The Sound and the Fury: Time As Mausoleum

Like a spider I cast the filament of my gaze (my “self”?) out to the mountains in the west, return, cast above the mountains to the lowering sky this morning, return to cast about the room, touching as usual the Dali lithograph, returning to my desk, papers. Weaving a cohering place where I am. Where (place) am (presence, present) I (who, subject, being)?

Here, now, I: am facing the problem all writers face: to say, in time—that is, to put into words, one word at a time—the many matters that I have here (somewhere) to say: matters that come and have come (and will come) to mind in time/s different from this projective kind. It is time I want to write about, time as it figures in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, and I could begin with the problem of time as it has been occurring in the months and weeks and days I’ve spent gathering, sorting, arranging: these words that you are reading. I too have been reading—in books and articles, one word/book/article at a time; the notions, meanwhile (“all the time”), washing upon and among and beyond the words. I have been writing notes and drafts, each separate consideration spreading out from the written words in reflections, patterns, and associations drawn from other works—fictions, histories, philosophies, criticisms, biographies comprising a veritable flood of times—among and beyond Faulkner’s and others’ my own: myriads of notions competing for attention, recognition, assimilation here. My life’s meanings, memories, knowledge, thoughts, urges, possibilities, crowding up to the liminal moment with (as?) Faulkner’s, his characters’, his story’s. “When” am I at such a “time”?

There are formal conventions for making a way through this maze—but this maze, not the conventions, is where we might find time: the simultaneous “present” of what has-been/is/can be/could be thought, imagined, etc. Everything, forever, insofar as it “is,” is “present.”

And where is “presence”? These things becoming-“present” all at once, flocking (to change the image) from every sort of assignable time: do these droves of pasts and (who knows?) futures come “here” to be present, or do “I” leave the present to range about among them? Neither would be possible to imagine if time were, as Aristotle had it, a sequence of “now’s.” Neither could these questions occur without that presupposition. We have dislocated the traditional concept of time without re-thinking it. [Please see Appendix A.]

Time in The Sound and the Fury has been “told” already, of course. It has been characterized by critics as dynamic and static, as durational and transcendent, as nihilistic, existential, and Christian, as the stuff of human consciousness and of Bergson’s wider durée.1 It has been compared to notions of Bergson’s but also to Derrida’s (Matthews) and Heidegger’s (Radloff). My attempt in this reading will be not so much to place or align Faulkner’s vision with others’ as to “tell” its dimensions and shapes and structures as they appear in the work, i.e., to follow Heidegger’s “letting-be” dictum, and to “tell” what shows up in the experiment.

The Sound and the Fury is a tale told four times, in four ways; or from four perspectives, in four voices. Since what the four tales tell is supposed to have “happened” in time once, the “four times” of telling it break up the illusion of “real” time, take time out of time. Now time runs (or crawls, skips, turns) at the will or impulse or fancy of whichever narrator tells it, or according to the will and way of the author or, as perhaps this essay will illustrate, the reader. Time uprooted from time “is” when? (Of course, semiotic studies have for a long time divorced narrative time from lived time.)

The author places a story, in time. Faulkner writes in 1928 (publishes in 1929) a story whose chapters he dates: “April Seventh, 1928,” “June Second 1910,” “April Sixth 1928,” and “April Eighth 1928.” Each reader arbitrarily takes up the novel in his/her own time (May-August 1994, December-spring 1995), takes his/her own time into Faulkner’s, into each chapter’s.
(When—or is it where?—is the author’s, the story’s, the reader’s own time?)

In this novel there are many passages that suggest the deliberate radical unhinging of the concept of time. For example, Quentin’s chapter begins:

When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight oclock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. . . . (48, emphasis mine)

Where (when) was Quentin before the shadow of the sash appeared, before hearing the watch?2 Perhaps he was where he and Caddy are in the scene by the brook when he drops the knife he is holding to her throat:

its my knife I dropped it
she sat up what
time is it
I don’t know (96)

Or where in Jason’s chapter

Something . . . permitted him to forget Jefferson as any place which he had ever seen before where his life must resume itself. (195)

In this case Jason is somewhere in his headache, somewhere among the invisible ravels of his unraveled life, and the unidentified narrator remembers what Jason has forgotten, that there Jefferson exists and that it is there that he must resume his life. Apparently Jason (like Quentin) is presently suspended somewhere (some time) outside his life, somewhere (some time) between his life and his to-be-resumed life.

As the supplemental Appendix which Faulkner added to the novel in 1946 seems to indicate, the novel is a chronicle of time, time as sequence, consequence: as history, decline. “I’ve seed de first en de last I seed de beginnin, en now I sees de endin” (185), Dilsey says in the last pages. The “rotting portico” of the “square, paintless house” as it last appears says the same, and also the cage-fence now holding Benjy off from his former pasture where in the afternoons golfers cry “caddie,” oblivious to the meaning the sound carries to the hulking thirty-three year old child fumbling at the fence, stumbling alongside his forgone future which they play upon.

But, I rush to add, this final “now” of Dilsey’s reprises the very first “now” at the beginning of the novel, where in Benjy’s naive narration time is not given as sequence and consequence, though transience and loss are given in stark immediacy. Of course, Benjy’s narration could be recast or reconstituted chronologically, but Benjy’s experience of time would be lost in the reconstruction.

The novel presents progressive time, but not in progression. It presents accumulated time—layered or pooled or strung together—, but it also presents time disjointed—interrupted and arrested. The novel as a whole presents a certain totality of time, but the whole is cut up into segments, is disordered, confused.

Martin Heidegger writes about temporal wholes and fragments (reading Kant’s “circumscription” of time in Critique of Pure Reason):

. . . Different times . . . are only parts of one and the same time. Different times are only as delimited in one single whole time. Time is not first composed by a piecing together, but is unlimited, endless, not made by a composition, but given. The originally united, single totality of succession is represented immediately, in advance, i.e., time is an a priori intuition, a “pure intuition.” (What Is a Thing? 230)

Though time as an a priori intuited, unlimited whole is the “given” stage upon which events happen, time does not determine or fix the events; in fact time is the “given” condition for undetermined, unfixed events to occur.

Heidegger is still reading Kant:

Time itself is “unchangeable and permanent,” “it does not run out.” “. . . Time itself does not alter, but only something which is in time. . . . In each now time is the same now; time is constantly itself. Time is that enduring which always is. Time is pure remaining, and only insofar as it remains are succession and alteration possible. Although time has a now-character in each now, each now is unrepeatably this single now, and different from every other now. Accordingly, time itself permits different relations between appearances with regard to itself . . . Accordingly, Kant designates three modes of time: duration, succession, and co-existence. ( 231 )

Let us take this representation of time that Heidegger gives to Kant’s thought to represent what we are finding in the novel.3 We observe: If Quentin and Jason belong immediately (intuitively) to time as duration, where they find themselves, without disorientation; from time to time they are nonetheless involved consciously, tortuously, in time as succession. Quentin’s suicide is motivated by the will to stop the sequence of time, prevent its consequence: change, loss.
Jason’s bitter vengefulness is motivated by the will to correct time’s sequence, negate its consequence: injustice, bondage.


Let us turn (return) to the beginning, the novel’s first “present”-ing of time: Benjy’s. Benjy is unaware of “time”; therefore, time swarms about him, courses through him, one “time” indistinguishable from another. He inhabits the past, or vice versa, as fully as the present. He has no future. This is his idiocy, his displacement, disfigurement; it seems to set him outside the “human” experience while it delivers him over to the pure experience of unconceptualized time, perhaps Kant’s a priori intuited time. He is “out of time”: wherever Quentin was just before the shadow reached the curtains.

Benjy’s narration seems to reflect the “present” around him like a mirror, giving it back without comprehension, interpretation, or comment.4 What he mirrors back immediately are what he senses—sees, hears, smells, etc., sounds and words and events; but these phenomena send his “present” recoiling across chains or through layers of earlier experiences to, usually, Caddy (“experience” for Benjy is always involving Caddy). Benjy does not “present” his early experiences as anecdotes, as memories, as “past.” Instead, there (here) they are. He presents them in no chronological sequence. They come willy-nilly—in layers, vying for priority—i.e., articulation—and only narrative time requires and gives order to them. They “are” all at once, we sense, though they must be narrated one at a time.

Is Benjy where (thus when) his narrative-register is? The question becomes, Who is Benjy? That is, is Benjy his narrative-register (language, “consciousness”)? Certainly, the fictional characterization Benjy, who “is” this narrative-register (story), is un-“conscious”—that is, unreflective, unreflexive—of “being” at all. Thus this representation of his inner experience is “present”-ing a naive, primary (“un-self-conscious”) “consciousness.” The range of associations he relates “is” in the present as he draws it in or as it “is” always already “there” to be drawn upon.

