Absalom, Absalom!: “Fluid Cradle of Events (Time)”

(This essay appeared in The Faulkner Journal 6.2 (1991, published Winter 1993): 65-84.

Discussing The Sound and the Fury in 1939, Sartre wrote that Faulkner “decapitated time,” cut off its future. That left a perforated present (“it is full of holes”) into which there drifted a ghostlike past. “The present does not exist, it becomes; everything was.” “At every instant we draw a line, since the present is nothing but disordered rumor, a future already past” (227-28). Citing Heidegger, he chided Faulkner for that phrase of his, “man is the sum of . . . ,” for man summed up is bereft of his potentiality, his not-yet, his might-yet: his hope. Faulkner’s disturbing vision is a distortion owing to his flawed metaphysics of time. The essay on time does not mention Absalom Absalom!

John T. Irwin gives a more recent extended treatment of time in Faulkner, discussing temporality in the Oedipal relationships he identifies, especially in Absalom, Absalom! and The Sound and the Fury, where Quentin and the others are “doomed” to the circle or cycle of time, or rather to “the debilitating sense that time is a circular street and recollection is prophecy” (70; emphasis mine). Giving a Freudian turn to the notion of time, and routing through a couple of Stevens’s lines (81), Irwin arrives at Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence (or Aristotle’s nun): “The essence of time is that it has its being by always becoming, it is by always ceasing to be, it is the same by always being different.” The disappointing aspect of the definition to my mind is that it reifies time even while revising the meaning of being. In Irwin’s analysis of repetition and memory as they operate in the Oedipal triangle and in his application of the method to Faulkner’s works, Aristotelian time goes unchallenged; tear off the hands of the clock though Quentin may, he cannot arrest time’s progress, divert its direction, negate its negation. Time passes, linear, objective; what changes in Irwin’s study is the configuration of the interplay of mind, memory, and imagination as doubling and incest, repetition and revenge.

If Faulkner did not read Henri Bergson, he listened to others who did (Minter 48). In any case, some of Bergson’s notions of matter and memory are positively helpful in articulating Faulkner’s treatment of them in Absalom—for example, the separation of memory and mind (the ineffectuality, indeed irrelevance, of the mind or spirit or soul is a motif in the novel); the unity, or union, of memory and matter (see, e.g., the passage in which Rosa asserts that there is no memory but that “the substance of remembering” is “the muscles with which we see and hear and feel” [178]); see the constant availability of the totality of memory and the possibility of “living” there—Ellen’s illusory existence as the extreme case; Bon’s unrealistic appeal to the others as the most compelling force of the kind; the story’s hold on, say, Quentin or on us as the fundamental problem of the novel and the most salient case of all). Most important to my project here are Bergson’s notion of time as pure heterogeneity—as qualitative, not quantitative, change—and his discussion of duration and endurance.

There is no indication that Faulkner had any direct knowledge of Martin Heidegger’s philosophical configuration of temporality. Paul Ricoeur’s study Time and Narrative, which addresses systematically the problems I shall encounter below, makes selective use of Heidegger’s elaboration of time in Being and Time and The Basic Problems of Phenomenology to develop his thesis “that the poetics of narrativity responds and corresponds to the aporetics of temporality” (1: 84).1 In an early issue of this journal Bernhard Radloff, using Heidegger’s structures of temporality from Being and Time, analyzed time in The Sound and the Fury, offering it as a mirror image of the “temporality of reading” by which the reader “performs the fictional world” of the text (1: 57). I too shall carry a quantity of Heidegger’s thought with me in my foray into time and narrative in Absalom, Absalom!. Some characteristics of temporality, which I prefer to cite from Time and Being, may set a stage for the work below. Here time, though futural and irreversible, is not sequential; the three extases (present, past, future) play, interplay, in a temporality more phenomenologically comprehensive than Bergson’s notion of time as duration and heterogeneity and freedom, his differentiation and dissociation of time and space. In Heidegger the past remains, in its way, in the present: “that which is no longer present presences immediately in its absence—in the manner of what has been, and still concerns us.” The future also is present in our concern: “what is not yet present . . . is present no less immediately than what has been” (13). Heidegger designates the interplay itself as the fourth dimension of time, “the true extending playing in the very heart of time,” and calls it the Appropriation or Ereignis. The “event” of Appropriation opens up time-space as it denies (and preserves) what has been and withholds (and preserves) what is approaching. Meanwhile the distinctive character of this Ereignis, this “giving,” which extends the three dimensions toward each other while it holds them apart, Heidegger identifies as “nearing nearness, nearhood (Nahheit)” (15). The interplay of present, past, and future, this “playing in the very heart of time,” is at the same time the denying or withholding of what is being offered and extended: nearness. This is a provocative suggestion, awakening time from its dream of abstract or theoretic calculability to an as-yet unspeakable because unthinkable possibility as founder, or giver, of all that is said and thought, and, even more fundamentally, of all that matters, of all as it matters, or, perhaps, of all because it matters or because of mattering. Heidegger’s idea will not be explored here, but the potentialities it urges enable and encourage the exploration of the bewildering presentation of time that we find in Faulkner’s experiments in Absalom, Absalom!

If we ask how the novel presents time in itself, objective time, the answer is that it does not. Objective time is not missing from the novel— there are enough facts of datable history and of verifiable astronomical, meteorological, and climatalogical change, enough ordinary (if unreliable)2 indicators of calendar and clock time—but it is not objective. Time, fractured and “confused,” disjointed and rearranged, conjectural or experiential, “exists” in the novel as a human structure; not as a construction by humans but as a structure of the human, in which we find, shall we say, a “confusion” of what we call past, present, and future. Ricoeur (vol. 2) surveys and analyzes linguistic studies in which “lived time” is different from linguistic time (i.e., the present, past, and future in assertion or narration) and linguistic time is secondary to objective time. Ricoeur argues that the temporal “experience” (“lived time”) which lies prior and posterior to linguistic structuration is primordial, that so-called objective time is secondary to it. I shall not argue the case here, but giving human temporality the benefit of the doubt, shall peruse Faulkner’s novel for its treatment of time without prejudging its “subjectivity.” I find a “modern” structuration of temporality—we have learned to recognize the measureless arhythm of “modernity.” Faulkner is “modern” when he renders time as an arbitrary clustering of groundless multi-inter-ruptions.

