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WAI CHEE DIMOCK: Just getting started.
And just want to remind you, refresh your memory about what
we were talking about before the break.
So we were talking about first, the concept of
strangers and kindness of strangers that Lena would be a
And then we were talking about neighbors and what could come
to us from neighbors and not always good things.
And Hightower is a recipient of the not always good things
coming from our neighbors.
But Hightower, as we also know, is very emphatic that in
spite of what happens to him, in spite of the beatings and
so on, that he's actually surrounded by two people.
So it really takes a tremendous act of willpower to
be able to say that.
And so this is the quote from Hightower.
"They are good people.
All that any man can hope for is to be permitted to live
quietly around his fellows."
So it is a proposition, a statement that really is sort
of thrown in our face and in the face of all the things
that have happened to him.
So today what I'd like to do is to use race as a test case
for Hightower's proposition.
We all know that Joe Christmas is someone whose racial
identity is ambiguous, I would say, from beginning to end.
We don't really know for sure what his parentage --
we have good guesses, but we don't know for sure.
And we certainly don't know the genetic makeup of someone
like Joe Christmas.
So in that context, I think it's especially relevant to
talk about some of the contemporary
discussion of race.
And this is not even so new.
It came out in 2003.
It was a special issue of Scientific American, whether
and it makes a strong argument that race is misleading in the
sense that when you look at the physical characteristics,
the facial features of people, and we assume that race has a
very solid existence, that is real.
But actually the facial characteristics or the
physical attributes do not always correspond to our
So how people look actually is not a great way to tell us who
they are biologically.
And so the scientific argument in the special issue or that
essay is about the importance of thinking outside of the box
of noticeable or observable visible characteristics, to
thinking about what would come into play
in a medical situation.
This is Scientific American after all.
So this was back in 2003.
And even earlier than that, on the front cover of Time
Magazine, is the new face of America.
And it's really about America becoming a mixed-race nation.
And if that is the case, I look at everyone, yeah, quite
often I can't really tell what background, ethnic background
people are from.
And that is the case.
This is a computer-generated image.
And we don't really know.
She's made up of the traits of many races, and so
it's hard to tell.
But she's a very typical American face.
And around the same time, a book came out by F. James
Davis called Who is Black?
Actually this was quite an important book when it came
out in 1992, to such an extent that in its 10th anniversary,
PBS actually did a special program titled Who is Black?
and featured that book.
And his argument is very, very pertinent to Faulkner's novel.
We don't actually know who is black in this novel.
So it is a question that is not answered.
And it's perhaps not meant to be answerable, even at the end
of the novel.
And this is an image that actually Tai
used for her section.
And it was a great section.
I'm very happy to be there.
So I just borrowed it from her.
And this is an Ebony Magazine quiz, 1952.
But even back in 1952, people were realizing that if you
look at people, you don't really know
what race they are.
And so I think that most people would actually get a
few wrong answers for that quiz.
So I think that all this is just to set the stage for the
very complicated and maybe not meant to be resolved landscape
that Faulkner has set up for us in Light in August. And so
what I'd like to talk about today is the word nigger.
And of course, that's the word that would have to be used.
Because just as in the '50s, the word negro was the
In the '20s and '30s, "nigger" would have been
the standard term.
So it was not originally a racial slur.
The use of the word "nigger," even though it wasn't
necessarily a racial slur, it nonetheless
was a charged epithet.
It always has carried excessive semantic burden.
And because it carries excessive semantic burden, it
also opens itself up to multiple uses.
So today we'll look at the way that word is being used by
different people in different contexts and
for different purposes.
So we'll go down the list. We'll be talking about all
this, and also spoken by other people.
And also when the word is spoken by the person himself.
So I just noticed this microphone has a way of
So these are the people that we'll be looking at who use
the word nigger.
First is Joe Brown, and then the dietitian a couple of
times, and then Hightower, and then Bobbie the waitress, and
then Joanna Burden.
And then Joe Christmas himself, he uses the word
nigger for himself.
But first, let's look at the way Joe Brown uses that word.
At this point, Joe Brown is being
questioned by the sheriff.
So we know that Joanna's body has been discovered.
Her house has burned down.
And the sheriff is questioning Joe Brown.
And there's $1,000 that is up for anyone who can
help solve the case.
So Joe Brown has sort of high hopes that he'll be the one to
get the $1,000.
