On Family and The Sound and the Fury
Inspired by "Family Symposium Pt. 1 (Featuring: Javier Rivera, O.G Rose, Cadell Last, Davood Gozli and Raven Connolly)," as Featured in The Breaking of the Day by O.G. Rose
Michelle and I recently had the pleasure of joining Javeria Rivera, Cadell Last, Davood Gozli and Raven Connolly to discuss family. It was a marvelous discussion, full of points Michelle and I discussed over meals for days afterward. You can find the symposium here:
In Abrahamic traditions, God is terrifying. He appears amidst strange animal creatures like seraphim, unleashes plagues, sends rebels into Hell—and yet God is the Logos, “the meaning of life,” the source of ultimate bliss. What’s going on? Well, something personal: we are made in the “image and likeness” of God, and so we should expect for God’s behavior to be similar to our own. And we are mysteries: the people we treat worst can be the spouses who at one time in our lives we would have done anything to merely glimpse standing by a locker; the people we share blood with are people who we can be offish toward while smiling wide for random strangers; we can feel a need to control our anger at work but not around “loved ones”—the list of perplexing and strange characteristics grows on.
Is family good? Is family bad? Hard to say, but to help frame an exploration on the topic, my mind turns to William Faulkner. The Sound and the Fury is a masterpiece, and here I want to understand it as three reactions, dimensions, and/or stages to the collapse of family, with each Compson brother embodying different responses (though Faulkner was no creator of simple symbols). To point to the conclusion, in the midst of what has been called “The Meaning Crisis” (our experience of ourselves as Hamlet, as discussed in The Breaking of the Day) we must learn to “endure” our present space of “negation” like Dilsey did; otherwise, there will be no hope for sublation, only effacement.
“The center” which broke and caused the Compson family to fall apart was the loss of Caddy’s virginity outside of marriage. This suggests the indivisible link between sexuality and family, and also suggests that changes in sexual practices entail changes in family formations. For most of human history, the presence or lack of virginity was the “marker” between adulthood and childhood, and though obviously this “reference point” was used to oppress and harm (as Faulkner clearly shows), it was also a way to organize the social order in a manner that made it psychologically and existentially bearable. As described throughout Belonging Again by O.G. Rose, this is the difficult “tradeoff” between “givens” and “releases,” one we are always renegotiating and reconsidering.
Family and sex are profoundly connected: I personally cannot think of any cultures organized for people to sleep together, become pregnant, and then either for the man to leave or the woman to go, never to see one another again. This of course happens, but it is considered tragic and awful—I don’t know of a culture where it is “the family structure,” per se. In societies before birth control, sex was practically always linked with children, and children were always linked with family structures. Now, with birth control, things have changed, bringing to the forefront the need to rethink family. This could prove beneficial, because perhaps we could escape some of the psychological traumas many people find themselves suffering due to parents, but the loss of structure could also leave us without direction and confused.
Pregnancy and children are visible and physically observable: they cannot be hidden as readily from the community as can say an anger problem, drug addiction, or the like. For this reason, there is an additional existential and psychological tension which “the question of sex” can present: sex, especially in the past, was not private and often entailed public consequences. Also, by having a family, it “showed” that people were “taking responsibility” for sex, that people were prepared for what might happen. In “showing” this to the community, people could existentially and psychologically feel sure and comfortable that the community didn’t judge them poorly: it was a silent and unspoken understanding that provided stability. Where family structures are varied and changing, this is not so “given”: it is not clear what everyone thinks, nor what everyone thinks they should do (directions are varied, and varying directions are arguably not even directions). Furthermore, sex can feel like anyone can enjoy it without the sex necessarily being “earned” (at least in the eyes of people raising children, a perhaps unwarranted feeling). This too can contribute to social friction, but maybe older generations just need to get over themselves.
Before birth control, society could generally tell the people who were sexually active from the people who were virgins according to pregnancy and children, all of which contributed to social organization and understanding. This was a rough rubric, not always accurate, and could be used to oppress people, so don’t mistake me as saying this was necessarily good. The point is that, now, it’s not “given” who is having sex and who isn’t, which means “having sex” is no longer a reliable marker of “who is an adult” and “who isn’t.” Societies have always struggled to identify ways to define “children from adults,” with many assembling various rituals, practices, challenges, and the like for helping to create ways that young people could be “initiated” into the adult world. Regardless though if it was considered sufficient, marriage and sex were critical and important “marks” for where society could generally define children from adults. An adult was someone who took care of children, and children were those who were taken care of by adults (circular, self-justifying, and axiomatic).
Adults are given responsibilities, held up to certain expectations, and the like which are not applied to children. Yes, childhood in the Middle Ages was very different from childhood today, and arguably didn’t even exist, but even when children were considered “little adults,” they were still “little adults”: there were distinctions, even if not hard distinctions. Even if we do not accept this, we in the West, at least, have held those distinctions for centuries, say starting after the Gutenberg Press (if we accept the claims of Neil Postman in The Disappearance of Childhood). If the distinctions didn’t exist before then, life could still be organized by the sheer amount of manual work that had to be done to survive, which is to say the distinction between “child” and “adult” was not as necessary for life to entail direction and organization. As technology has advanced though and the burdens of manual labor lessened, the need for organizing structures has increased, for we cannot so readily receive direction and tasks from the sheer “facticity” of the world (at least not ones we can’t think to negotiate with, interpret, and so on, making space for existential pressures and social disagreements).
Where the distinctions between “child” and “adult” are harder to draw, there’s a challenge of not knowing how to organize responsibilities, what people should expect of one another, and the like. And this isn’t only a social problem, for where there lacks a clear line between child and adult, I myself will struggle to know if I should think of myself as a child or as an adult. I will struggle to know where I stand, and that means I will struggle to know where I should go. John Vervaeke discusses “The Meaning Crisis,” which I think can also be understood as “The Direction Crisis,” for where people don’t have meaning, they also don’t have direction, and often vice-versa. Now, I don’t want to suggest “all direction is meaning,” for it is possible to be controlled, oppressed, and “directed” by a dictator, but I would say “all meaning entails direction,” so a lack of direction indicates a lack of meaning (even the word “cat” directs our mind to think about cats, funny enough). When I don’t know if I am an adult or a child, and when the society doesn’t give me support to think one way or the other, I will struggle to know what I should do with myself. Precisely because social pressures as weakened due to uncertainty, this means I exist in a “negative space” (to allude to Hegel) in which new possibilities open up, but it also means there is a tension in which I can undergo “effacement” (to allude to “Negation Versus Effacement” by O.G. Rose). Regardless, this state is existentially and psychologically challenging, which is why it is appropriate for Faulkner to say that Dilsey endures.
Can “starting a job” or “going to college” function as ways to define children from adults? That seems to be what we are attempting in the West today, but there is something profound about biological change which feels “real” and “powerful” that is lost if the main marker isn’t sex and childbirth. When humans are treated like “heads on sticks,” they can feel “off,” not “fully human” or “embodied,” and that can contribute to alienation. This being the case, if “being an adult” is defined in terms of “a certain use of the brain” (say toward a career, college, etc.), this definition will easily feel and be experienced as inadequate. “Being an adult,” then, will align with “being alienated.”
Sex is bodily and emotional, a physical and emotional act versus a mere idea, and if sex marks “being an adult,” then the metaphysical idea of “adulthood” is fully embodied through sex. The concept is not an abstraction, and it is not arbitrary. It is concrete and clear, and there was once a sense in which “becoming an adult” was “having sex.” This “bound” the debate and arguably made the debate unnecessary: if someone had sex, they were an adult, whether ten years old or thirty. This wasn’t necessary a perfect marker or system, but in a world before birth control, it’s what societies used (perhaps having no alternative, other than giving up reproduction), for many people wouldn’t risk sex outside of marriage. This also suggests why “sexual sin” was so dire: it forced adulthood on people before they chose it (which means they did not “freely enter” into that new domain) and also threatened the main “social organizing principle” of the community. Now, again, where sex was a hard standard, it could be used to oppress people (like Caddy Compson)—we are discussing trade-offs and tragedies, not mere “goods and evils”—but the point is that sex was a physical act which “grounded” a metaphysical principle of “adulthood.” Now that we have separated the physical act from the metaphysics, “adulthood is disembodied,” per se. This means we are freer, but it also means we are more anxious.
Even if we decide to establish “having children” as “being an adult” now, the very destabilization of the “given” that “having sex (likely) entailed children” weakens the effectiveness of that previous organizer of social order. For today, we now must “think about” the “given”—it is no longer “thoughtless,” something that we can understand life according to without thinking about it. Now, it’s not so much that “having children is becoming an adult,” but instead “having children is an adult choice.” Note the phrase “adult choice,” for what has happened is that we have come to think of “choosing to have kids” as something only adults do. This mean we must become adults before we have children, versus be made into adults when we have them. This is a profound change, for if the “becoming an adult” happens before the children, we must ask, “What are the processes that make us into an adult to be ready to have kids?” It’s questionable if anybody knows, or at least can say for sure without it ultimately being a subjective opinion, which makes room for individual freedom, but, again, with increased freedom comes increases anxiety. As we will explore, “increasing our freedom” is what Caddy Compson does in opposing societal “givens,” and she does this for good and just reason, considering “the banality of evil” these “givens” caused. It would have perhaps been wrong of her to “do nothing” (and it wasn’t in her nature to “do nothing” if she really was what she meant to Faulkner himself), but in “doing something,” she forces her brothers to respond to a world for which they don’t seem ready and lack any direction for handling.
If “having children” is an “adult choice” versus “what makes us adults,” then we must become adults before we can choose to have children, and society has no clear or “embodied” guides or directions according to which we can become and see ourselves “as adults.” Are we adults if we graduate college? Some people may say yes, some no. Are we adults if we start jobs? Maybe, is the job stable? Yes, but I’m only making 50k. Ah, well you might want to wait until you’re making 100k—kids are expensive. But why 100k, why not 150k? Good point, and it’s probably best to wait a few years to make sure you and your spouse have a strong relationship. That’s important for adulthood. Good point—and so on. The bar can keep being moved. Nobody agrees. And even if we decide that “getting married” is becoming “an adult,” the very fact that we know others might not agree destabilizes us. Even when we are alone in a room, our minds can envision our neighbors: there is no moment when we can’t be “social” to some degree.
