Faulkner, Hemingway, et al.: The emersonian test of American authorship
Meyer, William E H Jr
We have yet had no genius in America, with tyrannous eye, which knew the value of our incomparable materials . . . America is a poem in our eyes.
-Emerson, “The Poets”1
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO BE A GREAT SOUTHERN WRITER and a great American one, too; for the very essence of America is a natural, victorious hypervisuality which has superseded the hyperverbal pathology and failure of the South. Here, Faulkner may be a greater writer or word-smith than Hemingway; but Hemingway will forever remind us of Faulkner’s failure to transcend Southern lyricism and an aristocratic, Old World diction for the democratic prose-imagism of New World aesthetics and perception. Indeed, the Civil War, like the Revolutionary War, was fought for a good deal more than political, economic, and social self-determination. Emerson said it best in his early essay, “The American Scholar,” when he declared we would “listen no more to the courtly muses of Europe”2 because our unique “manifest destiny” was the eye, not the ear. In his journals, he simply noted: “That which others hear, I see.”‘ And some half century before, Thomas Paine had already put the matter of our new “common sense” thus: Independence is the only bond that can tie and keep us together. We shall then see our object, and our ears shall be legally shut against the schemes of an intriguing, as well as a cruel enemy.4 ‘Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Poet, in Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Stephen Whicher (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960), p. 238. 2Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar,” Selections, p. 79. 3Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jot
4Thomas Paine, Common Sense, ed. Daniel Wheeler (New York: Vincent Parke, 1908), p. 91; emphasis added.
Indeed, as a host of critics from Paine to Emerson to Tocqueville and D.H. Lawrence had quickly grasped, America “think and acts upon a different system” – what Tocqueville called a “new science for a new world”:
Americans like to discern the objects which engages their attention with extreme clearness . . . to view it more closely in the broad light of day . . . Hence, Americans have no need to draw philiophical methods out of books, having found it within themselve.” The freedom to democratically see for oneself, without the blinders of imported aesthetics or dependence upon a failed cultural historicism, is the sine qua non of American authorship. Hemingway reaches for it; Faulkner doesn’t. For Faulkner the galling realization that he could never embrace Yankee or wider American aesthetics no doubt made him the epitome of Southern elegiac authorship. Faulkner thus notes the same “inconceivable difference in being that D. H. Lawrence recognized between Old World and New in his Studies in Classic American Literature.’[From the North, the “outland”,] there looked down upon [the Southern boy Chick Mallison] countless row on row of faces which resembled his face and spoke the same language he spoke . . . yet between whom and him there was no longer any real kinship and soon there would not even be any contact since the very mutual words they used would no longer have the same significance and soon after this would be gone because they would be too far assunder even to hear one another-.’
As we shall now see, on a variety of comparative topics such as American nature, history, religion and human gender, Faulkner solves his personal and authorial crises by reliance upon the ear or Wordsworthian “Power of Sound,” whereas Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe, Vonnegut, Updike, and even Flannery O’Connor have come to terms with what Emerson, above, called our “genius, with tyrannous eye.” Cleanth Brooks, R. W. B. Lewis, and Robert Penn Warren, in their anthology American Literature: The Makers and the Making, have denominated Emerson as “somehow, the ind isdensablefigure in American literary history;”s and we now know this to be true in Emerson’s ocular Americanhood: “The eye is final; what it tells us is the last stroke of nature. Beyond color we cannot go” (Journals, XIV, 166; emphasis added). Carl Sandburg simply called this hypervisuality the victorious Yankee “colors”: “The fence zigzags and the morning glory staggers on a path of sea-blue, sky-blue, Gettysburg Union blue.”9
Indeed, as we begin our discussion of Faulkner’s innate and obsessive Southern lyricism-what he calls “the thunder and the music of the prose””-we should use as touchstones the great climaxes of Light in August and The Sound and the Fury, moments so excruciatingly relevant for Faulkner that he even chose the identical words to express them-both Joe Christmas’s aural monument to Southern racial pathos and tragedy-the siren “mounted toward its unbelievable crescendo”-and Benjy’s Southern “utter hiatus” of familial and cultural failure, “Ben’s voice mounting toward its unbelievable crescendo”-“just sound.”12 It was to Faulkner’s glory, and will be to his eternal damnation, that he insisted on using this same sound to recreate the South in his own verbal monuments to a society that may never fully recognize its own American heritage. Indeed, Faulkner’s pervasive metaphysic of failure and aristocratic, Old World lyricism have made him possibly the greatest master of literature never to have embraced his national birthright-that brilliant love for what Sandburg, above, called our Emersonian “colors”-our “Gettysburg Union blue.”