In the beginning is the end: Sutpen’s story is summarized on p. 13. The summary is incomplete (there is the midnight drive out to what remains of Sutpen’s domain before the apocalyptic cataclysm), but then the story will not be finished even when the novel is finished, since the book’s sequel, The Sound and the Fury, will carry it on (though that novel’s publication has preceded this one’s by almost a decade). This dis-order is appropriate to the temporal schematic in this novel, since the ending leads, invades, intervenes, usurps the story throughout. In the beginning and everywhere else is the end.

That is, in the opening pages Miss Rosa evokes the ghost of Sutpen’s story, the problem in a figure: Sutpen and his domain (11-13); then from Quentin’s own plural consciousness arises the story, i.e., the stories, already settled into inconclusive past time—the opening pages reminiscent, in this work that continually recalls the ghost of Hamlet’s story, of the pantomime that precedes the tragedy Hamlet has rigged for the king. A mirror for the novel as a whole: from indefatigable recapitulation to indeterminable denouement.

But it was Rosa who set the story off in reverse—Rosa, who tells time from the future:

as though she actually had some intimation gained from that rapport with the fluid cradle of events (time) which she had acquired or cultivated by listening beyond closed doors not to what she heard there but by becoming supine and receptive, incapable of either discrimination or opinion or incredulity, to the prefever’s temperature of disaster which makes soothsayers and sometimes makes them right, and of the future catastrophe. . . .(79)

Doubtless Rosa is a special case: the embattled, embittered old-maid poetess, a sensibility stunted, biased and effuse, another incredible Cassandra. However, this characterization of Rosa and of time implicates not only Rosa’s sensibility, but Mr. Compson’s, for it is rendered in his voice (Chapter II). If we remember his voice from (the future) The Sound and the Fury, we recognize the bitter inflection given the ancient oracle. Time is “the fluid cradle of events,” a figure suggesting that time (1) shall be fluid: plastic, unfixed, unstable, while it (2) shall cradle, i.e., hold, secure; shall encircle or embrace. Time: the inclusive flux of what has happened, happens, will happen. Yet there is something contradictory if not perverse about an unstable cradle, about a “cradle” of disaster, of catastrophe.

Rosa is Mr. Compson’s modern seer, psychologically disturbed, at odds, outside the flux listening in, telling Quentin what he knows she “wants told.” Her narrative, starting out from her outrage (11-12), returns to her history—that nonchildhood where she haunted the often-cited “womblike corridors” (202) beyond the closed doors, learning listening.3 What she heard, says Mr. Compson, was the temperature of the prefever of disaster and catastrophe. What will happen later is already available to the senses, at least to Rosa’s; the future can be “received” in the present, though it “is” not yet. Something Rosa listens in to, call it time—events preceding themselves, as symptoms of themselves—bears a relation to the human; in fact, according to Miss Rosa or Mr. Compson its attitude is retributive or indifferent. Subjectivity in either case, we say, setting it aside. Still, since today so-called objective time is undergoing radical redefinition, the phenomenon inscribed according to Faulkner’s relatively untutored or uncorrected perception of it (his listening-in to it), may discover some points of interest. To proceed, then: telling time from the future is not the prerogative of Rosa or of Mr. Compson. As we shall see, it is endemic to the novel and comprehensive.

The principle works at several levels. There are what appear to be technical difficulties, as when a stray fact wanders in from the future:
Quentin, telling Shreve what his father told him (that his father told him that Sutpen told him about what he remembered about his childhood—time is stretching back or expanding to recover an origin), has it that the Sutpens fell from the mountains of West Virginia back to the place where the first Sutpens had probably touched shore near Jamestown (278). But, Shreve remonstrates, West Virginia was not a state in 1808; in fact, not only was West Virginia not a state in 1808 at about the time Sutpen was born, but it would not be a state for another thirty years when Sutpen, at age twenty-five or so, told the story. “All right all right all right,” Quentin eventually concedes, pausing to acknowledge the error without relinquishing it, diverting through the future without changing course.

Or consider this more subtle futural invasion. Chapter 11 opens upon the “summer of wistaria,” upon Quentin and his father “as they sat on the front gallery after supper until it would be time for Quentin to start” (my emphasis; not “until it was time”)—the first hint in the language of the chapter that the narration is moving in a circle. It is the summer of wistaria and of Quentin’s father’s cigar, the odor of which “five months later Mr. Compson’s letter would carry up from Mississippi . . . into Quentin’s sitting-room at Harvard” (34). The flashforward device is a convention of fiction; the narrator, omniscient, scatters light in whatever direction he chooses.

The language drifts softly about the present, the twilight, pipesmoke, wafts gently into the future in the phrases I am pointing out, and turns back into the past, or turns the past back into the present, whichever stories do. At any rate, we note the “presence” of the future, as well as the past. That there is more at stake here than temporal or psychological coherence we may establish by looking ahead to Cambridge when the scent arrives as promised (217), bringing along with it the twilight (and the fireflies, as well):

Then on the table before Quentin, lying on the open text book beneath the lamp, the white oblong of envelope, the familiar blurred mechanical Jefferson Jan 10 1910 Miss and then, opened, the My dear son in his father’s sloped fine hand out of that dead dusty summer where he had prepared for Harvard so that his father’s hand could lie on a strange lamplit table in Cambridge. (217; emphasis in last phrase mine)

The letter is dated January 1910, but the narrator places its genesis in the preceding summer (places it there not in time but in place: “that summer where”) along with a retrospective purpose. A kind of reciprocal causal relationship is indicated between the summer of wistaria “where” Quentin prepared for Harvard (past) and the unread letter on the table (present); that is, it is/will be what happens later (the letter) that determines the purpose of what happened earlier (summer). More is indicated in the relation than Mr. Compson’s abstract design or logic and its issue (sending Quentin to Harvard to extend his own “hand”), though that cause-to-effect is fundamental. Mr. Compson’s abstract purpose, his intention, e.g., his letter, does not work literally to cause. That is, the effect of the letter will be far more than its express content or intention; unread until the end (read then when reading it is literally impossible; see Edgar A. Dryden’s provocative reading of this point, 158ff), its non-literal “content” or effect or presence will have precipitated the second half of the nove1.4

The multi-dimensional aspect of the reciprocation between Mississippi summer and Cambridge winter, between father’s purpose and son’s experience and vice versa, is neither strictly causal nor expository but, call it, temporal; the letter exceeds its own present (winter—even in Mississippi wistaria does not bloom in January), expands into and issues from the preceding summer (past): as the summer, according to the narrator’s prediction, exceeded its own present to anticipate, even incorporate, the future. But, we may object, to the omniscient narrator the future is as present as the past; time is all one, afterwards (or beforehand). John Irwin has pointed out that in Faulkner the present repeats the past as it circles round according to fate or the “will of time,” that avenger (59 ff). Ricoeur argues that this aspect of narrative, which Gerard Genette called its “retrospectively synthetic character,” belongs to “the set of temporal strategies” by which fiction may articulate a new conception of time.5 We may take the present intrusion of the future letter carrying the future-perfect pipesmoke to belong to conventional poetics of the novel or to the thematic, or we may (as I shall) with equal confidence consider it among the clues to an elaborate schematic of unorthodox temporality.

