A b s a lo m , A b s a lo m !, H a it i a n d L a b o r H is t o r y : R e a d in g U n r e a d a b le R e v o lu t io n s Print

In 1791 slaves revolted on San Domingo: "The world's richest colony" was over run in a black revolution whose forces "defeated the Spanish; inflicted a defeat of unprecedented proportions on the British, and then made their country the graveyard of Napoleon's magnificent army."1 By 1804 the Americas had their first black national state, the independent republic of Haiti. In 1823 Thomas Sutpen leaves Virginia for the West Indies where, in 1827, he puts down an uprising among slaves on a French sugar plantation on Haiti. As due recompense, he marries the owner's daughter and achieves a son (1829). The dates are important since they indicate that Faulkner has the hero of Absalom, Absalom! (1936) earn the properties upon which he will eventually base his plantation "de­ sign," improperly. There were neither slaves nor French plantations on Haiti in 1827. Faulkner's chronology creates an anachronism that rewrites one of the key facts of nineteenth -century black American history, in what looks suspiciously like an act of literary counter­ revolution.

Those Faulkner scholars who notice the anachronism urge error; I am unconvinced.2 The Haitian revolution had lasting consequences for the slave holding states of the South where, during the 1790s, white panics about slave revolts were endemic. Indeed, "Saint Domingo [became] the symbol for black liberation struggles through­ out the hemisphere and touched off a series of new insurrectionary attempts": Gabriel Prosser in 1800, Denmark Vessey in 1822, Nat Turner in 1831; to turn to the major North American black rebellions is to discover allusions to Haiti.3 Nor does the Haitian example fade with the onset of Civil War; in 1864, in Natchez, ex-slave Mississippi soldiers in the Union Army reacted violently when the city's military commander tried to force freedmen to work abandoned plantations: a Northern missionary, S. G. Wright, "trembled" fearing "blood equalling the day of vengeance in the island of Hayti."4 Mary Chesnut's diary entry for 14 July 1865, notes that ELH 61 (1994) 685-720 © 1994 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 685 Thi s content dow nloaded from 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl A ll usc subject t o JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions on our place our people were all at h om e-q u iet, orderly, reseectful and at their usual work. In point of fact things looked unchanged. There was nothing to show that any one of them had ever seen a Yankee or knew that there was one in existence.
However, she follows her reassuring observations with a piece of unattributed gossip: "We are in for a new St. Domingo all the same. The Yankees have raised the devil, and now they cannot guide him."5 In the South, Haiti is synonymous with revolution, and whether that be positively or negatively viewed it is not something about which Southern authors with an interest in antebellum history lightly make mistakes. Moreover, the evidence of Absalom, Absalom! sug­ gests that Faulkner knows more than enough about San Domingo to put its revolution in the right century. He knows that Haitian soil is a cemetery on the grandest scale. Accounts of the colony's eigh­ teenth-century slave population vary, but historians agree that death rates were extremely high; Rod Prince reckons the total number of slaves imported between 1681 and 1791 at 864,000, and adds that "some estimates have suggested that the equivalent of the entire number of slaves was replaced every twenty years."6 Faulkner notes that the earth, "manured with black blood from two hundred years of oppression and exploitation . . . cried out for vengeance."7 He knows that French planters were leading purchasers in the eighteenth ­ century slave trade: C. L. R. James puts the figure for slave imports circa 1789 at 40,000 a year, a figure that translates into Faulkner's sense of an island poised between Africa, ravaged by slavers, and America, seat of rational slave production:

A little island . . . which was the halfway point between what we call the jungle and what we call civilization, halfway between the dark inscrutable continent from which the black blood . . . was ravished by violence, and the cold known land to which it was doomed. (206)8