O Say, Can YOU See why the United States, of all the countries in the world, has both its national anthem and national seal-the eagle-eyed American eagle-in the hypervisual mode? O Say, Can You SEE why we Americans never repaired the crack in our Liberty Bell so that, like Big Ben, the instrument might actually sound-the crack symbolizing that breach not only with the “courtly muses of Europe” but also with the defeated Southern aristocrats of “sound and fury.” O Say, Can You See why the best-known poem in America, Kilmer’s “Trees,” disdains the Faulknerian attempt to write beautifully and wants instead Ahab’s “naked lunch”-hatred of “inscnitable” words, and love for what Tocqueville called our “clear light of day”: “I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree.”
Here, no doubt, someone will argue, “Faulkner is the great painter of Southern/American landscapes, and Hemingway is just a bare-bones illustrator.” The problem here is that Faulkner’s pictorial love for his countryside is always clouded by his Southern historicism and need to mythicize or lyricize what Lawrence called our “spirit of place,” and so the vision itself is always drifting in and out of focus, like those somnolent Southern mules at the beginning of Light in August-mules drawing all that excess Southern baggage of cultural and aesthetic self-doubt along with Faulkner’s keen literary perception.
Indeed, for Faulkner, Southern history always overpowers American nature; whereas, for Emerson, history is nature. Emerson may declare, and Hemingway may agree, that “in the woods is perpetual youth” where we become “transparent eyeballs”13; but Faulkner must continually lament the vanishing aristocratic wilderness, the defeated Southern countryside-must “bear” the “doomed wilderness” and attempt to salvage the once pristine Southern land from the double whammy of both military defeat and industrial revolution. In “The Bear,” Faulkner’s protagonist, Ike McCaslin, realizes that “[t] his whole land, the whole South, is cursed”14; and Faulkner himself understands that the best he can do is to employ his considerable rhetoric to create a kind of eternal Mississippi mythology, “trying to write down the heart’s truth out of the heart’s driving complexity, for all the complex and troubled hearts which would beat after them” (p. 249). Emerson may demand of the American author-“Forget the past . . . I give you the Universe new and unhandselled every hour” (Journals, 7: 25, 16, emphasis added) – but Faulkner hyperverbally licks his Mississippi “postage stamp” and mails it to wider America. Like Ike, Faulkner can “relinquish the land” only if he transform it into a lasting Southern aesthetic and personal “glory”:
that brief unsubstanced glory . . .and they would, might, carry even the remembrance of it into the time when flesh no longer talks to flesh because memory at least does last (“Bear,” p. 311; emphasis added)
The final pages of “Delta Autumn” serve to shock a much older Ike out of his “ricklickshuns” and into the reality of the New South and perhaps even into a context of a wider America itself. For all his earlier pious homage to the sacred “creation of sexual intercourse” wherein “the two of them together were God,”‘5 Ike cannot overcome his deep Southern attitudes about miscegenation and the guilt of lingering incest as Roth Edmonds’s mulatto mistress displays her own natural integrity and honor in attempting to confront the father of her child. Never in a “thousand years” should this “nigger” seek to marry a Southern white man: “Go back North. Marry: a man in your own race…. Marry a black man” (p. 346). Even the young woman’s reminder to Ike about the power of love is to no avail; the old man simply retreats to his old anti-naturalism and Southern traditionalism of ” deswamped and denuded and dertered” land where now even black men can own plantations and “ride in jim crow cars to Chicago to live in millionaires ‘ mansions on Lakeshore Drive” (p. 347). Indeed, for Faulkner, the end of nature may evenjustly portend the end of human history-at least of Old South race-relations:
Chinese and African and Aryan and Jews all I breed and spawn togeth er until no rna,n has time to say which one is which nor cares…. No wonder the ruined woods I used to know dont cry for retribution! . . . The people who have destroyed it will accomplish its revenge. (p. 346)
