An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections

Envisioning Faulkner and Southern Literature

Candace Waid, University of California, Santa Barbara

Published: 
8 August 2013
Overview: 

In this excerpt from The Signifying Eye: Seeing Faulkner's Art (University of Georgia Press, 2013) Candace Waid offers an understanding of southern literature that counters the resilient claim that the Southern Literary Renaissance is a white mystery. Building on a view of American literature that recognizes the importance of the oral and written traditions of the nineteenth-century slave narrative and slave novel, as well as the continued and profoundly related popularity of the captivity narrative, this selection precedes her discussion in chapter one of The Signifying Eye, which redefines southern literature as a reverse slave narrative in which protagonists (to borrow a phrase from Whitman) go "South" to "the living soul."

The Southern Renaissance

Cover of The Signifying Eye: Seeing Faulkner's Art

The Southern Renaissance has been declared by critics as having begun in 1929, the year that saw the publication of major works by Robert Penn Warren, Thomas Wolfe, and William Faulkner.1 From the outset, poet and some-time novelist Allen Tate questioned the appropriateness of the word "renaissance," concluding that this literary outpouring "was more precisely a birth, not a rebirth." Building on Tate's insights, C. Vann Woodward, introducing "[t]he second and more common historical usage of 'renaissance'" to refer to "the evocation of the ghost of a dead civilization, as the ghost of Hellenic culture was evoked in thirteenth- to fifteenth-century Italy," insisted that "surely nothing of that sort took place in the South." Woodward's assessment in 1975 was not unlike that of Faulkner in 1933, who quipped that the South would never accomplish anything in "music and the plastic arts." Faulkner is famous for not acknowledging individual or cultural influences on his writing, so his assessment of the state of "music and the plastic arts" is Menckenesque and unsurprising. However, he did feed on the cultural ferment that gave voice and shape to the Mississippi of his time. As Thadious Davis has documented, Faulkner regularly heard the dance rhythms and art of what had become W. C. Handy's "franchise" of bands, traveling ensembles that played the southern college circuit.2 While Robert Johnson has become a household name through the rise of recorded music and his acknowledged influence on British and American rockers, the names of blues queens alone—Ma Rainey (billed as "Mother of the Blues" and "Songbird of the South"), Bessie Smith ("Empress of the Blues"), Billie Holiday ("Lady Day")—frame Faulkner's South as "birthplace" and wellspring rather than the tonal dearth of art that he and Mencken conjured. The Mississippi that once sported the nostalgic slogan "The Magnolia State" is pointedly nationalist now, declaring itself on license plates to be "The Birthplace of America's Music."3 The Faulkner who in 1927 published his second novel, voiced by vapid aesthetes and desperate artists trapped together on a stalled yacht in Lake Pontchartrain, might not have been aware of the existence of Shearwater Pottery in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and he could not have been aware of the still-to-be discovered psychotropic watercolors awash in water and light generated by his contemporary, Walter Anderson, a figure who was known for his pottery and who made madness into art. This being said, the William Faulkner who had any interest in art could not have spent time in Pascagoula without having heard about the work of George Ohr, the storied "Mad Potter of Biloxi"; this self-taught artist created pots, playing in bright shapes, ultimately (like Faulkner after him) favoring form over color. Faulkner's artist figures that focused on glassblowing and the ideal shape of the female vase are telling when seen in a Mississippian, let alone a southern, context that would include the remarkable beauty fired from the clay of the late-nineteenth-century Carolina Piedmont.4 Faulkner's disparagement of music in 1933 (unlike his bad-faith but self-preserving denials of the influence of the words of Joyce and the theories of Freud) speaks to his unfathomed consciousness or absence of consciousness of the art he imbibed as mother's milk. Thadious Davis, addressing the dynamic and changing field of American popular music, has understood the cross-racial synergy of an era in which blue notes, elegy, and the changing emphases of syncopation had striking implications for literature. Writing about the late 1910s and 1920s, Davis identifies an intense "period of reverse acculturation, in which aspects of the minority culture moved into the dominant one with the accumulative effect of transforming the majority." "Cultural diffusion," an aesthetic force that fertilized art as it crossed the color line, brought a "revitalization . . . witnessed perhaps most vividly in the New Negro or Harlem Renaissance."5

This vitality constituted the living matrix that birthed the Southern Renaissance. The language of Faulkner's South, like the music, was the air that his ears breathed. This being said, it would be wrong not to acknowledge that this southern literary emergence in 1929—so surprising to the literate white world—was indeed based on "the ghost of a dead civilization," the diabolically vital and haunting specter of slavery recorded and recounted in the written word of the slave narrative and the slave novel.6 These ghosts, along with the writers of the Harlem Renaissance, precursed and begat what we now think of as southern literature.