But as the sheriff questions him, more and more comes out,
it seems less and less likely that the $1,000 will be in his
So he's getting desperate.
And that is when that word comes up.
"Because they said it was like he had been saving what he
told them next for just such a time as this.
Like he had knowed that if come to a pinch"--
this is Brian telling Hightower--
"like he had knowed that if it come to a pinch, this would
save him, even if it was almost worse for a white man
to admit what he would have to admit than to be accused of
the murder itself.
'That's right,' he says.
Accuse the white man that's trying to help you
with what he knows.
Accuse the white man and let the nigger go free.
Accuse the white and let nigger run.'"
So this is the classic race card that we
recognize so well.
And unfortunately, it still has some currency.
So he's playing the race card, because he's really desperate.
What is really interesting is how subtle this portrait, even
of someone like Joe Brown who has so little
saving grace to him.
This is really someone who is supremely unlikable.
But even for someone who is supremely unlikable, Faulkner,
nonetheless, portrays him as someone who's not incapable of
So it is shameful, even for someone like Joe Brown to use
the race card, that when there's nothing else he can
do, he would do that.
So he's not such a racist or such a whatever that he's
blind to what he's doing.
And so I would say that even though this is Joe Brown doing
one of the despicable things that he's capable of doing, in
the very act of doing that, he recognizes completely that he
is being despicable.
So this is one kind of self-contained usage of
shameful, and shameful even to the person who is doing it.
And the next couple of usages all
revolving around the dietitian.
And we know that Joe Christmas is behind the curtains and
watching this whole scene unfolding between the
dietitian and her beau and eating toothpicks and having
no idea what's going on outside of the dietitian
thinking that he knows everything.
So she drags him out.
And this is what Joe sees when she drags him out.
"A face no longer smooth pink-and-white surrounded now
by wild and disheveled hair whose smooth band once made
him think of candy. 'You little rat!' the thin, furious
voice hissed, 'You little rat!
Spying on me!
You little nigger bastard!'"
So she's never called him that before.
So it's at this moment of extreme vulnerability on the
part of the dietitian that that word would
come rushing up.
So it has some relation to the Joe Brown usage in the sense
that this is a word that comes out when your back is against
the wall, basically.
This is the thing that you fling at people.
But the dietitian actually is more
resourceful than Joe Brown.
She actually is able to use that word
in some other contexts.
So this is the next installment of the word nigger
coming out of the mouth of the dietitian.
And she has something else to offer Joe Christmas.
Her hand is outstretched, and upon it lay a silver dollar.
"Her voice went on urgent, tense, fast. 'A whole dollar.
How much you could buy.
Some to eat every day for a week.
And next month maybe I'll give another one.' He seemed to see
ranked tubes of toothpaste like corded wood, endless and
terrifying; his whole being coiled in a rich and
'I don't want no more,' he said.
'I don't ever want no more,' he said.
He didn't need to look up to know what her
face looked like now.
'Tell!' she said. 'Tell, then!
You little nigger bastard!
You nigger bastard!'"
So this is the evolution of the dietitian, that she's not
so vulnerable now.
That she's actually on the verge of going on the
offensive, but not quite.
Because she just wants to make peace really.
She has wanted to cut a deal with Joe Christmas, basically.
And so what she doesn't understand is that he doesn't
understand the concept of bribery.
Joe Christmas is really interesting in that way.
He doesn't always understand kindness.
And he even doesn't understand the next thing down I think,
which is bribery.
So for him, the silver dollar just means endless tubes of
That can't be more repugnant to him.
But he knows enough to know that rejecting that silver
dollar would actually be an automatic guarantee of the
appearance of that word from the dietitian.
So a pattern is beginning to develop.
First, complete vulnerability on the part of the dietitian.
Then not complete vulnerability, but her scheme
is being foiled unwittingly by Joe Christmas.
And that word comes out again.
So it's sort of a handy, part involuntary, but part
reflexive and part handy, almost instrumental,
usage of that term.
And we'll move on now to a completely
So with the dietitian it begins with a
non-instrumentalized involuntary usage.
By the third time she uses that word, it is completely
instrumentalized and completely calculated.
And that's when the dietitian goes to the matron of the
orphanage and uses that word, "nigger," one more time.
"'How did you know about this?' The dietitian did not
look away. 'I didn't.
I had no idea at all.