The temporal-causal reciprocity noted above offers in miniature the interrelationship we find between Absalom, Absalom! and The Sound and the Fury, that relationship not analogous to but continuous with this one. From his introduction in the opening pages of this novel, we read Quentin from the futural perspective of his fastidious suicide in the former one; it is thus that we recognize or remember in some futural sense the point where he is “stopped” here; i.e., the point where “innocence” or “the logic of morality” brings love into checkmate. If there is a primary Absalom in this novel, it is Quentin, the one (to-be-) lost son “present” in the novel, the one living in the novel’s “present,” the one in whom the problems of the others converge. If there is a primary motif, it is the abnegation of the father, the misbegotten paternal design gone awry. Mr. Compson’s “design,” we think back into the future to recall, is/was/will-be to sacrifice Benjy’s pasture (present) and Jason’s legacy (future) in order to send Quentin to Harvard and to buy Caddy a wedding. A comparison of Mr. Compson’s design with Sutpen’s, of Quentin’s (pending) rejection and renunciation of his father’s design with Henry’s, discovers a similar regular declension from the father’s (fathers’) “impotent logic and morality” (279) to its baffling dissolution and annihilation in the son’s (sons’). The Compson father-son problem motivates this novel, is illuminated though it is not articulated here (Irwin has made the case [73ff]; Peter Brooks argues otherwise).

We find it sleeping in the passage we are reading as it continues:

. . . that dead summer twilight—the wistaria, the cigar-smell, the fireflies—attenuated up from Mississippi. . . .—the letter bringing with it that very September evening itself . . .—that very September evening when Mr. Compson stopped talking at last, he (Quentin) walked out of his father’s talking at last because it was now time to go, not because he had heard it all because he had not been listening, since he had something which he still was unable to pass: that door, that . . . youthful face . . . , the sister facing him across the wedding dress which she was not to use . . . . (217-18)

We ponder from his future this sullen Quentin, brooding over his father’s open, unread letter, the letter obscuring the open, unread text book, both of them, read or not, emitting the same “code” (349-50), which directs Quentin’s version of the Sutpen story toward the father’s betrayal, diverts his course toward The Sound and the Fury.

Now we are doing it—listening into the future for the temperature to set our clock by. Quentin in the present, not reading the letter, involving himself in the past which the letter brings along, is repeating the future. Past and future interpenetrating in the present, neither mirror nor cause to each other but reciprocal repetition, recapitulation, exchange, interchange—in the present, where events “are,” i.e., “happen.” This is not Irwin’s analysis of repetition as a concept, but Faulkner’s uncanny schematic of time.

Though our lure has drawn something from the deeps, we withdraw it again and, neglecting for the moment several temporal surprises in this passage, we skip to the last chapter to note another typical futural aberration. Particular details that belong in the future show up in the story’s present time: “There would be no deep breathing tonight . . . soon the chimes would ring for midnight, the notes melodious and tranquil, faint and clear as glass in the fierce (it had quit snowing) still air” (366). This sound of the bells is not simply their anticipated customary ringing. Instead the narrator is describing the very sound that the chimes will make later tonight, “faint and clear as glass in the fierce still air” owing to a particular climatic condition, i.e., “it has already quit snowing” at the moment of the preternatural prediction. It is not Quentin whose memory or meteorology is questionable this time, but the narrator, our best hope of veridicality, and we take these bells for “fact,” not speculation, belonging to his special out-of-time omniscience. However, we cannot suppress a “double-take”; since the syntax expresses the temporal anomaly, brings it to our attention as it continues on all sides to express others, we cannot fail to notice that once again the “future” is showing up in the “present,” opening up a dimension there which deepens the sense or the significance—or the “reality”—of the “present” moment.

The circle of temporality is drawn more elaborately in a nearby passage where, the narrator tells us, Quentin-and-Shreve are thinking

. . . how after the father spoke and before what he said stopped being shock and began to make sense, the son would recall later how he had seen through the window beyond his father’s head the sister and the lover in the garden, pacing slowly. . . . (368)

The interval of shock is not named in itself but in terms of the before-and-after frame of other events: the father speaking, the shock of what he said stopping and becoming sense. Shock is the empty space between—yet not empty, since it is in this interim that Henry is seeing the lovers “pacing slowly.” Further, the view of the lovers pacing is not presented as it occurs in time, that is, at the same time that the father and son are talking, but it is purchased by coming back from the future through recollection (“Henry would recall later how he had seen”). Two kinds of time are occurring or are being experienced at once: time collapse or release and time in slow motion. (1) We have an interval of time that suspends “telling time” until afterward, since it is the aporia itself that will define the interval for what it is. (2) At “one time” and in one and the same sensibility, time is “happening” at two tempos. Time is not of a piece, integral, or continuous, then. Time is “occurring,” however, not in theory but in experience. We shall see that “experience” as storytelling splits human sensibility horizontally, from generation to generation, though the stories intermingle freely, but in this case it is split vertically, split apart from itself, without compromise to either experience.

In the first instance we can say that one effect of the futural approach to the present is loss of immediacy, the substitution of memory for presence. Or we can say that the effect is to gain a different sense of immediacy, of “presence,” the “present,” giving over the ordinary sense of time as the regular “passing” of time—the irresistible, invariable rhythm of the passage and progress of discrete, undifferentiable nows—for a sense of the present as a sort of (non-spatial) place into which the future draws (or pushes) the past. In the narrative, time is not serial or simple; it is not regular or predictable in its rate or mode of “passing.” Its span of duration, the unit of time, is defined according to an afterward, a future, cooperating to move or motivate the present as though from behind, preempting “cause.” (Compare Rosa’s 43-year outrage, the duration having extended year by year, against that “destiny” she doted on to define the interim and its significance.) Time is less a conveyor belt than a wheel—or dynamo.