While Louis Rubin notes that critics could "justly feel uncomfortable . . . talking about an entity known as 'Southern Literature'" as opposed to individual authors, he insists on the necessity of addressing this phenomenon, placing Faulkner as only "the most distinguished" among what he recognizes as "a galaxy of accomplished literary artists."7 If the quantity of literary production is impressive in the twentieth-century South, the quality is shocking. An apostolic twelve, cut crudely from the end of a lengthy alphabetized list, reads like a pantheon: Lee Smith, Elizabeth Spencer, William Styron, Allen Tate, Peter Taylor, Jean Toomer, Alice Walker, Margaret Walker, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, Thomas Wolfe, and Richard Wright were producing works that defined twentieth-century southern (as well as American) literature.8 Partial and incomplete, the much longer list in the note favors novelists while acknowledging the centrality of the short story and in particular the story-cycle novel to a literature that has its provocation in orality. This literature, paradoxically emerging from poverty and illiteracy to challenge hierarchies of art, has created the South, and page by page it both answers and begs the question of southern distinctiveness.

William Faulkner (who, quite drunk, once resisted going further north than he had already been on the subway system in Manhattan) had an unerring sense of direction. Faulkner never denied being southern, and he was among the first to acknowledge the existence of southern literature as a phenomenon. African American writers and Harlem Renaissance figures other than the most famous of the untoward—Zora Neale Hurston—chose to identify themselves as southern while some, wary of the taint of whiteness and insult in the term, pointedly did not. Alice Dunbar-Nelson (best known for her New Orleans stories in The Goodness of St. Rocque [1899]) enunciated the grounds of her own race-blind ambition, expressed in her desire to surpass George Washington Cable as a great "Southern writer."9 Jean Toomer, the most influential ancestor of southern modernism, published Cane (1923), a prose-poem cycle that has increasingly been understood as an innovative novel. This lyrical masterpiece, seen as a culmination of the experimental promise of the Harlem Renaissance and the extensive African American exploration of the collage form, was written by an author who pleaded unsuccessfully with his publisher, Horace Liveright, to keep Cane from being marketed as a work by an African American.10 Toomer claimed that he was a "new American," and wanted to be true to all of the bloods that ran in his veins.11 Stating a modernist fact (a geography of creativity that would have included Taos, New Mexico, in its locations), Toomer openly acknowledged that he had journeyed south in the 1920s to be closer to the "sources" of his art.

Figure 1. Cleo Campbell, nine years old. Pottawotamie County, Oklahoma, 1916. Photograph by Lewis Hine. Child Labor Collection, Library of Congress, LOT 7475, v. 2, no. 4592.
Figure 1. Cleo Campbell, nine years old. Pottawotamie County, Oklahoma, 1916. Photograph by Lewis Hine. Child Labor Collection, Library of Congress, LOT 7475, v. 2, no. 4592.
Figure 2. Callie Campbell, eleven years old. Pottawotamie County, Oklahoma, 1916. Photograph by Lewis Hine. Child Labor Collection, Library of Congress, LOT 7475, v. 2, no. 4594.
Figure 2. Callie Campbell, eleven years old. Pottawotamie County, Oklahoma, 1916. Photograph by Lewis Hine. Child Labor Collection, Library of Congress, LOT 7475, v. 2, no. 4594.
Figure 3. Callie Campbell. Pottawotamie County, Oklahoma, 1916. Photograph by Lewis Hine. Child Labor Collection, Library of Congress, LOT 7475, v.2, no. 4596.
Figure 3. Callie Campbell. Pottawotamie County, Oklahoma, 1916. Photograph by Lewis Hine. Child Labor Collection, Library of Congress, LOT 7475, v.2, no. 4596.
Figure 4. Campbell family picking cotton. Pottawotamie County, Oklahoma, 1916. Photograph by Lewis Hine. Child Labor Collection, Library of Congress, LOT 7475, v. 2, no. 4590.
Figure 4. Campbell family picking cotton. Pottawotamie County, Oklahoma, 1916. Photograph by Lewis Hine. Child Labor Collection, Library of Congress, LOT 7475, v. 2, no. 4590.