Is the past “present,” then, since he “is” there; i.e., his attention seems absorbed in it just as it “is” in the current situation. Not exactly. In the novel’s “present” someone often says, “Can’t you make him stop that?” or in some such phrase indicates that Benjy is moaning or bellowing. Benjy does not usually “see” or register his own pain, but he “is” clearly there, in it—or it is clearly here in him. Throughout his chapter he gives voice to suffering, his own suffering, which he does not recognize and cannot articulate. What “presences” is his loss, grief, desolation—against the fullness of what is no longer present. People and events from the past are “present” in the power of the vacuum of their not-being-present. The more vivid their having-been, the more “present” their absence. The ontology of both their having-been and the presence of their absence is not that of entities but that of the fabric of being-human, a “being” that physiology or biology—or psychology—cannot account for if it approaches only the entity aspect of the human phenomenon. The maze in Benjy’s experience, described above, answers to Heidegger’s probing of the meaning of έόντα [“beings” as “all that becomes present”] in a passage from Homer (“The Anaximander Fragment” 34-5):

The gegen in gegenwärtig [presently] does not mean something over against a subject, but rather an open expanse [Gegend] of unconcealment, into which and within which whatever comes along lingers. Accordingly, as a characteristic of έόντα, “presently” means as much as “having arrived to linger awhile in the expanse of unconcealment. … Such a coming is proper arrival, the presencing of what is properly present. What is past and what is to come also become present, namely as outside the expanse of unconcealment. What presents itself as non-present is what is absent. As such it remains essentially related to what is presently present, inasmuch as it either comes forward into the expanse of unconcealment or withdraws from it. Even what is absent is something present, for as absent from the expanse, it presents itself in unconcealment. What is past and what is to come are also έόντα. Consequently έόν means becoming present in unconcealment.

. . . in Greek experience what comes to presence remains ambiguous, and indeed necessarily so. On the one hand, τά έόντα means what is presently present; on the other, it also means all that becomes present, whether at the present time or not. However, we must never represent what is present in the broader sense as the “universal concept” of presence as opposed to a particular case—the presently present—though this is what the usual conceptual mode of thought suggests. For in fact it is precisely the presently present and the unconcealment that rules in it that pervade the essence of what is absent, as that which is not presently present. (35)

Benjy is “human,” then, though he is an idiot, in that he receives or registers or witnesses the “unconcealment” (i.e., the “appearing”) of not only events “presently” happening (the new carriage wheel, 6) but previous and related occurrences of the same—and their difference (e.g., the old carriage and Dilsey’s remark about the same condition of the wheels—plus Jason’s negligence and Mother’s whining and Dilsey’s caring-for/managing-of all of them, and T.P., and Jason, and the cemetery). He is human, perhaps more than human, in what his fundamental openness, vulnerability, allows to invade him: his distress comes to be recognized as a reliable signal to the reader for things in disarray, out of their “ordered place”—i.e., things changed or corrupted in some sense (Caddy’s experimenting: with perfume, with lovemaking in the swing, with death), as well as things missing, lost. Without thought or understanding (or prejudice or resentment) to shield him, Benjy receives the present event along with the altered and the lost or absent in their intercoursing presencing.5

Perhaps we can take Luster’s remark in the following passage to answer the question “Where/When is Benjy?”:

. . . In the corner it was dark, but I could see the window. I squatted there, holding the slipper. I couldn’t see it, but my hands saw it, and I could hear it getting night, and my hands saw the slipper but I couldn’t see myself, but my hands could see the slipper, and I squatted there, hearing it getting dark. Here you is, Luster said . . . . What you doing, off in here. . . . Aint you done enough moaning and slobbering today, without hiding off in this here empty room, mumbling and taking on. (46)

We recall how Faulkner uses Bergson’s notions of material memory in Absalom, Absalom!, where the past is still present in, e.g., the bench in the orchard or in the air, in the blood, as well as in memory or stories, heard or told.6 Similarly, here, Benjy’s hands see in the dark what his un-self-seeing (un-“conscious”) register misses: Caddy’s presence/absence or presencing absence. But though Benjy’s physiological memory is intact and acute and his vulnerable openness to what-is-happening is unwavering, his understanding is dark. Benjy inhabits an empty room: a presencing empty past; the emptiness is his present experience, no matter what is happening. Benjy “is” the unguarded subject of “time,” victim of immediate, undifferentiated un-“corrected” time.

Since Benjy does not recognize time as such, does not regulate his experience in deference to the clock or to “regulated” time, his existence, always all-at-once, seems timeless. Or time-full. He passively receives “time,” experiences it, in its own time/s. We may take his “existence” as a sort of tablet that time freely inscribes; we could compare tree-rings, I suppose, or, with more complexity, Bergson’s notions of bodily memory (habits of sensori-motor systems) and pure memory (planes of consciousness available to a present perception, Matter and Memory, 150ff., 239-40).

Thus Benjy’s “timeless” narrative, which begins at the ending of the story, ends with Benjy going to sleep in, shall we say, the beginning. That is, Benjy’s chapter ends near the point of origin of the novel, the night Damuddy died, the night the children watched Caddy’s dirty drawers ascending through the branches of the tree outside Damuddy’s window (the image that set off the novel in Faulkner’s imagination, as he said afterwards (Lion in the Garden: 244-45). Afterwards, after being put to bed, Benjy is going to sleep, lying consolate against Caddy. But at the same time Benjy is “in fact” (fiction) going to sleep on the night after Quentin has reversed her mother’s climb up that tree: breaking out of that bedroom, that house, not to climb down into innocence, to complete the reversal, but to consummate disaster, to bring the house down with her. Benjy is at peace again at the end of the chapter—held in Caddy’s presence again, hearing “them all” and the dark, watching it going in its smooth, bright shapes. But this respite comes only when he has closed his eyes to the changed, changing present—of which we know he has been painfully aware, for he has been moaning and slobbering, mumbling and “taking on” (46), unconsolable the livelong day. All day he has sifted time, shifted it about, looking for Caddy, circling about that (non-) center, gravitating toward that “was” (“was the saddest word of all there is nothing else in the world its not despair until time its not even time until it was,” 113), giving voice to inarticulate suffering, loss. This is Benjy’s tragedy, his idiocy: that he lags behind, about the beginning, the empty room, unable to operate upon or enter into the ongoing history he vacantly registers.

Perhaps we should say that Benjy’s naive experience represents the [primary] psychological principle of displacement. The Freudian-Lacanian notion of displacement conceptualizes this problem of pooling or associating or conflating or confusing the repetitions (and missing or mistaking or eliding the differences) in time.7 Let us detour through that notion, or that kind of notion, to dissociate the kind of thinking I am attempting here from it and to justify the difference.

Just as physics (and physical science in general) attempts to discover or abstract the “law” of nature from the diversity of phenomena observed, Freud-Lacan and psychoanalytic studies have attempted to discover or abstract the symbolic thrust/trajectory/temper of psychological phenomena. The result has been a systematized overview of the phenomena that yields in turn a further system of predictive and manipulative (in the case of psychoanalysis, diagnostic and therapeutic) intervention. The problem is that the new problematics of postmodern, post-logocentric, post-Marxist, Nietzschean-Foucauldian neo-structuralism and appropriation does not deliver us from the very dilemma that Nietzsche, say, discovered in the former logocentric interpretation of the world. To wit, the new approach removes us from “life” in the same way the old one did. In the old one the logic-grammar of language pre-posited a fractured, mis-ordered (ordered) concept of “life” (subject cut off conceptually from verb, e.g.) that separated the conceptual thinker from the world conceptualized; or the rational paradigm (philosophic-Christian) removed meaning/significance and truth to an other-worldly realm out of the realm of “life,” so that “life” was “lived” in a conceptual framework that was artificial and deluded and life-degrading. Similarly, in the twentieth century, not post-structuralist but neo-structuralist paradigms (because they are paradigms) reduce life to schemata, replace one grid that limits and reduces “life” with another (insofar as it is another) that does the same.

One aspect of the problem is that in each case the underlying concept of time is linear, sequential, in spite of the fact that physics and philosophy in this century have uprooted that concept and broached different notions of temporality. One reason that the postmodern “world” is dis- or un-located, dis- or un-oriented, (post-) philosophically adrift, may be that it thinks temporality after Derrida’s différance rather than Heidegger’s letting-be.

To return to the problem of displacement, if Benjy’s repetitions, substitutions, and multi-uni-identifications are all ascribed to one problem: one lost Caddy (one displaced mother), then a multiplicity of desires, needs, events, can be correctly identified at once. The novel presents a catalogue of mother-issues: Caroline’s non-relation to each child; Caddy’s relation to each brother—as, respectively, mother/lover/scourge—and her tortured relation to her own daughter; Gerald’s parodic relation to his mother; Dilsey’s corrective relationship with them all, since she manifests what remains of what is needed to arrest the fall of this family—though the family itself is incapable.

Not only Benjy’s blind suffering but Quentin’s radical disorientation and Jason’s anger and malice (distortions of father/man-hood) can be bundled up at once and dumped at the feet of Caroline. But though Caroline is clearly implicated in all these family disasters, the problems are more complex and interesting than her characterization alone can explain.

I prefer not to call Caddy a displacement for the mother, though her characterization fulfills all the concept requires. For if “motherhood” is not reduced to general functions and general fulfillment of general needs and general desires . . . , then the oneness of each mother returns to her. When the general rule of general relationship is lifted, each relation evinces its innumerable, bounteous manifold of attributes. Similarly if time is released from its concept to its freely-changing/interchanging/extrachanging “reality,” a wealth of not-identified phenomena shows up.


