Faulkner in Color
In 1929, at the time of its publication, William Faulkner said “I wish publishing was advanced enough to use colored ink” in regards to his vision for The Sound and the Fury, specifically, that each of the many intricately layered timeline threads would be printed in different colors. He resigned to using italics in order to address the past, which was rather confusing, given the blunt binary of italics vs. roman text, and the myriad tiers of pasts therein. Reading Faulkner, I always ignore the italics, as part of the allure in reading him is the palpable confusion of memory — the contradictions, oversights, strange overlaps — as similar to the very way we remember, or mis-remember, our actual experiences. The initial modernists (e.g. Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner) seemed to imbue their books, inadvertently or not, with living matter: the tongue of alliteration; the pulse of cadence; the corrosive and unreliable mind; the insecurity of communication; the unruly heart, the very messy things though which we lived, rather than simply read. Eighty-three years since its publication, English publishing house Folio Society is publishing the book as the author intended. It’s gorgeous, $345 dollars, a promised delivery conveniently in the light of August.
When the implied becomes the explicit, much of the beast is tamed, or at least caged. I personally love the what the fuck is going on feeling when slugging away at a book whose author was either psychotic or genius. I know it’s cliché, perhaps even a myth, but our perception of the author’s psychiatric state informs the value of its literature, which may implicate the inherent pathos of secular western art. It’s like The Maury Povich Show or Jerry Springer: one is simply gladdened to see crazy people on stage. I think of William, in a spare bedroom scratching chapter notes for a novel on a wall named after days of the week he clearly lost track of, and am touched. I have this theory where the more awful a roommate a writer would be, the better the literature. (Kafka totally late on rent; Emily Dickinson never leaving the goddamn the house; Henry James clearing out the fridge at night.) When a handful of dedicated editors distill Faulkner’s modernism into a color key, he almost comes across looking like a fraud who threw his manuscript across the room, picked up the pieces, and called it done. The reader lends the novel intent in exchange for meaning.
This is of course a cynical view of both Faulkner and this new publication. The hardest fiction is the barest — written in a straight line, with plain paragraphs, some dialog, and clean chapters. Joyce broke the novel, and repairing it seems more difficult than repeatedly smashing the bits and pieces left on the ground. Vonnegut’s doodles, D. F. Wallace’s footnotes, and the manic font changes of Gass, Barthe, and most recently Leyner, all seem slightly archaic in their exuberance. The novel, like painting, flourishes from its very constraint. You have black and white words, the careful choreography of twenty-six letters, in staunch rows, one on top of the other, fraying downwards, until the physical end of its last page. The object of a book itself is a concession to its medium. And therein lies infinity.
Knowing who and what and at what time you are reading before it has a chance to ruin you takes the humiliation out of reading, that desperate attempt to understand your partner. One may experience the same feeling sitting alone at the table after a date unexpectedly gets up and leaves. Did I do something wrong? You go back, rereading the dogeared page. The novel, after all, is like dating — better if you imagine beautiful people, perhaps in a translated accent, and under more romantic lighting. All you want is to be loved, so you keep reading. Maybe this time you’ll find the one. I’m glad color printing (and anti-depressants) weren’t around in 1929, and worry for the precocious kid whose parents drop some three hundred dollars on a less confusing experience. Sure, Faulkner wanted it this way. But he was nuts. I imagine this kid reading it without a snap, closing the book, and going about thinking they understand this cuckoo world.