Alice Walker, taking a course on southern literature that consisted of works by Faulkner, Welty, and McCullers at Sarah Lawrence College in the 1960s, recalls her epiphany in reading the assigned works of Flannery O'Connor. Walker credits O'Connor's fiction with having taught her that she did not want to live and write in the poverty of a segregated literature. Born in a sharecropper's shack (unbeknownst to her, just down the road from the family dairy farm where the terminally ill O'Connor wrote and died), Walker was capable of imagining a literary estate that did not cede territory. Able to distinguish the adjective "southern" from meaning white, Walker noted that there were no black southern writers taught in this racially focused and no doubt (given the precociousness of this female-dominated canon) politically conceived course.12 While C. Vann Woodward argued that the South would come of age when the adjective "southern" came to refer to the black population as well as the rebellious white inhabitants, Woodward and others continued to see the emergence of the Southern Renaissance as a white mystery rather than the progeny of aesthetic miscegenation inherent in William Faulkner's, as well as Alice Walker's, literary genealogy.

Even the most conservative conception of the Southern Literary Renaissance, one that names a figure such as William Styron as Faulkner's heir, necessitates a consideration of the formal influence of Robert Penn Warren, finally placing both Warren and Styron in the tradition of the slave narrative. Styron's first novel, Lie Down in Darkness (1951), has been understood as being Faulknerian in theme while being indebted in formal terms to Warren's All the King's Men (1946), the most successful of his ten novels. Warren's fifth novel, Band of Angels (1955), concerns an elite light-skinned woman who discovers that she is a slave at the time of her father's death. Here, Warren rewrites the story of the "tragic mulatta" told in slave novels such as William Wells Brown's Clotel; or the President's Daughter (1853) and Frances E. W. Harper's Iola Leroy; or Shadows Uplifted (1892), to give the heroine of color a voice as the narrator rather than as a courageous and painfully exposed character.

A dozen years after Warren published his fictionalized slave narrative, William Styron penned a first-person account that gives voice and interiority to the most feared revolutionary in US history. It speaks to the origins and materials of southern literature that Styron's Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), considered his most successful work, is written in the threatening voice of a resisting slave, a character whose motivations include psychosexual torments in the form of fantasies about white women. In his novel, Styron, who would later speculate that he had "unwittingly created one of the world's first politically incorrect texts,"13 revealed the heightened racial tensions over black masculinity that reached a white heat in the late 1960s. While Styron's Confessions precipitated controversy, his work has not approached the productively provocative place of Faulkner's varied and offensive representations of race, whether as static stereotype or troubling paradox. As Anne McKnight has argued, contending with complex Japanese hierarchies as her mediating context, racism is difficult to translate:

Faulkner's texts, with all of their hauntings of the racial hysteria, [inscribe] the sprawling structure of materiality, sensory mechanism and figure that is his inscription of the "South." The narration of Faulkner's south is always in the process of uneven growth, of slapping up another textual building . . . , in the process of re-reading and re-presenting itself as a (not always successful) strategy of bringing the effects of this racial hysteria into a field of legibility.14

As Craig Werner prophesied, this continued response by black writers to Faulkner's irritations and incitements is far from a joyous coming to voice, but Faulkner's fiction seems destined to remain a generative place of productive dialogue about race and racism.15

The neo-slave narrative,16 often in novels set in the United States or the Caribbean, forms a suggestive parallel to the southern novel, as it continues to develop as a site of political fiction that uses the "not dead" past to reflect on problems in the present. In many ways, Faulkner's Light in August, as it located this crisis of masculinity and incarceration within a body defined by race rather than color, provided a crucial turning point for writing about the violence inherent in the enforcement of racially delimited identities. The embodied conflict of Joe Christmas ignited political writers, often male, across the wavering and full spectrum of the color line, and the white woman is a pregnant presence in Faulkner's narrative of violence. Describing Lena Grove as "a wistful staging of a myth," André Bleikasten argues that

when the procession of identical wagons in which Lena is traveling is likened to a procession "moving forever and without progress across an urn" (7), Faulkner's pastoral calls attention to itself as a work of art. And, revealingly, the reference here is to a plastic medium, to the arts of space, whose privileges Faulkner must have sometimes envied and with which he seems to have competed with more vigorously in Light in August than in any of his other novels.