If we must be an adult to have kids, but nobody agrees on what constitutes “becoming an adult,” I think it is likely the world will have less kids (which might suggest why birth rates are falling rapidly). A similar logic applies to other areas: if teenagers are those who undergo x ritual, versus x ritual be what makes someone a teenager, then the rituals will not be done until people are teenagers, and since nobody will agree on when that is exactly, we should expect the world to “have less teenagers,” per se. If we must “be to do,” versus “be by doing,” we could fall into what Kierkegaard called an “infinite absolute negativity” (IAN) (as described in “The Trance of Believability” by O.G. Rose), which here we can understand as basically an “eternal regression” (and please note this work “On Family” should be considered alongside Belonging Again by O.G. Rose). There will always be reason “not to do x” yet, as there will always be disagreement on what needs to be done.
Where we must “be to do,” there is perhaps less risk, because we want to “make sure we’re ready” to have kids and “make sure we’re ready” for rituals and responsibilities. It is safer, and if we “become by doing,” what if we “do” and find out we’re not ready to “be?” Again, there is real risk here, but avoiding this risk can submit us to an IAN which causes us to lose direction and meaning. To “be by doing” is a Kierkegaardian “leap of faith,” a “real choice” that (Re)constructing “A Is A” argues is necessary if we are to feel like we live in a real world. When social orders shifted from “being by doing” to “be then do,” societies surrendered mechanisms of organizing people into making “real choices” according to which they could find identity, meaning, and direction. Now, these mechanisms could result in people ending up in horrible situations from which they couldn’t escape, and it’s still possible for us, from a place of freedom, to make “a real choice,” so again I’m not saying society made a mistake to develop the way it has (this is an age of opportunity, as described in “The Meaning Crisis as a Sign of Hope” by O.G. Rose). Dilsey is still enduring, holding “the negative space”—it is not an effacement, yet.
Critically, shared social orders are shared orders of perception. When we all live socially in similar ways, we also can generally assume that we share similar perceptions and ways of understanding. For society to split apart and fragment then also entails epistemological consequences, which in turn impacts how we feel ontologically. If we all agree that sex is marriage and the beginning of adulthood (for sex and children are strongly correlative before birth control), then we all “perceive” people and life stages similarly. Yes, there are exceptions, but generally there is a shared “hermeneutic binding,” which also lead to “bound ethics” and a general consensus on what constituted a rational and moral use of freedom in the domains of family structure (as elaborated on in “The Rationality of Freedom Relative to Ethics, Hermeneutic Binding, and Correlation Between Diversity and Systemization” by O.G. Rose). People shared similar hermeneutics, ethics, and notions of “good and rational freedom,” all of which contributed to social cohesion, which at the same time increased the probability of “social oppression.” This is the great tragedy and tradeoff articulated throughout Belonging Again, one every society must face.
Again, before birth control, sex and childbirth were “practically always” sex/childbirth, and from this a “Social System” could arise which scaled. This granted citizens and people “similar ways to understand reality,” and with that came an existential stability: people could know that the people around them “generally” shared similar understandings and interpretations of the(ir) world. Yes, people might disagree on politics, movies, and the like, but they didn’t really have to worry about people disagreeing so much with the deepest structures of their lives. The structures according to which we live are very deep, and though we might not like it when someone disagrees with us politically, they are not in this disagreement suggesting that we have made horrible life choices or that we’re living a mistake. Before birth control, people generally shared similar “life cultures,” and this “bound hermeneutics,” which helped spread existential stability. Now, this could prove problematic, because people could suffer “the banality of evil” and prove oppressive (as Caddy suffered), but it also meant it was easier for people to avoid an “existential anxiety” which could make totalitarianism appealing.
As you can see, this paper alludes heavily to Belonging Again, and I was tempted to place this paper within that collection, but found that it might prove more interesting to feature it in The Breaking of the Day, for we will soon explore Faulkner in terms of family, as featured in The Sound and the Fury. Why? Well, because where family is changing, so we have lost our “defense” against ending up like Hamlet. Family can “bind hermeneutics” and our value systems, and it is not by chance that “the loss of givens” has corresponded so strongly with transformations in the family. Please, to stress, I am not saying this is bad—it’s always trade-offs—my point is that transformations in the family have corresponded with us all ending like the Colossus of Rhodes (the main image I associate with The Breaking of the Day), standing over a river, with one leg firmly planted in one set of values, and another leg firmly planted in another. This “opening” between the legs allows for ships and people to pass through—there is an opening for travel, for new possibilities—but we are also “split down the middle.” As we will explore, each brother in the Compson family can represent a response to the trauma of “this splitting,” for good and for bad. On this topic, Dostoevsky and Kafka will also prove useful, as explored elsewhere in The Breaking of the Day.
We are in search of new foundations, new “grounds” according to which we can organize our lives and live. This is why we are suffering “The Meaning Crisis,” but I want to stress that this doesn’t mean we have made a mistake—not yet at least. We are in the middle of a possibility space, one in which many things could occur, and there is reason to have hope. However, the chances of “hope” manifesting for the good are far less if we don’t clearly understand our situation, and it was for this reason that this essay was written.
The fate of “givens” and our experience of time are deeply linked: Chad A. Haag, for example, brilliantly explores the connection between our “given” energy use, social structure, and metaphysical values (like being and time). So it goes with family, around which our days are organized, seasonal traditions organized, meals arranged, and so on. When we are in relationships, our days are planned and arranged in light of those relationships, taking them into account, and those relationships as a result come to shape a large percentage of our memories, precisely because we spend so much time around those relationships. To plan a day, we must think about the future, consider it in light of past events to find the most efficient pattern, and so move between all different phases and periods of time. To be in a family is to be trained in the art of time.
Most of us think and operate according to mostly linear time, with our subconscious operations (which follow associational time) being more discreet. Benjy Compson though, whose neurodiverse mind we find ourselves occupying to open The Sound and the Fury, cannot so readily divide his mind into areas for “linear time” and areas for “associational time” — his mind jumps between them freely and without warning (there is no clear dividing line). Benjy will snag his shirt on a fence, and automatically be back to a time when Caddy is helping him loosen and free his clothing. Benjy is not so bound by linear causality like us but exists in associational time (all time is interconnected, at the same time). We could think of Benjy as our subconscious minds, which similarly likes to jump around between past, future, and present, without warning, based on the slightest stimulant. Someone mentions the word “park,” and we are there again with our father; we smell baking cookies, and we are with our children before they left home.
It is fascinating for The Sound and the Fury to begin inside a subjectivity which operates according to “associational time,” seeing as the novel is focused on the tragedy and life of a particular family, for the family is unique in forming and shaping our subconscious and associational minds. In addition to the examples already provided, we’ll be standing in the kitchen eating and suddenly thinking about eating with our family as a kid; we’ll be outside at the fence and suddenly back at a time when our father gathered boards onto the back of his truck. In this way, family uniquely forms our sense of and relationship to time: as Freud linked the formation of our subconscious mind with our intimate relationships, so our intimate relationships shape our being, recollection, and experience of time. We spend our days oscillating in and between past, present, and future: all time is time present. All relationships are those relationships.
In Benjamin Compson, we have a child whose logic is associational. Again, this is a fascinating way to begin the novel, for it’s hard to know what in the world is going on (and thus “what is in the world”). On a basic level, it represents that fragmentation and uncertainty of the modern world, with old structures of meaning no longer applying or “coherently” fitting together. Indeed, the novel starts with “sound and fury,” but that’s not the only purpose of Faulkner’s stylistic choice. Critically, there is a logic to Benjy’s mind, as there is a logic to ours when we remember our mother, feel an unexplainable fear, or resist doing things for reasons we can’t explain. Benjy doesn’t operate according to basic causality, but will hear a golfer shout, “Caddy!” and immediately be thinking about his sister, Caddy. We can perhaps associate Caddy with “the lost coin” Benjy and Luster are searching for at the very start of the novel, and I want to stress the “be” in the last sentence, for Benjy doesn’t simply “remember Caddy” — he is with here, as if time past is time present.
The first section of the novel is first person, meaning we occupy Benjy’s consciousness. Benjy is neurodiverse, alluding to the famous Macbeth passage (Act V, Scene V) from which Faulkner derived his title:
‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Immediately, “always already,” we as readers find ourselves “in” the middle of Benjy’s logic and thinking. “To us,” Benjy uses complete sentences, describes the world around him, and functions as a narrator (not that it’s always easy to understand him), and yet to Luster and others all Benjy seems to do is wail, moan, and mumble (‘Listen at you, now […] Aint you something, third-three years old, going on that way […]’).¹ In this way, we are able to occupy a space of intelligibility that is “stuck in itself,” that cannot communicate with the outside world and yet is nevertheless able to comprehend (according to its own sense of space and time). Benjy is alone with his intelligibility, as many of us are today in “The Meaning Crisis.”
Societal “givens” and “shared spaces of intelligibility” are what make it possible for us to “intelligibly live together,” but the more “givens” are weakened and eroded, the more we end up “like Benjy,” stuck in ourselves with an intelligibility we cannot share and that, to others, doesn’t seem to exist.² Considering this, we can think of a “loss of givens” as a movement toward “becoming like Benjy,” insomuch as “shared intelligibility” becomes difficult. As discussed, the role of sex in society is profoundly tied to its “shared intelligibility”: where sex changes, so changes our spaces of “shared intelligibility” (for good or for bad). For this reason, I don’t think it is by chance that the events of the story orbit and surround Caddy and her virginity. She loses it outside of marriage and falls pregnant, and gradually the family is pulled apart. Where sexual ethics are broken or changed, what “binds” the family loosens and breaks apart (perhaps for good). Though not completely, perhaps Benjy’s mind was partially held together by the family structure and presence of Caddy; once she is gone, nothing holds him together: his associational mind cannot be contained. It wonders. It moans. On the other hand though (as will be elaborated on later), Benjy might have a hope we, having lost “givens,” can only dream of: Benjy is certainly not “waiting for Godot,” for Caddy does indeed return.