Of course I knew it didn't mean anything when the other
children called him nigger.' 'Nigger?' the matron said.
'The other children?' 'They had been calling
him nigger for years.
Sometimes I think the children have a way of knowing things
that grown people of your and my age don't see.'"
Down to that little detail, 'people of your and my age.'
They actually are not the same age.
So when you have somebody using that kind of
construction, you just know that they're highly
manipulative and know exactly what they're doing.
So that little giveaway detail at the end is basically just
the icing on the cake of this racialization, this very
deliberate racialization of Joe Christmas in order to get
him sent away from the orphanage.
So the dietitian, I would say, is probably right up there, in
my mind, along with Joe Brown in terms of unlikeability.
But she is better, I think, at what she's doing.
So she succeeds in pinning that epithet on Joe Christmas.
And so this is really the first thing that we should say
about that epithet is that it is something that someone else
pins on you.
It doesn't really rule from inside you.
It is not a genetic attribute about you.
It's an attribution.
It's not an internal genetic congenital attribute.
It is an attribution that is foisted upon you.
And that is what the dietitian is doing right there.
So that is the usage of the word "nigger" on one side of
the spectrum, Joe Brown and the dietitian.
And now we'll move on to the other end of the spectrum
where there's sheer agony to use that word.
By the time the dietitian uses the word the last time, she's
actually very good at what she's doing.
It doesn't really touch her anymore.
She's completely distanced herself and therefore able to
manipulate that word.
But here is, on the other side of the spectrum, someone who
simply cannot have that distance from that word.
And so it's an agonized usage.
And this comes up in the context of a conversation
between Hightower and Byron.
And Byron is telling him about this new development--
about burning down the house, Joanna's body and so on--
but also about Christmas.
About yesterday and Christmas.
Christmas is part nigger.
About him and Brown and yesterday.' 'Part negro,'
His voice sounds light, trivial, like a thistle bloom
falling into silence without a sound, without any weight.
He does not move.
For a moment longer, he does not move.
Then there seems to come over his whole body as if its parts
were mobile like face features, that shrinking and
denial, and Byron sees that the still, flaccid, big face
is suddenly slick with sweat.
But his voice is light and calm.
'What about Christmas and Brown and yesterday?' he says.
So it is that utter disparity between the bodily gesture,
the facial expression, the bodily expression on
Hightower, and the still controlled, lightness of tone.
That is what gives Hightower away.
That not only is the possibility of Joe Christmas
being black, not only is it the most terrifying of
possibilities, but it's so terrifying that he can't
really afford to acknowledge its gravity.
So it's not just that it's just terrible, but he can't
even admit to it.
It's that double combination that suggests just how grave
the situation is.
Because Hightower knows exactly
what's going to happen.
Once the question of race comes into play, there's
probably just one outcome.
He knows it from his own personal history from what has
happened to him and to his cook, and that was really
nothing compared with this.
So it's just a terrible scenario, the endpoint of
which he can already see, and that's why he's behaving in
this particular way.
But there's also a point, kind of a division, the lightness
of tone and kind of the involuntary shrinking and
sweating and just kind of devastation
that's coming over Hightower.
It points to the doubleness of Hightower.
And I think it's worth talking about.
This is a slight digression.
But Faulkner's really very emphatic about the two faces
I think sometimes we tend to see him too much as a victim,
and certainly what's happened to him invites us to think of
him as just a victim of his neighbor's violence.
But Faulkner is empathic from beginning to
end that he is two-faced.
"His face is at once gaunt at flabby; it is as though there
were two faces, one imposed upon the other, looking out
from beneath the pale, bald skull surrounded by a fringe
of gray hair, from behind the twin motionless glare of his
Down to the twin glares of his spectacle, to an earlier
moment where everybody's coming out of the church and
the reporters were taking a picture of him, and they took
picture of him from the side.
He looks like Satan.
Down to this moment when this lightness of tone is belied by
the involuntary shrinking of his body.
Hightower seems to be the meeting place for two
And so we can also say that metaphorically, he's also the
meeting place for the goodness of strangers and the brutality
of the neighbors.
He really is a kind of unresolved meeting place for
those two cross-currents.
But right now, right there he's trying his best to
trivialize that event in saying that it really is
nothing at all.
It is of no consequence.
Coming now to Bobbie the waitress, we'll look at one
instance, another instance of someone trying to trivialize
that fact, the possibility that Joe could be black.