Seen here as an ekphrastic act as it sculpts and structures Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Faulkner's Light in August—framed by the flesh of men and women sculpted by pregnancy and other forms of bodily violence—is understood by Bleikasten to be Keats's poem "reread and rewritten in and by the novel."17

The Southern Literary Renaissance, positioned at the cusp in 1929, also ushered in a decade that would become known for its nostalgic idealizations of a plantation South, a mythology canonized in Margaret Mitchell's best-seller Gone with the Wind (1936), and given heft in over seventy Hollywood films trading on the popular and highly marketable longing for an "Old South."18 Mitchell's novel, which contains only one mixed-blood character, the significantly named Dilsey, avoids issues of race while promoting regeneration through capitalism. Known for its sentences of over eighty lines in search of a paragraph, Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!, published the same year as Gone with the Wind, places race and miscegenation at its center. In fictions that often did not provide solutions or consolations, Faulkner created a world that could not satisfy the programmatic desires of the Depression era, but would inspire later writers of varying colors and classes to create their own complexly articulated Yoknapatawphas.19 From the 1970s to the present, with a steadily decreasing emphasis on the fast-aging adjective, critics have touted the "New Regionalism." However, this literary movement continues, in the culturally deep tracks of Faulkner and Eudora Welty, to represent regions within the South, the most distinctive, productive, and accomplished literary area of the United States.

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Yoknapatawphas All

Raymond Andrews was forty-four when he published Appalachee Red (1978), which chronicles life after World War I in his fictional Muskhogean County, Georgia, a world that he examines in more depth in Baby Sweet's (1983), a novel set in a local brothel during the era of the civil rights movement.20

More political and situated in a plantation past, Ernest Gaines's eight novels take place in the fictional environs based on the actual River Lake Plantation in Louisiana, where his family has lived for seven generations, framed by a narrative history that begins in slavery. The author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971), which charts a woman's transition from bondage into the challenging freedom of the twentieth century, Gaines, like Faulkner, is known for multivocal narrations, in particular A Gathering of Old Men (1983),21 a work that, like Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, is presented through the first-person accounts of fifteen named narrators. (In Gaines's novel, his "Candace" bears the more usual nickname "Candy," and she is one of the narrators, unlike the close-to-voiceless Caddy [Candace] in Faulkner's Sound and the Fury. As more than one observer has noted, the "Old Men" of Gaines's title have become more potent than the Compsons or even Jewel of the Bundrens. Class, if not race, is equalized as these men come bearing guns.) Faulkner remains recognizable as a formal presence for Randall Kenan in his creation of Tims Creek, a community whose fictional template, directly recalling Go Down, Moses, includes layered stories, letters, and journal entries, to build a late-twentieth-century Yoknapatawpha. Regions within regions, geographically conceived as well as narratively populated with voices, are important for naming Yoknapatawphas, and Kenan's Tims Creek locates a fictional community in the swampy low country of North Carolina.

Faulkner's work has been acknowledged as and is a source for this creative outpouring, the wellsprings of cultural regions distinguished by their creators' capacities to voice their own communities of fiction. In terms of ethnic and race-based fictions, Faulkner was and continues to be a major influence. Even the most cursory glance at the late-twentieth-century fictional masterworks treating Native American experience reveal his acknowledged presence as a formal as well as thematic forebear, recognizable in the works of the brilliant and voice-based experimental authors N. Scott Momaday, Louise Erdrich, and Ray A. Young Bear Jr. The Sound and the Fury is alluded to explicitly in Momaday's Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, House Made of Dawn (1964), while Erdrich has created complex and interrelated historical communities that include islands of the very real and mythic past, a place pockmarked by the slaughterhouses and bingo palaces of more recent acts of survival committed amid and despite depredations. Erdrich's encyclopedic oeuvre provided provocation for Young Bear's strong language-based entry. Ironically, Young Bear, the separatist author of two novels with alternating sections in syllabic (spoken) Mesquakie, is a poet and a drummer who, despite the fact that he may never have read Faulkner's work, is more Faulknerian than Erdrich in his tribal-based fiction's challenge to decipherability. Young Bear conveys and withholds cultural knowledge through his inclusion of transliterated orality.