While Benjy, in lacking full development, reacts to his state one way (mainly by residing in a “moment of all moments” in associational time), Quentin and Jason, who also lost the system of “shared intelligibility” (“givens”) which organized their lives, react differently: Quentin falls into nihilism, while Jason falls into rage (which can perhaps be associated with the “German Nihilism” discussed by Leo Strauss, though I’m not sure). Toward the end of Quentin’s section, the collapse of grammatical structure suggests that, as he approaches suicide, there is a “movement into becoming like Benjy,” but since Quentin was not born with the same brain as Benjy, this “becoming like Benjy” does not bring Quentin relief (a point which brings to mind how in Kafka we can only become “like animals,” which is to say we can only approach the existential and psychological relief we’ve always wanted, an approach which arguably makes it worse — but all this must be expanded on elsewhere in The Breaking of the Day). This is because unless he is Benjy, Quentin experiences the past as the past, while for Benjy it is practically all “a unified now.” There is loss in Benjy, but also life, while in Quentin there is mostly loss. As we’ll elaborate on later, Quentin’s father gives him a watch so ‘that [he] might forget [time] now and then for a moment,’ but it seems to me that Quentin’s section is constantly interrupted by memories until the very end, when he “puts himself in order” to commit suicide.³ “Order” here seems to bring Quentin relief, but it is only in the act of preparing for and committing suicide, which is arguably not a relief at all.
“Order” is ostensibly the opposite of “sound and fury,” and it is what “givens” can provide the world. But “sexual order” is what oppressed Candy and ultimately lead to her banishment, suggesting that “order” might be precisely why and how the Compson family commits suicide like Quentin. But we do see in Benjy examples where “order” brings him relief (similar to his “ordering principle” of Caddy): at the very end of the novel, Jason yells at Luster in the horse and carriage for taking the wrong turn, which causes Benjy to roar and cry. There’s a particular “way” Benjy wants them to return home, and when that is violated, he loses a grip on himself. Jason hits Benjy to quiet him, and it’s not clear if it is this violence or changing the direction of the carriage which does the trick, but Benjy falls quiet again (suggesting violence can work, but not for our embitterment). Jason broke a flower Benjy held when he hit Benjy, so the silence of Benjy might also be a result of a loss of hope — Faulkner leaves us with an intentional and critical ambiguity. The novel ends:
‘The broken flower drooped over Ben’s fist and his eyes were empty and blue and serene again as cornice and faade flowed smoothly once more from left to right; post andtree, window and doorway, and signboard, each in its ordered place.’⁴
The return of grammatical errors parallels with the end of Quentin’s section, suggesting that Benjy might have “died” in this scene, or the grammatic errors could be evidence that we have returned into Benjy’s mind (could be both). “Death” and “order” are overlaid here, suggesting the dangers of “order,” but the entire novel has been a story of what happens when “order” is lost. Well, maybe things would have been different if simply the Compson brothers weren’t so closed-minded and bigoted? Perhaps they need to be “Deleuzian Individuals?” That would indeed help, and that is indeed a possible solution, as suggested in “Beauty Saves” by O.G. Rose. But will that solution ever work for the majority? That is a critical question, discussed throughout O.G. Rose.
Order brings Benjy relief, but order brought sorrow to the sister who Benjy adores. Without order, perhaps Benjy’s associational mind cannot be bound at all, and though for us that would be difficult, for Benjy it is unbearable. Able to summon and operating according to linear time as we choose, when the world around us loses order, we can still structure our minds and sense of time to operate linearly, providing us degrees of order that the world has ceased to provide us. But Benjy cannot, and so “the loss of order” must be doubly bad and unbearable: again, when the world seems crazy, at least we can still structure it “with our minds to ourselves,” but Benjy is not so fortunate. But as Pluralism intensifies, “givens” collapse,” and Neoliberalism spreads, as discussed throughout Belonging Again, we will all become increasingly like Benjy. However, Benjy might keep his hope to himself, his assurance that Caddy will return.
Benjy’s life orbits around his sister, Caddy: she was his ordering principle. Perhaps if Caddy was still around and Luster took a wrong turn at the end of the novel, Benjy would have been just fine, but without her he cannot “hold himself together.” We’ve all experienced how strange the mind is, how thoughts jump around, appear out of nowhere, and flash into our skulls without us willing them. Benjy has even less control over his mind than we do — we cannot imagine what he experiences, an agony which he cannot communicate. Again, as social “givens” fail, we all become more like Benjy, losing “shared intelligibility,” but it should be noted that Benjy is “free” of social responsibilities which would be expected of someone at his age if he wasn’t neurodiverse. The expectations Benjy is put under are much less than what is put on Jason or Quentin, which indeed means that Benjy is, in a way, more “free.” Benjy cannot become “a Hamlet” like we can, but is Benjy better off? Alluding to the work on Kafka, is Benjy “free from freedom,” free to transcend the limit of only being “animal-like?”
It’s fascinating that Caddy never has a section in The Sound and the Fury, a point Faulkner was asked about directly during a presentation at The University of Virginia:
Question: Mr. Faulkner, in The Sound and the Fury the first three sections of that book are narrated by one of the four Compson children, and in view of the fact that Caddy figures so prominently, is there any particular reason why you didn’t have a section with — giving her views or impressions of what went on?
Faulkner: That’s a good question. The whole book is an explanation of that. It began with the picture of the little with muddy drawers climbing that tree to look in the parlor window with her brothers who didn’t have the courage to climb the tree, waiting to see what she saw. And I tried to tell it first with one brother, and that wasn’t enough. That was section one. I tried with another brother. That was section two. I tried the third brother, because Caddy was still, to me, too beautiful and too moving to reduce her to telling what was going on. It would be more passionate to see her through somebody else’s eyes, I thought. And that failed. And I tried myself to tell what happened and that was the fourth section. And I still failed…⁵
A moving and beautiful response. Caddy represents “a beatific vision,” per se, and her loss is the loss of “an organizing principle” which can hold the Compson family together. Not only that, but it is a loss of beauty, hope, and goodness that makes people care “to hold the family together”: the principle and the motivation to maintain that principle are lost together. In lacking a section, Caddy seems to be “transcendent” of “the sound and fury” which defines the novel, and what is transcendent cannot be in or part of “the sound and the fury” to help quell its rage and noise. And yet if Caddy “was part of the sound and the fury,” could she organize it? The transcendence seems necessary and yet consequently tragic.
We are told that Caddy has “muddy draws,” which are glimpsed as she climbs a tree. Faulkner elaborates:
Question: You have said previously that — that The Sound and the Fury came from an impression of a little girl up in a tree, and I wondered how you built it from that, and whether you just, as you said, let it — let the story develop itself.
Faulkner: Well, impression is the wrong word, it’s more of image. I was touched by a moving image of children…There were the three boys, and only the girl was brave enough to climb that tree and look in the forbidden window to see what was going on. It took the rest of the 400 pages to explain why she was brave enough to climb the tree and look in the window. It was, an image, a picture to me which symbolized by the muddy bottom of her drawers as her brothers looked up in the apple tree …symbolism of the muddy draws became the “lost caddy”…caused one brother to commit suicide…the other to misuse money she sent back to her child…I thought it was a short story, one that could be told in two pages…I found out it couldn’t. I wrote it the first time and that wasn’t right, then I wrote it the second time and that was Quentin, then I wrote it again and that was Jason, then again as Faulkner and that still was wrong…⁶
This begs a question: Is Caddy’s transcendence lost with her virginity, or precisely possible because she is not “bound” by the social order, which would be to say that her transcendence is a product of losing her virginity in a world that idolizes it? This is a question we must ask ourselves: Will we find “belonging” in honoring “givens” or in deconstructing them? Faulkner describes Caddy as fearless, but when does fearlessness become foolish and naïve?
Question: I’ve been very much interested in what it seems to me you did — maybe you didn’t — in The Sound and the Fury, in the character of Caddy. To me she is a very sympathetic character, and perhaps the most sympathetic white woman in the book, and yet we get pictures of her only through someone else’s comments and most of these comments are quite hostile and wouldn’t lead you to admire her on the surface, and yet I do. Did you mean for us to have this feeling for Caddy, and if so, how did you go about reducing her to the negative picture we get of her?
Faulkner: To me she was the beautiful one, she was my heart’s doll, and that’s what I wrote the book about, and I used the proper tools to me to try to…draw the picture of Caddy.⁷
I cannot help but associate this answer with the thoughts of “The Counter Enlightenment,” as taught on by Isiah Berlin, where it was stressed that the foundations of tradition and “organizing principles” of society had to be placed out of reach of rationality, or it was only a matter of time before rationality found those principles and deconstructed them (on grounds that they couldn’t be “rationally justified,” which no “truth” ultimately can be — “autonomous rationality” doesn’t exist, as we learn from Hume). Similarly, Caddy could hold the family together because “she wasn’t a part of the sound and the fury,” but that also meant, paradoxically, that she could not be fully understood in terms of the values of that family which she held together and made possible. When she lost her virginity, the family values she enabled devoured her and so destroyed themselves. Likewise, rationality is made possible by truth, but it is natural for rationality to deconstruct truth when given the chance, for truth lacks rational grounding, and thus rationality will naturally find it “irrational,” which makes self-destruction rational. Similarly, when Caddy lost her virginity (suggesting her “transcendence” of the values she made possible), the values of the Compson family made self-destruction “the right thing to do.” Something similar has happened to us, I think: we have “rationally” turned on and deconstructed “the givens” and “first principles” which make rationality possible, which in turn make society possible. Without these, we have no hope for “order,” and we all end up like Benjy.
On Benjy Compson, Faulkner was asked:
Question: What is your purpose in writing into the first section of The Sound and the Fury passages that seem disjointed in themselves […]?