In the second instance, where time is operating at two rates “at the same time,” it may be argued that shock is what Henry may be supposed to experience, slow time what he observes and will remember having noted. A single sensibility is absorbed in one experience while it registers another which, preserved in the memory, will become available for placing in time later. But according to Quentin-and-Shreve, this “observation” is more than simple perception: it observes the lovers pacing “slowly on in that rhythm which not the eyes but the heart marks and calls the beat and measure for” (368). We are familiar with the Faulkner penchant for providing the words for his characters’ inchoate sensibilities; Vardaman is the ultimate case. But it is not necessary therefore to subtract the articulated sensibilities from the characters, nor in this case to rob Henry’s memory of the narrator’s interpretation. Foregrounding one experience in respect to another, differentiating and prioritizing, we do not alter the case: two experiences and/or impressions of time, simultaneous, differ in their “timing.” Human time is different from clocktime; it is different from itself as well. When time is not time—regular measurement of regular intervals—when time in one case is incommensurate with time in another, what does “time” mean?

And what is the temporal meaning of shock? Consider another example: Sutpen as a boy, warned by “the Negro” at the white man’s house to go to the back door, stunned with sudden recognition: “rushing back through those two years and seeing a dozen things that had happened and he hadn’t even seen them before” (287). In the case above shock obscured everything momentarily, though later Henry would recall the lovers he had been aware of, unawares, in the garden; in the second case, however, Sutpen will not remember later what the shock displaced, what the Negro actually said to him at the door; what he will remember is that in a brief, indeterminable space of time he was sent hurtling back through the previous two years which the shock all-at-once illuminated. This shock has a modified effect, displacing perception in time rather than sharing it. And this shock does not cancel its share of time (awareness); rather it concentrates it: in the past.

Now we can compare Sutpen’s memory to Henry’s; the memory has worked similarly in both cases to preserve so-called unconscious experience. What young Sutpen “hadn’t even seen before” his memory (we presume) has recorded and preserved—three pages of telling impressions in intimate detail. Similarly, the impressions later become available for review, reinterpretation. Now, we may muse more broadly, the “content” of this novel as a whole, the story it tells, consists of the stuff of “memory”; such stuff is unraveled in time, in its own time as well as the storyteller’s time (the relays are legion and extend to our own time). The memory condenses or expands its contents, strangely enough, losing touch with clocktime with no loss of temporality, holding its content continually available to present time. When the content of memory (the past) is admitted into the present, what time is it?

The problem of temporality is complicated and extended by a (non-) spatial problem. The problem of the spacing or placing of time asserts itself in the novel, is emphasized and exaggerated there—the experiment is implicit and explicit. Times occur on top of each other or in layers. I do not mean the avatars, the fathers and sons, for example, in perpetual and reciprocal recapitulation, for we are used to assigning repetitions such as these their causal genealogies, and it will be only when, say, Shreve (1909) intervenes between the “air” and the honeysuckle at Sutpen’s Hundred (1849, below) that time will become an issue. The spatial issue asserting itself here is that the “present,” more or less ignored, is not only determined and sometimes altered as it is in some sense preceded by the future (and in a complex multiplicity of ways), but it is primarily occupied by or preoccupied with the past—not a simple or single past, but multiple, interconnecting and interrelating pasts. When is the story? Consider, for example, Rosa’s Sutpen story, stamped and embellished in outrage. Or reconsider the passage cited above (368) in which the narrator (layer 1), presenting time in the novel as though from outside it (time), gives an account of (2) the “thinking” of the boys, in the novel’s present time, in which we find, not (3) the experience of Henry in Mississippi in 1860, including (4) his memory-interpretation, as the boys have it, his detour through a future memory to reach part of the experience, but (and from this point I decline to enumerate) Quentin-Shreve’s version of it, available to them in the dormitory room in Massachusetts in 1910 only (or so we are used to think) from Quentin’s memory (and, we presume, Shreve’s from a version, at least partial, that Quentin has previously given him) of what Miss Rosa and his father have told him (of what they remembered or remembered being told—by Quentin’s grandfather, for example, or his grandmother or people in the town or by Sutpen himself telling what he remembered or what, so he said on one occasion, anybody with good whiskey could have told). The layers of time are neither separate nor combined, but they are recombinant, mixing, filtering, infiltrating—changing—each other. For example, as the narrative continues the narrator will critique the boys’ interpretation (they were probably right, he will say), as they will critique (and correct) Mr. Compson’s; the narrator has added the character Shreve to the story perhaps as expediently as Shreve has added the lawyer (or as desperately or extravagantly as Judith has sought out Quentin’s grandmother), and at least in the case of the boys we see that inspiration can alter the story substantially, as when they give the war wound, which in previous iterations was Bon’s, to Henry. Or, again, the narrator from his perspective of inclusive time has impregnated the present with the future, to what issue we are trying to determine, as we see Quentin-Shreve remember Henry’s future into their account, with the extraordinary implications we are perusing.

An effect, then, of approaching the present from the future through the past is expansion—of context and dimension and significance (Richard Poirier calls it “retroactive distortions,” in Rosa’s case [24]; Irwin calls it creating one’s predecessors, in Quentin’s [35]; Radloff calls it the “priority of the rhetorical heritage of the characters over their individual speculations and particular points of view,” citing “the ontological priority of language over the ‘subject’” [Heidegger 46]). The boys’ version, like each former account, essentially recreates the event of the story. Shreve and Quentin have appropriated this story (or vice versa), rejecting or inventing or substituting events and characters at will (theirs or the story’s), to new purpose (theirs or the story’s). Compare Mr. Compson’s account or Miss Rosa’s. In the passage above, the boys have revised Sutpen’s confession and admonition (“he is your brother”) as they have redirected the whole story; the love and grief and tragedy, which for Miss Rosa attached to the lovers and for Mr. Compson belonged to the brothers, are laid this time at the feet of the father, the “bloody mischancing” now accruing to the son’s (sons’) “dreadful need” (396), “fearful intensity of need” (409), in their “embattlement” with the “incontrovertible fact” (420) of the father’s “ambiguous eluded dark fatherhead” (373).