If at the end of Benjy’s narration we discovered a negative image of time, we read a different contradiction in the final pages of Quentin’s chapter. Having planned and set into motion the act of suicide, Quentin puts the final touches on the final preparations for the final scene with bandaged hand, fresh handkerchief, brushed teeth, and with time to brush his hat before the performance. This meticulous attention to order and arrangement, this kind of scruple with which he has intended to direct this drama from dawn to dusk, is at odds with the subterranean voices and visions that have inspired and informed his chapter-account of his day, is contradicted point for point by the circumstances that have doubled back to mock every step he has taken, and is opposed outright by the underlying disorder we discern in these pages. At the end, when depths are turbulent, does Quentin cling to surfaces (detail, good grooming) as a drowning person clings to whatever is afloat? Does mere appearance take priority in the end, or does it merely float to the surface like debris when weightier, more substantial things (what “self” might reflect, or reflect upon) are submerging, losing coherence?

From-the-beginning-to-the-end is not, for Quentin, an organic or a genealogical development and demise, for time is not linear for him (though he orders his day down to the minute). The ending does not fulfill the beginning; it negates it. The last does not bring the first to closure; it opens it to question. The problem is temporality as an existential problem in Quentin’s chapter; temporality is the condition and the setting for the dilemma proper: Caddy. Caddy, the absent center of the chapter and the novel, is the point where desire and death clash, where purity and transgression (beauty and corruption) kindle one eternal flame. Quentin’s attempt to deny absolutely Father, Dalton Ames, Herbert, self, time, life—and thereby to confirm absolutely his incestuous adoration, thereby to set himself and Caddy beyond Father and lovers and time and life, to put an “ending” to all that always ends what-is by changing it—is thwarted. He does perpetrate the suicide; but the suicide does not immolate time or preserve his passion. He contradicts his father’s nihilism with his suicide—or consecration; but the chapter and the novel do not ratify his resolution. Instead they offer: every instance of his courageous objection put forward, gesture after gesture, defeated.

The case: breaking the crystal on his watch and tearing off its hands, choosing all day to eschew the “regulation” of clocks and chimes, he falls nevertheless upon more compelling indicators of more essential time— shadows, noontime hunger pangs, the afternoon droning of butterflies. Trying to trick, drown, stamp out, his persistent shadow, he finds himself continually dogged by its continual reappearance. Or, taking the shadow further: trying to trick, drown, stamp out, his “self,” he asserts it with clearer definition. For example, taking the train out of Cambridge (already the “outside” of Mississippi) into the country to the river—the “beyond” and “beneath” of everything, in his senses as in his calculations—he finds the afternoon redolent with the sounds and scents of his own remembered Mississippi summer afternoons. Or, among the Italian immigrants, “Foreigners” (81) living along the river (outsiders), he becomes embroiled in a little-sister tragedy of errors which is a mock mirror-image of the one he brought with him from Mississippi. Again, fleeing the problem of the absence of the mother, he is plagued by the parodic negative of the mother, Mrs. Bland. In short, the dress rehearsal flight into the absolute other is caught, embedded and circumscribed in the same.

The backdrop, prompter, and antagonist for Quentin’s futile charade of action is Father’s ever-present voice inhabiting Quentin’s mind, re-minding of futility, meaninglessness: a nether-ego, an abyss, a Nothing. It is echoed or repeated or counterpointed in the ever-present sound and sense of the river in Quentin’s senses and consciousness all day, the outside and underneath and beyond toward which he directs his suicidal yearnings and program. If there is a timelessness or timeliness in Quentin’s experience-register comparable to Benjy’s, perhaps it is in these “present”-negating influences from fore and aft, pushing-pulling, in and between and against which he re-members Caddy in fractured, tortured revisitations of past time. Of course, Quentin’s narrative also thematizes temporalization as a conscious intellectual problem. In the climactic final pages of the chapter, Quentin recalls Father’s voice and pronounces his final responses. To Father’s dark preachments on death and change, on human obligations to mother and to others, on time’s levelling “was,” Quentin answers, “temporary.” (To Father’s secularizing of love Quentin returns an absolute denial.) If Father is saying, “Time will level desire and loss,” Quentin is replying, “Time is temporary.” To Father’s time Quentin opposes his own (112-13).

We can tell Quentin’s “own” (conceptualizations of) time from the striking figures for time given in his chapter. In the passage below, e.g., besides a representation of Quentin’s experience of time, as irregular and uncorrected (primordial) as Benjy’s, there are several striking figures distinguishing Quentin’s temporal discrimination from Benjy’s helpless absorption:

I walked upon my shadow, tramping it into the dappled shade of trees again. The road curved, mounting away from the water. . . . I sat down at the roadside. The grass was ankle deep, myriad. The shadows on the road were as still as if they had been put there with a stencil, with slanting pencils of sunlight. But it was only a train, and after a while it died away beyond the trees, the long sound, and then I could hear my watch and the train dying away, as though it were running through another month or another summer somewhere, rushing away under the poised gull and all things rushing. Except Gerald. He would be sort of grand too, pulling in lonely state across the noon, rowing himself right out of noon, up the long bright air like an apotheosis, mounting into a drowsing infinity where only he and the gull, the one terrifically motionless, the other in a steady and measured pull and recover that partook of inertia itself, the world punily beneath their shadows on the sun. Caddy that blackguard that blackguard Caddy. (76-7)

Consider, first, the shadows. This chapter opened onto Quentin’s waking awareness of the shadow on the curtains as falling into time. All day he has tracked or tricked his own shadow, a self-reflection of his projected self-obliteration. Here Quentin tramples the shadow, shreds it into “the dappled shade of trees again.” As always, the shadow signifies or fails to signify or is prevented from signifying his own presence or being. As always, the shadow indicates time, whatever objects are about providing the sundial. Now, when Quentin sits down beside the road in the grass, the shadows are absolutely still. He has crossed over the bridge where he planted the flatirons and is sitting beside his silenced shadow far from his familiar life, in the countryside near the community of “foreign” Italians. He has been moving himself outside himself as carefully, methodically, as possible. The scene is as removed from time as art is: the shadows as still as if slanting pencils of sunlight had stenciled them on the road. This same sunlight was active, scintillating, in the passage just preceding this one when the boys were leaning on the rail of the bridge “looking down into the water, the three [fishing] poles like three slanting threads of yellow fire in the sun.” The paragraph that follows this paragraph will begin, “Their voices came over the hill, and the three slender poles like balanced threads of running fire.” Sunlight will slip and slide and glint in the next pages, interplaying with shade and butterflies and the lane and the boys, until it stops again (78). But here, in this passage, in this pause, sunlight the draftsman, or sunlight the draftsman’s pencils—in either case sunlight the act-or or the agent—has drawn the shadows out of time; light in ascendance, reversing or opposing itself. A reflection of Quentin versus his shadow. A study in false perspectives—or poetic insights. Like this next flash:

Time blinks. An unmarked aporia between the sunlight ( “. . . with slanting pencils of sunlight. But it was only a train, and after a while it died away . . .”) and the resumption of language. Without a place or time for it, the train has crashed into the unguarded moment, which resumes with the re-mark “But it was only a train, . . . .” Where is time in this unmarked interval?
Where “is” Quentin?

And where is he during the “while” designated in “after a while it died away beyond the trees, the long sound”? Afterwards he can hear: his watch, the train; can associate the dying, rushing, long sound with another time (“another month,” “another summer”), another place (“another summer somewhere,”rushing away“),”rushing away." “Away” is where the month, the summer, went. The experience represented is not unfamiliar, though its representation is, and represents not an aberration of Quentin’s but an aberration in the ordinary conception of linearity in time and place.8

Then Quentin’s reverie develops even stranger shadows, again a pictorial representation: two shadows on the sun, under which the world, punily. Between the sun and the world, “up the long bright air” in the intervening “drowsing infinity,” are the two substantive figures: the gull and Gerald. First, in dynamic counterpoint to the long, dying sound of the train and the yet- (though merely-) audible watch—i.e., the rushing diminishing of presence, the world—appears the gull, poised, “terrifically motionless”: potential. Nonmotion equal to motion; motionlessness in absolute antithetical counterbalance to motion. Motionlessness is not impotence in this case, but equal in potency with all things rushing. Time suspended in its possibility. Apotheosis of potentiality.

Gerald, moving—pulling himself, levering himself across the noon in a grand, aggrandizing levitation, a movement so regular and effectual as to fix itself absolutely (to partake of inertia itself). If the gull is facing off motion, equal to it, facing off all things rushing, motionless; Gerald is facing off motionlessness, moving himself against it, surmounting it; both the gull and Gerald in absolute defiance of what opposes them; both holding themselves to them-selves (their own will, purpose) by exerting them-selves against power of an equal and opposite kind. That is, against the movement of all things rushing below, the gull fixes itself “terrifically motionless”; against gravitation Gerald works his ascension, with such regular, reliable endurance (perdurance) that he counterbalances gravity with his own achieved inertia.

These are the figures of Quentin’s idealization of temporality (that eternity of damnation he desires): the facing off (opposing and negating) of all things rushing (facticity in time, change); the surmounting of finitude, achieving and fixing by one’s own power what one desires and wills. Against these figures of potency, “beneath their shadows on the sun,” Quentin descries “the world punily.” And immediately, “Caddy that blackguard that blackguard Caddy”: Quentin’s own cry, complaint. Against “that blackguard,” whether Herbert or Caddy: himself punily; against the capable: himself impotent.