Faulkner: There was part of the failure. It seemed to me the book approached nearer the dream if the ground work was laid by the idiot…the one incapable of relevancy. I shifted those sections to see where they worked best, but I decided that was the best to do it. He didn’t know what he was seeing. The only thing that held him into any sort of reality was his trust for his sister…that he knew she loved him and would defend him. She was the whole world to him…and these things were flashes that were reflected on her as a mirror…he didn’t know what they meant.⁸
This sounds like us. Images, information, and sounds flash across our eyes on the internet, quickly and ever-quicker, and we don’t really know what we’re seeing. This has always been life, but when we had “givens,” we had something to “anchor” us and hold us in place, like a string tied to our foot that kept us from flying off. Though we’ve spoken of the disadvantages of it, perhaps Benjy also had an advantage in being “in all time at the same time,” for he in a way still had his “center,” his “given,” to help keep him going. When he flashed into “the present” though, where Caddy was gone, his horror was far worse than ours (perhaps as the intensity of hell is relative to our feeling of missing out on God); however, when Benjy was “present in the past” with Caddy, he had relief, a relief we cannot access, stuck living linearly in time. That said, perhaps we do not need “the relief” like Benjy does to “brace ourselves” against the unique and intense horror he undergoes. Perhaps we’re fooling ourselves.
The internet intensifies the images that “flash” before us (“sound and fury”), and we have gained the internet precisely when the “givens” (family, religion, society, etc.) we need to handle these images are weakest and fading. We have been hit with two great blows simultaneously, and they have proven difficult to overcome. Considering this, this exchange might apply to us:
Question: Then may I ask if all of these characters in The Sound and the Fury — that you would call them “good people?”
Answer: I would call them “tragic people.”⁹
Faulkner was once asked about his writing practice, and how he answered is something I think about often.
Question: To what extent are your plots and characters preconceived, or in other words, to what extent do you outline what is going to happen to your characters before you begin to write?
Faulkner: I don’t at all. I get a character and get him or her started, get him or her involved with somebody else and they take charge of it. I just gallop behind to put it down.¹⁰
This is us without “givens.” We don’t know what we’re doing: we just “gallop behind” ourselves and see what we do. Are we happily surprised like the jazz musician in an improvisation? Or are we terrified like Klee’s angel? Well, we are free.¹¹
Question: Mr. Faulkner, what do you consider your best book?
Faulkner: The one that failed the most tragically and most splendidly, that was The Sound and the Fury…the one that I worked at the longest, the hardest, that was to me the most passionate and moving idea, and that made the most splendid failure…Best is the wrong word…that’s the one I loved the most.¹²
“A splendid failure” — if we all must be “like artists” now, improvising because we don’t know what is coming next (“givens” being gone), then perhaps the best we can do is the best a great artist can do: “a most splendid failure.” Where there are no “givens,” there are no standards against which we can say “for sure” that we have succeeded. We must fail then, in a sense, but it could be splendid.
“Givens” provide “hermeneutical binding,” which is to say that provide a space for shared and similar interpretations of the world. This makes it possible to establish and experience community without too much existential anxiety, but it also means there are “givens” which can oppress people who don’t fit into the “metaphysical assumptions” and systems which those “givens” engender. Caddy “transcends” the “givens” of her day, per se, which is both why she can be “a Christ symbol,” and also why she can be a contributing factor to the collapse of the social order (just like Jesus). Caddy is described as climbing a tree and looking through a window “upon death”: the vision of Caddy which inspired the novel is full of Christian symbolism. Christ came to save the world, but she also upends the social order and teaches that God can “enter into history” and change everything at a moment’s notice (knowing this, how can we ever be comfortable?). No, we can’t recognize God as God (we cannot see God’s face without being destroyed), but that only adds to our existential uncertainty.
God cannot be understood as God (as He is to Himself), only in terms of “the sound and the fury”; similarly, Caddy can only be seen “through” the eyes of her brothers, part of ‘the long diminishing parade of time’ we all stop hearing because it becomes too much part of our backgrounds, our “givens.”¹³ For Christians, God had to incarnate into a human being to be understood and to “walk among us,” but even then God cannot be “fully understood” by humanity and civilization. Jesus was viewed by Jewish leaders as a threat and heretic, and for good reason: he did not follow the Law; he claimed he could forgive sins (like God); he claimed the Law “fulfilled); and so on. The Jewish leaders were extremely rational to view Jesus as a threat, for indeed, Jesus was a threat, in the same way that Caddy is a real threat to her social order in violating its system of sexual ethics. But that social order was oppression, so this is a good thing, yes? Yes, but if there was no Jesus, would there have been a Crusaders? Would there have been an Abolitionist Movement? History is hard to read.
The same courage which empowered Caddy to climb the tree and look through the window on death is the very courage would made her unafraid to lose her virginity outside of marriage: one seems to have required the other. Is Caddy an example of transcendence or transgression? For the Jewish leaders at his time, Jesus was a transgression, but for Christians Jesus was an example of transcendence, of “being in the world but not of it.” For Jesus to be “a transcendence,” he also had a be “a transgression,” and yet Jesus proceeded to become the foundation for “a new social order,” a new set of “givens,” after his death. Is this an example of the mission of Jesus losing its power and failing, or is this an example of a “successful and sustainable” transcendence and/or “revolution,” because it was able to manifest into a new social order versus unsustainable anarchism? Hard to say, but this is the tension.
‘ “Hello, Benjy” ’ — Caddy appears in the novel all at once, running up to her brother out of time, ‘book-satchel swinging and jouncing behind her,’ as if born fully woman ex nihilo.¹⁴ Caddy appears with Benjy around Christmas, and the novel will end around Easter, with Benjy sitting without her in the back of the carriage while Jason yells at Luster. Or is Benjy without her? Since he’s in “all time at the same time,” perhaps Benjy enjoys a resurrection, ‘his eyes […] empty and blue and serene,’ never losing her.¹⁵ Or perhaps Faulkner leaves us with Benjy finding peace in an illusion, a state religions might cultivate, whether Christianity, Nostalgia, Utopianism, Secularism — possibilities abound. The beauty with Benjy is that we don’t know: he is ultimately like Schrödinger’s Cat, ambiguous and representing “resurrection/illusion,” per se. What is the meaning of Benjy? We must decide. It’s a ambiguity, “a meaning crisis.”
Both Caddy and Jesus are efforts to save a world which cannot accept them and that has very good reason not to accept them: this is the tragedy, paradox, and dilemma of human society, sketched out in Belonging Again. Both threatened social “givens,” without which society is impossible and The Real becomes unbearable, but “givens” also oppress. A memory of Quentin’s describes well the character of Caddy and her resolve to save her brothers, the newest generation, from the sins and troubles of their parents (suggesting how each “new generation” often seeks to overcome past “givens” in the name of a better world, and often for good reason):
‘When I was little there was a picture in one of our books, a dark place into which a single weak ray of light came slanting upon two faces lifted out of the shadow. You know what I’d do if I were King? she never was a queen or a fairy she was always a king or a giant or a general I’d break that place open and drag them out and I’d whip them good It was torn out, jagged out. I was glad. I’d have to turn back to it until the dungeon was Mother herself she and Father upward into weak light holding hands and us lost somewhere below even them without even a ray of light.’¹⁶
Jesus forces the world to face its sin, to acknowledge that it participated in “the (past) ways of the world,” which is a harsh word, but it is the only way by which we might be “saved.” Caddy is similarly harsh and well-intended, and like Jesus she is rejected for her efforts. In going away, Jesus makes space for “The Advocate” (John 16:7), but what does Caddy make room for in freeing us from “givens?” Memories which torture us? Memories in which we can always find serenity like Benjy? Resurrection/illusion? We decide: Caddy’s role was to ‘[come] and squat in the water’ with us, undergoing baptism like Jesus before his ministry, and force the choice upon us.¹⁷ If it wasn’t forced, the possibility of the choice would have never been known (“for good”). Is what happens next to Caddy her “temptations in the wilderness,” as the baptism of Jesus was immediately followed by a confrontation with Satan? Perhaps Caddy’s temptation was to not lose her virginity and so not fight “the givens” of the past social order which had started to oppress? Hard to say, but I think there is reason to think that things could have been different if only Quentin didn’t slap her (if the old world was kind, but, knowing the importance of “givens,” how could it be?).
In Quentin’s memory of the picture book, the Compson parents are described as free and out of the darkness, suggesting that past “givens” did indeed work for them, but now at the expense of the children. Similarly, the laws and customs of Judaism indeed worked for the Jewish people for centuries, but Jesus appeared and suggested that they needed to change, that perpetuating the customs any longer would “overfit” and stifle. Caddy suggested something similar, but how can we possible manage this transition without great violence, tragedy, and calamity? This is our great and immense challenge, and we must understand “The Meaning Crisis” we currently find ourselves in is a space of such “transition”: it is up for us to decide if it will prove to be an effacement or a “negation/sublation.” This is described in “The Meaning Crisis as a Sign of Hope” by O.G. Rose, but more on that later. We are all Hamlet now, and that will prove to either be a blessing or apocalyptic—we decide.
Toward the end of Quintin’s section, Faulkner uses his famous “stream of consciousness,” similar as in Benjy’s section, which seems to be all any of us have left once “givens” are gone. “Givens” organize “streams of consciousness” into “structures of consciousness,” per se, which help us from being washed away by ourselves. Faulkner’s stylistic choices are wisely employed here, and it only seems to be Jason and Dilsey who avoid “stream of consciousness”-experience, one thanks to “the organizing principle” of rage and bitterness, the other thanks to “the organizing principle” of endurance and courage (leaving us with a critical choice). Where there are no “givens,” there is “stream of consciousness,” which is to say there is unleashed subconsciousness—Lacan’s “The Real,” unmeditated. Lacan and Freud both warn that none of us can handle the unmediated and pure Real, and Quintin proves just that: he commits suicide. Tragically, suicide and depression are prevalent problems in “The Meaning Crisis” which defines the world today—that or great rage, rage like we see in Jason Compson. Faulkner and Dostoevsky had similar visions, I think, perhaps because both wrote from places of ruin.
Perhaps Benjy can live with “the stream” because it is all he has ever known and perhaps because he can still experience Caddy (at least in glimpses), while Quintin cannot live with “the stream” because Caddy is gone and, for all his brilliance, he cannot think of how to replace her. For us, unless we are born like Benjy, the choice is between Quintin, Jason, and Dilsey, and seeing how depression and suicide are spreading while populism and totalitarianism fill the earth, I cannot help to think that we today are choosing mostly between Quintin and Jason. Both of these are choices of effacement—only Dilsey can lead us to negation/sublimation, though there is no guarantee. The Sound and the Fury ends with her still waiting for her Eastern to bear fruit. Can we endure too?