So this is the two of them lying in bed.
And he makes this confession.
"'I got some nigger blood in me.' Then she lay perfectly
still, with a different stillness.
But he did not seem to notice it.
He lay peacefully too, his hand slow up
and down her flank.
'You're what?' she said. 'I think I got some nigger blood
in me.' His eyes were closed, his hand slow and unceasing.
'I don't know.
I believe I have.' She did not move.
She said at once, 'You're lying.' 'All right.' he said,
not moving, his hand not ceasing.
'I don't believe it.' her voice said in the darkness."
So I think that Faulkner is going out of his way to make
this a very peaceful scenario.
So this is the equivalent of that lightness of tone that
Hightower is using when he is facing the possibility that
Joe Christmas is black.
And here, Joe Christmas is making that confession
himself, but really he doesn't know.
But all the emphasis here is on how peaceful the scene is.
He's just stroking her.
He doesn't stop when he makes that confession.
So it's as if nothing is happening.
It wants to create the illusion
that nothing is happening.
But actually, everything is happening.
So the waitress Bobbie's reaction goes along with the
pretense that this is really nothing at all.
She's not going to believe in it.
There's nothing to it.
But we also know that that takes a lot of willpower, that
that assertion, 'I don't believe it' or
there's nothing to it.
You're just imagining it.
All those statements actually take a lot of
willpower to say.
And how superficial that the assertion is becomes clear
when something else happens.
And then Bobbie uses the word nigger one more time.
This time in a completely different tone of voice.
This is much later when Joe has killed everything.
He has killed his foster father in the kitchen
And now he's going to see Bobbie one more time.
And now they know that they have to leave, that they're in
So this is a moment of duress, the equivalent of the
dietitian's duress, the equivalent
of Joe Brown's duress.
And this is what Bobbie says under duress.
"It was very much like it had been in the school house,
someone holding her as she struggled and shrieked, her
hair wild with the jerking and tossing of her head, her face,
even her mouth, in contrast with the hair, as still as a
bad mouth in a dead face.
'Bastard Son of a bitch!
Getting me into a jam, that always treated you
like a white man.
A white man!' Perhaps Joe did not hear her at all, nor the
'He told me himself he was a nigger!
The son of a bitch!
Me F-word for nothing a nigger son of a bitch that would get
me in a jam with clodhopper police.'"
So this not by design.
It is involuntary usage.
But it is telling that that's the word that always, or at
least every single one, everything single character in
Light in August would reach for.
That is the word that would come involuntarily into our
mouths when we are under duress.
It also says that no matter what good intentions we have
or how much willpower we hope to bring to bear on a
racialized situation, that that willpower is always going
to be unequal to the terrible weight, cementing weight that
comes with that word.
That every individual effort to lighten or trivialize that
epithet, every attempt to make light of it is going to fail.
This is probably another possible meaning for Light in
August that this is an attempt of various people to make
light of the phenomenon of race and not succeeding.
So Bobbie is, in that sense, not even an especially
interesting character on her own, other than as a kind of a
dramatizing, concentrated version of the sort of
involuntary reactions and involuntary usage of that word
when we ourselves are under duress.
And all this really quite marginal thing that
isn't all that marginal--
but his reaction, in many ways, is an entry point to his
But there's one person for whom the word "nigger" is
front and center, and in many ways she is more extreme to be
a generalized case.
So Faulkner uses Joanna Burden as a fairly atypical case of
thinking, very emotional response to the word "nigger."
That it's, in many ways, on the far end of the spectrum,
that nonetheless reflects on the medium, on the mean of
But she has this very extreme notion of what the word
"nigger" means, which is that it is an eternal curse, and
the context of which is the death of her grandfather and
her half-brother Calvin.
So her grandfather and her half-brother Calvin were
killed by a white person.
They were killed by Satoris.
So let's not forget that they were not
killed by a black person.
They were killed by a white person.
But this is the account that Joanna would give of the
reason why the two of them are killed.
This is what the father says to her.
"'Your grandfather and brother are lying there, murdered not
by one white man, but by the curse which God put on a whole
race before your grandfather or your brother or me or you
were ever thought of.
A race doomed and cursed to be forever and ever a part of the
white race's doom and curse for its sins.
His doom and his curse.
Forever and ever.
Yours, even though you are a child.