There are other provocative figures for time in Quentin’s chapter. Walking along the road with Kenny, “the first boy” of the three he met at the bridge where he planted the flatirons (the “mamma’s boy” who refused to go swimming with the others), Quentin, like Benjy in the previous section, “is” slipping in and out of many “times,” “presences”: a past conversation with Caddy, for instance, in which Quentin suggested that they go away with Benjy and Caddy said that if he did not go to Harvard Benjy would have nothing; nihilistic apothegms of Father’s; habits of late August afternoons; the overheard contemporaneous conversation among the boys; and immediate sense/sensibility impressions, including these:

The buggy was drawn by a white horse, his feet clopping in the thin dust; spidery wheels chattering thin and dry, moving uphill beneath a rippling shawl of leaves. . . .

Sold the pasture His white shirt was motionless in the fork, in the flickering shade. The wheels were spidery. Beneath the sag of the buggy the hooves neatly rapid like the motions of a lady doing embroidery, diminishing without progress like a figure on a treadmill being drawn rapidly offstage. The street turned again. I could see the white cupola, the round stupid assertion of the clock. Sold the pasture (79)

Of course the buggy is “diminishing without progress,” because it is receding into the distance. The “figure” is an optical illusion, a problem in perspective. But the problem is a figure too. Quentin’s perspective is the issue in the chapter, and the first figure (“like the motions of a lady doing embroidery”), like the second, given to elaborate it (“like a figure on a treadmill being drawn rapidly offstage”), shows Quentin’s fixation on futility, and on futility as time.

As in the passage discussed above, both images here implicate (represent and reduce) art. In the first a lady is embroidering; in the second the treadmill is being drawn “offstage.” Like the lady’s fingers, the hooves of the horse move rapidly, neatly, beneath the wheels of the buggy; but from Quentin’s perspective both actions/motions bring diminishment without progress; it’s not the embroidery or the horse and buggy that accomplish in this scene, but some unaccountable falling-away. The horse and buggy, and by extension perhaps the embroidery, are compared to the figure on the treadmill being drawn offstage. The figure is an actor, whether he knows it or not. His treading/milling is ineffectual, not real; what is effective is the stage management, the manipulation of the scene, machination. But in another reversal, if the craftswoman embroidering here is a shadow of the unidentified craftsman manipulating the scene in the image, then the futility of her craft counter-reflects the profounder futility of the faceless stage manager’s.

The movement that is carrying all these seeming-act-ors along and away, which is not their own and not related to what they are “doing,” is, from Quentin’s point of view, time. Unmoved (uncaring, mechanical) mover (manipulator). The fundamental definition of time for Quentin is that fatal “was.” He wants to stop time from carrying off the present, wants to carry the present (his imagined/projected, idealized incestuous love/lust for Caddy) off to condemnation, thus preservation, outside time and beyond its reach, in eternity. His contemplated suicide is his oversimplified version of Christianity’s (Plato’s) solution to the problem of time, as Father recognized when he warned him against his youth, absolutism, idealization, i.e., against the error in his calculation of time:

. . . you are still blind to what is in yourself to that part of general truth the sequence of natural events and their causes which shadows every mans brow even benjys you are not thinking of finitude you are contemplating an apotheosis in which a temporary state of mind will become symmetrical above the flesh and aware both of itself and of the flesh it will not quite discard you will not even be dead . . . . (112)

But Quentin, as we noted in the discussion of the previous figures, sees (the gull’s) potentiality as outside time in that “drowsing infinity”; sees (Gerald’s) apotheosis as overriding time, by its own drive driving itself outside time, across the noon, out of the afternoon, above it across the bright air. Temporality can be negated; whatever is equal to time (pure potentiality, self-apotheosis) can overcome it. Quentin, the idealist, the humanist, . . . the impotent.

Impotence versus nihilism. “Man the sum of his climatic experiences . . . Man the sum of what have you,” Quentin quoted Father in a passage immediately preceding the appearance of the buggy, above. “A problem in impure properties carried tediously to an unvarying nil: stalemate of dust and desire” (78). The last word in the debate is given, as we noted above, by the chapter as a whole in its negation of Quentin’s attempt to negate time: nullification of negation of nihilism, problem and solution null and void.


Quentin’s chapter began with Father’s dire prediction (time is the mausoleum of hope and desire) and followed Quentin’s counter-argument through to his absolute negation of Father’s negativity: suicide. The next chapter in the novel, Jason’s, is equally contrary. It is another story of distortion, and it sets out its own kind of negativity at the beginning. It is Jason’s negation of Quentin’s ideal: “Once a bitch always a bitch.” And if, according to our predilection, we skip to the end of this chapter, Jason’s final statement reiterates: “Like I say once a bitch always a bitch.” If Quentin welcomed hell for Caddy’s sake, Jason’s negation is: “I says far as I’m concerned, let her go to hell as fast as she pleases and the sooner the better” (149). Love/lust’s contrary: ressentiment.

As to the problem of time, Jason’s address to it is not intellectual like Quentin’s, and not idealistic, but practical, pettish, hateful. “Regulated” time has enchained Jason. History and genealogy have handed him over to the clock. Jason hoards resentment against time for withholding what was rightfully his (a college education, a job, a wedding, freedom from family and social responsibilities; “I never had time to go to Harvard or drink myself into the ground. I had to work,” 114). What Jason desires of time is justification, justice, or, better, vengeance: compensation and retribution (taking from Caddy and Quentin what has been taken from him). He does not want to stop time or to preserve the past for eternity; but to recoup time, the losses of the past, or to slip it, escape the obligations it has laid on the present. For above all he hates the present, where time is caught, bound to and obviated by time passed/past; time present is not “life” happening, but life held-in-check, held up, arrested. He chafes under every obligation he is bound by, internalizing resentment and hate, storing it up toward the future, venting it in spite but using it, shaping it, sharpening it—a practical, crude, cruel weapon for revenge. For he desires, above all, in blind frustration, to punish time.9

The problem of time for Jason casts another shadow of Father’s, different from Quentin’s but similarly dark, degraded. We can compare the three. Here is Father, giving his watch to Quentin, calling it “the mausoleum of all hope and desire,” and continuing in his characteristic nihilistic vein,

. . . it’s rather excrutiating-ly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won. . . . They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools. (48)

And here is Quentin, listening to the campus clock chiming the three-quarter-hour:

The first note sounded, measured and tranquil, serenely peremptory, emptying the unhurried silence for the next one . . .

See his poetic sensibility and his continuous intellectual resistance to the continual, irresistible voice of Father, opposing to its gravity his yearning after absolutism, his lust:

. . . and that’s it if people could only change one another forever that way merge like a flame swirling up for an instant then blown cleanly out along the cool eternal dark instead of lying there trying not to think of the swing. (111-12)

Now compare Jason, who says he is “a different breed of cat from Father” (126). In Jason Father’s intellectualism and warmth and wit turn to crude, grudging, fatalistic self-pity and spite. Trailing Quentin and the man with the red tie to the next town and locating the carnival show cars, plotting strategy for his ambush, . . .

It never occurred to him that they might not be there, in the car. That they should not be there, that the whole result should not hinge on whether he saw them first or they saw him first, would be opposed to all nature and contrary to the whole rhythm of events. . . . (192)

For the whole rhythm of events is set in concerted, fatal opposition to his good fortune.

Noticing pigeons flying about the church steeple, hearing their cooing, several months after the minister admonished people not to shoot them, Jason complains, with typical personal resentment:

But what does he care how thick they get, he hasn’t got anything to do; what does he care what time it is. He pays no taxes, he doesn’t have to see his money going every year to have the courthouse clock cleaned to where it’ll run. They had to pay a man forty-five dollars to clean it. I counted over a hundred halfhatched pigeons on the ground. You’d think they’d have sense enough to leave town. It’s a good thing I dont have any more ties than a pigeon, I’ll say that. (154 55)

Jason’s sense of the meaning of time (a practical negotiation) set against the minister’s, here, or against the town’s or old Job’s or Luster’s when the carnival is in town, shows up as rigid, mercenary—“realistic” to the exclusion of “pure” time, uncounted, unaccountable, “free.” Set against Earl’s or the sheriff’s, Jason’s uses/abuses of time—to cheat, hoard, punish—appear antisocial if not sociopathic. But at the root of each festering psychological sore is a sense of time as a personal trap, closed or set to trip. In fact that trap is the tight, rigid web he himself weaves of time, the ties that bind him, the binding the pigeons do not have.

For Jason is more his mother’s child than his father’s, more the shade of Uncle Maury than of Father: compare Jason’s speculations on futures stocks or his lies and robberies covered over by his rationalized affectation of practical respectability with Maury’s counterfeit pretensions to gentility (not to mention his literary travesties). But it is mother and son who mirror and use each other—for support, for counterbalance. In their dialogue-duels Jason’s direct thrusts, which cut through some matter they are discussing to the practical fact at the bone (“I ought to know; you’ve told me for thirty years”), are parried by her euphemism and moralism (“I know that you have never had a chance . . .”); both combatants need the other, else their own swords fall on thin air. Jason’s unvarnished truths provide substance to Caroline’s hollow truisms, as her conventional facades give the cover of respectability to his crudeness. But these thrusts and counterthrusts are not substantial, are merely stitching needles, fabricating one continuous, constricting web that binds them to each other and to their grievances. The past is held taut, with no give, no forgiveness; the future is withheld, caught-constricted in the past. And the present is the incessant, ineffectual stitching captured in Quentin’s figure-play, ploy—a holding action, a boundary, a binding, a net/trap.

