I recently reread Light in August, published by William Faulkner in 1932. I experienced it as a parading and indictment of the stunning racism and misogyny of the white southerners at its center and I wrote a blog post sharing those views. I later mentioned the book to my friend Samuel, an African-American man in his 80s. I wondered if he’d read it because he’s a great person to discuss books with. Samuel hadn’t read the book because he’d heard over the years that Faulkner was very racist, but he decided to read it now despite that. After confronting the book’s many strikingly racist characters, Samuel did some research on Faulkner the man and encountered many indisputably racist statements Faulkner made, often in defense of Southern culture and history. For example, he stated, “As long as there’s a middle road, all right, I’ll be on it. But if it came to fighting I’d fight for Mississippi against the United States even if it meant going out into the street and shooting Negroes … I will go on saying that the Southerners are wrong and that their position is untenable, but if I have to make the same choice Robert E. Lee made then I’ll make it.”
I told Samuel that in the comments I posted in this blog, I was responding to the text alone and not to the writer’s biography, no matter how disturbing that might be. But subsequent to our conversation I have been imagining the life experience brought to the book by an African-American person raised in the South during Jim Crow attending segregated schools and personally experiencing the demeaning bigotry and terrifying violence regularly served up. Doing that, I found it hard to imagine—were that my history—that I could encounter Faulkner’s characters with their deeply offensive racist speech and actions and […]
Radical rightwing assault on female reproductive liberty has grown like a pustule on the American body politic and is ready to release its toxins far and wide. This ugly growth explodes from the confluence of deep desires to control women’s reproduction and limitless greed for power. Votes translate to muscle in Washington DC so the powers that be are more than happy to feign an achingly principled objection to abortion if that posture opens the spigots for rightwing money flowing into their re-election coffers–since re-election (by whatever means necessary) is the ONLY currency of any worth. Dressing themselves in this “principled” stance is personally painless for our radically rightwing politicians because it comes with the fringe benefit of enforcing societal authority over female bodies (always a pleasure). Perhaps the deepest irony is that those who trumpet their anti-abortion, no-right-of-privacy views are in a faint at the infringement of personal liberty that a mask represents. I know there are people out there who truly care about pregnancy termination in its own right and I wish them no ill will, but I see no evidence that among them are our radically rightwing judges or the legislators now tripping over themselves to be the first to the microphone to assert the sanctity of life.
Pamela Paul published an interesting piece on cultural appropriation in the New York Times yesterday (4/24). The piece is ‘The Limits of Lived Experience.’ Paul discusses the issue I considered in my author’s note to A Beautiful Land: the author’s right to consider any subject matter they feel equipped to explore. But rather than simply defend the author’s right to write, Paul points affirmatively to the at-times uniquely valuable voice of the outsider. #PamelaPaul #LivedExperience
I read Light in August many years ago and was moved by it but didn’t remember a great deal more than that. I wanted to revisit it. With this reading, I again found it to be a remarkable book. It is first and foremost an unflinching book—from a fearless writer—that examines Southern, American society in the early 1930s and finds it in many respects insane in its delirious fundamentalist animus toward black-skinned people and sexual women. The story opens and closes with bookending scenes of a young woman, Lena–preternaturally calm in demeanor–who goes in search of the father of the child she is carrying, motivated it appears by a simple but firmly held set of desires about family and parenthood. Her journey takes her into the heart of darkness, to the world of a man named Joe Christmas whose young mother likely would have wanted, like Lena, to join her life with her child’s father. But Christian society brands her lover both depraved and worthless (at once horrible and insignificant) by virtue of his ostensible blackness and will not stand for such a union.
The story moves with a relentless quality that conveys the tornadic rage tearing through the community, until the story reaches an orgasm of physical and mental fury toward the man, Joe Christmas, who is assumed to be black but is in fact white-skinned in appearance and factually indeterminate with respect to race. His bewildered life and the mad fury toward it form the center of the book.
The psychotic misogyny is equal in intensity to the racism portrayed. It is a fury Christmas himself lives out. The sexual woman is “God’s abomination.” Blackness and womanhood are the twin “outrages” that fuel vicious attack in a 1930s Southern society that is regrettably too recognizable in the racism, misogyny, and fanaticism of today.
Faulkner leaves unanswered questions regarding why such religious fervor has […]