The curse of every white child that was born and that ever
will be born.
None can escape it."
This is about as thoroughgoing a curse as could be.
It's basically comprehensive, cover all the bases.
It covers every single member of the white race, and it goes
on for an eternity.
That curse will never go away.
So why is it that when two white people are killed by
another white person that that is the case of the curse of
the black race?
That is a really interesting bit of logic.
But Joanna's father is firmly convinced
that that is the case.
That if there had not been blacks in this world--
which actually probably would have been true--
if there had not been blacks in this world, the grandfather
and Calvin would not have been killed by Satoris.
So even though it seems like a strange kind of logic, once
you spell it out in that way, actually it is a strange, but
nonetheless truthful statement.
And this is how Joanna's interpretation of that
statement, her elaboration on that image of race as an
eternal curse on the blacks, obviously, but also on the
whites as well.
And given what her father says, this is
what she herself thinks.
"But after that I seemed to see them--" blacks-- "for the
first time not as people, but as a thing, a shadow in which
I live, we lived, all white people, all other people.
I thought of all the children coming forever and ever in the
world, white, with a black shadow already falling upon
them before they drew breath.
And I seemed to see the black shadow in
the shape of a cross.
And it seemed like the white babies were struggling, even
before they drew breath to escape from the shadow, that
was not only upon them but beneath them too, flung out
like their arms were flung out, as if they were
nailed to the cross.
I saw all the little babies that would ever be in the
world, the ones not yet even born-- a long line of them
with their arms spread, on the black cross."
So this is a modern interpretation of an entire
race being crucified.
And it turns out that according to Joanna and her
father that the dynamics of race and the legacy of slavery
is such that whites will be crucified upon the black cross
for as long as they live, for as long as they are human
beings on earth.
So it's an extravagant claim.
And it's predicated on the notion, and in some sense,
it's a summary of all that we've seen so far, which is
that the racial epithet is in fact an epithet that all of us
reach for involuntarily when we are under duress.
So it's almost a kind of psychological necessity for us
to call someone black.
That all of us as human beings, because all of us are
under duress so much of the time, there's just no way to
avoid being under duress some of the time.
Because there's such good chances for all of us to be
under duress, there also good chances for all of us to call
We just need to make that kind of attribution on someone.
And it's because of that basic human psychological need that
the relations between the races-- so-called races, even
though the membership of each one is always
going to be in flux--
but the relation between the supposed races, that relation
is always going to be fraught, always going to
be a terrible relation.
And that's why, according to Joanna, it's not just the
black shadow falling on white babies, but she actually goes
so far as to say that that shadow is
underneath them as well.
This is an incredibly detailed, all-encompassing
black shadow that basically envelops everyone.
So it's on top of you.
It's underneath you.
You arms are flung out, and it follows the shape of your
arms. Basically, it completely envelops every inch of you.
There's no escape from that black curse.
So this is really an incredible claim.
And I think that it's helpful, in order to contextualize that
claim, to think about the Burden genealogy.
I'm sure Faulkner would object to this kind of schematic
summary, but this is what we have. The Burden geneaology
starts up with someone called Nathaniel Burrington.
It's changed to Burden by Calvin Burden who has a
Huguenot Protestant wife and friends.
And then Nathaniel Burden joined his father with two
wives, the Mexican wife Juana or Joanna, and a wife from New
Hampshire who's Joanna's extra mother.
And then Calvin Burden, his son, first son killed by
Satoris along with the grandfather
and then Joanna Burden.
So this is the Burden genealogy.
And we'll see that two names are being repeated twice.
So the name Nathaniel appears twice.
And the name Calvin appears twice.
Definitely Faulkner loves to play with names.
So this is another instance of the nontrivial play with
because we all know who Calvin is, and he has everything to
say about original sin and predestination.
John Calvin right there, looking like someone who would
make that kind of statement about original sin.
And this is his treatise, Calvin, Institutes of the
And this is what he says about original sin.
"Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary
depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all
parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God's
So it doesn't really actually take the reprehensible action
of anyone for us to be liable to God's wrath, that actually
we inherit that.
The important thing is that it is hereditary.
It is passed on from one generation to another without
the volition of the person upon which it is visited and
without even necessarily any reprehensible action on whom
that original sin is visited.
It simply is something that is passed on automatically from
one generation to another.