Time as fabric. We can follow a thread in Jason’s story as it is picked up in the last chapter. Here is the past held rigidly in the place of the present, when resentment chokes off Jason’s present purpose:

Jason told him [told the sheriff about Quentin’s theft], his sense of injury and impotence feeding upon its own sound, so that after a time he forgot his haste in the violent cumulation of his self justification and his outrage. (188)

Without assistance from the sheriff, Jason chases after Quentin. Now the future (“the fresh battle toward which he was carrying ancient wounds,” 190) is cast into the past along with the present:

Of his niece he did not think at all, nor of the arbitrary valuation of the money. Neither of them had had entity or individuality for him for ten years; together they merely symbolized the job in the bank of which he had been deprived before he ever got it. (190)

In fact, the future, toward which he is driving himself in a fury of vengeance, is as counterfeit as the past, as vacant as the present.

From time to time he passed churches, unpainted frame buildings with sheet iron steeples, surrounded by tethered teams and shabby motorcars, and it seemed to him that each of them was a picketpost where the rear guards of Circumstance peeped fleetingly back at him. “And damn You, too,” he said, “See if You can stop me,” thinking of himself, his file of soldiers with the manacled sheriff in the rear, dragging Omnipotence down from His throne, if necessary; of the embattled legions of both hell and heaven through which he tore his way and put his hands at last on his fleeing niece." (190)

As Quentin forced Hell in the fervor of his corrupted idealism, Jason in this dream of Satanic usurpation is overriding Heaven under the compulsion of his corrupted realism. Yet not “really.” Jason himself is overridden by resentment; his courage is “really” malice and it becomes “actual” only in his fancy. (Again the literary parody recalls Uncle Maury, not Father.)

As Jason registers time, time is fixed in the past; the past is blocking the present, precluding the future. That the present is empty we see in this epiphanic moment of self-revelation. The chase is over; the quarry has slipped him. The past—ten years of concentrated purpose, design, deceit, chicanery—has dissolved, leaving nothing at all.

He sat there for some time. He heard a clock strike the half hour, then people began to pass, in Sunday and easter clothes. Some looked at him as they passed, at the man sitting quietly behind the wheel of a small car, with his invisible life ravelled out about him like a wornout sock, and went on. (195)


The last section of the novel opens like a curtain rising, or an eyelid. We can see. The light emanates from the authority in the voice, its clarity, certainty, its poetic poise. Order prevails. If we ignore order again, ourselves (or pay attention to it; we have “ignored order” in this way four times; time-after-time yields order), and look next at the ending of the section, we find order again, this time an explicit theme. Luster having violated the routine or ritual of Benjy’s drive to the cemetery, and Jason having violently restored it, Benjy’s roaring (“horror; shock; agony eyeless, tongueless; just sound”) subsides, and:

Queenie moved again, her feet began to clop-clop steadily again, and at once Ben hushed. Luster looked quickly back over his shoulder, then he drove on. The broken flower drooped over Ben’s fist and his eyes were empty and blue and serene again as cornice and facade flowed smoothly once more from left to right; post and tree, window and doorway and signboard each in its ordered place. (199)

The rhythm of the regimen, the reliable. The narrative itself in this fourth section seems at first to carry us safely from moment to moment, from time to time. It does not imitate the regularity of the pendulum. Pacing is of the essence in this section. But time is held under control by the voice that delivers and modulates it, orders it. The narration leads, does not follow, time as the earlier sections of the novel did. The superiority, or at least the security, of chronological order tropes the superiority, or security, of Dilsey’s experience of time as compared to the other characters’. For against Benjy’s inarticulate timelessness and Quentin’s tragic idealization of time (set in opposition to Father’s “time as mausoleum” axiom) or Jason’s cruel fatalism the novel sets Dilsey’s perdurance. And if the final scene, given above, seems to portray and predict the degeneration of social/political order in the South, power having fallen from kings and governors (bypassing Father, the paralyzed intellectual) to Jason, the brutish, corrupt psychological cripple (with the irresponsible, black child Luster just waiting his turn), the section, and the novel as a whole, has set Dilsey in counterpoint. Seeing and bearing all, all at once, from the beginning through to the end; beyond change or salvation or justice or consolation, her enduring resoluteness is the redeeming human quality in the book. She experiences time as the fullness of time.10

The narrative offers the notion in a portrait in the opening passage:

. . . She had been a big woman once but now her skeleton rose, draped loosely in unpadded skin that tightened again upon a paunch almost dropsical, as though muscle and tissue had been courage or fortitude which the days or the years had consumed until only the indomitable skeleton was left rising like a ruin or a landmark above the somnolent and impervious guts, and above that the collapsed face that gave the impression of the bones themselves being outside the flesh, lifted into the driving day with an expression at once fatalistic and of a child’s astonished disappointment, until she turned and entered the house again and closed the door. ( 165 )

Time the carnivore. Dilsey the indomitable, rising through the scavenged flesh, lifting the bones into the driving day, ascending above (transcending) her very life, monumentally—the image of immortality that Quentin failed to imagine. Time the destroyer, and time the gathering to triumph. Time the redeemer of time. The narrative distributes the image: in narrative detail, in patterns of reflecting mother-images, in epiphanic event.

The opening scene, from which I quoted the passage above, sets out the substance or essence of the character of the whole section. Dilsey tries the dawning day in her shabby Easter finery, she adjusts her plans to its contingencies, and since on this day, which will be definitive as well as climactic for the novel, the regular is in particular disarray, she readjusts: changes her dress, revises her plans to accommodate Luster’s unusual tardiness, the lack of firewood in the box and the need to start the fire, to answer Caroline’s complaints, to see to Benjy, prepare breakfast, etc., i.e., to reinstitute the morning regimen, “each [constituent] in its ordered place.” The morning is in disorder, its constituents as contrary as the “minute and venomous particles” that seemed to constitute the dawn (see first sentence). Dilsey wrestles the chaotic elements into the semblance of ordinary morning. She is disoriented herself, of two minds; it is Sunday, Easter, and though she has less time than usual, every thing is taking more. The clock “tells” time, but Dilsey naturally corrects it. The clock, the narrator will say, “might have been the dry pulse of the decaying house itself” (177). The deranged clock, the decaying house, the degenerating family; the diminished Dilsey. It appears that time is running down, out.

Dilsey does not count the time, does not consider it conceptually, but she holds herself absolutely accountable for regulating the rising of the family, the gathering regularly for meals, the attending to moment by moment concerns of each one in the family.11 Her dedication to regulating (holding together, ordering) is her gift of reliability, responsibility. She herself has no time for she gives it, has already given it. Giving her time she is giving herself. Dilsey’s ineffectual and thankless mothering of all of them, her self/time-less, proud devotion to their common family life, sets forth her essential, rudimentary, and exemplary worth and strength of character. For Dilsey there is no distinction between time and not “self” but “life,” being. In the absence of “time” is the presence of being. In the vacancy of “time” is the fullness of being.

“I’ve seed de first en de last,” Dilsey says; “I seed de beginnin, en now I sees de endin” (185). The little monkey preacher is preaching Resurrection, Ben “rapt in his sweet blue gaze,” Dilsey “bolt upright beside, crying rigidly and quietly in the annealment and the blood of the remembered Lamb.” In Dilsey’s apocalyptic vision suffering and redemption come full circle in time. The mystery of love, of “self”-lessness, (-abnegation/sacrifice) and of abiding, waiting, is the mystery of Dilsey’s thankless courage and fortitude and care.

Or have I been swept along by the power of the depiction? The Appendix says of Dilsey only: “They endured.” It isn’t clear whether it is through Dilsey that “they” (all) did so, as some readers have claimed, or whether it is Dilsey that the others endured—that scourge, that despised seer. Given her virtual identification with/immersion into Christian faith here, it is not even clear, in spite of Faulkner’s remarks about her significance and his affection for her, that she should be too-easily identified as foil for Jason’s unredeemable shrinkage of the human. In fact, reexamined with skepticism, her characterization as what yet endures of traditional Christian values in the South, in America, could be taken to represent the disappearing WASP. These are “our” values: family, home, loyalty to the past, to Puritan virtues such as duty, responsibility, industry, self-sacrifice, honesty, justice, endurance, reliability. These are not black (African) cultural values any more than Christianity is Dilsey’s native religion.12 What the society and nation has abandoned, distorted, violated, travestied, survives in this survivor from the humblest social class, this political nonentity, an uneducated non-intellectual. Is it Dilsey the ultimate WASP or Dilsey the humanist version of the doomed primordial or naive “human”?