It is likely that he knows that Vodun (vodoo) was the initial language of revolt on San Domingo (during the days prior to the insurrection, Sutpen finds signs made from pigs' bones, feathers and rags, signs which he does not recognize as such [207]), and that the French territory was adjacent to a Spanish colony (Sutpen's mother-in-law "had been a Spaniard" [207]).9 Knowing even part of this, he surely knows "1791."
Why then pretend otherwise, when to do so implies that Toussant L'Ouverture's revolution didn't happen? The answer may, finally, prove anything but counter-revolutionary. Consider the manner in 686 Absalom, Absalom!'s Unreadable Revolutions Thi s content dow nloaded from 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl A ll usc subject t o JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions which Sutpen suppresses the anomalous uprising; on the eighth night of seige he just put the musket down and had someone unbar the door and then bar it behind him, and walked out into the darkness and subdued them, maybe by yelling louder, maybby standing, bearing more than they believed any bones and flesh could or should . . . maybe at last they themselves turning in horror and fleeing from the white arms and legs shaped like theirs and from which blood could be made to spurt and flow as it could from theirs and containing an indomitable spirit which should have come from the same primary fire which theirs came from but which could not have, could not possibly have. (209)
Leaving aside the "maybes" for a moment, it seems that Sutpen triumphs by demonstrating white supremacy: what he suffers estab­ lishes an absolute separation between white and black in so far as their points of origin or "primary fires" differ. White proves stronger than black and causes black to vanish. However, allowing that Sutpen said only that he "subdued them," the "maybes" indicate that the fuller account derives from the story's line of transmission. The line is clear: Sutpen told General Compson (1835), who told it to his son, who told Quentin, who tells Shreve (1910). The options for anec­ dotal elaboration are several, but since it is the general to whom we owe the detail of Haiti's bloody horticulture, and to the general that Sutpen shows his scars (207), it is probably the general who gives us the "spurt and flow" scenario. In which case, two planters of similar social origin talking in 1835, four years after the Turner rising, combine to construct a story that affirms their interest in clear cut racial mastery, albeit an authority tempered in rebellious fires. 10 Given white "primary fire," insurrections will fail and revolutions fade. The supposition is General Compson's, and the recognition that slavery is an undeclared state of war, in which black revolution is a permanent risk, is Sutpen's. His behaviour as a slave holder in Mississippi is eccentric but plain: on a regular and ritualized basis he organizes and participates in single combat with his slaves. While clearly slave -codes were designed to police the peculiar institution on the understanding that black conspiracy was a fact of planter life, and while it is certain that compulsory pass-systems, complex pat­ terns of surveillance and "the obligatory involvement of all white members of the community in the implementation of the laws" indicate what one historian calls "a strung-out society," strung -out because the blacks were "in the South in such numbers and in such Richard Godden 687 Thi s content dow nloaded from 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl A ll usc subject t o JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions manner as they were," that manner "was recurrently rebellious."11 It is also undeniable that few southern planters, other than at times of disturbance, systematically viewed their slaves as black Jacobins. To do so would have been to credit them with a will quite beyond the capacity of chattel or a "Sambo." The peculiar institution peculiarly demanded that its managers view their slaves as a threat, but also, and simultaneously, as a child of limited will (things are will-less: Sambo means "son of'). This contradiction produces the startling mood-shifts of which planters were notoriously capable. Genovese, discussing the slaveholders' need to love those whom they made suffer, might be characterizing that state of mind produced by having to trust those who are suspected:

[Planters] could deny to themselves that infact they did cause suffering, and could assert that their domination liberated the slaves from a more deprived existence. Such a view demanded "gratitude" [of the slave] . . . and an intimacy that turned every act of impudence and insubordination-every act of unsanctioned self-assertion-into an act of treason and disloyalty, for by repu ­ diating the principle of submission it struck at the heart of the master's moral self-justification and, therefore, his self esteem. Nothing else, apart from personal idiosyncrasy, can explain the ferocity and cruelty of masters who normally appeared kind and even indulgent.12

There is little of kindness in Sutpen, who has no time for Sambo, and his moods, in so far as we see them demonstrated in his actions, are changeless: he fights African Americans out of Haiti who are physically his equal. As Haitians they embody that which the plantocracy most fears and must de n y-th e spirit of revolution. In the aftermath of 1791, North Carolina passed a law prohibiting the entry of all West Indian slaves over the age of fifteen, for fear that they might incite a general slave rebellion; three years later (1798) Governor Samuel Ashe, "Seeking to suppress the ideology of the Haitian Revolution" issued a proclamation urging that the landing of all negroes from the islands be stopped. 13 To suspend the importa ­ tion of bodies is not to block news of their acts; as late as 1840, slaves in South Carolina were interpreting information from Haiti as a projection of their own freedom. 14