If appropriating the past from the standpoint of the future contracts or condenses all aspects of time into the space of the present, consider the dimensions of that space in the following passage (continuing from a previous citation); Quentin-and-Shreve are reconstructing the scene in the garden:

. . . the sister and the lover in the garden, pacing slowly . . . on in that rhythm which not the eyes but the heart marks . . . to disappear slowly beyond some bush or shrub starred with white bloom—jasmine, spiraea, honeysuckle, perhaps myriad scentless unpickable Cherokee roses—names, blooms which Shreve possibly had never heard and never seen although the air had blown over him first which became tempered to nourish them. (368; my emphasis)

The violations of fact discussed in the text, such as that Shreve is inventing “actual” flowers he has never seen or heard of, or that it would have been winter in Mississippi, or that perhaps the whole episode is doubtful, may be charged to the stereotypical (youthful) “thinking” of the boys. But in the last phrase, not attributed to the boys’ thinking, the narrator has it that the air blew over Shreve in Canada (aged 19 in 1909) before it passed gentling into the South in about 1849. Time, in some arche-sense, ignoring and overriding the dispensations or segmentations we have always assigned to it, is behaving at once or as one—not as contraction or condensation of time into the present but as an expansion or comprehension that transforms the meaning of “present.” In fact, Shreve seems to share some sort of larger “presence” (“being”) with Canada that displaces time.

On the last page of the novel Shreve will take the same attitude: predicting that the Jim Bonds will someday dominate the western hemisphere, he will conclude, “and so in a few thousand years, I who regard you will also have sprung from the loins of African kings.” Here is the futural attitude par excellence. From a “present” standpoint, 1909, Shreve surmises an afterwards, after a few millennia, when he, the 19-year-old, red-headed Canadian Harvard freshman, will have descended from African kings. Time all but ceases to differentiate, to separate and to keep separate, and instead something we thought subject to time overruns time, runs freely to and fro over its boundaries, spreads out in it, rules. Being usurps time? Yet it is only time that differentiates between Shreve as Canadian Harvard student and Shreve as African descendant. This being-in-general would seem to require time for being-in-particular.

In the language of the novel we have discovered an impetus or movement toward the nonexistent future—an impulse toward outside-time, beyond-time. It is different from the philosophical tendency toward objectivity—the thinker’s attempt to detach himself from the object of thought in order to “see” it as a unified whole. The absolute impossibility of that detachment is the major effect—representation and theme—of the entire work. Yet the tendency toward outside-time does yield an effect of unity of sorts, of relation and integration, if not of essence or objectivity.

The effect is clearest in the case of Judith, for whom the meaning of this futural tendency toward outside-time is unequivocal. Deliberately she carries Bon’s letter to Quentin’s grandmother; like Sutpen’s design, hers is an attempt to come to terms with futility (and like his it appeals to the “blind chancy darkness” of the future [396]):

. . . your grandmother [Mr. Compson tells Quentin] saying “Me? You want me to keep it?”
“Yes,” Judith said, “Or destroy it. As you like. Read it if you like or dont read it if you like. Because you make so little impression, you see. You get born and you try this and you dont know why only you keep on trying it . . . and then all of a sudden it’s all over and all you have left is a block of stone with scratches on it provided there was someone to remember to have the marble scratched and set up or had time to, and it rains on it and the sun shines on it and after a while they dont even remember the name and what the scratches were trying to tell, and it doesn’t matter. And so maybe if you could go to someone, the stranger the better, and give them something—a scrap of paper—something, anything, it not to mean anything in itself and them not even to read it or keep it, not even bother to throw it away or destroy it [cf. Quentin’s father’s letter, the textbook, the novel], at least it would be something just because it would have happened [my emphasis], be remembered even if only from passing from one hand to another, one mind to another, and it would be at least a scratch, something, something that might make a mark on something that was once for the reason that it can die someday, while the block of stone cant be is because it never can become was because it can’t ever die or perish. . . . (157-58)

“Being something” depends on a futural having-happened (not on present “happening”), i.e., on being “remembered.” Judith’s futural prospect, a forcing-beyond into the absolute-afterward, brings the out-of-time to bear upon the in-time in an ultimate sense: a totalization of sorts, counted, or counted on, beforehand. What will have counted is to have made an inscription, not on tombstones but on memories; it means to have made a “scratch” in the memory of a stranger, perpetuating an “is” by passing it into another “is,” which “is” by virtue of the fact that it too will become “was”—it too will-have-been. “Will have been” means mortality; “is” means “will have died.” The issue at stake for Judith in the futural perspective is being: being as having-been, as will-have-been.

It is not that “being” is to occur in retrospect, that it will somehow take effect after Judith is dead. The futural prospect is not the prospect from the future, but the prospect from the present of something as viewed from the future; it is the way her life appears in time, against the prospect of out-of-time or of futility—nothingness: an horizon against which things that happen “are”—and continue to “be” in “memory.” “Being,” Judith seems to think, means figuring in the ongoing story (collective memory) that these generations of mortals inter-counter-weave among themselves. Here is the middle portion of Judith’s speech to the grandmother, which I skipped above:

You get born and you try this and you dont know why only you keep on trying it and you are born at the same time with a lot of other people, all mixed up with them, like trying to, having to, move your arms and legs with strings only the same strings are hitched to all the other arms and legs and the others all trying and they dont know why either except that the strings are all in one another’s way like five or six people all trying to make a rug on the same loom only each one wants to weave his own pattern into the rug; and it cant matter, you know that, or the Ones that set up the loom would have arranged things a little better, and yet it must matter because you keep on trying or having to keep on trying and then all of a sudden it’s all over. . . . (157)

Miss Rosa and Mr. Compson and Quentin offer competing notions of the “design” of things, but we take the view of Judith, the unwed widow all but isolate in her independence, to represent the extremity of necessity to which the community of “story” corresponds. The futural prospect is an existential imperative embedded in storytelling, i.e., remembering.

Yet “there is no such thing as memory” (178), Rosa asserts; and stories are, as Mr. Compson says, “just incredible”; “they dont explain” (124). Time turns toward or into being, a provocative turn; but being turns toward or into memory and story, and these, or our ordinary understanding of them, are explicitly rejected in the novel.