Language—the difficulties of dialect as words become the medium of resisting incorporation into a national or narratively flattened body—is crucial to the most productive uses of racially-inflected class consciousness and the unanswerable hysterias of insulted humanity. Paulo Da-Luz-Moreira has revealed the pained vitality of a contact zone that I think of as "the inland triangle." This is a modernism with Faulkner at its northern apex as backwoods narrators struggle against the encroaching codifications of bureaucracy, articulating cultural resistance in João Guimarães Rosa's Brazilian backlands of Minas Gerais and Juan Rulfo's deep south Mexico in Jalisco. The challenges inherent in comparatist analysis are foregrounded by the state of translation. As Rodrigo Bauer reveals, the most recent Brazilian translation of As I Lay Dying is in high-church Portuguese rather than the rich dialects nourished in internal regions such as the dark corner known to Faulknerians as the "Deep North" of Brazil.22

Of the fictional worlds generated in Faulkner's wake, the Japanese Yoknapatawpha created in the novels of Nakagami Kenji (that, like Young Bear's work, is rooted in textual documents which go back centuries) is uncompromisingly dedicated to the juncture where the profoundly oral vessel of culture meets literacy and the written word. Born in 1948 into the despised burakumin (considered the lowest and most defiled or polluted caste in the highly stratified and hierarchical structures of traditional Japanese culture),23 Nakagami, according to his own account, was distinguished in his village for being able to read his own name. Nakagami's work, in what Kato Yuji has called "[t]he lushness of language," "repeat[s] the images of the random growths of plants and roots . . . [to] constitute what might be called a culturally transplanted Yoknapatawpha saga . . . polyphonic mixtures of random voices and pieces of vernacular narrations of his almost anonymous characters. His images reverberate with the memories of the texture of Faulkner's writings: rumors, fragmented narrations, voices of isolated, orphaned characters, coming out of no specific origins." Nakagami echoes these Faulknerian textual idiosyncrasies so persistently that they come to constitute the very essence of his writings.24

Nakagami emphasizes the crucial importance of oral narrative and the sound of words as a dimension that resists and delights in the incorporation of the vocal into the written word, inscribing difference and distance from the imperial claims of Kyoto as well as those of the metropolis, a Tokyo that is even further to the north. As he translates the underlying forces, thematic and formal, locating a world of a Japanese "South" in the Kumano region of the southern Kii peninsula, Nakagami creates an inassimilable region that defines the opposing concept of nation. The most Faulknerian of Nakagami's work, his trilogy, is not a Snopesian chronicle of the advance of capitalism and modernization; rather these novels are rooted in the concerns of Absalom, Absalom!, featuring brother and sister incest and a narrative where brother kills brother. And neither of these heinous acts provokes the desired acknowledgment from the patriarch who, Sutpen-like, builds monuments to try to pass in terms of caste.25 Arguably, capitalism was both too ubiquitous and too mundane in postwar Japan to generate the "luxuriating" response to the primal miscegenation that joins the spoken to the written word. This is the crossroads, vernacular and oracular, that discovers class as race in modernism's multiplicity of voices.

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About the Photographs

Figure 1. "Cleo Campbell, 9 years, picks 75 to 100 pounds of cotton a day. Expects to start school soon. Said: 'I'd ruther go to school and then I wouldn’t have ter work.' Father said she and her sister begin about 6 A.M. and work until 6 or 7 P.M. with 1 hours off at noon."

Figure 2. "Callie Campbell, 11 years old, picks 75 to 125 pounds of cotton a day, and totes 50 pounds of it when sack [sic] gets full. 'No, I don't like it very much.'"

Figure 3. Callie Campbell.

Figure 4. "Campbell family picking cotton. W. W. Campbell, Route 1, Box 64, Shawnee. Children go to Pioneer School, 7 miles northwest of Shawnee. Father said: 'Both the girls can hoe the cotton as well as any grown-up.'"

Waid writes:

Despite the captions describing hard labor, these posed Lewis Hine photographs of girls in cultivated nature have a romanticized, even fairy-tale, quality when compared to Hine’s photographs of the exposed and deformed bodies of children who are working in factories, mines, and fisheries. In addition to documenting girls' labor in cotton production, these images reveal an investment in whiteness and the class-based concept of preserving a "complexion" practiced by some female agricultural laborers. Here, Cleo Campbell's face is darkened by the sun, but her hands (protected for practical reasons) shine at the end of her dark-brown arms, as if she is still wearing her work gloves. In contrast, her older sister Callie is clearly committed to preserving her whiteness. As she is featured here in two of these photographs, her Mother Hubbard hat protects her face while the thick black stockings on her arms, as well as her legs, protect her limbs from the leathering rays of the sun. Folk myths aside, this work is being done under a sun in which people of color, even those of the darkest hues, burn and blister. Little changed in the methods of chopping and picking cotton during the nearly fifteen-year period between Hine's taking of these photographs and the publication of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. A fifty-pound bag could indeed be part of the harvest, but smaller bags and baskets, pulled along or strapped on the picker's neck, were emptied into these larger sacks.

