Sunday, March 23, 2008

"The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail." --William Faulkner

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First of all, I have made an important discovery within the world of literature. I love William Faulkner. We read "That Evening Sun" (a short story) in my American Lit class last week, along with "As I Lay Dying." It was challenging, certainly, but never in a way that frustrated me. I derived both escapist and intellectual pleasure from it...the challenging part of it was always enjoyable. Call me crazy. Maybe I'll change my mind as I read more of Faulkner later.

But "As I Lay Dying" has been the catalyst for a whole handful of intellectual realizations and internal discussions. One of which is about words...Addie Bundren is the character who has died, but she has one chapter in which she is allowed to speak, and some of the things she says are pretty profound. Check this out:

“Words are no good…words don’t ever fit even what they are trying to say at.”

“I would think how words go straight up in a thin line, quick and harmless, and how terribly doing goes along the earth, clinging to it, so that after awhile the two lines are too far apart for the same person to straddle from one to the other; and that sin and love and fear are just sounds that people who never sinned nor loved nor feared have for what they never had and cannot have until they forget the words.”

“He had a word, too. Love, he called it. But I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack; that when the right time came, you wouldn’t need a word for that anymore than for pride or fear.”

I can't believe that these arguments are true of ALL words. I can't believe Faulkner believed that either, considering he made his living with them. And I'm also writing a blog entry about it, in which words are some of my only tools.

But in class, we had this discussion about when we "talk for the sake of talking." There are times when words don't carry meaning, when they are only "a shape to fill a lack." Throughout Addie's argument she also talks about her husband, who she says has "died." (Which is ironic...) But to Addie, being alive means not just talking. It means doing...having some actions behind the words. Her husband uses a lot of words. But he doesn't do anything to add meaning to them.

I believe that words aren't harmless. Doctrine and history and practice simply disprove that. But I do believe that words can be meaningless. I believe that there is value in silence and in actions. I believe that we should say what we mean and mean what we say. But at the same time, I'm someone who writes and talks as part of the process of figuring things out. So my thoughts aren't always fully articulate until after I say them. I don't know, studying Faulkner has added this new dimension to these thoughts.

To be completely honest, I'm not sure what conclusions I've come to. These are just the Faulkner thoughts that have been churning around in my head this last week or so. But these Faulkner thoughts aren't only related to this words idea. Before we read "As I Lay Dying," Brother Allen had us read Faulkner's acceptance speech for the Nobel Price, and in it he said that "Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it." Which is an interesting idea...shouldn't we learn to deal with adversity? To bear and endure things? As we were discussing the book, we were talking about which of the characters are actually dealing with grief and which are attempting to escape it. Brother Allen stopped and talked for a moment about the birth of his first son. When he was born, he wasn't breathing and there were a lot of complications, and they weren't sure for a few days if he was going to make it. His son is now seven years old and healthy. But seven years later, the memory of his son's struggle coming into the world still hurts him. But he said shouldn't it hurt? Aren't there things that we cannot ever bear? Then he said something that just hit me to the core...he said "The things we cannot bear should make us more alive."

What a profound thought. I've been thinking about it ever since class on Friday. I'm going to come off as slightly angsty here for a minute or two, but things have been hard to bear lately. Classes are kicking my butt, everyone's getting ready to go up to the Playmill, and I won't even talk about the whole romance thing. But I've always known that I cannot learn to bear them without feeling them. I don't think I should get to a point where those things don't ever hurt me at any point. I should heal with time...but I think what I'm trying to say is that there is a tendency to allow the things that we cannot bear to knock us down. I want the things that hurt me to make me more alive...to spur me to action, to force me to make changes. There is a time and a place for grief, which cannot nor should not be ignored. I don't plan on ridding my life of that. But in the past, I've sat/walked/driven and hurt, and then tried to go on as before. Maybe I shouldn't be going on as before. Maybe I should be changing something...learning something...more consciously than I have been before.

I'm sure that there's also a lot more to this realization I'm having, but I'm not able to articulate it at the moment. Three cheers for American Literature classes.

1 comment:

Willie Ziebell said...

I'm afraid I can't supply the response I would've otherwise liked to have provided; this post, however, is immensely interesting, and exactly the sort of questioning I'd like to encounter frequently.