William Faulkner: Absalom, Absalom!
47-29 32nd Place
Long Island City, NY 11101
For the historian C. Vann Woodward, living in the South at the height of Jim Crow, it was literature that awoke him to the myths and dissimulation of official white supremacy. The works of William Faulkner—his 1936 classic Absalom, Absalom! in particular—were especially crucial in challenging the tendency of Southern historians to justify and validate the racist hierarchy of the South. In its excavation of the secrets and abuses of the Sutpen family, Absalom, Absalom! offered Woodward and his generation of white Southern liberals a “disquisition on how, thinking back, we come to know the past”—that is, the repressed history of slavery and its violent aftermath in Reconstruction. African American writers, such as James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, received Faulkner’s work more critically: they found his literary excavations fruitful, but his treatments of race limited and fatalistic. How can we understand the role of Faulkner’s literary intervention in shaping the way in which “the South” narrated itself? What legacy did Faulkner leave in American literature?
In this course, we will read Absalom, Absalom! alongside fiction and essays by the writers Faulkner influenced. Considering his use of Gothic fiction and historical inquiry, students will examine how Faulkner probed the official evasions and fetid silences of Southern society in order to acknowledge racism’s inextricable hold on the present. We will also examine the limits of his approach as described by postwar critics like James Baldwin, who argued that Faulkner accepted racism as a tragic inevitability rather than confronting Jim Crow head on. Besides Absalom, readings for the course will include selections from W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America, Woodward’s Strange Career of Jim Crow, Rober Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find, Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Morrison’s Beloved and Jordan Peele’s Get Out.
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30
July 11 — August 01, 2019