Faulkner = Literacy?

A number of years ago I had a discussion with a college professor in which I admitted to her that I did not understand a reference she made in class to the works of William Faulkner. Unfortunately this prompted her to tell me: “You are not literate until you have read Faulkner.”

After that I swore that I would go to my grave having never read any of Faulkner’s works. I have, thus far, remained true to my pledge. My questions are:

  1. Am I missing anything?

  2. Was the professor right? Is Faulkner so phenomenal that familiarity with his works should be required for literacy? (Well, maybe that is overstating it but you get the point.)

Oh, well, you could probably replace the word Faulkner with the word “Fitzgerald” or “Shakespeare” or whoever you like…Most likely the people who aren’t fans of Faulkner wouldn’t make that statement. Perhaps someone who hasn’t read Faulkner may not understand a few references, but they’re hardly illiterate. After all, why should this be limited to one author?

I shall try to answer without venturing into Pit territory. I may get slammed by some Faulkner fans here, but so be it.

Thras, your professor was (IMHO) being an arrogant and indefensibly snobbish bitch. I have read Faulkner and can promise you that you are missing nothing but a few references that would only annoy you, as they would remind you of the crap you had to slog through to get them. Faulkner’s style is annoying to me, his stories are uninteresting to me, and his lionization by the literati I find aesthetically distressing. Skip him–you won’t miss him.

By all means, read Shakespeare. Remember that he was just out for a buck, often rehashing old stories, but read his work–his influence is everywhere, and familiarity with it is good. Read Fitzgerald too, if you like–I’m not a fan, but it’s better stuff than Faulkner.

For some reason, this is not the only encounter I have had with a Faulkner devotee. I have yet to encounter the same type of passion from any other fan of a particular author. It piqued my curiosity as to why these people are so devout. Unfortunately, not enough to actually make me want to read his works. Thus, I thought I would seek the counsel and impartiality of Dopers.

Amen, Zoggie.

Thrasybulus, don’t do this to yourself. Please. It’s not Faulkner’s fault your prof was a self-conscious twit who got her jollies from humiliating her students. I don’t think any self-respecting author would like comments like that made about him if it meant someone would avoid his work like the plague.

Please understand that I don’t blame you one jot for feeling that way. I’d probably feel just like you. No. I definitely would.

But you don’t need to read the entire works of Faulkner to get a taste of his talent–or lack thereof, depending on your tastes. One of the most-read short stories of his is ‘A Rose for Emily.’ Give it a try. It’s odd, but interesting.
Your prof was a loser–literate or not–still a loser.

When in high school I was required to read “As I Lay Dying,” which we, for some reason, quickly renamed “As I Lay Breeding.” I also made it through “The Sound and the Fury.” Do I feel “more literate” for having done so? Not particularly.

Faulkner as a person is of much more interest to me - his acceptance speech for the Noble Prize in literature in 1950 is a good, straightforward piece. I don’t think Faulkner would have appreciated the “honor” your lit professor bestowed upon him - he (Faulkner), by all accounts, had a real dislike for snobbery and pretense.

Struuter- I know I should be able to overcome a petty and stupid comment from a political science professor. (The course was a required political science senior seminar course on feminism and, unfortunately, I can no longer remember the reference which gave rise to our conversation). My aversion to Faulkner is probably assisted by my love of non-fiction. I would consider myself an avid reader but I rarely read any of the “classics.”

Plnnr- I love the irony.

Thrasybulus, nonono. Don’t you dare apologize. Having just arrived home from school-a Masters in Teaching–I’m completely with you. Professors have a thin thread to tread in respect to their students. And for the most part, a good word from a teacher can go a long way in supporting the worth of an idea, author, or work. AFAIC, she might just as well have said, “I like nothing more than for you to lose all interest in anything I have to say or any opinions I have concerning academics or life in general.”
She just didn’t take the breath to say it.
She said more about herself than Faulkner.
Humiliate or belittle anyone and I defy you to show me how it teaches them anything other than bitterness and disinterest.
Jeez…wish I’d been in that class with you. I’d love to have a word with that prof.

I wouldn’t have wished that level of boredom on my worst enemy. I can get you her name if you want to track her down and have a word with her.

I am trying to weigh the possibility that I will read Faulkner’s works and hate them and thus feel some measure of vindication as well as personal growth at having done it despite her comment against feeling some affinity for his work and then resenting the fact that she got me to finally do it. Or is that crazy?

