Writers Reading: The Sound and The Fury

Currently, I’ve been spending my time marveling over The Sound And The Fury’s form. The novel’s structure attempts to show the fluid temporality within a character’s stream-of-consciousness. In this gesture it is a modernist novel of the highest order. The narrative centers on the children of the Compson family, specifically Benjy, Caddy, Quentin, and Jason, told from multiple first-person narrators who’s present, past, and future transitions by means of association—whether by homophones, recurring images, double entendre, et cetera.

Circumventing the hoary literary device of a flashback—which is tantamount to a contradiction since the author has to represent the past by making it present for the reader—rather, Faulkner jump-cuts from past-to-present in a paragraph to even mid-sentence. The character’s memories brood beneath the text appearing as a line of a dialogue, a simple detail, even just a name or a word, intruding in a moment when the narrator’s language happens to refer to multiple layers of meaning.

In case you’re interested, this self-referential dimension of language is, in my opinion, the bridge between modernism and post-modernism not only in literature but in philosophy—it’s sometimes coined as “the linguistic turn” although it gets a lot more complicated. Language becomes the screen that “mediates” our experience whereby philosophy becomes obsessed with hermeneutics and literary criticism.

So if you’re wondering for instance why avant-garde fiction is terrible or strange or abstruse—or why you just dislike David Foster Wallace’s fiction—this is essentially the problematic most contemporary fiction writers choose to deal with or just ignore entirely.

But as a fledgling fiction writer, there are benefits for acquiring such an understanding. Faulkner demonstrates the infinite capabilities language holds for writers who are seeking to tell stories in new forms. Faulkner breaks every conventional rule in shifting through time in The Sound and The Fury which is what makes it simultaneously instructive, fascinating, and perplexing.