Saturday, July 15, 2006

The case for Faulkner as "sophist bastard"

William Faulkner, with daughter Jill (in the white dress) and her classmates during the filming of a documentary, date unknown.

Something I've noticed about many writers and other artists I admire is that they tend to be, in various ways, supremely insufferable human beings. Recently Tim, over at his excellent blog Infinite Regression, offered some speculation as to why that might be. My comment there quickly became blog-post length, so I just decided to write it up here and encourage you to visit his place and see what prompted this.

Of course, the proof for Tim's theory will be a combination of anecdote and one's own definition of "sophist bastard"--not the most objective measures on which to found a theory. But having said all that, even the most dispassionate reading of the record would lead a reasonable person to conclude that Faulkner's was, as David Minter puts it in his Faulkner biography, "a flawed life." Personally, I'd argue that what Minter meant to type for "flawed" was "awful." And yet, as per Tim's argument for literature-as-lawyering, no one, before Faulkner or thus far, has produced as complete and complex and, yes, persuasive a version/vision of the South as he has.

So: when he tells his complaining daughter Jill, on the eve of his receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature, "No one remembers Shakespeare's daughter," you don't have much choice but to say, Yuppers, he's a bastard. What's more, though, he manifests his bastardliness in so many ways in that one statement (his implicit self-assessment of his abilities; the hurtful truth of that statement; his willingness to wound his own child) that it becomes breathtaking in its audacity. I (very grudgingly) admire him for that audacity even as I loathe him and become frightened of him for saying it to his daughter. It makes you realize that when he says in an interview he gave, "The Grecian Urn is worth any number of old ladies," he's not entirely joking.

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R. Sherman said...

Of course, his post begs this question: Is it possible to be a sophist without being a bastard?

This may inspire some posting on my part.


Ariel said...

"Something I've noticed about many writers and other artists I admire is that they tend to be, in various ways, supremely insufferable human beings."

That definitely works as a stand-alone quote. I'm starting to ponder the price of writerhood. ;)

tim said...

Thanks for adding your excellent voice to the mix. I plan on responding to some of the comments on my blog on Monday, because my idea isn't really one I fully stand behind. Of course, I am wondering what your take will be on the new direction.

Aunty Marianne said...

People do remember Shakespeare's daughters. Particularly Hamnet's twin Judith, because she was excommunicated for getting married during Lent.

My question is, what happened to the priest who married'em. Did he get excommunicated too?

Joseph K said...

An absolutely wonderful topic! One wonders (without excusing them) if they are insufferable or sufferable because of the what else they give us in return