Again, for old Ike, as for Faulkner himself, the eradication of the wilderness or its transformation into the “tamed land” can only be countered by the powerful myth of Southern history, both its “Eden” and “Fall,” and its racial myth that projects the salvation of the “cursed land” far into the future heaven of black-white relations: “Maybe in a thousand or two thousand years in America…. But not now!” (p. 344). But Emerson saw in his own “nature” not only the New World optical power of the “woods” and its “transparent eyeball” but also the futuristic-optimistic stance of the “American Scholar” and literary”genius” whose “eyes are set in his forehead, not in his hindhead” (“American,” p. 68). All this Faulknerian obsession with past “curses” and eternally “doomed wildernesses” must be obliterated in what Hemingway called the “sun also rising” and what Thoreau grasped in the “more day to dawn”: Emerson challenges the Southern backwoodsman-“Bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day.”‘6 All the old yellowed ledgers and chronicles of the “doomed and lowly of the earth” (“Bear,” p. 249) which Faulkner’s Ike cherished above the Holy Scriptures themselves must be superseded by a foreward-looking American vision that exults with Thoreau: “Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a see Read your fate, see what is before you, and walk on into futurity.”17 Neither Emerson’s nor Whitman’s “Modern Man” fears Faulkner’s contemptuous neon-flashing “little countless towns” and “this-year’s automobiles” (“Delta,” p. 324). Rather, the American hypervisualist “Modern Man” must reject any aesthetic or ethos based upon the mere “Historian”: “You who celebrate bygones./. . ./I outline what is yet to be./I project the history of the future.”‘8
Faulkner, who often characterized himself as a “failed poet,” might have found more American success and optimism had he been able to forsake the historical forms for a more open-ended experimentation with the New South; and we ourselves might now have a greater appreciation for the pathos inherent in the transformation of real “does and fawns” into the anti-natural “marble faun”: “I am sad, not yet can I,/For all my questing, reason why/. . . a sad, bound prisoner.”19
Here, before examining Hemingway and his approach to the Emersonian “woods,” we might do well to reveal how Faulkner’s Southern lyricism and historicism continue to promote aurality over hard-nosed vision in such great novels as The Sound and the Fury and Light in August. In the first of these novels, it is almost as if the rhetorical concept of Southern “glory” and “honor” and “truth” and “family” was to blame for the predicament of the Civil War itself. Quentin may be cynical; but what he has left is the traditional rhetoric wherein “Grandfather wore his uniform . . . they were always talking and Grandfather was always right” (p. 176). Truly, there is something greater than irony in Quentin’s admission that “we have sold Benjy’s pasture so that Quentin may go to Harvard” (p. 94) . “Harvard is such a fine sound forty acres is no high price for a fine sound. . . a fine dead sound” (p.174); for Faulkner himself is caught up in the aesthetic addiction to Old World “dead sounds” and the suicide of immersion in Shakespearean rhetoric “as the last note sounded” (p. 176). Such stentorian bellowing, whether in grief or rage, makes it impossible for the Southern artist to focus, without rhetoricizing, on the undoubtedly painful realities of the postbellum South, and leaving one merely hopeful, like Lena Grove, that some romantic “Byron” will come to the rescue of the Southern maiden traipsing across the Keatsean/Faulknerian urn. The immersion of Joe Christmas or Benjy in a rhetoric “mounting toward its unbelievable crescendo” (Sound, p. 320) or the drowning of Quentin as the last chimes sounded across Harvard Square reflect a Southern dependence upon the narcotic of Old World faith in the redeeming Word that makes assimilation under the Yankee “tyrannous eye” impossible and abhorrent. Not sola sciptura or “pray without ceasing” is Emerson’s New World commandment, but solo oculo – Observe without ceasing” (Journals, XII, 478). From Hightower’s unique Southern blend of Bible and Southern narrative-“the dogma he was supposed to teach all full of galloping cavalry and defeat and glory” (Light, pp. 62-63)-to Lena Grove’s Southern faith that the ear precedes the eye, as she would be “riding within the hearing of Lucas Burch before his seeing” (p. 9; emphasis added), we have that Faulknerian/Wordsworthian “listening” and “power of sound” that, like the Sunday-evening prayer meeting, contains within it the primal truth of the human predicament: “Listening, [Hightower] seems to hear within it the apotheosis of his own history, his own land, his own environed blood” (p. 367; emphasis added).