As to memory Rosa renders a Bergsonian opinion:

Do you mark how the wistaria, sun-impacted on this wall here, distills and penetrates this room as though (light-unimpeded) by secret and attritive progress from mote to mote of obscurity’s myriad components? That is the substance of remembering—sense, sight, smell: the muscles with which we see and hear and feel—not mind, not thought: there is no such thing as memory: the brain recalls just what the muscles grope for: no more, no less: and its resultant sum is usually incorrect and false and worthy only of the name of dream. —See how the sleeping outflung hand, touching the bedside candle, remembers pain, springs back and free while mind and brain sleep on and only make of this adjacent heat some trashy myth of reality’s escape: or that same sleeping hand, in sensuous marriage with some dulcet surface, is transformed by that same sleeping brain and mind into that same figment-stuff warped out of all experience. Ay, grief goes, fades; we know that—but ask the tear ducts if they have forgotten how to weep. (178; cf. Bergson, Matter and Memory, ch. 3.)

Here Rosa sets the bewitched brain against the remembering senses, muscles; in an earlier chapter she developed the motif: the flesh, where or from or about which the uncanny, the immediate (the “private own”), awakens and moves, versus the insubstantial, easily-willingly-duped (“anyone’s”) spirit or soul or mind:

Because there is something in the touch of flesh with flesh which abrogates, cuts sharp and straight across the devious intricate channels of decorous ordering which enemies as well as lovers know because it makes them both, touch and touch of that which is the citadel of the central I-Am’s private own: not spirit, soul; the liquorish and ungirdled mind is anyone’s to take in any darkened hallway of this earthly tenement. But let flesh touch with flesh, and watch the fall of all the eggshell shibboleth of caste and color too. (173)

The difference and the priority do not belong to Rosa (see Bon’s letter to Judith [160] or Mr. Compson’s remarks on Sutpen’s insufficient code [339, 334]) or to a few disturbing passages; the novel thematizes a systematic differentiation and confrontation: the spirit and/or mind—including the literal (cf. Mr. Compson’s “letter”), including, then, the memory, the welter of stories the novel consists of—against, on the other hand, a different kind of “saying”—“the physical touch” (399), the “flesh,” the actuality of living passions (see for example the confrontation between Miss Rosa and Clytie on the stair [71-77]).

But the word “memory” is resilient in the novel. If memory is a mental function, it is a vital one. When Rosa remembers and enumerates the necessary attributes of Sutpen, memory numbers one: “Yes, the body, the face, with the right name and memory, even the correct remembering of what and whom . . . it had left behind and returned to” (209). Or if “memory” is the wrong word, what it means remains, remains essential; e.g., Mr. Compson, in order to discount the personal existence of the octoroon, divests her of memory: “she would not grow from one metamorphosis . . . to the next carrying along with her all the old accumulated rubbish-years which we call memory, the recognizable”I" (245-46). And Quentin, thinking to himself, provides the link between “memory” and where the past can always be found in this novel: “But you were not listening, because you knew it all already, had learned, absorbed it already without the medium of speech somehow from having been born and living beside it, with it, as children will and do: so that what your father was saying did not tell you anything so much as it struck, word by word, the resonant strings of remembering” (266). We may forget, forsake, “memory,” then, without diminishing the past, for in Absalom, Absalom! that shadowy omnipresence is always available: in the “air.”

The novel gives no scientific identification to this “air,”6 but it figures regularly and consistently in the novel to extend or supplant memory. A typical reference:

It was a day of listening too—the listening, the hearing in 1909 even yet mostly that which [Quentin] already knew since he had been born in and still breathed the same air in which the church bells had rung on that Sunday morning in 1833 and, on Sundays, heard even one of the original three bells in the same steeple. . . . (34)

Or, after her aunt disappeared, Rosa

. . . did not even have to go out there and breathe the same air which he breathed and where, even though absent, he still remained, lurked, in what she called sardonic and watchful triumph. (76)

" Air" is not air, and what it is—a kind of holding place, impressionable, and without volition—other constituents of the physical universe can be as well. Rosa tells Quentin (who is not listening):

I was not spying while I dreamed . . . upon the nooky seat which held invisible imprint of his absent thighs just as the obliterating sand, the million finger-nerves of frond and leaf, the very sun and moony constellations which had looked down at him, the circumambient air, held somewhere yet his foot, his passing shape, his face, his speaking voice, his name. (184)

A more complex extension of or substitution for “memory” in the novel is the “blood,” which not only holds, carries, and mixes “story,” as the air does, but extends beyond or outside “story” and is the primary mover of the novel, for it is genealogy that determines the rest: from Sutpen’s “design” through the transgression it effects to the catastrophe. What “is” and/or operates in the blood seems to partake of a “reality” more real than air or memory (or forgetting) or even time (its shocks and violences can “abrogate” time [311] as well as “design”), belongs to what Mr. Compson calls the “horrible and bloody mischancing of human affairs” (125). In the novel’s Heart of Darkness section, i.e., Sutpen’s account of his experience in the West Indies (301-18), “the old unsleeping blood” of the ravished continent “still [crying] out for vengeance” (312), erupts in the violent insurrection that only Sutpen’s “innocent,” raw “courage” or his “indomitable spirit” can subdue. Yet in this section this all but unassailable “blood” is equated with or related to “black bones and flesh and thinking and remembering and hopes and desires” (212; emphasis mine). Thinking and remembering have seemed to belong to the spurious but reliable “air.” It seems that there are no fixed definitions or categories here, no rational schematic. Instead, the novel seems to describe the unnamed if not the unnameable, to indicate the differentiable but undissociable. Both air and blood exist and operate in the novel not as existents or operations but as more-than-material presences which are only quasi-present—like the absent, insubstantial “reality” of Sutpen or of Bon (or of Caddy) or like those undeniable but untraceable effects of “flesh”—more called than named, according to which the “stories” hover, turn, assume substance and form. What “is,” which according to Judith is what “happens,” i.e., what will be remembered, and which according to Miss Rosa will be what gets “told,” “exists” as such figments and makeshifts or “realities.”

What is this indeterminate “story” upon which turns the determination of time and being? We have found it to be a Conradian echo chamber of voices—the narrator’s, Quentin’s, Shreve’s, Miss Coldfield’s, Quentin’s father’s, Quentin’s father’s father’s, the incorporated town’s, not to mention the voices, direct and indirect, of their sources (most of them dead). Sometimes we find that the story dissolves into thoughts or ruminations private to one character. Continuity and cumulation are not chronological or sequential; when, for a literal example, Miss Rosa is expressly addressing Chapter V to Quentin, he is not listening, is preoccupied with one previous point in the story; thus though the story becomes Quentin’s in the next iteration, he has missed Miss Rosa’s frantic, poetic philosophizing, and the story’s initiating impulse, Miss Rosa’s, toward what she “wants told,” would drop off here, blunted, blighted, but for the narrator/tion’s capacious web.