So this a longstanding tradition of thinking about an
evil that we can't escape, that we're just involuntarily
signed up on to this legacy of evil and punishment and curse.
I would say this is Joanna's genealogy.
And this is also partly Faulkner's genealogy as well.
I wouldn't say that he's a Calvinist, but he's certainly
very, very interested in this kind of thinking, a curse that
is transmitted across time, across generations.
But there's another party to this
genealogy, Nathaniel Hawthorne.
We already have seen how important Hawthorne is.
And it turns out he really is a figure of longstanding
relevance to Faulkner.
So the Hawthorne-Faulkner connection.
We know that in The Scarlet Letter there's the Reverend
Dimsdale who commits adultery with Hester Prynne.
In As I Lay Dying, there's the Reverend Whitfield who commits
adultery with Addie.
So Whitfield, Dimsdale, and Whitfield actually making a
speech that sounds almost like Dimsdale's speech at the end
of The Scarlet Letter.
And then in Light in August, the name Nathaniel is
resurrected one more time.
It's almost as if Faulkner's just paying kind of this late
tribute to an author who's been very, very
important to him.
And so given the fact that the Hawthorne connection is
actually a connection by way of The Scarlet Letter, which
is, in some sense, a novel not just about sin, some kind of
sin, past sin that Dimsdale certainly can't shake off and
maybe Hester can't shake off either, a sin that will stick
to you and follow you wherever you go.
It's not only just about that, but it's also about sexual
depravity or sexual license to some extent, even though that
is not represented at all in The Scarlet Letter and not
really represented in any details.
In both those novels, in both The Scarlet Letter and As I
Lay Dying, the sexual license is only gestured at.
We know the outcome of that elicit sexuality in the sense
that we see Hester's illegitimate daughter Pearl in
The Scarlet Letter, and we see Addie's illegitimate son
Jewel, and there's also a connection between Pearl and
Jewel as well.
We see Addie's illegitimate son Jewel in As I Lay Dying.
But in both those novels the sexual license is not really
It's not part of the novel.
In Light in August, actually we do see that sexual license
front and center.
And what makes this even more complicated is that it's
mapped onto the platform of race.
So it is the weird combination of belief in Calvinist
original sin coupled with sexual wildness on the part of
And that is when the word "negro" comes up.
This is yet another of the licentious context for the use
of the word "negro."
"Now and then she appointed trysts beneath certain shrubs
about the grounds, where he would find her naked or with
her clothing half torn to ribbons upon her in the wild
throes of nymphomania, her body gleaming in the slow
shifting from one to another of such formally erotic
attitudes and gestures as a Beardsley of the time of
Petronius might have drawn.
She would be wild then, in the close, breathing halfdark
without walls, with her wild hair, each strand of which
would seem to come alive like octopus tentacles, and her
wild hands and her breathing, 'Negro!
So it might seem incomprehensible that someone
like Joanna Burden spends all her time trying to help blacks
in the south, who is the on the board of dozen charities
and black schools--
basically has dedicated her entire life to racial uplift--
should be doing this.
But I think that it actually is, I think that as far as
Faulkner is concerned, this incredible sexual license
actually goes hand in hand with a belief in Calvinist
If you really believe that you are going to be stuck with
original sin, that that is going to be upon you, that
black shadow is going to be upon you no matter what you
do, then it doesn't really matter what you do.
It is a weird kind of granting of license.
That if you're going to be evil anyway, no matter what
you do, then you might as well actually be evil in your
conduct as well.
There's something of that logic.
But I don't even think that it's as logical as that.
For Faulkner, it's just the two sides of Joanna.
And maybe just as Hightower has two faces, Joanna clearly
has two faces, and the whole tradition, Calvinist
tradition, also has two faces.
And that is really Faulkner's contribution to thinking about
this particular kind of theology.
But we also notice is that Faulkner tends to stick in all
kinds of weird details into this otherwise just kind of
full-dressed description of sexual license
on the part of Joanna.
He also has weird kind of references to two other
One is Beardsley and the other is Petronius.
So this is Beardsley, the famous
illustrator, Aubrey Beardsley.
This is Salome, showing human beings in this kind of very
erotic and wild gestures.
This is another illustration for Oscar Wilde's Salome.
And as for Petronius, this is actually not quite a novel.
This is sort of a beginning of a novel --
Petronius, the writer of Satyricon.