Dilsey led Ben to the bed and drew him down beside her and she held him, rocking back and forth, wiping his drooling mouth upon the hem of her skirt. “Hush, now,” she said, stroking his head. “Hush. Dilsey got you.” But he bellowed slowly, abjectly, without tears; the grave hopeless sound of all voiceless misery under the sun. Luster returned, carrying a white satin slipper. It was yellow now, and cracked, and soiled, and when they gave it into Ben’s hand he hushed for a while. But he still whimpered, and soon he lifted his voice again. (196-97)

Madonna and child. The Pietá The Madonna used up, worn out (Jason will say irrelevant, and send her to Memphis). The Innocent, vacant and unnatural (Jason will say superfluous, and send him to the State Asylum). Mindless loss enduring. Love or beauty faded and stained or lost.

Our theme is time. In the novel time shows a tendency: decline, diminishment, demise. The tendency appears irreversible. There does indeed seem to be a “here,” a widening here, where time is negotiable, where one may tell the same story four times, where pasts may gather, mingle, con-fuse; but like the gull on the wire, the “here” is moving, away. Does Sartre get the last word: Faulkner’s error is that he forgets or subtracts the future?

Faulkner has rendered time four times. Perhaps one positive achievement in presenting four perspectives uncompromisingly different and separate is a “hierarchization of the levels of temporality,” to use Paul Ricoeur’s phrase for the range of levels of experienced temporality that Heidegger presents in Being and Time—from authentic resoluteness to everyday falling “making-present” (vol. 1, 84ff.; vol. 3, chap. 3).13 I have tried to probe the depiction of each character’s relationship with time, the relationship between the character’s “life” (as “being”) and his/her notions and/or attitudes toward time.

Benjy is the victim of teeming, unsolicited, unselected, unregulated time; time bearing loss, holding out always available fresh suffering, not modified or moderated by understanding or theorizing or temporizing. Time is not “time” for Benjy; it is a place where being collects, swarms, lives: and disappears.

Compare Father’s relationship with time. What he comes to understand about time (it is the mausoleum of hope and desire) hollows it out, i.e., empties it of being, or empties being of its substance. Thus his “life,” characterized, as we have seen, by warmth, love, relation, has for him no reality, weight (substance, value); thus his legacy to his children is the memory of affection and gentle discipline, of ideas and words, and of failure, betrayal. A model for the annihilation of time: hollowing it out first by intellectual deconstruction and then emptying it in fact by vacating it. (Sartre took Father’s voice for Faulkner’s; as Faulknerian as I too find Father’s voice to be, I take the voice of the novel as a whole for Faulkner’s.)

Compare Quentin’s Father-opposing reification of time, his betrayal of every living obligation in total abandonment to the contradictions between time and his desire—or, should we say, between himself and his desire. And here we have uncovered the problem with the equation, in which time and himself occupy the same place. We have noted, in fact, that Quentin is attempting at once to erase both time and self, that one attempt extends to if it does not include the other, as for example in his attempt to evade or obliterate his shadow. Both Father and Quentin set themselves against time intellectually, apparently attempting thereby to set themselves (being) apart from it, to deliver being from time. Yet both, we see, negate themselves when they negate time, lose being as they lose time. The problem is finitude. Time belongs to life. Quentin intends to remove being into the eternal; Father intends to consign being to oblivion. Both, with an eye on the infinite, negate life (“being”). Whatever time is belongs to being (“life”).

Compare Jason’s self-time denial or repression, his insistent substitution of clocktime (at marketable value) for free time, and his miserable, miserly, and corrupt mismanagement and miscalculation of it. Time is at best the chance to recover what the past (time) robbed him of. Time, a circle of paranoia.

And then return to Dilsey and the preacher. Critics find it difficult to explain or excuse the Shegog sermon. It is the unmitigated Christian redemption and resurrection “message,” uncharacteristic of Faulkner and his work, yet it occupies a climactic revelatory space in the novel. Readers sometimes correct for this modernist anomaly by broadening the Christian thematic to general human or existential significance, a re-rendering that diverts if it does not subvert the power in each paradigm. I suggest that a key to the passage may be taken from the effect of Shegog’s voice on the congregation.

The preacher . . . began to walk back and forth before the desk, his hands clasped behind him, a meagre figure, hunched over upon itself like that of one long immured in striving with the implacable earth . . . . He was like a worn small rock whelmed by the successive waves of his voice. With his body he seemed to feed the voice that, succubus like, had fleshed its teeth in him. And the congregation seemed to watch with its own eyes while the voice consumed him, until he was nothing and they were nothing and there was not even a voice but instead their hearts were speaking to one another in chanting measures beyond the need for words, so that when he came to rest against the reading desk, his monkey face lifted and his whole attitude that of a serene, tortured crucifix that transcended its shabbiness and insignificance and made it of no moment, a long moaning expulsion of breath rose from them, and a woman’s single soprano: “Yes, Jesus!” (183)

Eric Sundquist caricatures this sermon passage: “Like the bloated, decaying bodies of Dilsey and Benjy . . . the book’s typological vision . . . inflates and bursts into dramatic parody and philosophical nonsense” (13). But something more powerful, more articulate, is manifest in Dilsey’s Easter ecstasy. Let us note that the novel has placed voice where we used to expect “truth” to be. That is, narration used to be the place where vision or reason or objectivity provided “meaning” to a story, to “life.” But in this novel (in modernism generally) the narrative provides no such ground. The last section, I have said, clarifies what the other sections have obscured, makes steady what the others have destabilized—but not by supplying the missing ground. The last section gives only another voice when voice has been demonstrated to be arbitrary, partial, biased, distorted. What the last section adds to voice for the first time is order (chronology)—and authority, power. Underlying Dilsey’s time-unconscious “order” (regularizing, her way of giving “life” or “being” its time) is the ancient power of the Easter story, her source and supply, relayed voice to voice over time. Time is not a conveyor belt passing power or a powerful meaning along, but the ancient power is “present” in the Easter sermon. We can see that the story, carrying disorder, suffering, blood, “life,” echoes Dilsey’s or the Compsons’ story—or vice versa. Is the power of the story grounded in the other-worldly “truth” of the gospel, or in the family’s “life”; or is it the other way around? Is the “truth” or the “life” grounded in the power of the story? And where, when, “is” the story?

The story, its power, is when/where the voice is. In the passage, voice is prior to and beyond the speaker and the speaker’s words, in time and place and power. Just before the passage quoted above, the preacher’s tone, which until now has sounded like a white man’s, “level and cold,” arresting and holding the congregation with its acrobatic virtuosity (like watching a man on a tightrope—a limited Zarathustra resonance), has changed with one word, “Brethren,” “sinking into their hearts and speaking there again when it had ceased in fading and cumulate echoes” (183). As the preacher begins his sermon in the quoted passage, his “meagre” “figure” appears incongruous with his voice, like a farmer bent over the inimical earth or a pebble in the wash of the incessant ocean; the figure of meagreness set against ancient, overwhelming, and natural power. And this is only the initial impression, a figure. As the preacher continues, “tramping” up and down, “hunched, his hands clasped behind him,” it is the voice that gains ascendance; “succubus like,” “[fleshing] its teeth” in the preacher, it “consumes” him. The voice supposedly “conveying” the Christian Easter story is bringing along the sexual, the illicit, the demon, with it. This “voice” is not subjective or ephemeral, not secondary, not a product or a medium. And its affect and what the affect effects surpasses voice itself and awakens the “heart” to “speaking,” to “chanting measures beyond the need for words.” The alto horn timbre of voice, the chanting heart, the soprano response, are just the obvious signals that the experience moves like music.

The effect of the voice for Dilsey, “crying rigidly and quietly,” is “the annealment14 and the blood of the remembered Lamb.” “Anneal” means to subject (metal, glass, earthenware) to a process of firing and cooling in order to temper or strengthen; “Set on fire, inflame,” says The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Annealing fuses, glazes, and burns color into, as well. Perhaps the effect of the monkey preacher’s voice may figure the novel’s intention: not only to predict doom, but to call to resurrection as the voice awakens, fuses, inflames. It is the voice of the novelist and his novel, like the voice of Shegog and his sermon, that is submitted to—first by the novelist or Shegog, afterwards by Dilsey, Benjy, and the congregation, including the reader. The “ground” of the novel and the sermon is the stuff of voice. The power of the Easter “meaning” lives in this.

If this is the case, the power flows back into the earlier sections, in unequal, unlike, disturbing distribution. The novel itself is absorbed into voice. The effect is to stimulate, to alarm: perhaps eventually to motivate to existential intervention: to raise (resurrect) voice.

The novel does not thematize time as much as figure it, from Father’s gull on the mechanical wire to Quentin’s gull suspended against the laws of physics and Jason’s economics of resentment. For Dilsey time is globular, inclusive, and its essence and significance and importance are human and moral. For the novelist and the novel time is the possibility of the voice, the chance and the risk of igniting the existential word or deed, arresting the tendency of what is happening. Time is the potentiality of being.