Still, Emerson, Whitman, and Hemingway, as we shall see, knew differently; they knew with Emily Dickinson that American truth or epistemology was visual, not verbal or vocal: “`How shall you know”‘?/Consult your Eye!”2” And Whitman simply put it thus in his “1855 Preface” to Leaves of Grass: “He is not one of the chorus . . . he is a seer . . . the others are as good as he, only he sees it and they do not (p. 715; emphasis added). If Joanna Burden had talked less, whether in scatology or prayer, perhaps Joe Christmas might have been less inclined to cut her throat in futile escape notjust from the “curse” of Southern slavery and black-white dilemmas but from that Southern traditional rhetoric of human possibilities which can only dissolve itself in the crucible of sound-“the scream of the siren mount[ing] toward its unbelievable crescendo, passing out of the realm of hearing” (Light, p. 465). All in all, Christmas, Benjy and Quentin were unable to transcend their Southern aural damnation, their hyperverbal historicism,and”isolate [themselves] out of the loud world” (Sound,p. 177).
In turning to Hemingway, then, we immediately notice that we are inhabiting a “clean, well-lighted place” where “you do not want music; certainly you do not want music”21-and not the Faulknerian realm of a jazzy “that evening sun” of terrified and wailing Negro women. Hemingway’s world of “the sun also rising” confronts a nature with less historical baggage, less need for rationalization and chauvinistic apologetics. In this sense, Hemingway can accept his natural experience with less preconceived cultural expectation-can be more the natural observer and less the driven narrator. This is not to say that Hemingway was as much a natural optimist as Emerson, but that both men shared an unshakeable faith in vision as the ultimate New-World means of perception-i.e., that we are “educated by a moment of sunshine” (Journals, XIII, 66). Faulkner may believe that his “light” in August is akin to the Old World “luminosity from the old classic times”22; but Emerson-and Hemingway-know that the “great awakening” to New World experience renders all such previous models irrelevant:
When I see the daybreak, I am not reminded of those Homeric, or Chaucerian, or Shakespearean, or Miltonic. . . . nor of Pope and Addison and Johnson, who write as if they had never seen the face of the countryside.2,3
Not for nothing did Hemingway frequently boast that “I’ve seen even, sunrise of my life”24-that star-spangled “dawn’s early light” of our genuine American hypervisual aesthetic. Indeed, early on,Jonathan Edwards sensed that GE, not Jesus, might be behind his New World saints: “`Tis light that must convert them, if ever they are converted.”25 Edwards’s, Emerson’s, Thoreau’s, and Hemingway’s dawning day, not Faulkner’s crepuscular “evening sun,” was to be the means by which we, indeed, “listen no more to the courtly muses of Europe.”
