On Long Form, Collective Unconscious, and Light in August

Reading Light in August by William Faulkner makes me pine for long form, the craft of the long sentence or the novel. The book is emblematic of a genre of American literature beginning to delve into the theme of collective unconscious narrative voice, especially slave narratives and African American voice. The character Christmas in the book, who is half black, experiences what can only be described as collective post-traumatic stress from his ancestor’s slave history, a narrative that Toni Morrison perfects in her novel Beloved fifty-five years later. It is fun to see the theme make an appearance in Faulkner’s writing in 1932 and hold a torch through the literary century to appear again in the 1980s.

Below is a glimpse into memory as Faulkner begins its navigation in the first paragraph of Chapter 6 of Light in August (a beautiful gem of a long sentence), followed by the mirror concept of rememory in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. An incomplete critical comparison, but literary nerdery on a sunny day at the end of March, nevertheless:

“Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders. Knows remembers believes a corridor in a big long garbled cold echoing building of dark red brick stootbleakened by more chimneys than its own, set in a grassless cinderstrewnpacked compound surrounded by smoking factory purlieus and enclosed by a ten foot steel-and-wire fence like a penitentiary or a zoo, where in random erratic surges, with sparrowlike childtrebling, orphans in identical and uniform blue denim in and out of remembering but in knowing constant as the beak walls, the bleak windows where in rain soot from the yearly adjacenting chimneys streaked like black tears” (Page 119, William Faulkner, Light in August, Vintage Books 1989).

Faulkner_signature“I used to think to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place–the picture of it–stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened” (Toni Morrison, Beloved).

Happy long form, Saturday!

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