I’ve gotten ahead of myself: forgive me. Slowing down, let us elaborate on Quintin and his struggle, seeing as it might be such a prevalent struggle in the world today.
Caddy gives orbit to Benjy’s mind: it keeps him from falling into “a pure rush” of his stream of consciousness. It’s not easy to say if Benjy would commit suicide if he couldn’t recall Caddy, for Benjy’s may have lacked the faculties to consider that option like Quentin. In this way, Benjy is completely unable to escape his stream of consciousness — he is stuck in the river — but fortunately Caddy squats down with him in the stream. Without “givens,” we end up like Benjy, but in the resulting “stream of consciousness” we find ourselves in (perhaps characterized most vividly by the internet today), since we are bound to linear time versus Benjy’s “associational time,” we are more likely to end up like Quentin.
‘He said time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels,’ Quentin recalls of his father, ‘only when the clock stops does time come to life.’¹⁸ Benjy is free of clocks — time is alive as all time at the same time, which suggests that time is alive only when it has all of its parts (when “the past isn’t in the past”) — but when ‘[t]he last note sounded’ of the clock for Quentin, he killed himself.¹⁹ By “stops,” Mr. Compson must have meant, “When the clock ceases to exist at all” (better yet, when the loss of the clock “reaches back in time” and makes it so there were never even clocks in the first place). This of course isn’t an option for us — clocks can’t “stop” and, in that cessation, cease to even have a history — as it isn’t an option for us in Kafka to become “animals,” only “animal-like” (as discussed elsewhere in The Breaking of the Day). Benjy can be so free, but, once we are born more like Quentin, Benjy is no longer an option for us. ‘[T]his entrance [is] assigned only to [us].’²⁰
Quentin’s section is obsessed with time as an idea and topic, while Benjy is “in” time, similar to the difference between thinking about consciousness and living “through” consciousness. “Givens” help us organize our experiences of time and to know what to do with them, and though Caddy, the “given” of the Compson family, is gone, Benjy is still able to provide himself with a logic according to which to organize his life, precisely thanks to his neurodiversity. Paradoxically, despite his mental state, Benjy ends up with “the most organized life” of the whole Compson family. His section seems random and chaotic, but he can always “come back to Caddy,” and in this way find an organizing principle for his “sound and fury.” The other Compson brothers are not so fortunate, despite their sections generally being more linear, traditional, and less chaotic. In this way, Benjy is the most “organized” brother.
Now, earlier, we noted that the loss of Caddy might be the most painful to Benjy, precisely because he is always “losing her again” through his experience of time, but do not that “greater emotional pain” than the other brothers is not the same as “less organization.” A key characteristic of “The Meaning Crisis,” where depression and suicide are rampant, is that people “don’t feel anything”: neither sadness nor joy define their day. The fact Benjy might feel greater sorrow would not mean he suffers “The Meaning Crisis” in the same way as does Quentin and Jason: in fact, that very sorrow could be evidence that his life has more meaning. Where there is sorrow, there can be life.
Though he seems furthest from intelligibility, Benjy is arguably the brother whose life is most meaningful, precisely because he lives according to a subjectivity and experience of time that is the most difficult to see meaning in by readers like us. The other brothers live according to linear time, as do we, and in this being the case we cannot escape the problem of losing “givens” simply by “being” in the past, before “givens” were gone. It is perhaps the dream of those who desire to “return to Eden,” who cannot resist the pulls and appeals of nostalgia, to “be” in the past like Benjy, but that is not an option for us (again, as Kafka teaches, we can be “animal-like” but not “animals”). In changing our sexual ethics, as a society, we can no longer clearly define “being an adult” as someone who “has children,” and that means we have to decide what constitutes “being an adult” so that we can make an “adult choice” to have children. This opens profound existential and psychological tension, and suffering this, it can be tempting to desire to just “be” in the past before those “givens” were destabilized. Not merely “return to the past,” do note, but just be in the past, with no memories of the present (memories could make us feel like we “ran from the present,” afraid, or make us wonder if our world could be changed and lost again). Benjy doesn’t have to worry about these possibilities: he just “is” with Caddy. We’d like to be like Benjy, even with the pain, for pain means we feel. But a desire to be Benjy may be a Freudian desire to “return to the womb” — an effacement. A desire for pain to feel alive can be “a death drive.”
In his section, Quentin is surrounded by the ticks of watches and clocks: he cannot escape time, as if time is a river he is drowning in and engulfed by, trying to reach the surface and gasp for air, only to eventually sink. Quentin’s eventual fate suggests the tragedy of his father’s “christening ritual”; “blessing” Quentin with a watch, Mr. Compson says:
‘I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle it ever won […] They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.’²¹
Mr. Compson is telling Quentin that he cannot defeat time, as can’t we (we were not born as Benjy, who we might pity). Jason Compson arguably does not receive this lesson and tries to “overturn” what life has done to him (perhaps by raising Caddy’s daughter, Miss Quentin, “right,” who in the end runs off with a boy and thousands of dollars, “the Compson fortunate,” per se, suggesting time repeats itself and wins, that rage changing nothing). If Mr. Compson’s gift of a watch is supposed to help Quentin escape time, it does the exact opposite, which perhaps symbolizes how parents can work hard to help children “have better lives than they did,” when ultimately their children just end up living in the shadows of their parents. Our parents might “lay down their lives for us” so that we can live better lives, when ultimately all we do is relive theirs. ‘[M]otionless, looking across at each other […]’²²
We are taught history so that history doesn’t repeat, and then history repeats. The burden of time is a theme in Quentin’s section, which causes him to sink into hopelessness and despair, while Jason will respond with rage and fury (as perhaps do the populists and revolutionists which define the 2020s). An exchange with his Mr. Compson captures the role of time in Quentin’s section well:
‘Father said a man is the sum of his misfortunates. One day you’d think misfortune would get tired, but then time is your misfortune […] A gull on an invincible wire attached through space dragged. You carry the symbol of your frustration into eternity.²³
We are dragged through space by time. We have wings, but we can only flap them. Benjy is not dragged through space, for he is in all space and time at all space and time. He is like God, but he cannot control his mind. Benjy’s mind “drags him” through life, while Quentin is brilliant and in control of his brain but dragged by “time” and his inability to restore “givens” (trying to do so is, as Wittgenstein told us, ‘like trying to repair a spider’s web with our bare hands’). Jason is “dragged” by his rage. Dilsey stands.
It is arguable that the collapse and destabilization of “givens” is an inevitable feature of history, that it must be so that “givens” do not “overfit.” History must be a story of change if we are to be alive, but change is hard, meaning life is hard. A dialectical balance between “givens” and “releases” must be constantly renegotiated over the ages, which is a taxing undertaking, one that perhaps gets harder with time. In this way, we can agree with what Mr. Compson said: time is our cross. Does our cross gain weight through the centuries, precisely as technology becomes more advanced and leads us to believe we gain strength? Perhaps we do gain strength, but perhaps the cross gains weight faster.
It is telling on how Quentin tries to solve “the sound and fury” which has come to define life for the Compson Family: he tries to keep the crisis “in the family,” the place of “givens” and stabilization, by confessing that he committed incest with Caddy. This is an attack against time, I believe, for Quintin is suggesting that the crisis of the Compson family is not a result of the external world and “changes of history” but self-caused. What is self-caused can perhaps be self-corrected: there’s hope. If we are capable of self-destruction, we are not powerless. If we are not powerless, there is a chance we have the power to fix a broken spiderweb.
“Order” seems to be what the world needs, for Benjy’s life is “ordered by his orbit” around Caddy. But when Quintin “gets himself in order,” it is at the end of his section. ‘The three quarters began,’ we are told. ‘The first note sounded, measured and tranquil, serenely peremptory, emptying the unhurried silence for the next and that’s it if people could only change one another forever that way merge like a flame swirling up…’ — with the “and,” the tranquil notes of the clock give way to “sound and fury.”²⁴
Perhaps the “and” is the moment when the “little wheels” of the clock kill “clock time” and Quentin is “freed” from “order” into “the sound and fury” of the consciousness found in Benjy, a consciousness which I associate with the thinking of Deleuze, for Benjy seems like a “Deleuzian individual” who just “is” Deleuzian (Benjy did not have to choose it, as perhaps we must, a choice which may ruin the effectiveness of being Deleuzian as such, precisely because we know we chose it and thus can feel it is arbitrary). The works of O.G. Rose discuss extensively how “becoming Deleuzian” could be a response and answer to “The Meaning Crisis” resulting from our collapse of “givens” (though I warn this solution might only apply to a minority). Though not technically schizophrenic, Benjy absolutely has numerous “voices in his head” and cannot be “captured” because of his state of mind — but this also means Benjy cannot be “ordered.” Yes, that means Benjy cannot be “captured,” just as Deleuze hoped, but it also means Benjy must be only intelligible to himself. In this way, he is indeed “like God” — the question is if he is “only like” such to himself (in other words, Benjy is “animal-like” to us, but is he “an animal” to himself, alluding to Kafka).²⁵
“Sound and fury,” which I am defining as of here as distinct from “chaos,” seems to be the schizophrenic state which Deleuze and Guattari taught could avoid “capture.” And they were right, but is Benjy really a solution for the majority of us, or only those who happened to be born like Benjy (like those who “are” animals, alluding to Kafka, for everyone else can only be “animal-like”)? Rather, at best, we seem only capable of being like Quentin, who was able to have “moments” of “sound and fury,” but ultimately could not “stay in” or sustain that kind of consciousness. Perhaps the very effort drove him to suicide: like the gambler who tries to escape his debts through gambling, if we try to be Deleuzian and fail, we may worsen our situation. Benjy Compson is indeed “uncapturable,” but Quintin’s effort to be like Benjy could not be sustained after ‘the last note sounded.’ Are we smarter than Quintin? Are we brilliant enough to figure out how to think like Benjy?