And so, whether we catch Hemingway, the “cub-reporter,” or Hemingway, the wounded war-veteran, or Hemingway, the grand “old man” or “Papa” of the sea, we continue to find what Harry Levin called Hemingway’s obsession with vision: “Hemingway wants to see everything.”26 From young Nick Adams’s “good view” of his father’s crude operation on an Indian woman-“doing a Caesarian with a jack-knife and sewing it up with nine-foot, tapered gut leaders” (“Indian,” Stories, p. 94)-to his recuperating from the trauma of war at riverside-“watching the trout keeping themselves steady in the current with wavering fins” (“Big,” Stories, p. 209)-to old Santiago, out of sight of land-“‘I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars”’27-we find a prose-imagism at work deceptively simple in its code of unflinching observation. Faulkner’s Hightower may find his Southern being and highest religious values bound up in an amalgam of Scripture and Sound, histrionics and history, with thundering orations and galloping hooves; but Hemingway’s Robert Jordan would rather take life “straight”-whether saying good-bye to a “statue” in a hotel room, or dismissing his “Maria” for a prime spot of observation through his sights, “waiting until the officer reached the sunlit place where the first trees of the pine forest joined the green slope of the meadow.” 28
In fact, Levin’s assertion that “Hemingway’s purpose is to make his readers beholders” (p. 111; emphasis added) really masks the radicality of both Emerson’s and the American artist’s breach with “literature.” A Shakespeare, a Wordsworth or a Faulkner may truly believe in “The Power of Sound” or the Word-in the ability of the artist to memorialize the English language or Southern history-but the genuine American writer experiences a crisis with words that Levin calls Hemingway’s “verbal skepticism” (p. 101 ) and that that good Southerner, Robert Penn Warren, ridiculed as Thomas Wolfe’s hatred of “speech itself as an indignity to the chastity of the vision.”‘ Whether we find Emerson announcing that “what a little of all we know is said” (“Poet,” p. 239; emphasis added), or Perry Miller describing the Puritan “plain style” of address as ideally “nothing but a transparent glass through which the light of revelation might shine,”:3 we find the aesthetic antecedents for Hemingway’s famous terse “style” which knows that saying can never rival seeing as the highest American ideal. Indeed, in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” the dying writer, Harry, knows that even if he had not wasted his youth and talent on alcohol and “rich bitches,” he would never have been able to “telescope it all into one paragraph” and “get it right” (Stories, p. 68; emphasis added). Here, telescopic or magnified vision-American hypervision-can never be contained by language or “paragraphs.” Emily Dickinson simply put the paradox thus: “‘Nature’ is what we see/. . ./Yet have no art to sa-” (p. 332, emphasis added). And Theodore Roethke knew that the New World writer must forevermore rely on his sight, not his hearing or speaking: “If I should of my senses lose . . ./ Take Tongue and Ear-all else I have-/Let Light attend me to the grave.”3′ The only way in which American writers could attain a cultural and aesthetic independence from Europe was, ironically and traumatically, to cling to the eye, not the ear-“to bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day” (“Self-Reliance,” pp. 152-153).
Hemingway’s famous short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and his last great novel, The Old Man and the Sea, will illustrate this uniquely American “verbal scepticism” and hypervisual ideal. Indeed, Hemingway’s well-lighted “bodega” is far less about Spain than what I have called the “visual-bias” of our “Artist’s America.”12 Here, Hemingway’s “older waiter” disdains lyricism (“You did not want music”) and craves the “nothing” of the Emersonian woods (“I am nothing; I see all”). Indeed, Hemingway’s existential “waiter” enunciates the “Puritanical” aesthetic which has been with us from the beginning: “Light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order” (Stories, p. 383; emphasis added). However, no speech can capture this experience or preserve it for posterity; the Emersonian “ever in a new day” makes even the traditional Word or Lord’s Prayer irrelevant: “Our nada who art in nada” (p. 383). Moreover, Hemingway’s wry comment in diagnosing this wide-eyed “insomnia”-“many must have it” (p. 383)-reminds one of Hawthorne’s introspective seer, Dimmesdale, announcing that we all wear the scarlet “A” upon our breasts, the “A” of our Adulterous American Aesthetics, our seduction in a flood of Massachusetts sunshine.