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About the Author

A native of Alabama, Candace Waid is professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her central interests include American literature and culture, gender studies, African-American literature, southern literature, and regional literature. She is the author of Edith Wharton's Letters from the Underworld: Fictions of Women and Writing (University of North Carolina Press, 1991), editor of the Norton Critical Edition of The Age of Innocence (2002), and writer of articles on Wharton, Faulkner, and Welty.

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Recommended Resources

Text

Davis, Thadious. Reconstructing Dixie: Race, Gender, and Nostalgia in the Imagined South. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2011.

Greeson, Jennifer. Our South: Geographic Fantasy and the Rise of National Literature. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2010.

Hagood, Taylor. Faulkner’s Imperialism: Space, Place, and the Materiality of Myth. Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press, 2008.

Kartiganer, Donald M. and Ann J. Abadie, eds. Faulkner and the Artist. Oxford, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1996.

Woodward, C. Vann. "Why the Southern Renaissance?" Virginia Quarterly Review (Spring 1975): 222–239.

Yuji, Kato. "'The Luxuriating South,' William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Voices, Narrations, and the Place of Existence." Faulkner Journal of Japan 1 (May 1999). http://www.faulknerjapan.com/journal/No1/kato.htm.

Related Southern Spaces Publications

Freeman, Jesse. "Telling the Raymond Andrews Story: The Making of Somebody Else, Somewhere Else." June 26, 2012. http://www.southernspaces.org/2012/telling-raymond-andrews-story-making-somebody-else-somewhere-else.

MacKethan, Lucinda. "Plantation Romances and Slave Narratives: Symbiotic Genres." Southern Spaces, March 4, 2004. http://southernspaces.org/2004/plantation-romances-and-slave-narratives-symbiotic-genres.

Moon, Michael. "Wherein the South Differs from the North: Naming Persons, Naming Places, and the Need for Visionary Geographies." Southern Spaces, May 16, 2008. http://southernspaces.org/2008/wherein-south-differs-north-naming-persons-naming-places-and-need-visionary-geographies.

