Absalom, Absalom!
By William Faulkner


* V *

Rosa Coldfield speaks:

“Because there is something in the touch of flesh with flesh which abrogates, cuts sharp and straight across the devious intricate channels of decorous ordering, which enemies as well as lovers know because it makes them both ­touch and touch of that which is the citdel of the central I-Am’s private own: not spirit, soul; the liquorish and ungirdled mind is anyone’s to take in any darkened hallway of this earthly tenement. But let flesh touch with flesh, and watch the fall of all the eggshell shibboleth of caste and color too....

“Perhaps I couldn’t even have wanted more than that, couldn’t have accepted less, who even at nineteen must have known that living is one constant and perpetual instant when the arras-veil before what-is-to-be hangs docile and even glad to the lightest naked thrust if we had dared, were brave enough (not wise enough: no wisdom needed here) to make the rending gash.  Or perhaps it is no lack of courage either: not cowardice which will not face that sickness somewhere at the prime foundation of this factual scheme from which the prisoner soul, miasmal-distillant, wroils ever upward sunward, tugs its tenuous prisoner arteries and veins and prisoning in its turn that spark, that dream which, as the globy and complete instant of its freedon mirrors and repeats (repeats? creates, reduces to a fragile evanescent iridescent sphere) all of space and time and massy earth, relicts the seething and anonymous miasmal mass which in all the years of time has taught itself no boon of death but only how to recreate, renew; and dies, is gone, vanished: nothing-- but is that true wisdom which can comprehend that there is a might-have-been which is more true than truth, from which the dreamer, waking, says not ‘Did I but dream?’ but rather says, indicts high heaven’s very self with: ‘Why did I wake since waking I shall never sleep again?’...

“There are some things which happen to us which the intelligence and the senses refuse just as the stomach sometimes refuses what the palate has accepted but which digestion cannot compass-- occurrences which stop us dead as though by some impalpable intervention, like a sheet of glass through which we watch all subsequent events transpire as though in a soundless vacuum, and fade, vanish; are gone, leaving us immobile, impotent, helpless; fixed, until we can die....

“He was gone; I did not even know that either since there is a metabolism of the spirit as well as of the entrails, in which the stored accumulations of long time burn, generate, create and break some maidenhead of the ravening meat; ay, in a second’s time-- yes, lost all the shibboleth erupting of cannot, will not, never will in one red instant’s fierce obliteration....

“...not madman, no: since surely there is something in madness, even the demoniac, which Satan flees, aghast at his own handiwork, and which God looks on in pity-- some spark, some crumb to leaven and redeem that articulated flesh, that speech sight heating taste and being which we call human man....

“You see, I was that sun, or thought I was who did believe there was that spark, that crumb in madness which is divine, though madness know no word itself for terror or for pity....  villain true enough, but a mortal fallible one less to invoke fear than pity: but no ogre; mad true enough, but I told myself, Why should not madness be its own victim also? or, Why may it be not even madness but solitary despair in titan conflict with the lonely and foredoomed and indomitable iron spirit: but no ogre, because it was dead, vanished, consumed somewhere in flame and sulphur-reek perhaps among the lonely craggy peaks of my childhood’s solitary remembering­or forgetting; I was that sun, who believed...

“I mean that he was not owned by anyone or anything in this world, had never been, would never be... Because he was not articulated in this world.  He was a walking shadow.  He was the light-blinded bat-like image of his own torment cast by the fierce demoniac lantern up from beneath the earth’s crust and hence in retrograde, reverse; from abysmal and chaotic dark to eternal and abysmal dark completing his descending (do you mark the gradation?) ellipsis, clinging, trying to cling with vain unsubstantial hands to what he hoped would hold him, save him, arrest him... To find severence (even if not rest and peace) at last in the stroke of a rusty scythe.”


Quentin & Shreve Keep On Talking

Quentin and Shreve stared at one another ­glared rather ­their quiet regular breathing vaporizing faintly and steadily in the now tomblike air.  There was something curious in the way they looked at one another, curious and quiet and profoundly intent, not at all as two young men might look at each other but almost as a youth and a very young girl might out of virginity itself­a sort of hushed and naked searching, each look burdened with youth’s immemorial obsession not with time’s dragging weight which the old live with but with its fluidity: the bright heels of all the lost moments of fifteen and sixteen....

 They stared ­glared ­at one another.  It was Shreve speaking, though save for the slight difference which the intervening degrees of latitude had inculcated in them (differences not in tone or pitch but of turns of phrase and usage of words), it might have been either of them and was in a sense both: both thinking as one, the voice which happened to be speaking the thought only the thinking become audible, vocal; the two of them creating between them, out of the rag-tag and bob-ends of old tales and talking, people who perhaps had never existed at all anywhere, who, shadows, were shadows not of flesh and blood which had lived and died but shadows in turn of what were (to one of them at least, to Shreve) shades too, quiet as the visible murmur of their vaporizing breath....