Absalom, Absalom!, written several years after The Sound and the Fury, broaches again the problem this book breaks upon, temporality. In SF there are four “attempts,” as Faulkner put it, at “getting it right,” as though it were the narrative’s job to correspond correctly to the “truth” of the story, itself existent in some wise, getable. In AA there are innumerable narrators coming together in the un“get”tably complex network-ing of narrating, culminating there in one uncanny narrating experience of Quentin’s and Shreve’s and Quentin-and-Shreve’s: the very picture of being and (in?) time: “history” as what is handed over from narrator to narrator, not a linear progress or accumulation but the untraceable, undissociable, inter-conglomeration of narratives. The coming-together of a myriad of voices, not in unison or union, holding-together not as constituents, not in cause-effect relations, but as the con-fusion of the incessant receiving, recovering, repeating—being-there [telling]. In that novel “getting it right” is appropriating it: not Nietzsche-Foucault’s will-to-power taking-over, but choosing it in receiving it, deciding, weaving or conjoining in refabrication, re-creation, and in creating proper when there are gaps or when the received narratives conflict or won’t do—according to what the “present” narrators are “doing.” Recalling the “past” is the very living that the “present” consists in. The coming-together of the voices relaying, in relating, the disparate stories of the “past” is the essence of temporality; this gathering-together and holding-together in always renewing relation is the essence of historizing.

What is missing in The Sound and the Fury is this coming-together, relation. The narrators are cut off from each other in their separate narrations. Though there is much in common among the storytellers—the family, the place, event, need, loss—their narratives do not commingle in their narration; their world, their history, like time, is unhinged, hanging in pieces. The last chapter gives what the others lack: coherence. But it is the coherence of Dilsey’s world, and it serves to contrast with the other narratives; it cannot relate them. Of course, this lack of coherence is the very figure for the thematic of the work.

CODA: Time and being (and place) are interdependent or interassociated, indissociable. Or they are two (or more) aspects of the same thing. Yet they are concepts strangely incompatible, at odds. Plato’s “realm” of ideas, of Reality, is a sort of superstructure or superdimension if it is not a somewhere-else: place of timeless being of not-being. Christianity’s heaven or eternity is a blissful Somewhere Afterwards, and Before, interrupted by terrestrial or earthly tests, trials, tribulations: consummate Being interrupted by time. Hinduism, Buddhism, Stoicism, etc., attempt to withdraw from “life” in the midst of it, denying, or denying power to, time and change by transcending them by will and vision. Nietzsche’s dwarf, craving revenge against time and its was, receives a vision of time as Moment, i.e., as eternal return of the same. In each case being rejects time. What puts time in conflict with being is the violence time does to being: time’s robberies, damages, destructions. Paradoxically, the ultimate devastation that time can wreak on being is: to deny it time. The loss of one is the loss of both: oblivion.

In Duration and Simultaneity Henri Bergson describes the difference between time as duration and time as science treats it in order to measure it (“science works exclusively with measurements,” 57). Time is not measurable, Bergson says, has no units; but science can measure, instead, motions that occur simultaneously in time (motions simultaneous also and primarily “with moments pricked by them along our inner duration,” 54). Measuring motions in space, science “measures” coinciding “segments” in time, thus segmenting time into “instants” which can be counted. But these instants are “counted” only as units; the “interval,” which is time itself, “escapes,” does not show itself. Time could be infinitely accelerated to a stroke or reduced to points on a line or translated to flat images on a canvas; the result would be that space would be inadvertently accorded a fourth dimension, but there would be no disturbance to the mathematics of “time.” That is, calculable time is essentially calculation, not time—leaves time essentially unexamined. Insofar as Bergson is right, only philosophers or artists and other naifs who will risk the noncognitive language of Lyotard’s “geniuses” can hope to “tell” time directly.

Which returns us to Faulkner’s novel, where we find that the way time is “taken” makes a difference in what happens in time. This is no morality play; time doesn’t get “told” so much as “untold” here. But for Faulkner (as for Bergson) an unraveling may be a progress when, like Jason, one finds oneself “with his invisible life ravelled out about him like a wornout sock.”

If time is not taken to be Quentin’s stagecraft manager’s machine (or Father’s mausoleum or Jason’s mercantile medium of exchange or Dilsey’s womblike totality), is not taken to “be” anything at all; that is, if “being” is taken instead, setting “time” aside for the moment, can a different sense of time arise? If we “take” being: not as entity, as thing, but as what we can bring to language about what “is” when we “are,” then there arises a new sense of being as the realm of the uncanny, undecided, unformed: the deciding/forming always occurring as each/all things influence/inter-in-form each other. We change each other, not “time.” We go on, “run,” not “time.” That we “are” what we did not choose or form seems unquestionable; that patterns of change/exchange occur and recur, that changes we inter-change are irreversible, these matters seem indubitable. That what “has-happened” remains somehow accessible and that what has not-yet happened hovers somehow: that we are in “presence” of what is not strictly “present,” that what “is” seems to be contingent on that web of “things” anyone of us lights on from what lies about to weave a world of: such matters begin to show themselves. That is, for a moment the questions that we call “time” stand open. Perhaps this is the disclosure. Perhaps all this opening . . . is time.

                                WORKS CITED

Bergson, Henri. Duration and Simultaneity.      Trans. Leon Jacobson. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965. 57ff.

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

Castille, Philip Dubuisson. “Dilsey’s Easter Conversion in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.” SNNTS 24.4 {Winter 1992). 423-33.

Derrida, Jacques. “Linguistics and Grammatology.” Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976.

—. “Différance.” Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. U of Chicago P, 1982.

Faulkner, William. Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner, 1926-1962. Ed. James B. Meriwether and Michael Millgate.
New York: Random House, 1968. 244-45.

—. The Sound and the Fury. Ed. David Minter. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1994.

Heidegger, Martin. “The Anaximander Fragment.” Early Greek Thinking: The Dawn of Western Philosophy. Trans. David Farrell Krell and Frank A. Capuzzi. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1984. 13-58.

Irwin, John T. Doubling & Incest/Repetition & Revenge: A Speculative Reading of Faulkner. Baltimore, 1975.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. “The Sublime and the Avant-Garde.” The Inhuman: Reflections on Time. Trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby. Stanford UP, 1991. 89-107.

—. “Time Today.” The Inhuman: Reflections on Time. Trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby. Stanford UP, 1991. 58-77.

Matthews, John T. “The Discovery of Loss in The Sound and the Fury.” The Play of Faulkner’s Language. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1982. 63-114.

Messerli, Douglas. “The Problem of Time in The Sound and the Fury: A Critical Reassessment and Reinterpretation.” Southern Literary Journal 6.2 (Spring 1974): 19-41.

Minkowski, Eugéne. Lived Time: Phenomenological and Pyschopathological Studies. Trans. Nancy Metzel. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 1970.

Radloff, Bernhard. “The Unity of Time in The Sound and the Fury.” The Faulkner Journal 1.2 (Spring 1986): 56-74.

Ricoeur, Paul. Time and Narrative. Trans. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer. 3 vols. 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.

Slaughter, Carolyn Norman. “Absalom, Absalom!: Fluid Cradle of Events (Time).” The Faulkner Journal 6.2 (Spring 1991): 65-84.

Sundquist, Eric J. * Faulkner: The House Divided*. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1983.

Thomas, David Wayne. “Gödel’s Theorem and Postmodern Theory.” PMLA 119.2 (March 1995): 248-61.

Warren, Marsha. “Time, Space, and Semiotic Discourse in the Feminization/Disintegration of Quentin Compson.” The Faulkner Journal (Fall 1988/Spring 1989): 99-111.

Weinstein. Philip M. “If I Could Say Mother”: Construing the Unsayable About Faulknerian Maternity." Faulkner’s Subject: A Cosmos No One Owns. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. 29-41.


Derrida’s différance is a recent revision of the concept.15 Différance deconstructs the notion of time as linear, objective, successive—disrupts it and denies it and stretches it out of sight—though it does not, after all, escape it. (See e.g., “Linguistics and Grammatology,” 27ff., “Différance,” 1ff.) The “temporality” that Derrida’s thinking intends to revise is not Aristotle’s, but Heidegger’s destruktion and displacement of Aristotle’s. The temporalization in différance and the chain of signifiers it sets off (trace, prewriting, éperon, e.g.) are a revision or reconfiguration of Heidegger’s significations: Being-in-the-World, Dasein’s ekstases of temporalization, World-Earth and being/Being(not-being), identity/difference. Yet Derrida’s proffered notion of temporality as differing/deferring still is embedded in the received Aristotelian concepts: inside-outside surviving in “differing”;" succession surviving in “deferring/production.” Derrida restructures temporality, but he does not move beyond conceptual thinking. The dead time within the present in the trace, spacing (“the nonpresence of the other inscribed within the sense of the present, . . . the relationship with death as the concrete structure of the living present,” Of Grammatology 71), the “presence-absence” “play” of production—as generative as these notions are (tempting to physics and psychoanalysis), as provocative and enriching, they do not move us anywhere except where we can go by means of the concept.16 The difference in Heidegger’s description of time is that we can follow it only by abandoning conceptual thinking and following the phenomenon itself, as we have experienced (seen/known) or do experience (see/know) it—as Heidegger shows (in, for example “The Anaximander Fragment,” 36-37). The “place” of “time” in these descriptions corresponds to our ranging about where/when, strangely, we “are.” Each work of Heidegger’s reenters such spaces—explores them and brings them to language (is language “where” “I” “am”?). Dasein’s ekstatic Being-there is a radical departure from conceptual representations of time.

