through Zen philosophers, is all part of the natural balance that we, as both thinking & physical beings, have to maintain in order to make it through the turbulent seasons.

And where better to fixate, process, & balance the mind than within the many multiple & interpretable layers of good American literature… The following chronicles how & where my mind went on this before-mentioned physical hiatus. 

Part II: The Faulkner Scholar

So last week, away from home for a workshop on educational technology in the strange little college mountain town of Mars Hill, I met, for the first time in my life, an actual “Faulkner Scholar.” And when one thinks of a Scholar on Faulkner (or at least when I do) one conjures up images of an old, elbow-patched tweed English coat wrapped around the learned body of a great-minded intellectual. I would half-expect to see some sort of bearded bard half a century old donning circular glasses, wearing a fancy ascot & smoking out of some ancient relic of a long, curved pipe.

But no, this was not the scholar I met. He fit none of these characteristics and I was thrown off immediately. I would have easily passed through the whole nonsense training completely unaware of whose respected space I was sharing if said scholar hadn’t dropped his earned title a hundred times throughout the entire workshop.  

For the first few hours I was off in my own world, on my own tasks, surfing the web through the workshop’s provided computers as the lecturer fumbled through her presentation.

The training itself took place in the Mars Hill College technology lab, on the 2nd floor of their architecturally-attractive library. I liked the school; the whole lay-out & facility worked well with my brain. I appreciated how the curves of the all the campus hills & mountain sides ran into the many different horizontal & cool vertical lines of the college buildings… but I digress. Back to the scholar!

With this man, I was not nearly impressed enough! The Faulkner Scholar didn’t appear to be anything special. Why would anyone special, on an academic level anyway, I had contemplated, even attend this workshop? What do professors of Literature or Writing or Grammar of any sort of value care about technology these days anyway? Shouldn’t they be working on fellowships & grants & what-not? And following that line of reasoning, another question is raised: What do professors of such a high caliber do over the weekends? Spoke pipes? (& what’s with my sudden fixation with pipes?!) Shouldn’t they be writing poetry? Breaking down Longfellow? Surely these high-caliber professors don’t waste their precious time at futile weekend exercises discussing the “great educational potential” of wiki pages and various & “exciting methods of back-channeling!”

My curiosity was piqued & so, during lunch, away from the goosenecking of the other attendees, I sidled up next to the man & introduced myself. I told him I had a sophomoric fascination with “The Great Southern Writer” & wanted to know more about his relationship with the man. “I’m very impressed with your title, “ I probably said. “Faulkner is amazing. I can barely even imagine truly understanding his writing… blah, blah, blah…”

Over time I’ve collected some of Faulkner’s novels & with little, disgusting flecks of spittle forming in the corners of my mouth, I probably went through my entire collection with the suspiciously average-looking scholar. And so for the entire lunch I picked his brain about the writer. I barely touched my meal. I told him all that I’ve read of Faulkner. How I’ve read many of his novels, but at the same time, never truly reading any of them. I told him what I liked most… it was probably As I Lay Dying. He gave back very little in the exchanges, but I didn’t care. I was purposefully dominating the conversation. My thinking was that no true Faulkner Scholar would allow himself to be dominated by some punk kid at a lunch table. Yet, he did.

The one thing the man did say that stuck to my memory wall was something like, “I chose to study Faulkner early on because my English Honors professor once told me, because of the complexity of Faulkner’s writing, that he would allow me to use Cliffs Notes if I were to write about one of his novels.” The scholar waited for a laugh. I just stared at him and he continued. “…and that’s when I knew.”

“Knew what?” I asked myself.

I wasn’t satisfied. I spent the rest of the training researching Faulkner’s novels online. I read about his The Reavers. He won a Pulitzer for that one, also his swan song, as he died shortly after completing it. The rest of the training was spent reading about the writer and his accomplishments.

Before leaving the Mars Hill campus forever I asked him to give me a Faulkner gem… something that most don’t know about him. The scholar thought about it for a minute & then gave me some garbage about Faulkner’s screenwriting accomplishments. It was garbage. I resisted the sudden urge to punch the man & left the technology lab.

 Upon returning home, The Wanderer dove into one of the Faulkner’s most difficult, yet most acclaimed novels, The Sound and the Fury. Before choosing this particular text, I considered some of his other books I own & have already read. I picked up my copy of Sanctuary, a Faulkner hardback liberated long ago from some random past program I worked for. As I Lay Dying was also a consideration, for I’ve read that one a number of times. I also had Pylon & Light in August, but those didn’t seem appropriate for this task either –not this time around anyway. I wanted his heaviest available; or rather, I wanted to take on his heaviest that I had available to me. It would have to be The Sound and the Fury, a novel most critics argue requires intense concentration & patience in order to interpret & understand.

I’m going to try & dominate this novel for you, my loyal readership. However, I plan to take my time tearing this “tale told by an idiot” apart. It will be a long, slow & deliberate digestion, exploring literary modernism, stylistic mannerisms, character development, textual meaning, symbolism & code, inspiration, etc… This will be my mental trailrunning until thoroughly digested… something I’ll be doing for awhile.

I will become a Faulkner Scholar that will dominate all over Faulkner Scholars. In the battle of Faulkner Scholars, The Wanderer’s name & reputation will be known first & foremost.

Please spring, arrive already. Send me away from this hellish & ridiculous task! Take me to the horrible sweat lodge of summer heat burpees & humid hard-deck weightlifting.

Part III: The Sound & The Fury, The Wanderer’s Take…

Alas! There will be no take on Faulkner’s greatest novel -not now anyway. I’ve moved onto other topics. Lost interest in the whole Southern Writer & Scholar affair… back into dream recording & the physical being.

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One Response to The Wanderer on Faulkner

  1. Dad says:

    It really is about “balance,” isn’t it?

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