Moving forward, in this paper, I will define “sound and fury” (SF) as the unique consciousness expressed in Benjy, which isn’t chaos but an associational logic and experience which operates according to simultaneous time. SF seems to be a way to avoid Deleuzian “capture,” which is similar to schizophrenia but not identical. However, SF might only “work” as Deleuze envisioned if we are “born” as Benjy — if we just “are” Benjy — for I’m not sure if we can choose it (or at least not the majority). If we try, like arguably Quentin does, we will fail
Returning to Quentin’s section, personally, I find the second to last paragraph the best formal representation of the breakdown of “order” into “sound and fury.” Again, please note that I didn’t say “chaos,” for there is indeed a logic to what Quintin is thinking and with how he is associating (like Benjy), but it is not a logic which can be captured by linear time, only associational “all time,” per se. Does Quintin “escape time” in these moments, like his father encouraged him? Mr. Compson gave Quentin a watch so that he might ‘forget [time], now and then,’ which is paradoxical, but it would suggest that it is precisely the striking of the clock in Quentin’s section which can account “moments of freedom from time,” and thus I think we can associate formal representations of SF as such moments.²⁶ Hence, the second to last paragraph in Quintin’s section is a period in which Quentin “forgets time,” and what happens? Quintin becomes like Benjy: his section becomes difficult to read, dynamic, and associational. “Sound and fury” is freedom from time. Is it a freedom for us? Can we sustain it? ‘There is an infinite amount of hope in the universe…’²⁷
With the sounding of the first note of the clock, we are given two-and-a-half pages of a single paragraph of stream of consciousness. Quintin is free, like Benjy, and Quintin is “uncapturable,” as Deleuze sought — Faulkner himself cannot seem to “capture” Quintin, perhaps hoping “the failure to capture” was itself the best way to capture Quintin’s experience. But the irony and pain here is that Quintin’s “forgetting of time” and freedom is stimulated by a clock. Time is empowering Quintin’s forgetting: time is still in control. Time takes our memories from us with age, and yet we have memories because we are in time. Time is in control. When we forget time, it is thanks to time. And when we escape time, what do we find? A stream of consciousness. A lack of order. A lack of the order which Caddy rightfully opposed. Perhaps time only lets us “glimpse” life without it and its order so that we cease trying to escape it? Perhaps time lets us forget it, every now and then, so we cease trying to forget it? Hard to say.
But then the clock stops: it rings a final note, and all the memories interrupting Quintin’s section come to an end (there isn’t a single flashback in the final paragraph).There is no more “sound and fury”: Quintin’s experience of Benjy’s freedom cannot be sustained and ends. What happens when Quentin’s final stream of consciousness, his final expression of “sound and fury,” is completed? He regains order and puts himself in order (finds his hat, buttons his coat, closes his bad). And commits suicide. The clock stops.
The end of Quintin’s section suggests that “returning to order” is not necessarily the answer (after all, “order” oppressed Caddy and generated “the banality of evil”). We need something else — but what? Faulkner say, and I don’t think we know the answer either, hence the eruption of “sensemaking communities” today trying to address “The Meaning Crisis.” Jason simply rages against “the great not knowing,” and indeed that is what much of our world has done, hence the “mass movements” and turns to totalitarianism. Dilsey though, endures, and in that “negative space,” that space of endurance, that space where we risk “waiting on Godot” — what may come?
Time marches through “givens,” but without time we would be dead. Time gives us order, but time is why we lost Caddy. If we were in all time at the same time, even if Caddy left, she would not be gone. We could always live in a world with “givens,” for if there was ever a world with “givens,” there would still be a world with “givens” “now.” Yes, we would also live with the experience of losing those “givens,” and that pain would torture us, but we could have hope, for we could return to “givens,” to sense, direction, and Caddy. We would not need to figure out how to create “new givens” at all (which perhaps there is no possibility of, only “waiting for Godot”); rather, we would simply have to wait until another “flash” or “association” back into the past when “givens” were still “given.” And we would not experience this past as “past,” simply “what happens next.” For these reasons, Benjy Compson may be the only brother who has a way to move forward: he lives in all time as if it is the same time. Perhaps Benjy endures like Dilsey, but I’m not sure if Benjy represents “enduring the negative space” as does Dilsey, the Compson family slave who Faulkner ends his novel on, who Faulkner spoke so highly.
As in Kafka we can only become “animal-like,” not “animals,” so in Faulkner it would seem that, unless we just “are” Benjy (which those reading this cannot be), we can only “seem to escape time,” never “actually escape time.” We can achieve “a state like timelessness,” but not “actual timelessness” (we could perhaps make a distinction between “timelessness” and “eternity,” but I will abstain from that here). Quintin suggests that we cannot sustain “timelessness” by choice; we either “are” Benjy or we are not. To choose to be an animal means we are only “animal-like,” as to choose to escape time is to only achieve a state “like timelessness.” Benjy, mentally handicapped, is able to solve “The Meaning Crisis” — he can always have hope that “givens” will return, that he will see Caddy again — and Quintin, for all his brilliance, cannot figure out how to sustain being like Benjy. He cannot defeat time, only enjoy moments of “sound and fury,” which, in the end, end.
‘Let the little children come to me,’ Jesus said — does only Benjy step forward?²⁸
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky is similar to The Sound and the Fury in that it too is a response to “the coming world” and offers us possibilities on how we could act. Both the Compson siblings and Karamazov brothers are responding to the shortcomings and fallibilities of their parents, which represent our present world responding to the old world from which we arose. The old world was bigoted, foolish, and even evil, and the new world is forced to inherit the legacies of the old. The new world cannot ignore or overlook the bigotry, foolishness, and evil of the past, for (as perhaps time cannot allow) “the new” does not share in the same “givens” which would make that bigotry, foolishness, and evil “invisible” (like Heidegger’s “working doorknob”); in other words, “the banality of evil” which defined the past cannot remain “banal” so readily or easily. Yes, the parents will “thoughtlessly” try to pass “their banality” down to their children (as parents in India “thoughtlessly” pass down the stories of The Rāmāyana to their children, as Germans “thoughtlessly” continue Christmas traditions in which their children take part, as Plantation owners taught their children about slavery, etc.), but there is no guarantee that the transition will be successful. It is unimaginable that parents don’t do this (how can they not “pass anything down” at all?), but that means every generation is faced with a challenge, especially if the new generation cannot help but see their parents as immoral, foolish, and/or naïve (the likelihood of which increases as technological and social changes accelerate and increase). We ‘cannot unsee [what we have] seen.’²⁹
Both Tocqueville and Burke admonished on what happens if we overthrow a corrupt and immoral world without any idea of what we will replace it with, and both Faulkner and Dostoevsky can be seen as writing on this problem and tragedy. Both Burke and Tocqueville understood that the revolutionists in France had good and rational reason to challenge and rebel against the institutions of their day, as the Compson children and Karamazov brothers have good reason to oppose their parents. This is our problem and our tragedy: “givens” are enablers of evil and injustice, and yet without “givens” we lose our minds. A large percentage of both novels take place in “the negative space” which opens up after “the old world” is challenged and opposed, and we today, in our “Meaning Crisis,” are likewise in such “a negative space.” It is here where many of us our ending up like Quintin and Jason; it is here where we must endure like Dilsey. Indeed, many are, and that is a sign of hope.
Caddy loses her virginity, and father Fyodor Karamazov is killed. The old world passes away. What now? As discussed in The Breaking of the Day, if we combine Dostoevsky and Faulkner (with a little Kafka), I think we can review our options with this general list:
The Compson Parents / Fyodor Pavlovich
The immoral and naïve past which the present world is justified (and even morally obligated) to reject
1. Kafka’s “Animal”
Freedom from freedom; raw “is-ness” of no sense of spacetime.
2. Benjy Compson
Neurodiverse; not an option for us who aren’t born this way; perhaps associable with Kafka’s “Animal,” though Benjy’s “is-ness” is more like a “boundless spacetime” versus absence of spacetime.
______________(1 and 2 are options we either already “are” or it’s too late.)
3. Kafka’s “Animal-Likeness”
Resulting from efforts to reach options 1 and 2; a state made painful precisely because it is “like” 1 but not identical.
4. Alyosha Karamazov (Pre-Fall, before Mikhail Rakitin)
Fundamentalist, closed-minded, and isolationist.
5. Quintin Compson / Ivan Karamazov
Intellectual, tries to solve through logical understanding, vulnerable to madness and despair.
6. Dimitri Karamazov
Focuses on pleasure, the sensual, emotion, and experience.
7. Smerdyakov Karamazov³⁰
Nihilistic rage, perhaps like The Joker.
8. Jason Compson
Rage and bitterness toward change; exhibits totalitarian tendencies and forceful. Perhaps the German Nihilism of Leo Strauss.
9. Alyosha Karamazov (Post-Fall) / Dilsey
Enduring so that “the negative space” might be a sublimation versus an effacement.
Following these possibilities, “the best” we can do as of now is eight: enduring like Dilsey or finding hope at the grave of a child like Alyosha. This is “our sign of hope” in the midst of our Meaning Crisis, but perhaps we are only “enduring for Godot.” That is indeed the risk, and there must be risk if we are going to make “a real choice” (as discussed in (Re)constructing “A Is A”). If we don’t, afraid that our lives will end up testaments to “Godot,” then we must choose between options 3 through 8. And so the world turns.
When the clock stops ringing and Quintin’s “freedom” ends, when his “sound and fury” concludes and he returns to a place of ‘order,” he commits suicide. Again, this suggests “order alone” is not the answer, and we mustn’t forget that “the social order” oppressed Caddy and was what she “rightfully” worked to transgress/transcend. Benjy, in being in all time, can hope for the return of “givens” without knowing how to solve “The Meaning Crisis,” but what about us, us Hamlets and Ivan Karamazovs and Quintin Compsons? What is our answer? Well, on Easter, this is what we find Dilsey standing and enduring for, waiting. What, waiting? Our answer is to wait? Hell with that — and so Jason is the last section belonging to a Compson brother, the brother who gets the last word. Benjy can only stare off with empty and blue eyes.