Jean-Francois Lyotard, in “Time Today,” describes a postmodern “transcending” of time. Modern technology, he writes, taken as a natural or rational stage of an evolving complexification in the universe (of which the human mind is “only a transitory support”), may be working its way toward a more and more perfect controlling of time; it gathers the past into one current memory (information-bank), closing off “event” (foreclosing the future). Lyotard follows this ominous projection with a statement of his own resistance to the tyranny of the cognitive over other modes of language. He prefers modes in which “what matters” is to “generate occurrences before knowing the rules of this generativity,” sometimes with “no concern for determining those rules” (72)—modes which produce works of what Kant and the Romantics called genius. This “genius” plays a part in producing works of science, as well:

What these diverse or even heterogeneous forms [the arts and the sciences] have in common is the freedom and the lack of preparation with which language shows itself capable of receiving what can happen in the “speaking medium,” and of being accessible to the event. . . . (73)

Thinking per se opposes whatever would control time, for thinking “consists in receiving the event”:

To think is to question everything, including thought, and question, and the process. To question requires that something happen that reason has not yet known. . . . One cannot write without bearing witness to the abyss of time in its coming." (74)

In “The Sublime and the Avant-Garde,” writing about space, time, and the aesthetic in Kant and about related problems for art in modernity and postmodernity, Lyotard recalls Heidegger’s critique of technology (enframing) in its opposition to poetic receptivity. Lyotard writes that this Heideggerian problematic should be revised in view of the refinement of technology since Heidegger wrote about it; i.e., the problem is not, as Heidegger thought, nuclear science, but cybernetic information-processing and communication, which is even more problematic for the experience of space-time; there is no longer a “here” and “now” in which to “place” sensory experience. “Time” is revealed to have been a concept, and it withdraws when the concept is disabled. With the disappearance of “space and time as forms of the donation of what happens” (112) comes the “crisis of the aesthetic” along with the familiar “‘crisis of the sciences’” (115). For the moderns, Lyotard continues, the problem was that “there no longer [remained] anything but space and time” (for the postmoderns, “we no longer even have space and time left,” 116). Lyotard quotes Hölderlin, “At the extreme limit of distress, there is in fact nothing left but the conditions of time and space” (114); the avant-gardes, Lyotard writes, for a century have been “inflexible witness to the crisis of these foundations” (115).

If we accept Lyotard’s warning that time as it will be experienced in a cybernetic multinational communication network will not correspond to our former or current concepts of time, then in that movement away from “time” we get a new perspective on it; we “see” time emerging chrysalis-like from its former form. And we see “where” “time,” as we apply the term, is located: in language, in its in/capability of “receiving event.”

In Heidegger’s works the concept “time” is already violated or abandoned as the “here” (“there”) and “now” is transformed into a strange multi-dimensional experience of futural thrownness. If the “future” as we have conceived it is disappearing or changing, the human sense of being remains, “goes on,” where/when-ever “on” is. I have presumed to think that strange Heidegger-like openings into “time” (and space) are still opening, as I have attempted to “tell time” in Faulkner’s (modern avant-garde) work of art.

  1. Douglas Messerli provides a survey.

  2. I find that Marsha Warren has already asked this question (l02).

  3. It is what Eugéne Minkowski calls the “lived experience” of time as both dynamic and stable, what Messerli calls “the transcendence of time . . . within the consciousness, [where] there is no duration-transcendent polarity” (30). For Kant, and later for Heidegger, however, time is considered as more or other than a human or subjective phenomenon.

  4. Since we think of the mirror as a figure for self-reflexivity, consciousness, the basis for language and the “human,” we can take the Benjy-narration as a self/human-reflection; I am so taking it here. We note also that in the novel Benjy does not see himself in the mirror, takes the mirror to be a place into which people and the fire, etc., go, from which they come, a place on a plane with other places; this lack of “consciousness” is perhaps a primary aspect of his idiocy.

  5. Bernhard Radloff compares Benjy’s “now” to Heidegger’s Being and Time characterization of the structure of the moment as significance, dateability, and publicness; he describes the unity of time as it is drawn in Benjy’s character, deriving from the three dimensions of time in their interplay, with priority given to the past.

  6. Slaughter, Carolyn Norman. “Absalom, Absalom!: Fluid Cradle of Events (Time).” The Faulkner Journal 6.2 (Spring 1991): 65-84.

  7. John T. Irwin has worked out the quintessential Freudian reading of this novel. Marsha Warren’s “Time, Space, and Semiotic Discourse in the Feminization/Disintegration of Quentin Compson,” refers the novel to Julia Kristeva’ s theory of the origin and development of the signifying process. Her reading conf1ates Quentin’s desire for Caddy with his desire for his mother, and both with a desire to return to the pre-linguistic unity with the “maternal semiotic flux” (101), a “space/place anterior to or beyond linear time and the Law of the Father” (the symbolic, linguistic). “Quentin’s suicide both results from and enables his disintegration as speaking subject, marking his transference from time into space.” In the end, it seems to me that the “failure” that Warren attributes to this section of the novel—Quentin’s failure in suicide “to reach beyond the bonds of the symbolic and gendered identity”—is, rather, its theme. Writing from the same context on a related subject, Philip M. Weinstein makes the case for Faulkner’s success in this novel and some others to penetrate the impenetrable.

  8. Compare Derrida’s “spacing,” the gaps (Heidegger’s “nothing” or not-Being) between the letters/lines that render to “writing” its regularity, coherence. Here, though, the gap occurs in the regular, not to betray the irregular in and beneath it but to represent experienced time more closely. It is worth noting that in Derrida the intrusive “other,” portrayed in the fiction as recognizable experience, becomes a concept.

  9. Matthews interprets “Jason’s economic rites” more generously as “his unconscious grief” (92) and his commitment to “work” as his protest against suicide’s implication that time is worthless. “Work unambiguously establishes the value of time; each minute has a negotiable worth in tangible money” (94).

  10. Bernhard Radloff gives a similar (and similarly Heideggerian) interpretation, though he identifies Dilsey’s experience more closely with Heidegger’s authentic resoluteness than I am willing to do. Dilsey’s character, her acceptance of responsibility, seems more instinctual or natural than a deliberate and individuated choice; and if her endurance does not spring from faith (I’m not sure that it does, but Radloff thinks so), it is confirmed by it in the Easter sermon scene. Dilsey’s view appears more tragic than existential.

  11. Many readers have so remarked. See for example Messerli 30-1.

  12. Philip Dubuisson Castille sets out relations among the Passion story, the rhetoric and ritual of Southern Black churches, Faulkner’s interest in Frazer’s Golden Bough, and forms and themes in the novel. Castille reads a conversion in Dilsey, a turn from her former identification with the Compsons to a new one with her own family. But while I read her acceptance of the (beginning and) end of the Compsons, I find perhaps the most moving and representative image of her character as I describe it, to be the “Madonna” figure which occurs after this “conversion.”

  13. Ricoeur sets out such a hierarchization in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, vol. 2, l0lff.

  14. The misspelling of the word in Dilsey’s experience of it, like the errors in historical and Biblical allusions that mark the entire sermon passage (and Faulkner’s work in general, and Southern life in general), mark where words and stories prop lightly against their own or others’ denotations and signal instead the meanings that the user or the community gives them with little if any attention to the words themselves. Analysis of the sermon here has turned up interesting relationships among the slips and the matters they have slipped from. My contribution is to add that the effect of the voice described here, where voice reaches its destination when it overpasses words altogether, recalls a breathless rapture of “story” in Absalom, Absalom!:
          . . . it did not matter to either of them [Quentin and
          Shreve] which one did the talking, since it was not
          the talking alone which did it . . . but some happy marriage
          of speaking and hearing wherein each before the demand,
          the requirement, forgave condoned and forgot the faulting
          of the other—faultings both in the creating of this shade
          whom they discussed (rather, existed in) and in the
          hearing and sifting and discarding the false and conserving
          what seemed true, or fit the preconceived—in order to
          overpass to love, where there might be paradox
          and inconsistency but nothing fault nor false (316).

  15. An excellent Derridean reading of The Sound and the Fury is John T. Matthews’ “The Discovery of Loss in The Sound and the Fury,” 63-114. My objection to reading Caddy and writing/articulation as supplement, to reading memory as loss/absence, is that both configurations depend on a concept of time as linear—clocktime; they press that concept to the limit with relentless rigor, thus exposing its limits, its self-contradiction, exposing the limits/tautology of rational, conceptual (logocentric) thought. As important as that Nietzschean project is, it remains caught up this side of the concept, can “speak,” then, only negatively of the non-conceptual. What this reading calls “loss” and “absence” are the very means and modes of “having” and “presence” for human experience. Besides, when memory is counted out in this novel, there is no “natural reality” (89) to count in.

  16. In a recent article in PMLA David Wayne Thomas uses Gödel’s incompleteness theorem to analyze the fundamental point of logical instability that has become the trademark of postmodern theory. Thomas argues that Derrida’s and other postmodern theorists’ works still come to rest on Platonist metaphysical assumptions. I, but also Derrida and the others, agree (as Thomas acknowledges in a footnote). Thomas seems to recover what Heidegger called the tautological circle without “realizing” (Thomas’ word) that any nonmetaphysical thinking may proceed from it. Derrida cannot escape metaphysics if he flees to psychoanalysis or physics, which are embedded in rational systems, but Heidegger’s attempt is radically different.