Thursday, March 10, 2011


I hope this isn't too confusing, but this post, or column as I think of them, is about three things: William Faulkner, Ben Affleck and my own work.

The past few days, I have been reading and re-reading my favorite writer, William Faulkner, Nobel prize winner, son of the South, he of the long, impenetrable sentence and driven, ecstatic, almost apocalyptic prose.

Faulkner was a hell of a writer. He infused his material--his words and sentences and paragraphs and scenes and stories and novels--with an intensity of meaning found in few other writers. Certainly James Joyce. Some would say Ernest Hemingway, though I would not. Certainly Joseph Conrad and Herman Melville and their artistic descendant, Cormac McCarthy.

Isn't this what writing is all about? Yes, it is. Language charged with meaning. As Faulkner said, he "found a way of writing where each word was as dangerous as a stick of dynamite."

How did he do it? Through a combination of narrative drive and energy both from his narrators and his characters. His words do not lie dead on the page, like they do with most if not all modern popular writers. His language is alive.

I have been reading a book called, oddly, "Knight's Gambit: Six Mystery Stories by William Faulkner." Strange that the master would turn his hand to such a popular art form. I don't know if he intended these as mysteries. Perhaps he did. Certainly they have mystery elements: crime, danger, a smart "detective" who solves the mystery.

As my old poetry teacher, Charles Wright, used to say, "You have to tell 'em something new, or tell 'em something old in a new way."

Faulkner does that. These stories are further revelations about human nature as fired in the kiln of his native Mississippi, in his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, based on his own home area around Oxford. His revelations are always new.  

I don't understand why anyone would try to remove layers of meaning from his language, as some writers say they do. Suffice it to say, Faulkner is always rich with meaning.

Now let's turn to another art form: film. Last night, I tried to watch "The Town," directed by and starring Ben Affleck. I didn't last long. I have the weird notion that if you you're going to spend several million $ making a movie, it should have something new to say. Or something old in a new way.

This movie starts out with a stock bank robbery, that we have seen a trillion times before, a violent thug, a woman victim. Snore. Sorry, but I didn't see anything new here.

Not that these elements don't interest me. They do. Crime, selfishness, violence, brutality, unequal power relationships, the good people of the world protecting themselves against the bad.

That is the stuff of fiction. But whether something is art or schlock depends on how you use the elements. As the publisher and porn star Gloria Leonard famously said, “The difference between pornography and erotica is lighting.”

Well, it may be a little more complicated than that.

In those terms, what I am trying to do is similar to what I think Faulkner was trying to do: create art out of these elements.

Wish me luck.

(I'm in a hurry because the new New Yorker magazine came in the mail, and I haven't done my ten pages on my novel yet today.)

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

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