After being bogged down in Ulysses for half the summer, I’ve just started to read other books. I finished As I Lay Dying, which was predictably excellent. I always wonder a little bit about Faulkner. He had his famous Nobel Prize speech where he explicated his whole writing philosophy,
I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong 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.
But, to me, there’s very little about Faulkner that is triumphant. It’s all just this very hard-won stuff, these very small victories. Like in As I Lay Dying, there is something very noble about the family’s tenacity–their will to get their matriarch over the river and into the ground. But when it’s done, it all hasn’t come to much. They splinter apart into their separate cares. The family itself seems to shrivel and collapse. It’s as if that was all the nobility that they had in them–this commitment to an ultimately meaningless symbol. And that’s fine and it’s very affecting. But it’s hardly glorious.
Oh, I also read Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood. When the book started, I loved it. And I continued to love every part of the book that didn’t have talking. The narrator’s voice is deft and playful. But god, the talking is just the worst. There’s one character, a doctor, who monologues endlessly about nonsense. It reminds me of Kafka’s The Castle, except at least in The Castle some of the monologues were interesting.
And now I am reading Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks! It is excellent. Literally nothing has happened in the novel yet, aside from a dinner party. But I love it so much. It reminds me of a 19th century Russian novel. But it’s not about some f***ing aristocrats. Man, I am tired of reading about aristocrats. Instead, it’s about the slow dissolution of a German mercantile family. One of the few novels that seems to deal intimately with issues of commerce and business.