Is it possible for us to experience time like Benjy without his simplicity? Absolute Knowing, found in Hegel and discussed throughout O.G. Rose, entails a different experience of time, in my opinion, and religions also gift followers and believers with different and unique orientations to time. “Absolute Knowing” by O.G. Rose will discuss “the here/there” of Hegel, suggesting this is an “art-form” we need to train ourselves in for realizing ourselves fully. Indeed, there is something about Absolute Knowing which makes us more like Benjy, who lives without a stable subjectivity and without being bound to linear time and history. For Hegel, the subject doesn’t realize it’s full self without learning that the limits of consciousness and spacetime are limits which mean there must be something “beyond them,” and Benjy could be a representation of a subject who is born on the other side of those limits and who can never cross back over them. Benjy is Deleuzian in this way, which makes Benjy unintelligible to us. There’s freedom in being unintelligible, and Benjy cannot be “captured.” But can we be Benjy? Or must the process of Absolute Knowing be lifelong and always need “(re)constitution?” Benjy and Kafka’s “animals” indeed overcome “The Meaning Crisis,” but do they have Absolute Knowing? Perhaps a world of Absolute Knowing is on what Dilsey waits.
We all have a little Benjy inside of us, for all of us have a subconscious mind that operates according to associational time and logic. However, few of us are like Benjy, meaning few of us “practically” have no line between our conscious and subconscious minds — few of us are a “radical is-ness.” Many people today, in the midst of “The Meaning Crisis,” have turned to Jung in search of archetypes and “unleashing the subconscious,” convinced truth, meaning, and “belonging’ might be found there, with some even turning to psychedelics in hopes of unlocking the secrets of the mind. And perhaps these efforts will work (Benjy gives us reason to think they might, at least): they are different methods from the intellectualism we see in Quintin, and the verdict is still out on if they will succeed. Faulkner suggests in Quintin that we cannot “consciously figure out” a solution to “the loss of Caddy” (and “givens”), but perhaps we’ll have better luck if we search more in the subconscious mind. “The sound and fury,” the freedom of SF, is formally more like the subconscious than the conscious mind, and as Quintin could not sustain the SF for long, so we might not be able to sustain the intensity of psychedelic or Jungian experience.
Benjy represents someone in “total time” but “undeveloped,” whereas perhaps we must learn to experience “perfect time” as an adult, per se, which means we must learn to occupy a space of “Absolute Knowing.” Benjy is “partially” the answer, we could say, but in lacking development, the “total time” cannot become an organizing principle for the family, for Benjy is incapable of sharing it. A new sense of time and sense of self (perhaps dividualism versus individualism, as Alexander Bard discusses) is what we need for “the x/y moment” Dilsey endures in to be a “negation/sublimation” (versus effacement), but that will require facing profound existential and psychological anxiety. Is that something we can endure? Time will tell.
What happens to family happens to society, and what happens to society impacts how families form. The Southern writers, like Faulkner, understood this well, but also understood that “returning to family” could be “a return to trauma” or “a return to the banality of evil.” This was not an option (an A/A-effacement), but Southerners like Faulkner also didn’t necessarily have a better option for moving forward (an A/B-sublimation). Thus, Dilsey endures. She waits.
With the loss of the social order and “center” around which the family could be held together and organized, Dilsey “endures” in the space in which either a new world, better than the previous, emerges, or where nothing emerges beyond “the sound and fury” (which we cannot sustain). Dilsey endures in a (Schrödinger-esq) “x/y space,” per se, a great “either/or,” where how that “space” is realized depends on the choices we make. Alluding to “Negation Versus Effacement” by O.G. Rose, we can say that Dilsey is enduring in a “negation/effacement space,” where “negation” is Hegelian and the way toward a possible sublation, whereas “effacement” is loss and destruction. Faulkner does not give us a solution to the situation of “sound and fury” that the Compson family finds themselves in, but Faulkner suggests that though we cannot “be” Benjy, we all have subconscious minds “like Benjy” which make us experience time as Benjy does, and that this experience compels us to find “the right response” to the ruins of modernity. To use language Javier brought up in “The Family Symposium,” alluding to Deleuze, Dilsey is occupying a space of “breakthrough/breakdown,” with it not being clear yet which way “the flip moment” will flip.
‘The past is never dead,’ Faulkner tells us. ‘It is not even past.’ We cannot escape a cultural memory of a world with “givens” where our lives felt organized and directed, a memory which our minds and psychologies, desperate for organization and comprehension, longs for and seeks. Unlike Benjy, who can “hope” in a return to that world because he is not bound by time, we must figure out how to create and establish “new givens,” and for now we have no answer. In this space of unknowing, we must resist the temptation to “escape to the past,” as we must likewise resist the temptation to see “a new order” in ideas, or to grow bitter and angry at our fate. The Sound and the Fury is a novel which shows effacement, but it highlights in Dilsey someone who endures in the “x/y space,” making possible a negation/sublation. Is Dilsey “waiting for Godot?” Perhaps but the endurance itself is “a sign of hope,” a sentiment with which Faulkner agrees:
Question: Mr. Faulkner, when you say man has prevailed do you mean the individual man has prevailed or group man? . . .
Answer: Man as in part of light.
Question (Continued). . . In Quentin, for instance, he seemed to have the cards stacked against him — — Prevailing, it just seems to be inherently impossible, and I wondered —
Answer: True, and his mother wasn’t much good, and he had an idiot brother, and yet, in that whole family there was Dilsey that held the whole thing together and that continued to hold the thing together for no reward…The will of man to achieve will even take the channel of the black man before…being defeated.³¹
Even when the cards are “stacked again us,” even when we find ourselves born and “thrown” into a world of ruins we did not cause — Faulkner would have us endure. Is endurance the meaning of life? There can be no life without it.
Question: Mr. Faulkner, in your speech at Stockholm you expressed great faith in mankind, not only to endure but prevail, because he had the capacity for compassion, sacrifice, endurance. Do you think that’s the impression the average reader would gain from reading The Sound and the Fury?
Answer: I can’t answer that because I don’t know what the average reader gets from reading the book. I agree I failed to say what I tried to say. I’ve never read reviews, so I don’t know what people’s impression is. But in my opinion yes…that’s what I was talking about in all the books, but I failed to say it, I agree with you I did fail, but that was what I was trying to say. That man would prevail because he is capable of compassion…honor…³²
From that famous Noble Prize Acceptance Speech, 1950:
I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work — a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before […]
Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid […] Until he does so, he labors under a curse […]
Until he learns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. 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.
This is what Dilsey represents.
In the South losing the Civil War, it found itself in a place of effacement/negation (x/y), based on what it decided to do. In order to undergo negation and sublimation into something better, the South had to accept it was immoral and wrong (not that everyone did), as the “family” structure today must accept it could be oppressive and traumatic. Jason couldn’t accept this, Quentin didn’t know how to solve the problem, and Dilsey still stands and endures on Easter, making it possible for “something new” to happen. If we cease “enduring,” the story will end. And that, I think, would be the choice of Smerdyakov Karamazov: that would be the choice to view murder as victory.
In closing, a question we should ask: Does Faulkner suggest “the sound and fury” ultimately “signifies nothing?” Based on the Macbeth quote, it’s easy to assume that the novel is ‘a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing,’ but though the novel starts with a neurodiverse Benjy, and though Quinton’s life ends with suicide and ultimately Jason cannot keep Miss Quintin, does it all ‘signify nothing?’ It does for Macbeth, but I would submit that Faulkner never tells us this, though we may assume this is how he thinks, primed by the quote. Instead, we are left with Dilsey, who endures. If we cannot endure like her, then yes, “The Meaning Crisis” will come to ‘signify nothing.’ But if we can endure, if we can bear ‘the negative space,” we may just undergo a sublimation into something better. Perhaps we’ll find Caddy, still smiling with her Benjy.
“On Family”: Further Elaborations
1. “Relationships and Concealment” by O.G. Rose discussed how we can go through our whole lives never realizing that we don’t know how to communicate our feelings (for example), precisely because we “know” how we feel and thus are trained to think we are good at communication. But then we end up in a relationship and are hit with two revelations at once: first, we aren’t any good at communication, and second that we engaged in “self-concealment” to ourselves. This is hard to take, especially all at once, but if we fail to accept how “radically concealed” we naturally are, the likelihood of making a relationship work is very low. The psychological and existential pressures are just too great.
In family, we must also deal with our “radical concealment,” but we are often gradually accustomed and “attuned” to it as we grow up in such a way that we don’t even notice it. Families tend to share similar cultures, which is to say they share “similar mechanisms of concealment,” and thus the mechanisms are easily hidden and buried (arguably, all cultures are “concealments,” for they all rely on “givens” which lack ultimate justification, even if they are right and good). But through time and as the family changes, the probability of these mechanisms being unveiled increases. Ultimately, the “givens” of the family are arbitrary, which is to say they are chosen (right or wrong), which is to say they can be sources of existential anxiety. When this starts to happen, family can turn into a disaster.
The challenge of “the family,” especially today is found in how it responds to the gradual unveiling of its mechanisms of concealment and “givens” (as is the case with society at large). It is natural to become “pathological” when this occurs, and ultimately it would seem that some like Absolute Knowing is required on a widescale (not that this is possible) for this situations not to become pathological—but that requires a discussion on what constitutes Hegel’s Absolute Knowing, a topic which I will expand on elsewhere.
2. In the paper “On Love” by O.G. Rose, the following was argued as defining of love:
‘I am committed to being patient and kind to you when you aren’t likeable, and I am committed to always endeavoring to move my idea of who you are toward who you actually are, though I know, ultimately, I will never fully succeed. I promise to do all this while helping you, the one I long for, realize your true self, which, by pursuing, you will become harder to reach. I will hope in struggle: I will believe in what I cannot achieve. I will forgive and be forgiven: I will be made perfect in failure. I will love until my love dies.
We love someone who we allow to become more difficult to know. We don’t try to stop their development, but let it happen, which means “our love” constantly has to be updated or humbled for us to actually love the person versus an idea. This is very hard, especially since we already did so much work to love them at all. And now we have to love them again? This is hard, and suggests the need for Absolute Knowing…
3. Michelle describes a man clutching a bird by its feet versus a man with a palm open and a bird sitting in that palm “Who really owns the bird?” she asks. The man clutching the bird or the man with an open hand? Well the man with an open hand has a true relationship, while the other man—it’s hard to say.