Stranger yet, as critics continue to note, the story, which exists in the telling, exceeds the telling, or at least it escapes the tellers; sometimes it “erupts” on its own among the voices, no less vocative for being voiceless (433ff). Eventually, in the last chapters, the storytellers (now Quentin and Shreve) “exist in” the story, interchangeable not only with each other but with the characters in the story. History and story, memory and illusion, explanation and rationalization, mingle freely, promiscuously, to perplex, to confound, to preempt, the “life” they ostensibly recall and justify.

It would be a hopeless proposition, then, to untangle and sort the sources of the story in Absalom, to aggregate, assimilate, and validate the details, to refine and order the material and add it up, conclude—and it would be a useless exercise, irrelevant, deviant. The project of the story is different, though equally hopeless. Its futility is expressed by Mr. Compson, trying to recount that moment in the story when Bon and Judith are strolling in the garden, a point repeated in some wise in every iteration:

You can not even imagine [them] alone together. Try to do it and the nearest you can come is a projection of them while the two actual people were doubtless separate and elsewhere—two shades pacing, serene and untroubled by flesh . . . who seem to watch, hover . . . above and behind [the violence of the story being told). (120)

The attempt to recreate what happened or to imagine it or to get it told is just an attempt, a failure if success would mean telling the “truth.”

We have a few old mouth-to-mouth tales; we exhume from old trunks and boxes and drawers letters without salutation or signature, in which men and women who once lived and breathed are now merely initials or nicknames. . . . They are there, yet something is missing; they are like a chemical formula exhumed along with the letters from that forgotten chest . . . the name and presence of volatile and sentient forces; you bring them together in the proportions called for, but nothing happens . . . just the words, the symbols, the shapes themselves, shadowy inscrutable and serene, against that turgid background of a horrible and bloody mischancing of human affairs. (124-25)

This is the voice of the pessimist. Later, when Shreve’s (and/or Quentin’s) voice holds sway, the story rises to ringing exoneration of that phantom Bon (448), and the young Harvard initiates have justified their preferences with their exhilaration, have justified their exhilaration with their uncanny experience with the story, with telling the story—or with being overtaken by the story, routed, the story usurping the consciousness and will of both of them, irrespectively, violating the conventions of identity and personality, of history and genealogy, even of simple spatiality and temporality. But exhilaration is not truth either, even if it were truth the boys were after. Yet they seem to have found what they were looking for.

As to the nature of this wash of story, the novel openly speculates. Quentin tells Shreve what (his father told him that) his grandfather said that Sutpen told about his life before he came to Jefferson (I count five removes if I ignore the fact that Quentin is openly speculating):

And I reckon Grandfather was saying ‘Wait, wait for God’s sake wait’ about like you are until he [Sutpen] finally did stop and back up and start over again with at least some regard for cause and effect even if none for logical sequence and continuity. . . . (308)

Story requires a modicom of the logic of cause and effect, though it can dispense with sequence and continuity. But cause-effect without sequence and continuity is not the cause-effect we know. If the novel demonstrates the dictum, we can say that “the story” comes piecemeal and scattered from and among participants and nonparticipants. I (enter the novel, join the chorus, to) speculate that a cause-effect principle does not relate the events or characters to each other so much as it relates the events and characters to the event and character of telling the story—a collage: of memories freighted with emotion and limited by perspective, and of surmises and inventions according to the imagination and preferences of the speaker.7 Such a cause-effect relation tends or extends to the psychological, but is not satisfied there.

Or maybe it was the fact that they were sitting . . . before the fire drinking some more of the whiskey and he telling it all over and still it was not absolutely clear—the how and the why he was there and what he was—since he was not talking about himself. He was telling a story. He was not bragging about something he had done; he was just telling a story about something a man named Thomas Sutpen had experienced, which would still have been the same story if the man had had no name at all, if it had been told about any man or no man over whiskey at night. (308-09)

If we take this passage as the novel’s definition of storytelling, ignoring the problems of attribution, acknowledging that like every other passage it renounces truth claims, “affixes no salutation or signature,” we find some unfamiliar distinctions. The story seems to be connected to the whiskey, not to truth (to how and why and what), and not even to Sutpen’s life. Story is not imitating or representing life (though the novel presents scenes, vignettes, pictures, paintings). Nor is it psychological expression or confession—Sutpen is not talking about himself, Mr. Compson contends, not bragging. He is “telling a story about something a man named Thomas Sutpen . . . experienced,” something that would be the same if the man had no name or was no man. But what is “experience” divorced from the “self” or from “bragging,” from personal or human identity? (And did not Faulkner himself say that all his characters are talking about themselves, telling biographies [FU 275])? What “is” the story? Independent of all but experience and whiskey, it attains a kind of absoluteness found nowhere else in the novel. There is something in story that “is” regardless of identity or presence, that lives in the air so that Quentin “knows” it without listening to his father (31), that overtakes, overrules the selves and circumstances of Quentin and Shreve eventually in a breathless ecstasy of transcendence:

He [Shreve] ceased again. It was just as well, since he had no listener. Perhaps he was aware of it. Then suddenly he had no talker either, though possibly he was not aware of this. Because now neither of them was there. They were both in Carolina and the time was forty-six years ago, and it was not even four now but compounded still further, since now both of them were Henry Sutpen and both of them were Bon, compounded each of both yet either neither, smelling the very smoke which had blown and faded away forty-six years ago from . . . . (438-39)

The boys transported out of their Harvard dormitory room as one (or four or two), the story takes over on its own, without assignable narrator or voice for seven pages till Shreve intervenes, telescopes the ending and brings them both back in a shock of recoil and recognition to where they “are”: “Let’s get out of this refrigerator and go to bed” (448).

It is the riddle of time, and the trick of story. There can be no extricating one problem from the other, or both from questions of being and knowing and remembering, etc.; there is no reason to make the attempt.