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  • 1. A great deal has been written on the phenomena of southern literature and the particularized role of culture in the South's dynamic history of aesthetic productions. For analyses speculating on this literary emergence, see Allen Tate's "The Profession of Letters in the South," Virginia Quarterly Review 11 (1935), 161–176; C. Vann Woodward's "Why the Southern Renaissance?," Virginia Quarterly Review (Spring 1975), 222–239; Cleanth Brooks's "Southern Literature: The Wellsprings of Its Vitality," Georgia Review 16 (1962), 238–253; Flannery O'Connor's Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969); Eudora Welty's The Eye of the Story (New York: Random House, 1978); Fred Hobson's Tell About the South: The Southern Rage to Explain (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983); Daniel Joseph Singal's The War Within: From Victorian to Modernist Thought in the South, 1919–1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982); and Ralph Ellison's Shadow and Act (New York: Random House, 1964).
  • 2. Thadious M. Davis, "From Jazz Syncopation to Blues Elegy: Faulkner's Development of Black Characterizations," in Faulkner and Race: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1986, ed. Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1987), 70–72.
  • 3. Born in Columbus, Georgia, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, respectively, all these artists were major figures in defining secular music that had its roots in the South. (The baby who would become Billie Holiday was born of a thirteen-year-old mother who had been thrown out of her family's home in Baltimore for being unmarried and pregnant. Kept by family in Baltimore during her early years, Holiday herself is on record as having occasionally claimed Baltimore as the city of her birth.) Meanwhile, other major figures, like Mamie Smith, born in Cincinnati, Ohio (just across the river from Southgate, Kentucky), and Trixie Smith, a university-educated blues great born into a middle-class home in Atlanta, suggest some of the borders crossed in this period of cultural transformation.
  • 4. For a discussion of the Sophie Newcomb arts and crafts movement and other pottery-based art forms, see Susan Donaldson's "Cracked Urns: Faulkner, Gender, and Art in the South," in Faulkner and the Artist: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1993 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996). For a discussion of the nineteenth-century Carolina Piedmont tradition and the emergence of folk pottery forms, see Charles G. Zug III, Turners and Burners: The Folk Potters of North Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986).
  • 5. Davis, "From Jazz Syncopation to Blues Elegy," 71–72.
  • 6. Woodward, "Why the Southern Renaissance?," 222–239.
  • 7. Louis Rubin, "The Dixie Special: William Faulkner and the Southern Literary Renascence" [1982], in The Mockingbird in the Gum Tree: A Literary Gallimaufry (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991), 39.
  • 8. A list partial and incomplete would include James Agee, Dorothy Allison, Raymond Andrews, Maya Angelou, Harriette Arnow, Doris Betts, Arna Bontemps, Olive Ann Burns, George Washington Cable, Erskine Caldwell, Truman Capote, Fred Chappell, Charles Chesnutt, Kate Chopin, Pat Conroy, Hubert Creekmore, Harry Crews, James Dickey, Ellen Douglas, Alice Dunbar- Nelson, Ralph Ellison, Fannie Flagg, Shelby Foote, Ernest Gaines, Tim Gautreaux, Ellen Glasgow, Caroline Gordon, Shirley Ann Grau, Barry Hannah, John Wylie Henderson, Mary Hood, William Bradford Huie, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, Randall Keenan, Barbara Kingsolver, Harper Lee, Andrew Lytle, Bobbie Ann Mason, Jill McCorkle, Carson McCullers, Margaret Mitchell, Gurney Norman, Flannery O’Connor, John Kennedy O'Toole, Breece D'J Pancake, Walker Percy, William Alexander Percy, Katherine Anne Porter, Reynolds Price, Ron Rash, Ishmael Reed, Elise Sanguinetti, Evelyn Scott, Mary Lee Settle, Lee Smith, Elizabeth Spencer, William Styron, Allen Tate, Peter Taylor, Jean Toomer, Alice Walker, Margaret Walker, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, Thomas Wolfe, and Richard Wright.
  • 9. Elizabeth Ammons, Conflicting Stories: American Women Writers at the Turn into the Twentieth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 125.
  • 10. For more on collage in African American art, see Rachel Farebrother's The Collage Aesthetic in the Harlem Renaissance (London: Ashgate, 2009).
  • 11. For more on racial identity in Toomer's life and work, see Rudolph P. Byrd and Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s essay "'Song of the Son': The Emergence and Passing of Jean Toomer" in the 2011 Norton critical edition of Cane.
  • 12. Alice Walker, "Beyond the Peacock: The Reconstruction of Flannery O'Connor," in In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983), 43. While Walker does not identify herself as "southern," she also does not cede ground. In response to a speaker's assertion that "we" "lost the [Civil] War," Walker with clipped irony asked, "What do you mean 'we'?" (The added address to the female speaker as "white man" is of course implied here.) Walker's critique of Faulkner's fiction using his public pronouncements in advocating gradualism in relation to change in racist policies as a lens for critique is well known. For insight into this view as well as others in the complex history of "Afro-American" writers' responses to Faulkner's provocations, see Craig Werner's excellent analysis, "Minstrel Nightmares: Black Dreams of Faulkner's Dreams of Blacks," in Faulkner and Race: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1986, ed. Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1987).
  • 13. Styron quoted in Tony Horwitz, "Untrue Confessions," New Yorker, December 13, 1999, 84.
  • 14. Anne McKnight, "Crypticism, or Nakagami Kenji's Transplanted Faulkner: Plants, Saga, and Sabetsu," Faulkner Journal of Japan 1 (May 1999), http://www.faulknerjapan.com/journal/No1/anne.htm.
