Lineage and Faulkner

April 14, 2012

I just finished re-reading Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and was struck again by the beauty of the language, the uncanniness of characters and the fluidity and the multi-directionality of Time’s arrow.

And we’d sit in the dry leaves that whispered a little with the slow respiration of our waiting and with the slow breathing of the earth and the windless October, the rank smell of the lantern fouling the brittle air, listening to the dogs and to the echo of Louis’ voice dying away. He never raised it, yet on a still night we have heard it from our front porch. When he called the dogs in he sounded just like the horn he carried slung on his shoulder and never used, but clearer, mellower, as though his voice were a part of darkness and silence, coiling out of it, coiling into it again. 

Steven at Faulkner's Rowan Oak residence

That is beautiful stuff…

Deeply woven into the gorgeous prose of this book is the one central leitmotiv: dissolution. Whether it is under the weight of history, prosaic greed, a longing for a chivalric code  that doesn’t exist anymore, all of the major characters (except, notably, one) are borne off on the tides of time into nothingness.

The lone exception is Dilsey. The true matriarch of the family, and the witness to the generations of madness that culminate over the roughly twenty years chronicled in the novel in Quentin’s suicide, Caddy’s promiscuity, Benjy’s institutionalization, and Jason’s financial ruin. It is Dilsey we see caring for the “idiot” Benjy (most memorably in the church sermon scene toward the end of the book); making sure that Caddy’s illegitimate daughter, Quentin, is not harmed by Jason, and taking over the role of “mother” for the white and black families described in the book.

In an appendix that Faulkner wrote 16 years after the original publication of the novel, he explains what

Faulkner Statue - Oxford, MS

happened to the major characters, a sort of Where Are They Now reckoning. The explications are of varying lengths, pages for the Compson children, paragraphs for Dilsey’s kin. For Dilsey herself, there is only her name followed by a period then a new paragraph consisting of They endured. 

There are many readers who believe that They endured is Dilsey’s epitaph, that this denotation describes her adamantine nature; that she is, indeed, a force of nature. I think the reality is different. I think that her epitaph is the period itself. For the Compson family and this bit of Mississippi history, Dilsey is not only adamantine, but also inevitable. She is a part of the Compson experience, the family history. But there is also the sense that she transcends the purely personal evocation to become a symbol of the steadfastness that outlasts the emotionality of the family  saga, the region’s history, and the region itself . Only she, among the time-lost, lost-to-time Compsons rises above the temporal; she is a fixed pin in the flow of time; a maternal symbol, Mother Earth herself. Dilsey is ineluctably connected to her place and time. Her presence is so necessary that the place and time would cease to exist without her.

Faulkner - a fan of Burgundy

Because I have the blessing and curse to reduce practically every encounter to how it informs my chosen passion, it in the character of Dilsey that I see Lineage, my flagship blend. The great brands…the Bordeaux First Growths, Grange from Australia, Harlan Estate and Ridge Montebello from California have achieved – through their longevity and quality – a certain inevitability that transcends individual vintages, maybe even transcends “wine” itself. They belong to the great flow of Time now. This is my goal for Lineage…that it both overcomes and belittles my desires for it…that it becomes meaning itself.