Time, tumbling, futures over pasts into presents: wheels of stories, the novel beginning not at the end but from the end, the end moving ahead and about. As the ending is moving about and is moved, the story as a whole changes about and is changed. Like a dye the ending colors the rest, now Miss Rosa and now Mr. Compson (and it moves about among Mr. Compson’s father and the townspeople and Sutpen), hues separating and mixing with the spontaneity of Northern Lights; and from those generations and the South we see it move into the voice/s of Quentin and Shreve and the domain of Harvard. From fatalism and pessimism it moves to inflammatory idealism, youth—stage for tragedy.

But the drift is not sequential: the endings (perspectives, “meanings”) are not added together. They clash or they coincide. One displaces another or gives way to it. The movement is not a gradual accumulation and assimilation of stories, but an active confrontation between them or outright appropriation—interpretation or invention put to present purpose. Telling the story is a futural appropriation of the past, is choosing, shaping, entering the future in terms of the past, i.e., that which is “remembered,” what in a sense is: is alterable. It appears that changing the story (the past) is being-present for the boys; it is what they are doing, regardless of the vacant room. (Perhaps it is what Quentin ceases doing in The Sound and the Fury, as Marsha Warren suggests, “denying time and ultimately language” [110].)

The case is demonstrated graphically in the last instance when Shreve, who has never even visited the South and knows only Quentin among the participants (has known him only since September), provides the primary voice for the story—and not simply to convey it but to correct it, choose and recreate it, to fuse (confuse) or to be fused (confused) with Quentin’s storytelling in an ecstasy of transcendence, overwrought (and overwritten), yet effectual to force Quentin’s barrage of denial, which like other lies in the story broadcasts the truth back over this novel and forth into the next one (or vice versa).

The novel has presented the" fluid cradle" of time as the interpenetration and interchangeability of time and being. What we have not conceptualized or measured we have felt and pondered: the teeming of time in the book, the wealth of it, abundance—not a thin trickle of nows but a multidimensional world full of luxuriant plasticity, enabling if not determining the dynamic of what Miss Rosa calls “the dark turnings which the ancient young delusions of pride and hope and ambition (ay, and love too) take” (170), what Mr. Compson calls “a horrible and bloody mischancing of human affairs,” the “telling” of which, absorbing and draining the young Quentin, leaves him in a state “Nevermore of peace. Nevermore of peace. Nevermore. Nevermore. Nevermore” (465).

Works Cited

Bergson, Henri. Creative Evolution. Trans. Arthur Mitchell. New York: Modern Library, 1944.

Bergson, Henri. Introduction to Metaphysics. Trans. Mabelle L. Andison. New York: Philosophical Library, 1961.

Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. Trans. Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer. New York: Zone, 1988.

Bergson, Henri. Time and Free Will, An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness. Trans. F. L. Pogson. New York: Macmillan, 1910.

Brooks, Peter. “Incredulous Narration: Absalom, Absalom!" William Faulkner, Modern Critical Views. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea, 1986. 263-64.

Dryden, Edgar A. The Form of American Romance. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1988.

Engler, Bernd. “William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!: Five Decades of Critical Reception.” REALB 5 (1987): 221-70.

Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! The Corrected Text. New York: Vintage, 1987.

Faulkner, William. Faulkner in the University: Class Conferences at the University of Virginia, 1957-58. Eds. Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 1959.

Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. The Corrected Text.
New York: Vintage, 1987.

Heidegger, Martin. On Time and Being. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. New York: Harper, 1972.

Hoffmann, Gerhard. “Absalom, Absalom!: A Postmodernist Approach.” Faulkner’s Discourse: An International Symposium. Ed. Lothar Hönnighausen (Tiibingen: Niemeyer, 1989). 276-92.

Irwin John. Doubling and Incest/Repetition and Revenge: A Speculative Reading of Faulkner. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1975.

Krause, David. “Reading Shreve’s Letters and Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!" American Fiction 2 (1983). 153-69.

Minter, David. William Faulkner: His Life and Work. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980.

Parker, Robert Dale. “Notes: The Chronology and Genealogy of Absalom, Absalom!: The Authority of Fiction and the Fiction of Authority.” Studies in American Fiction 14.2 (1986): 191-98.

Poirier, Richard. “‘Strange Gods’ in Jefferson, Mississippi: Analysis of Absalom, Absalom!Twentieth Century Interpretations of Absalom, Absalom! Ed. Arnold Goldman. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice, 1971.

Radloff, Bernhard. “Absalom, Absalom!: An Ontological Approach to Sutpen’s ‘Design.’” Mosaic 19.1 (1986). 45-56.

Radloff, Bernhard. “The Unity of Time in The Sound and the Fury.” The Faulkner Journal 1.2 (1986). 56-68.

Ricoeur, Paul. Time and Narrative. Trans. Kathleen Mclaughlin and David Pellauer. Vol.l. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Ricoeur, Paul. Time and Narrative. Trans. Kathleen Mclaughlin and David Pellauer. Vol. 2. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. “Time in Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury.” Trans. Martine Darmon. William Faulkner, Three Decades of Criticism. Eds. Frederick J. Hoffman and Olga W. Vickery. Michigan State UP,1960. 225-32.

Warren, Marsha. “Time, Space, and Semiotic Discourse in the Feminization/Disintegration of Quentin Compson.” The Faulkner Journal 4.1-2 (Fall 1988/Spring 89). 99-111.

  1. For an account of Within-time-ness see Heidegger; for its difference from and priority to nowness, see Ricoeur (I: 60-64).

  2. Robert Dale Parker has compiled a shortform catalog of “errors” in the text and/or in the chronology.

  3. Listening is a motif in the novel (Rosa’s, Clytie’s, Quentin’s), as well as not-listening (Quentin’s). Cf.*Quentin-and-Shreve’s “happy marriage of speaking and hearing” (395).

  4. Krause discusses sections of the novel and the novel as a whole as they originate in “acts of reading letters.”

  5. Ricoeur writes: “But must we not then say that what narratology takes as the pseudo-time of a narrative is composed of the set of temporal strategies placed at the service of a conception of time that, first articulated in fiction, can also constitute a paradigm for redescribing lived and lost time?” (2: 84).

  6. However, a diagram in Bergson showing memory (not a function of brain or mind) as an open funnel pyramiding into the moving present is suggestive (152). I think of Heidegger’s “world” or “open.”

  7. Studies on narratology and epistemology in Absalom are proliferating. Though Engler surveys studies of the novel to 1987, a better guide to recent Faulkner studies would be the footnotes to Hoffmann’s 1989 article.