In order for us to find out if our family is more than based on “facticity” (the mere fact of shared blood, space, etc.), family member need to feel like they can come and go freely. Ultimately, we need to leave the family, go off, and possibly return, for there to even really be a family (this brings to mind Hegel’s idea that an idea isn’t even an idea until it is concrete: similarly, a family is not a family unless there is a “return”). The return is the test, and this is not merely physical, but emotional and spiritual. The desire to be there and come back—this means something
The temptation to “clutch” the bird is tied to “the temptation for certainty,” which is a natural human desire. We do not like uncertainty, and we do not like “thinking” in comparison to “knowing.” Knowing is stable and complete (we don’t have to worry about it changing on us without warning), while thinking is always susceptible to change. And don’t we think to “know?” What does it mean then to suggest that thinking is good while “knowing” is bad? Well, it suggests something paradoxical, and suggests a need for us to be “confident” versus “certain.” What is meant by this is expanded on in “Certainty Entails A Lot of Unintended Consequences” by O.G. Rose, but basically certainty is impossible, which means a desire for it can make us pathological, neurotic, and cause effacement. When family members “just want to know” they are loved, for example, this can cause terrible and painful dysfunction. “Total Knowing” (versus “Absolute Knowing”) is impossible, for people entail a level of concealment that we can at best learn to manage. To seek TK (versus AK) is to seek the effacement of the subject.
To raise child is to help people become people we don’t fully understand, which is a hard revelation that will prove psychologically difficult to handle. If we measure our “success” as a parent by our connection with our child, the board might be set against us, for there will naturally be “a growing mystery” that comes into play, perhaps making us as parents feel like we failed. Faced with this tension, we might be tempted to “clutch” our family members precisely when we need to keep our hand open. It is then, when it is hard to resist clutching, that we can truly experience “openness to the other” (and hence A/B versus A/A), which necessitates vulnerability, for what if our loved ones do indeed do something terrible with their freedom? That is a possibility, but if God gave humanity free will, we can only participate in our “image and likeness” (according to Genesis 1:3) by doing the same.
What is “too different” (like a plant or fish) is that which cannot function as “an other” for humans: for there to be “an other” (and the possibility of A/B), there must be “enough” similarity for a connection to be possible (a “/”). However, since “a too different thing” isn’t “identical” with us (spatially, in time), this can make it easy for us to convince ourselves that we are engaged in love. But just because something isn’t directly part of our body doesn’t mean it can force us to confront our ego—our will must confront a will back. Where we don’t confront a question, we don’t confront A/A: there is no possibility of A/B, I/other.
When people in family begin individuating and “becoming themselves,” they “heard toward” becoming “too different,” which means they practically become strangers with whom we do not relate (making A/B impossible). This process is painful and can scare us, but then we can overreact by “clutching” them (an A/A-effacement). For family members to become “too different” would be for them to be a bird which flies away and doesn’t return, whereas a family which doesn’t allow “individuation” would be a family which “clutches the bird” by the legs. Real risk is required: we must leave our hand open and find out if we instilled in our loves ones that which would make them will and want to return. All efforts for A/B are a risk, but A/A effaces.
4. To borrow an image from “Homo Egeo” by O.G. Rose, family is a pressure cooker, and a pressure cooker both generates wonderful food and crushing pressure. Catholicism speaks of “Purgatory,” the idea that we cannot reach God until we “cleanse ourselves of our sins,” and this requires obstacles and difficulty. Purgatory, at least in Dante, is “like” Hell and yet the road to Heaven: so it might go with family and “common life” in general. Funny enough, if we never “leave” “common life,” it might be easier to stay in it: no pressure may ever emerge. This might be represented by Benjy Compson, and though seemingly a solution, there is a lack of development.
5. Not everything that is broken can be fixed, at least not by human hands. When a spider web breaks, technically it can be fixed, but not by people. If we became gods or machines, perhaps we could repair a spiderweb, but for most of us that is a dream that cannot come true. Is family like a spiderweb? Is it incredibly intricate and beautiful, and is it made new every morning? Perhaps, but if so, that means a broken family might be the hardest thing in the world to fix. I don’t know, and there are countless people who believe their families cannot be fixed. I will not speak for them, nor would I dare suggest that their pain isn’t real. There is perhaps nothing more painful than a broken family, for the pain haunts us and consumes us physically, psychologically, spiritually, and existentially. Broken families break everything.
At the same time, it is possible the family is nevertheless the only possible source of a kind of work that needs to be done on the human for the human to reach and achieve “fullness.” Perhaps God is terrifying, but that would not change the fact that, at least according to Christianity, God is the only way to Eternal Life. Likewise, “common life” might be the hardest thing in the world to live amidst and maintain, and it is easily a “pressure cooker” that could go too far and destroy us. All the same, it could still be the only road to reaching a state of “A/B” (versus “A/A”) that Hegel and Hume encouraged us to realize. Can we rise to the challenge? Perhaps, but regardless we might only have one chance.
6. Marx argued that Capitalist ideology was sustained and proliferated by “the nuclear family,” and whether this is true or not is a question for another time. Here, I want to note that we learn that family formation likely influenced our experience of time, reality, self-identity, and the like. If every time my teacher tells me I did a good job on the test, but my mother says I didn’t do well, I might begin questioning my ability to identifying and see reality (a problem prevalent in trauma). Similarly, if my life expectancy is 42, given my sense of time, I will likely marry, have kids, and work in a way that reflects this knowledge (versus say if I know I’ll likely live to at least 60).
It would be curious to explore the history of the family and the history of breakthroughs on the nature of time. What did the family look like under Newtonian time? Under Einsteinian time? Today? Perhaps it is all correlation and not causation, but it’s curious that “relativity” and “Pluralism” have arisen together. Similarly, does “relativity” contribute to individualism (versus the dividualism of Alexander Bard?) For if I believe “everything is relative,” it all has to be “relative to something,” which means there must be a fixed point.
7. Javier Rivera made a critical point: often, it is when we compare our family members to a “transcendental category” (to use the language of Cadell Last) that we find ourselves disappointed. When we want our father to “be a father,” we hold him to a standard and find ourselves deflated. Ironically though, when we stop treating him “as a father” and instead treat him outside the category, “as a person,” we can start establishing a better and more wonderful relationship. If we sustained a “transcendental category” for the sake of a relationship, it can be precisely when we let that category go that we can finally get the relationship.
¹Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1956: 1.
²This suggests a problem with positivism, it should be noted: the effectiveness of empiricism is easily limited by a lack of “shared intelligibility,” as made possible by “givens.”
³Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1956: 93.
⁴Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1956: 401.
⁵Please see here, “Faulkner at Virginia,” an amazing resource made possible by that incredible Dr. Stephen Railton.
⁶Please see here, “Faulkner at Virginia,” an amazing resource made possible by that incredible Dr. Stephen Railton.
⁷Please see here, “Faulkner at Virginia,” an amazing resource made possible by that incredible Dr. Stephen Railton.
⁸Please see here, “Faulkner at Virginia,” an amazing resource made possible by that incredible Dr. Stephen Railton.
⁹Please see here, “Faulkner at Virginia,” an amazing resource made possible by that incredible Dr. Stephen Railton.
¹⁰Please see here, “Faulkner at Virginia,” an amazing resource made possible by that incredible Dr. Stephen Railton.
¹¹This topic is elaborated on in “Labels, Names, and Poems” by O.G. Rose.
¹²Please see here, “Faulkner at Virginia,” an amazing resource made possible by that incredible Dr. Stephen Railton.
¹³Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1956: 94.
¹⁴Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1956: 5.
¹⁵Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1956: 401.
¹⁶Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1956: 215.
¹⁷Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1956: 21.
¹⁸Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1956: 105.
¹⁹Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1956: 222.
²⁰Allusion to “Before the Law” by Franz Kafka.
²¹Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1956: 93.
²²Wallace, David. The Pale King. New York, NY: First Back Bay Edition, 2012: 43.
²³Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1956: 129.
²⁴Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1956: 219.
²⁵As discussed in “The VORD” by O.G. Rose, Benjy might have achieved a state of “pure difference/sameness” (effacement) or “Pure Difference” (negation/sublimation).
²⁶Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1956: 93.
²⁷Allusion to Franz Kafka.
²⁸Allusion to Matthew 19:14.
²⁹Nabokov, Vladimir. Speak, Memory. New York: First Vintage International Edition, 1989: 310.
³⁰Rightly or wrongly, I have always associated Smerdyakov with the Joker from Batman. In The Killing Joke, the Joker tells us that if we’re stuck on a train of thought we don’t like, if rationality won’t let us escape, we can always turn to madness (a point that reminds me of Benjamin Fondane, who perhaps suggests “nonrationality” instead of “madness,” and who suggests we turn to “nonrationality” before it’s too late and “madness” becomes our only option left). In The Killing Joke, the Joker tells us he avoids reality (it dilutes the hallucinations), and he famously tells us about how it only takes “one bad day” to ruin our lives. In such a world, who wouldn’t go mad? “By clinging to reality, we’re denying reality” — a powerful line of dialogue from the Joker’s lips. Perhaps the Joker cannot commit suicide because that would make too much sense?
In the animated Batman, the “comic” side of the Joker is often emphasized, while in The Dark Knight by Christopher Nolan, we see a more nihilistic and “mad” Joker. These two “responses” to modern life are similar though not identical, and I see in Smerdyakov an expression of both. Why does Smerdyakov turn out this way? Hard to say, but he is part of the Karamazov family and at the same time isn’t (he is Fyodor’s illegitimate son): he is part of the world but not also not accepted by it. So “split,” it is perhaps “undeniable” to Smerdyakov that he will ever find a resolution to his identify and existential anxiety, and thus he “rationally” turns to a “Joker strategy,” whereas the other Karamazov brothers still “have space” to believe resolution and stability are possible. The other Karamazov brothers have reason not to “go mad” yet, not to “burn the world down” just for the fun of watching it burn, and/or not to kill the patriarchy. Does this mean Smerdyakov is more advanced?
(The flashlight joke at the end of The Killing Joke is an important insight into the power and mechanisms of ideology.)
³¹Please see here, “Faulkner at Virginia,” an amazing resource made possible by that incredible Dr. Stephen Railton.
³²Please see here, “Faulkner at Virginia,” an amazing resource made possible by that incredible Dr. Stephen Railton.
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