The reason that it's related to the Faulkner novels often,
especially Light in August, is that this early novel is about
two foreigners with Greek-sounding names,
Encolpius and Giton in Southern Italy.
So this is the first instance of northerners going south.
Not quite Yankees going south to
Mississippi, but similar dynamics.
And Joanna and her father and the whole family knows that
they're hated as Yankees and carpetbaggers as
we've seen last time.
So the whole dynamics of people from one region going
south and being hated by the locals.
But in this case, there's this additional complication.
That this is a very cold northerner going to the hot
south, and in some instances, being heated up by that
But basically staying cold and hot.
So this is the pendulum swing of Joanna from that incredible
sexual license to the other side.
And she also, interestingly enough, she also uses the word
"negro" in that context when she swings to the other side.
"She was sitting quite still on the bed, her hands on her
lap, her still New England face (it was still the face of
a spinster, prominently boned, long, a little thin, almost
manlike; in contrast to it her plump body was more richly and
softly animal than ever) lowered.
She said in a tone musing, detached,
impersonal, 'A full measure.
Even to a bastard negro child.
I would like to see father's and Calvin's faces.'"
The syntax I think is very interesting, that what is in
the parentheses, the still face of the spinster and then
the animal body, are kind of a perfect summary of the two
sides of Joanna.
Even for Faulkner, it's very ungainly syntax
or deliberate syntax.
And then that last part of that, the bastard negro child.
And is not accidental that this is the moment where
suddenly she's invoking Calvin.
I would like to see father Nathaniel's face
and Calvin's face.
This is almost as if this is the new twentieth century
edition to The Scarlet Letter and the new twentieth century
edition to the longstanding theology of Calvin.
That this is what happens when you inherit from those two
traditions is that you both do good by
supposedly helping blacks.
But then you also engage in this uncontrollable sexual
orgy with them.
And the bastard negro child is this kind of also involuntary
outcome of the union of those two sides.
And so it's sort of easy to see why Joanna is not going to
be an easy person for Joe Christmas to deal with.
Anyone would have a hard time trying to negotiate, trying to
deal with someone like that.
And Joe Christmas' response is like this.
At this point, Joanna wants him to go to school.
Wants him to study law with a black lawyer and wants to turn
over all her funds, all the money that she has.
And it's not insignificant.
She wants to turn over all the money to him,
and this is his response.
"'To school.' his mouth said. 'A nigger school.
Then you can go to Memphis.
You can read law in Peebles' office.
He will teach you law.' 'And then learn law in the office
of a nigger lawyer,' his mouth said.
Then I will turn over all the business to
you, all the money.
All of it.
So that when you need money for yourself, you could...
you would know how; lawyers know how to do it so they...
You would be helping them out of darkness and none could
accuse or blame you even if they found out.' 'But a nigger
college, a nigger lawyer,' his voice said, quiet, not even
argumentative; just promptive.
They were not looking at one another; she had not looked up
since he entered.
'Tell them,' she said.
'Tell niggers that I'm a nigger too?'"
Especially this is a moment when Joanna is both completely
tone deaf, but also just an incredibly sad person.
That this is the best she can do for him.
She's too embarrassed.
She's trying to bribe him as well.
She's trying to say I'm going to turn over all
the money to you.
And it really doesn't matter if you study law.
You know how to use the money for your pleasure, really.
She can't really bring herself to say that word.
She wants to do the most for him.
And she will not admit to it.
She would not name what she's turning over to him.
So all the ellipses of those unfinished sentences.
She's both tone deaf, but also actually at the maximum point
of goodwill and love maybe even towards him, wanting to
do the most for him.
And his way of responding is by being totally ironic about
the word "nigger" and obviously about her as well.
So I think that we can say when the word "nigger" is used
in that context, it's also a moment of
That maybe he just even can't bear to acknowledge the fact
that she wants to do so much for him.
I think that that would be one way to read that.
That this is actually not a moment when there's no love
felt or that that romance is over.
It's not that.
But that maybe it's too much.
And that the way that he's responding to that is by being
totally cynical, satirical and ironic about the whole thing.
So this scene is really open to any number of readings.
All we know that it is definitely not an innocent
word when it's used by oneself.
That it is as charged and as painful to use as when it is
attributed to oneself by other people.
福克納的八月之光-2 (24. Faulkner, Light in August (continued))
發佈於 2015 年 2 月 2 日
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