Sutpen imports his Haitian archaisms in 1832. In 1833 he appears in Yoknapatawpha county, "takes up land, builds his house" (313) and fights his slaves. The house is complete by 1835: the fighting continues, as far as I can tell, until about 1850. Sutpen 's persistent 688 Absalom, Absalom!'s Unreadable Revolutions Thi s content dow nloaded from 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl A ll usc subject t o JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions and systematized combat is without historical precedent, as is Faulkner's dating of the San Domingo uprising. However, read together these anomalies make absolute historical sense. Given that Faulkner wishes to foreground the continuous potential for revolu­ tion within the institution of slavery, he needs Haiti, the only successful black revolution. Given that he wishes to characterize the plantocracy as a class who suppress revolution, he requires that his ur -planter suppress the Haitian revolution, and go on doing so. Had Sutpen's "design" needed only "money in considerable quantities" (200), as Sutpen claims, Mississippi, as a rapidly evolving frontier society, would have provided him with ample and historically accu­ rate opportunities. Witness the career of Sutpen's contemporary General Compson, who in 1811 entered Yoknapatawpha in posses­ sion of "a pair of fine pistols, one meagre saddle bag. . . . [and] a stronghocked mare"; it is doubtful whether Sutpen's maritime wages amount to as much by the time he lands in San Domingo (approxi­ mately 1820), but neither arriviste arrives with more than a little, and both found dynasties.15 Furthermore, had Faulkner merely wished to add the capacity to quell slave insurrection to the list of "design" "ingredients" (216) he could, with veracity, have located his hero's first forays, during the 1830s, almost anywhere in the lower S o u t h ­ though South Carolina or Mississippi would have been ideal, since with populations divided almost equally between black and white, opportunities for "impudence and insubordination" were many, and always liable to induce violent reaction.16
My point is finally a simple one: in Sutpen's slaves Faulkner creates an anomalous archaism; they are historically free and yet doubly constrained, by a fiction (Absalom, Absalom!) and by a counter -revolutionary violence (Sutpen's) that is necessary to the workings of the plantation system. Sutpen's fights give true title to each measure of labor control in the antebellum South. Southerners might recognize that when Sutpen "enter[s] the ring" with one of his slaves, he does so with "deadly forethought," not merely to retain "supremacy [and] domination" (24), but to enact the pre -emptive counter -revolution, crucial to the authority of his class. Furthermore, the fights are staged as a social education. Attended by white and black (who form "a hollow square . . . white faces on three sides . . . black ones on the fourth" [23]), the scenes in barn and stable are part of a class apprenticeship; Sutpen's son is required to attend at least once, and his daughters (white and black) watch illicitly. The origin of Sutpen's beaten slave allows Faulkner to posit the slave as black Richard Godden 689 This content downloaded rrom on Wed. 9 Oct 2013 23:14:07 PM All use su bject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Jacobin (hence Haiti) prior to having the planter put him down. Of course, this cannot be openly acknowledged in any study of the imagination of masters, circa 1830-1850 (hence the suppression of "1791")Y Sutpen's belief in the abrasive primacy of his "primary fire" (209) cannot entirely disguise the suspicion that, in getting into the ring in the first place, he has compromised his own "domination," that is to say his own whiteness. James Snead notes how often in Absalom, Absalom/ "white" becomes "black," or in his terms, how frequently "Sutpen and blacks are twinned," this being conspiciously true of Sutpen and his "wild Negroes" (29): we are assured that they "belonged to him body and soul," yet despite being extensions of his will, they impose their bodily form on him, so that when they fight, "they should not only have been the same color, but should have been covered with fur too" (23); when they work, only beard and eyes distinguish the master, "the bearded white man," from the "twenty black ones"; all stand "stark naked beneath the croaching and pervading mud" (30).18 Snead pursues the evidence of crossing in terms of miscegenation:

These mergings would be less noteworthy if they did not origi­ nate in Sutpen's merging with the one black whom he most wants to distance, his son Charles Bon. 19
I, however, wish to pause in order to consider merger implications at the level of lab or-after all, Sutpen works in the mud with his slaves (31), and harnesses himself to the capstan of a brick kiln with his slaves (30), in order to produce a property that is exclusively his own. His mastery (white), embodied in Sutpen's Hundred ("Be Light" [6]), derives from the labor of the slave, and is experienced as doing so by a master who almost made himself black to get his Hundred built. To turn from what Sutpen does in constructing a plantation to what he thinks he does (that is, to chapter seven) is to find evidence suggesting that his violent enactment of white supremacy explicitly contradicts his own fuller sense of master/slave relations. From what he tells General Compson, it is clear that he suppresses Haiti; to which one might add that he also suppresses Hegel. I say this because "Lordship and Bondage," chapter four of Hegel's Phenom­ enology of Mind, stands as a useful gloss on Sutpen's account of his childhood experience, particularly that of being turned from a planter's door by a black butler.
Here is Hegel, considerably reduced. The lord seeks absolute, 690 Absalom, Absalom!'s Unreadable Revolutions This content dow nloaded from 131.94. 1 6.10 on Wed, 9 Oct 2013 21:14:07 Plvt All use s ubject to JSTO R Terms a nd Conditions because independent, authority. At the moment of his supremacy he is troubled because he recognizes, in objects through which he represents that supremacy (to himself), labor that is not his own. He knows that his lordship depends upon the labor of the bound man:

Just when the master had effectively achieved lordship, he really finds that something has come about quite different from an independent consciousness. I t is not an independent conscious­ ness, but rather a dependent consciousness that he has achieved.20

The trauma of recognition involves him in an unpassable contradic­ tion; the lord must extract from his lordship the very materials that define it ("in order to become certain of [himself] . . . as a true being")Y Meanwhile, the bound man exists in an equally problem­ atic relation to objects of labor; having experienced himself as a negation, or as nothing other than an extension of his lord's will (one "whose essence of life is for another"), he too is troubled because he recognizes, in the independent existence of those things made by his hand, the negation of his own prior negation by the lord:

Shaping and forming the object has . . . the positive significance that the bondsman becomes thereby the author of liimself as factually and objectively self-existent.22

Such a moment is uncomfortable in that it requires that the bound man experience both the death of his dependent self and the emergence of an independent self:

Precisely in labour, where there seems to be some outsider's mind and ideas involved, the bondsman becomes aware, through his re­ discovery of himself by himself, of having and being a "mind of his own."23

Where the master risks his masterful self in the appreciation that the objects of his desire are the products of the slave's hand, the slave risks his abject self in the consciousness that his labor not only postpones the master's satisfaction but also produces an object "that is permanent" and remains "after the master's desire is gratified."24 Central to Hegel's understanding of "the forms of servitude" are two notions: firstly, that of "recognition," occurring when a "distinct" self, whether bound or binding, comes to a "completer realization of self in another s e l f' -a process which involves loss "of its own [or initial] self, since it finds itself as an other being."25 The "other" is, for the master, the slave and his works; for the slave, the "other" is simply his work. Hegel describes the moment of "recognition" as Richard Godden 691 Thi s content dow nloaded f rom 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl A ll usc su bject t o JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions "death," since each self "risks its own life" as it engages in "a life and death struggle" to "come outside itself' into another.26 Politically speaking, masters must deny "recognition" if they wish to retain their goods and satisfactions. Slaves have several options along a more or less revolutionary spectrum; they can play dead, that is they can pretend to be the chattels that they know themselves not to be; alternatively, they may pilfer, feign illness and slow the pace of work, or they can conspire and revolt.27 Whatever their decision, the bound have before their eyes artifacts that prove their independence. For Hegel, the slave's "recognition" derives directly from his works: "Through work and labour the consciousness of the bondsman comes to itself," or as a freed man put it in the late 1860s, on learning that the Republican Party intended no redistribution of confiscated Southern plantations:

We have built up their houses and cultivated their lands . . . . if they were to pay us but twenty five-cents on the dollar, they would all be very poor.28

I I To return to Sutpen's methods of labor control, I have argued that his fights with Haitian slaves embody his recognition that slavery rests on a continuous repression of revolution. Yet in chapter seven, far from tracing the inception of his plantation "design" (217) to a nascent sense of white supremacy, he roots that design on the interdependency of slave and master: the key image is a black butler's "balloon face" (193). In 1835, as they pause from hunting the absconded French architect, whose recapture is essential to the completion of the dynastic house, Sutpen describes to Grandfather Compson the house upon which his house is founded. Just as a glimpse of Caddy's stained drawers, up a tree, is to The Sound and the Fury, so the boy Sutpen turned from the Virginian planter's door is to Absalom, Absalom/ 29 What Sutpen tells the General is his own genesis (circa 1820), central to which is a black face, inside a white door, sending a poor white child round to the back:

But I can shoot him. (Not the monkey nigger. It was not the nigger any more than it had been the nigger that his father had helped to whip that night. The nigger was just another balloon face slick and distended with that mellow loud and terrible laughing so that he did not dare to burst it , looking down at him from within the half-closed door during that instant in which, 692 Absalom, Absalom!'s Unreadable Revolutions This content downloaded rrom on Wed. 9 Oct 2013 23:14:07 PM All use su bject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

before he knew it, something in him had escaped a n d -h e unable to close the eyes of it-w a s looking out from within the balloon face just as the man who did not even have to wear the shoes he owned, whom the laughter which the balloon held barricaded and protected from such as he, looked out from whatever invisible place he (the man) happened to be at the moment, at the boy outside the barred door in his patched garments and splayed bare feet, looking through and beyond the boy, he himself seeing his own father and sisters and brothers as the owner, the rich man (not the nigger) must have been seeing them all the tim e -a s cattle, creatures heavy and without grace, brutely evacuated into a world without hope or purpose for them, who would in turn spawn with brutish and vicious prolixity, populate, double treble and compound, fill space and earth with a race whose future would be a succession of cut-down and patched and made-over garments bought on exorbitant credit because they were white people, from stores where niggers were given the garments free, with for sole heritage that expression on a balloon face bursting with laughter which had looked out at some unremembered and nameless progenitor who had knocked at a door when he was a little boy and been told by a nigger to go around the back): But I can shoot him. (193)