The Old Man and the Sea simply continues the Melvillean hunt for “the great principle of light,” whether this be incarnated in the white whale or the marlin of “huge eye” (p. 96). Faulkner liked to praise this later novel as finally containing Hemingway’s discovery of God; but in reality, Hemingway here reaches a detente with hypervision that transcends an Ahab’s desire to “smite the sun”: “I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars … Imagine if a man each day should have to try to kill the sun?” (p. 75). What Santiago learns, as Hemingway the American apprentice learned, is that no scripture or “corpus” or text could ever escape the verbal “sharks” of academia and Old World “English” departments. Santiago might bring in the glistening “bones” of perfect prose, but these would never really illustrate the beauty of the vision itself-“bright in the sun . . . his sides showing wide and a light lavender” (p. 62). Nor does Hemingway’s old aesthetic saint attempt to correct the “tourists” who mistake his hard-won American tiburon or marlin for the esharks or hateful critics themselves. Truly, no mere explanation, even in such an academic essay as this, can convince the Southerner or Tory or English professor of the reality of what Flannery O’Connor must confront as the “new jesus” of the American South tattooed on Parker’s back-the Emersonian, tyrannous-eyed “Byzantine Christ with all-demanding eyes”.3 who had “burned clean” the eye-sockets of his Southern saints of all their obsessive historicism and rhetoric of salvation. Hazel Motes knows that he owes his “wiser blood” to this grotesque “new jesus” of American hypervisuality: “Show me where this new jesus, is . . . so we’ll all be saved by the sight of him!”” Though Motes, as the good Southern traditionalist/”preacher,” tries to blind himself to the excruciating light of American hypervision, he nevertheless admits the Emersonian dictum we have referred to from the beginning: “The eye is final.” Motes screams out for the “American novelist in the Protestant South”: “”hat you see is the truth! . . . I’ve seen the only truth there is!” (p. 103; emphasis added). A century before, Emily Dickinson had put it even more succinctly: “Not ‘Revelation’-’tis, that waits,/But our unfurnished eyes” (p. 685).
Again, no doubt, for the American writer to comprehend the predicament of his aesthetic choice-his Emersonian “hitching his wagon to the star” of hypervision-is to make the most ironic and profound of discoveries. In nuce, it is what makes Gatsby “great” as this modern Emersonian transforms his natural “daisy” into no Faulknerian/mythic Eula or Lena of the fecund Southern countryside, but into the eye-con of the inexpressible American Religion of Vision (Meyer, p. 1045), forever wedding “his unutterable visions to her perishable breath.”35 And Fitzgerald’s own “Nick Adams,” Nick Carraway, no doubt censures his own group of disbelievers and traditionalists by blurting out to Gatsby-“They’re a rotten crowd…. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together” (p. 154). Fitzgerald had intuited that when Emerson declared, “If a man would be alone, let him look at the stars?” (“Nature,” Selections, p. 23), that his own Gatsby must emulate Emerson’s seer by being observed on the lawn of his mansion, “standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars” (Gatsby, p. 21 ) . Indeed, the prevalence of the solitary character in American literature exists not so much because of any Southern/racial discrimination and crimes, but because, like James Fenimore Cooper’s Hawkeye on Mount Vision, he craves solitary and unfettered observation on every side: “I saw all that God had done or man could do, far as the eye could reach;-you know the Indians named me for my sight.”3” No Byron Bunch will ever win his Lena in a Hemingway novel: the code hero, whether by impotence or wounds or age, must always be separated from his lover in order to maintain that almost priestly line of seers from Pathfinder to the pale scrivener, Bartleby, “the sole spectator of a solitude,”37 to Fitzgerald’s own modern urban “Oculist”: “The eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic-their retinas are one yard high . . . brooding over the solemn dumping ground” (p. 23). Is it any wonder, then, that T. S. Eliot, speaking of his own twentieth-century wastelands should declare in his famous “Notes” that the solitary seer should transcend even this most erudite and allusive of poems: “Tiresias, although a mere spectator, is yet the most imporant personage in the poem, uniting all the rest…. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem.”38 Is it any wonder, too, that the one unrelieved moment of real passion in The Waste Land should effectively make Eliot another Emersonian “transparent eyeball”: “. . . and I knew nothing,/Looking into the heart of light, the silence” (p. 52).