  • 15. Werner, "Minstrel Nightmares." In this still relevant essay from a quarter of a century ago, Werner predicts cycles and finds patterns in the varied African American creative as well as critical riffs on Faulkner's fiction. Questions of female voice and queries concerning ways that race and history have forged definitions of class distinguish Werner's essay as a prescient work of cultural interpretation. The defining episode for the poor white's realization of race and class continues to be Sutpen's epiphany in Absalom, Absalom! after he is turned away, pointedly classified, by the well-dressed doorkeeper of a Tidewater residence and sent to the back door.
  • 16. For important recent work that analyzes race and class through the transformative lens of the affections, see Carina Evan's book manuscript in progress, Loving Blackness: The Neo-Slave Narrative and Contemporary Revisions of Slavery, completed as a dissertation in the English Department of the University of California, Santa Barbara, 2009. It was my privilege not just to read Evan's work but also to have extensive conversations with her as she was developing her thesis.
  • 17. André Bleikasten, The Ink of Melancholy: Faulkner's Novels from The Sound and the Fury to Light in August (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 280. As Bleikasten continues, "even though the poet speaks to the urn and allows the urn to speak in the final two lines, Keats' ode is on, not to, a Grecian urn. Like Homer's famous description of the shield of Achilles, it is an ekphrasis, a verbal transposition of a plastic work of art, a word-shaper's tribute to a sculptor of marble in the ut pictura poesis tradition" (280).
  • 18. For more on Hollywood's deployment of the trope of the "Old South," see Ida Jeter's "Jezebel and the Emergence of the Hollywood Tradition of a Decadent South," The Southern Quarterly: A Journal of the Arts in the South 19, nos. 3–4 (Spring–Summer 1981), 31–46.
  • 19. Faulkner's As I Lay Dying (1931) was compared unfavorably to Erskine Caldwell's salaciously saleable depiction of southern poverty in Tobacco Road (1932), which devoted part of its mélange to the potential uplift for blacks and well as whites in the form of agricultural cooperatives. Caldwell, author of some twenty-five novels, only five of which were published in the 1930s, produced twenty novels in the 1940s.
  • 20. At the 1998 Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference ("Faulkner in America"), Trudier Harris gave a talk on Andrew's trilogy and his creation of an African American Yoknapatawpha in Georgia.
  • 21. For a telling article that considers ethnicity and race in relation to "Southern Literature" as a concept, see Goto Kazuhko, "William Faulkner and Southern Literature in the Postmodern Era," Faulkner Journal of Japan 1 (May 1999), http://www.faulknerjapan.com/journal/No1/GotoRevd.htm. As Goto argues in relation to southern identity: "This intense historical sensitivity of the Southerners has formulated what is more than a regional peculiarity; it is something very close to 'ethnicity.'" Linking the multiple narrators of Gaines's A Gathering of Old Men to Faulkner's fifteen narrators of As I Lay Dying, Goto underlines the bonds forged by men (Gaines's characters) who "have shared the same fate." In Goto's view, Gaines's novel reveals a "literature of the ethnic solidarity bred through the history of oppression and discrimination, supported by the network of the traditional manners knitting up each and every niche of life and always reminding the members of the community of its historical fate [that] should be discussed not in the context of Southern literature but in that of the African American literature." Goto acknowledges the fact that "this novel by Gaines freely exploits . . . Faulkner's methods with success." The most extensive analysis linking Gaines's fictional world to Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha is Michel Fabre's "Bayonne or the Yoknapatawpha of Ernest Gaines," Callaloo 1 (1978), 110–124. Outside of the interest (antipathetic and otherwise) shown in the Americas, French and Japanese intellectuals have developed the most insightful critical communities concerned with and contributing to the growth of Faulkner studies.
  • 22. For innovative and insightful work comparing these fictional worlds created in English, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese, see Paulo da-Luz-Moreira, "Regionalism and Modernism in the Short Stories of William Faulkner, João Guimarães Rosa, and Juan Rulfo" (PhD diss., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2007). My conversations with da-Luz-Moreira have proved invaluable in understanding the place of dialect, class, and race in relation to the diverse but deeply historically, culturally, and aesthetically connected inland modernisms of the Americas. As Rodrigo Bauer has emphasized in his conversations with me, whatever else this text may convey, a translation of As I Lay Dying that does not include the shifts into italics cannot have begun to understand the novel's shifts of time and levels in unconsciousness thought, much less the even more subtle alterations in who is speaking that are a primary focus of The Signifying Eye's chapter 3.
  • 23. While this word is used in English, its use is not considered acceptable in modern Japan. The Burakumin are thought of as village or rural people who have inherited a caste condition that is deeply reviled and entrenched through their families' inherited fate to deal with death, the dead, and the dying. This group includes those in charge of killing in executions as well as those charged with the laying away of the dead, slaughtering animals for meat, and processing animal skins for leather. Nakagami gained access to literacy as a result of the post–World War II law that required that all Japanese children be educated.
  • 24. For this and other important insights, see Kato Yuji, "'The Luxuriating South,' William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Voices, Narrations, and the Place of Existence," Faulkner Journal of Japan 1 (May 1999), http://www.faulknerjapan.com/journal/No1/kato.htm.
  • 25. For a revelatory and detailed analysis that is only summarized here, see McKnight, "Crypticism, or Nakagami Kenji's Transplanted Faulkner."