As Hegel might have put it, the self "has come outside itself ' with a vengeance.30 Three selves would seem to be involved, the boy, the slave and the master. The problem, contained in the slippery use of the third­ person pronoun "he," is how to tell them apart. Mapping the comings and goings produces a maze. Move one: "something" escapes the child, enters the black, and looks out with the eyes of the black. Move two: those eyes become the eyes of the owner as he watches from some "invisible place." I t should be noted that all three figures are united within the eyes of the slave, whose tripartite gaze considers the boy only momentarily, before recasting him as the representative of a "brutish" white tenancy. Move three: perhaps unsurprisingly, the narrator denies sight to the black. The identity of the narrator is elusive, but since the story is told by one would-be dynast to another, we can safely locate the voice within a plantocracy for which the eye of any slave is a problem: it should be remembered the blacks were forbidden to look directly into the eyes of the whites.31 However, censorship proves difficult as the composite pro­ noun resists simplification. The "he," in "he himself," who sees his own family "as the owner, the rich man (not the nigger) must have been seeing them," retains threefold status (boy, black, master); three attempts to modify that interdependency, culminating in an Richard Godden 693 Thi s content dow nloaded from 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl A ll usc subject t o JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions entirely unnecessary parenthesis, add up to protesting too much. Far from taking the black out of the pronoun, the narrator fixes him there more firmly. What "he" witnesses is the genealogy of a class. Sutpen's father fell from the mountains of western Virginia to the Tidewater plain, from limited self-sufficiency within a yeoman class to limitless dependency within a tenant class. As poor white tenants the Sutpens are propertyless; that which they stand up in belongs to another, at least until the "exorbitant" debt is paid. As his father's heir Sutpen will have for "sole heritage . . . that expression on a balloon face." Move four: temporary recovery of status by the subject who sees; "He himself seeing . . . as the owner must have been seeing" sees "that expression" on the black butler's face "bursting with laughter." Had the parenthesis stopped there we might safely have assumed that we had come full-circle-the boy, having come out of himself in order to see himself as master and slave see him (a subject who is object of contempt), returns to himself standing in front of the planter's door. However, the narrator cannot leave "that expression" alone. Instead, he restarts the cycle, this time with a "nameless" "little boy," soon to be progenitor of yet another who will come to the door . . . ad infinitum. Move five: vicious circling, whose logic would seem to run-S utpen can never recover himself as an independent being because he will always see himself (and his class) from within "the balloon face." Sutpen sublates: to sublate , a verb used by Hegel as meaning both destroy and preserve. As Sutpen moves back into himself as child at the door, he destroys what is not himself (black, master), only to recognize that he has preserved it within a new and modified self (boy, black, master). Ethnically speaking the black has entered all available subject positions. Move six: exit again, towards the balloon, on the recognition that the emphasis has changed in two respects-the laughter, which up to this point had "distended" the balloon face which "held" it, bursts. In addition the boy is "nameless." Sutpen no longer stands among "his father and sisters and brothers." Instead, that part of him that "escaped" into the balloon face laughs at the class whose future is no longer his; the butt of the joke is Sutpen's "progenitor"-S u tp e n himself, at the moment of knocking on the door, and prior to the complex witnessing of the "monkey nigger's" face. The social migra­ tions of Sutpen's self occur within a single parenthesis that, since it is placed between a reiteration, takes the form of an ellipsis. The ellipsis effectively contains and predicts the dynastic narrative of Absalom, Absalom/. Sutpen will shoot "him"; that is to say, he will 694 Absalom, Absaloml's Unreadable Revolutions Thi s content dow nloaded from 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl

A ll usc subject t o JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions shoot a master contained in a slave, who is also Sutpen's future self. Neither the bracket nor its implied ellipsis can finally repress Sutpen's trauma over labor and its consequences. The labor lord's life, in more ways than one, will turn on his lordship over labor. But I run, riddling, ahead of myself. Here, it is simply necessary to stress that the boy's experience is crucial, disturbing, and attended by laughter.

But who laughs? Balloons can be made to bray and whinney by releasing breath under pressure through their rubbery lips (we are close to racial epithet). The breath and mouth are equally important in this exercise. The epithet is undercut because, though the breath depends upon the master (plus Sutpen), the laughter depends upon the mouth (the slave, plus Sutpen, plus the master). Faulkner uses the balloon image three times in the space of four pages, each time problematizing agency by implying the question , Who empowers whom? I have space only for one instance; speculating on the butler's effect, Sutpen recalls his father's "whipping" of "one of Pettibone's niggers":

He could even seem to see them: the torch-disturbed darkness among trees, the fierce hysterical faces of the white men, the balloon face of the nigger. Maybe the nigger's hands would be tied or held but that would be alright because they were not the hands with which the balloon face would struggle and writhe for freedom , not the balloon face: it was just poised among them , levitative and slick with paper-thin distension. Then someone would strike the balloon one single desperate and despairing blow and then he would seem to see them fleeing, running, with all about them , overtaking them and passing ana going on and then returning to overwhelm them again, the roaring waves of mellow laughter meaningless and terrifying and loud. And now he stood there before that white door. (190-91)

