Review: ‘As I Lay Dying’ by W. Faulkner

por ponchoevsky


About a year ago a friend of mine got me this job in which I had to work for some sociologists who made researches about Mexican immigrants in the US. Basically, my job was to transcribe their recorded interviews, which I personally found pretty enjoyable — it was like listening to all those life stories, sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes a blend of both. So the task was entertaining and the pay was good. However, like any job, it had some difficulties at first. I got to realize how significantly communication can differ from spoken to written, with all the words we mispronounce, the structures we shorten and the grammar we defy, which is basically the beauty of how language keeps changing; but for me, it was puzzling at first trying to find a way to make some sentences readable for the researches who would later read them, and to know what punctuation mark would suit better. That’s when I realised about the importance thereof. I think the people I worked for were quite satisfied with my job and I was grateful that such an experience helped me see some of the importance that resides in language itself. Language: our means to express things, to bring ideas into a general understanding, to tell something: events, messages, stories that become masterpieces of literature, &c.

Now, to talk about literature is to try to pour all the water of the sea into a sand pit (borrowing St. Augustine’s metaphor for the Mystery of The Trinity). But one of the literary styles I like the most is what’s known as stream of consciousness: a device that depicts the human mind and the way it constructs sentences — sometimes long, sometimes short; sometimes they’re ramblings, sometimes they are brilliant aphorisms built on experience. We see that in Proust’s subtle and delicate prose; or Joyce’s, raging and cunning; or Woolf’s, rhythmical and alluring. Then comes Faulkner, playing with words and sentences no more than we often do, unconsciously and fluently. We let words come out and in such a process we disregard by times whether we construct a sentence or rather deconstruct it. This may be a hard task while reading a novel, since we are used to straight plots, a strict grammar and a coherent syntax. I’m not saying such stories are bad, not at all, but we usually don’t speak premeditatedly in real life; instead, while telling excitingly something we digress so much and sometimes we disregard the due arrangement of words, and just like everybody has their own handwriting, thus everybody has their own pronunciation and their own language idiosyncrasies. Now, imagine what a stream, nay, a torrent of consciousness results when a whole novel, such as As I Lay Dying, is narrated by many different people — sometimes a child (a perfectly portrayed innocence), sometimes a lonesome woman, sometimes a so-called queer young man, sometimes a wrathful son, or even a regretful minister. It’s a mess, definitely, but, alas! what a delightful mess brought from Faulkner’s pen to the whole world; while the fact that the author never changed a word of his manuscript and wrote it in six weeks, only naturalises the ambience in this work.

In Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying words rise in rebellion, making it a hard reading experience, but it pays off, it really does once you get used to it. Sentences bring grammatical protocols down and they drag the reader throughout the whole book through their own way. While a conventional prose would take you by the pavement, Faulkner’s takes you by the gravel. The point of arrival is the same, though: the Bundren’s tremendous vortex of love, rage, sex, life, family bonds, solitude. You may have a chance to catch your breath in the surface intermittently, but you’ll eventually be sucked in by its engrossing effect and experience their emotions quite vividly. It’s such a passionate work that makes me feel passionate about literature……… Sho. It’s a durn masterpiece! Aint it?

He had a word, too. Love, he called it. But I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack; that when the right time came, you wouldn’t need a word for that anymore than for pride or fear.