“And Bon didn’t know it,” Shreve said.  “The old man didn’t move and this time Henry didn’t say ‘You lie,’ he said ‘It’s not true’ and the old man said, “Ask him. Ask Charles then’ and then Henry knew that that was what he meant himself when he told his father he lied, because what the old man said wasn’t just ‘He is your brother’ but ‘He has known all the time that he is yours and your sister’s brother.’ But Bon didn’t know.  Listen, dont you remember how your father said it, that not one time did he­the old guy, the demon--ever seem to wonder how the other wife managed to find him, track him down, had never once seemed to wonder what she might have been doing all that time, the thirty years since that day when he paid his bill with her and got it receipted, so he thought, and saw with his own eyes that it was (so he thought) destroyed, torn up and thrown to the wind; never once wondered about this but only that she had done it, could have and would have wanted to track him down?   So it wasn’t her that told Bon.  She wouldn’t have wanted to, maybe for the reason that she know he ­the demo n­would believe she had.  Or maybe she didn’t get around to telling him.  Maybe she just never thought that there could be anyone as close to her as a lone child out of her own body who would have to be told how she had been scorned and suffered.  Or maybe she was already telling it before he was big enough to understand what was being told him she had told it so much and so hard that the words didn’t make sense to her anymore wither because they didn’t have to make sense to her, and so she had got to the point where when she thought she was saying it she was quiet, and when she thought she was quit it was just the hate and the fury and the unsleeping and the unforgetting.  Or maybe she didn’t intend for him to know it then.  Maybe she was grooming him for that hour and moment which she couldn’t foresee but that she knew would arrive some day because it would have to arrive or else she would have to do like the Aunt Rosa and deny that she had ever breathed ­the moment when he (Bon) would stand side by side (not face to face) with his father where fate or luck or justice or whatever she called it could do the rest (and it did, better than she could have invented or hoped or even dreamed, and your father said how being a woman she probably wasn’t even surprised)­grooming him herself, bringing him on by hand herself, washing and feeding and putting him to bed and giving him the candy and the toys and the other child fun and diversion and needs in measured doses like medicine with her own hand: not because she had to, who could have hired a dozen or bought a hundred to do it for her with the money, the jack that he (the demon) had voluntarily surrendered, repudiated to balance his moral ledger: but like the millionaire who could have a hundred hostlers and handlers but who has just the one horse, the one maiden, the one moment, the one matching of heart and muscle and will with the one instant: and himself (the millionaire) patient in the overalls and the sweat and the stable muck, and the mother bringing him along to the moment when she would say ‘He is your father.  He cast you and me aside and denied you his name. Now go.’ and then sit down and let God finish it: pistol or knife or rack; destruction or grief or anguish: God to call the shot or turn the wheel.  Jesus, you can almost see him: a little boy already come to learn, to expect, before he could remember having learned his own name or the name of the town where he lived or how to say either of them, that every so often he would be snatched up from playing and held, gripped between the two hands fierce with (what passed at least with him for it) love, against the two fierce rigid knees, the face that he remembered since before remembering began as supervising all the animal joys of palate and stomach and entrails, of warmth and pleasure and security, swooping down at him in a kind of blazing immobility: he taking the interruption as a matter of course, as just another natural phenomenon of existence; the face filled with furious and almost unbearable unforgiving almost like fever (not bitterness and depair: just implacable will for revenge) as just another manifestation of mammalian love--and he not knowing what in hell it was all about.  He would be too young to curry any connected fact out of the fury and hate and the tumbling speed; not comprehending or caring: just curious, creating for himself (without help since who to help him) his own notion of that Porto Rico or Haiti or wherever it was he understood vaguely that he had come frrom, like orthodox children do of Heaven or the cabbage patch or wherever it was that they came from, except that his was different in that you were not supposed (your mother didn’t intend to, anyway) to ever go back there (and maybe when you got as old as she was you would be horrified too, every time you found hidden in your thoughts anything that just smelled or tasted like it might be a wish to go back there). You were not supposed to know when and why you left but only that you had escaped, that whatever power had created the place for you to hate it had likewise got you away from the place so you could hate it good and never forgive it in quiet and monotony (though not exactly in what you would call peace); that you were to thank God you didn’t remember anything about it yet at the same time you were not to, maybe dared not to, ever forget it­he not even knowing maybe that he took it for granted that all kids didn’t have fathers too and that getting snatched every day or so from whatever harmless pursuit in which you were not bothering anybody or even thinking about them, by someone becuase that someone was bigger than you, stronger than you, and being held for a minute or five minutes under a kind of busted water pipe of incomprehensible fury and fierce yearning and vindictiveness and jealous rage was part of childhood which all mothers of children had received in turn from their mothers and from their mothers in turn from that Porto Rico or Haiti or wherever it was we all came from but none of us ever lived in.  So that when he grew up and had children he would have to pass it on too (and maybe deciding then and there that it was too much trouble and bother and that he would not have any children or at least hoped he would not) and hence no man had a father, no one personal Porto Rico or Haiti, but all mother faces which ever bred swooping down at those almost calculable moments out of some obscure ancient general affronting and outraging which the actual living articulate meat had not even suffered but merely inherited; all boy flesh that walked and breathed stemming from that one ambiguous eluded dark fatherhead and so brothered perennial and ubiquitous everywhere under the sun----”

©1936 William Faulkner; renewed 1964 by Estelle Faulkner and Jill Faulkner Summers

1991; Vintage Books; 313 pages

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