Finally, we note in passing here, that whether we are dealing with the topics of nature or gender or religion, the Faulknerian impulse is always toward the redemption or apotheosis of the South through the Old World “thunder and music of prose” and a historicism which clings to the Word as its savior; and that the American-here, specifically, Hemingway-desire is for unflinching observation that supersedes history for immediate experience-what Emerson called our “original relation to the Universe” (“Nature” p. 22; emphasis added). To be sure, Hemingway can employ the traditional usages of “English goddesses” and “Queens of Heaven” and “Marias” to establish a kind of gender-symbology for his heroines; but unlike Faulkner, Hemingway simply wants the imagery to embellish the eye-con within the American Religion of Vision, rather than to project a historical gender-type or Lena “Grove” within the typology of Southern literary reconstruction.
It is high time, then, that we begin to see our genuine American experiments in writing for what they are-whether dealing with e. e. cummings’s typographical paintings in words, or with Kurt Vonnegut’s collection of drawings in what he called his “fiftieth-birthday present to myself,” Breakfast of Champions. This essentially “Imagist” movement-going back to the Puritans and their “great awakenings” to the New World “light”-may have failed in England for its lack of “ear”; but it became and remained the backbone of American art and life, with Hemingway being but one exemplary literary instance. Melville, of course, had recognized our fiery hunt for the white whale as the great principle of light’ when he demanded that we “away with this leaven of literary flunkeyism towards England” and that we call our authors “Americans” and have done.4″ If Faulkner made the fateful choice, destined by aristocratic social and cultural and military antecedents almost beyond his ken, to recreate his landscape under the cadences of King James or Shakespeare or Dostoevski, then he is forever “doomed and damned” for what he himself called the “magnificent failure” of his Southern “sound and fury” (University, p. 90). And although “ethnicity” and “pluralism” may continue to ring as au courant catchwords at our Harvards; and although the African-American “soul” may remain wedded to the aurality of its past, “[while] the voice consumed [them]” (Sound, p. 294); and although the Jewish-American writer may base his identity upon ancient and contemporary Middle Eastern history and the “Shema” or “Hear O Israel”, we shall not finally depend upon any Old World/Faulknerian rhetoric of fiction and its Southern narratives for the future of American writing. We shall, in fact, continue to persevere in the impossible task of giving words to what Thomas Wolfe described as the American experience of a mind “ablaze with a stream of swarming images, stamping a thousand brilliant pictures on his brain with the speed of light, the flare of a soaring rocket.”4′
Indeed, where such intense hypervisualization of American authorship will lead, no one can say. An Emersonian “ocular age” always demands new visions and the correlative repudiation of those visions. No critique or introduction can ever fathom or contain them: “Eyes wait for no introduction; they are no Englishman.”42 No Old World speech can ever “go home” to the New World vision itself: “He was like a man who stands upon a hill above the town he has left, yet does not say `The town is near,’ but turns his eyes upon the distant soaring ranges” (Look Homeward, p. 522). O Say, Can YOU See the Emersonian test of American authorship?
5Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in Anca (2 vols.; New York: Alfred Knopf, 1956), II, 4,5.
oD. H. Lawrence, The Uncollected Versions of Studies in Classic American Literature, ed. Armin Arnold (London: Centaur Press, 1962), p. 17.
