With this study Karl F. Zender offers fresh readings of individual novels, themes, and motifs while also assessing the impact of recent politicized interpretations on our understanding of Faulkner’s achievement. Sympathetically acknowledging the need to decenter the canon, Zender’s searching interrogation of current theory clears a breathing space for Faulkner and his readers between the fustier remnants of New Criticism and the excesses of post-structuralism.
Each chapter opens with a balanced presentation of the genuine gifts contemporary theory has bestowed on our understandings of a particular novel or problem in Faulkner criticism and then proceeds with a groundbreaking reading. “The Politics of Incest” challenges older psychoanalytic interpretations of Faulkner’s use of the incest motif, and “Faulkner’s Privacy” defends the novelist’s difficulty or “reticence” as an aesthetic resistence against the rude candor of depersonalized culture. Subsequent chapters take up the volatile issues of Faulkner’s representations of women and of African Americans, and the current tendency to blur the concepts of patriarchy and paternity. In the elegiac final chapter, Zender shows that Faulkner’s stylistic withdrawal in his later novels attempts to “transform into beauty” his alienation from the postwar world and his fear of aging.
That Faulkner and the Politics of Reading itself recovers and gives new luster to Faulkner’s beauty will surely please, in the author’s words, “those readers . . . for whom literature is less a mechanism of social change than a source of pleasure.”
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