I’m a Robert Penn Warren guy myself.

“Home means a place that when you go there, they have to take you in.”

Not crazy. Nothing as lousy-feeling as having to give a drip like that credit for knowing good writing.

But, think of it this way. If you read it just to prove something to someone, you’ll feel cheated either way. If, on the other hand, you find yourself strolling through the library and see a Faulkner book that actually sounds interesting to you–you’ll be reading it for a reason that has nothing to do with that twit.
And you can bet that if you do like his writing and feel a real affinity for him, you’ll see all the subtle beauty that was lost on her. Worst case, you’ll have to admit that she knew what she was talking about concerning Faulkner–little compensation for the fact that she failed you as a teacher.

When I was in school, my English teacher passed around a list of books and told us to choose one and do a report on it. At random, I chose Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury”. I put it down in disgust after one sentence. And that is more reading than it sounds like, because the sentence took up almost the whole damn page! I skipped forward and looked at a few random pages, and they were all like that! Sentences hundreds of words long! Maybe slogging through torturous bogs like that is somebody’s idea of fun, but it ain’t mine.

Excuse me, carnivorousplant, but I believe that line is from Robert Frost’s poem “Death of a Hired Man.” BTW, are you a wall?


Fortunately I witnessed the best way to irk her firsthand. I shall share this interchange, not because it has anything to do with Faulkner, but because it was funny to me.

The course was going on at the time of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings and, being a course on feminism, this professor worked Anita Hill in to every class. One class occurred right after Catherine McKinnon (sp?) was on Phil Donahue’s show and the prof asked if anyone had seen it. A number of people in my class, including me, indicated they had and here is where we pick up the conversation:

Prof. to a guy in the class: “And what did you think?”

Student: “I thought she was really cute.”

Needless to say, that was about the worst thing any human being could have said in front of this prof and, recognizing that, the entire class lost it. I still wish that student had been me, but I cannot take credit for the comment.

I’m sorry…this was just too cool to let pass. Doesn’t have anything to do with the subject at hand, but that just struck me as incredibly vivid and Carrollesque. Thanks, Tapswiller.

Maybe this prof had a little more clarity in her thought process than in her ability to speak and meant “culturally” literate, which was a big acadmeic deal around the time you’re talking about.

I’d still say she was wrong, arrogant and elitist, and I certainly wouldn’t wish Faulkner on anyone who wasn’t really interested in getting to know what the big deal is with his insanely convoluted psychopathy, but if that’s what she meant she’d at least be bolstered by the studies and dissertations being published in the early 90s.

You should have just told her to go Faulkner herself.

It was quoted to me by a friend long ago, so perhaps I am mistaken.
Anyway, it beats the hell out of dying while pissing on the hindquarters of a mule.
Define “wall”

The title of Warren’s novel “A Place To Come To” was taken from the poem. My friend quoted the line from the poem to me and I thought he was quoting Warren.

As a Faulkner fan, I feel that should check in with some positive words about the poor guy.

First though, your professor sounds like a snooty toot of the highest order. What a dopey thing to say. I would have had the same reaction you did. If the professor had said that about any author, I probably would vow never to let a word by said author darken my intellectual door as long as I lived.

But, if you are seriously wondering if perhaps you are missing something by not reading Mr. Faulkner, then my answer would be “it depends.” From what you have said of your reading preferences, I wouldn’t jump to recommend Faulkner to you. However, if perhaps you decide to embark upon a study of the 20th century literature of the American South, then I would find fault with any reading list that did not include Faulkner. He is wordy, his sentences go on longer than last year’s presidential election, it’s often difficult to figure out what is going on plot-wise until the second or third reading, and in many of his books and stories, nothing much happens. Let’s be up front about that.

However, his use of language to convey the interior voice is nothing short of remarkable. I’ve found that I enjoy him more when I read his work out loud, as there is a poetic cadance to his prose. In addition, he creates a very keen portrait of an isolated culture in a particular time and place. He also touches upon themes of family, which I always find interesting – how the family can act as a unit, yet within the family, the individuals are operating at great, and sometimes painful, emotional distances from each other. Oh, and another thing I like is that he plays around with various characters’ perception of events, so you are getting multiple points of view of any given incident. This annoys some people to no end, and it’s certainly a personal preference sort of thing.

I second stuuter’s suggestion of A Rose for Emily if you want to give Faulkner a try. But it’s not going to make you any more literate than you already are.