7William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust (NewYork: Vintage International, 1991), pp. 149150; emphasis added.
8Cleanth Brooks, et al., eds., American Lite-a.ture: The Makers and the Making (2 vols.; New York: St. Martin’s, 1973), 1, 670.
“Carl Sandburg, “Morning Glory Blue,’ The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg, *Morning Glorv Blue,* The Cempble Poems- of Ca71 Sandbwg, rev. and expanded edition (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970), p. 741.
‘o Interview with Jean Stein vanden Heuvel,” Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner, 1926-1962, ed.James B. Meriwether and Michael Millgate (New York: Random House, 1968), p. 248.
“William Faulkner, Light in August (1932) (New York: Vintage International, 1990), p. 465.
“William Faulkner, The Sound and tle Fury (1929) (New York: Vintage International, 1990), p. 320; emphasis added.
‘3Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature,” Selections, p. 24.
“4William Faulkner, Go Down, bioses (NewYork: Vintage International, 1990), p. 266.
‘William Faulkner, Go Doui Moses, p. 332.
thRalph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” Selections, p. 152-153; emphasis added. ‘7Henry David Thoreau, The Va7ii-um Walden, ed. Walter Harding (New York: Washington Square Press, 1969), p. 83; emphasis added.
18 Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, ed. Sculley Bradley (New York: Norton, 1973), p. 4; emphasis added.
19 William Faulkner, The Marble Faun and A Green Bough (New York Random House, 1952), p.30
‘Emily Dickinson, The Complet Poems of EmilDickinson, The Complete Poems ofEmsly Dickznson, ed. Thomas H.Johnson (Boston: Little, Brown, 1960), p. 201.
“Ernest Hemingway, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” Tie Short Stories of Ernest Hemingmay (New York: Scribner’s, 1970), p. 382.
22William Faulkner, Faulkner in the University, ed. Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1959), p. 199.
2″Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emerson: A Mode,rii Antholog, ed. Daniel Arron and Alfred Kazin (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959), pp. 50, 39; emphasis added. 2A. E. Hotchner, Papa Ileaingio (New York: Random House, 1966), p. 114.
2 Jonathan Edwards, The Great Awakening, ed. C. C. Goen (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), p. 350; emphasis added.
“Harry Levin, “Observations on the Style of Ernest Hemingway,” in Hemingway: A Collection of Ciitica.d Essays, ed. Robert Weeks (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1962), p. 111; emphasis added.
2’Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (New York: Scribner’s, 1952), p. 75.
“Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (New York: Scribner’s, 1940), p. 471. ‘”Robert Penn Warren, “The Hamlet of Thomas Wolfe,’ in The Ena of Thomas Wolfe, ed. Richard Walser (Cambridge: Han,ard University Press, 1953), p. 130; emphasis added.
*Perry Miller, The New England Mind (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963), p. 349.
5’Theodore Roethke, “Prayer,” The Collected Poems of TheodoreRoethke (NewYork: Anchor, 1975), p. 8; emphasis added.
33Flannery O’Connor, Parker’s Back,” The Complete Stores of Flannery O’Connor (New York Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976), p. 522.
‘Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1952), p. 141; emphasis added.
35 F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1924) (New York: Scribner’s 1980), p. 112; emphasis added.
3James Fenimore Cooper, The Prairie (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1950), p. 300; emphasis mine.
57Herman Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener, American Literature, 1, 555.
38 T.S. Elliot, “The Waste Land,” Selected Poems of T.S. Eliot (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1970), p. 70
“Herman Melville, Moby-Dick ed. Charles Feidelson (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1964), p. 264; emphasis added.
4″Herman Melville, Hawthorne and His Moses,” American Literature, I, 839. 4iThomas Wolfe, Look Homea>zd,, Angel (New York: Scribner’s, 1937), p. 455.
42Ralph Waldo Emerson, Home Book of Quotations, 10″h ed., ed. Burton Stevenson (New York: Dobbs, Mead, 1966), p. 597.
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