The hands are illusive. Three sets are in evidence: those of the captive, those of his captors, and an unidentified third pair. Arguably, the missing name is Pettibone, since he, as master, inflates the balloon within which he lives. To damage his "nigger" is to damage his goods, ergo his hands struggle with those who would damage his property. But why would white hands "writhe for [a] freedom" they already have? The question is unanwerable unless, in the light of the white door, it is recognized that the planter longs to be free of suppressed dependency upon the sustaining but "unessential con ­ sciousness" of the bound man. The balloon face imprisons Pettibone even as it empowers him. Given Sutpen's subsequent recognition Richard Godden 695 Thi s content dow nloaded from 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl A ll usc subject t o JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions that from the perspective of the master his father's class is nasty, "brutish" and long, it could be argued that white tenants avenge themselves on their landlords by an abuse of lordly chattels.32 Class conflict mi g h t rage within the balloon (master against himself) and around the balloon (tenant against master) while the balloon would remain impervious. Sutpen's speculations, presumably annotated by a narrator (witness "levitative") grant the victim an impersonal pronoun: the pronoun, "it," may excuse the victimizers by rendering their object less human, but equally, coming after a colon, and so seeking to encapsulate the preceding clash of more or less identified hands, "it" translates the "he" who suffers into a site where masked forces of class "struggle" darkly. Who strikes whom remains obscure. In conditions of such interdependency blows are liable to fall anonymously ("someone") and to appear "despairing," since victimiz­ ers call themselves victims, and victims sense victory. The laughter in the dark is as awkward here as that which "bursts" across Sutpen's memory of the butler; moreover, its arc, described as the motion of a deflating balloon ("overtaking . . . and passing and going on and then returning to overwhelm"), parallels Sutpen's sense of self evacuation under pressure from the butler's ballooning gaze:

He seemed to kind of dissolve and a part of him turn and rush back . . . like when you pass through a room fast and look at all the objects in it and you turn and go back through the room again and look at all the objects from the other side. (189)

Both instances involve dissolution on a scale tantamount to Marx's "Everything that is solid melts into air," where the solvent is not capital but the complex breath of he who would claim mastery while denying the labor that sustains him. Almost enough of balloons, save only to add that the epithet "slick," applied three times in these pages, is transferred in modified form to the architecture of the plantation itself:

That smooth white house and that smooth white brass -decorated door and the very broadcloth and linen and silk stocking the monkey nigger stood in. (192)

As "slick" becomes "smooth," with some prompting from the butler's "silk," so black becomes white, even as the entire edifice of the plantocracy rises upon the unstable surface of black labor's face. Grandfather Compson will later call Sutpen's problem "inno­ cence" (181); he is wrong. Sutpen’s solution is innocence; his problem is his disorientating insight into the dependencies of slave 696 Absalom, Absalom!'s Unreadable Revolutions This content downloaded rrom on Wed. 9 Oct 2013 23:14:07 PM All use su bject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions production. What he sees is traumatic because it leaves him no possibility of an un-enslaved life. Stated at its most phenomenologi ­ cal, which is how Sutpen experiences it, he knows that what he breathes is the breath of slaves, and that he will breathe it no matter where he sits in the hierarchy.
His first move is to remove himself. He "crawls" into a hole in the ground, a "cave" made by a fallen tree where he sits "with his back against the upturned roots" (191). His regression is twofold, from human nature to nature, and from cotton production to self-suffi­ ciency (that of the hunter, the cave is a "den beside [a] game trail" [192]). Both removals are illusory. In the cotton South, the earth itself is a fact of labor, whose meaning is inseparable from the dominant form of work. Sutpen knows this, at least in 1835, since he prefaces his description of the cave with an earlier memory: as a boy, he and his sister had refused to give way to a coach approaching from behind; the black coachman swerved in time, but only just, and Sutpen found himself "throwing vain clods of dirt after the dust as it spun on."

He knew now, while the monkey-dressed nigger butler kept the door barred with his body while he spoke, that it had not been the nigger coachman that he threw at at all, that it was the actual dust raised by the proud delicate wheels, and just that vain. (190)
Faulkner shares Sutpen's evaluation: in a letter to Harrison Smith (February 1934) he summarizes Absalom, Absalom! as follows: "Roughly, the theme is a man who outraged the land, and the land then turned and destroyed the man's family."33 "Clod," "dust," "land"-inorganic matter becomes an agent (whether as target or destroyer) only because it is marked by human projects. As Sartre puts it:

I need only to glance out of the window: I will be able to see cars which are men and drivers who are cars . . . and instruments (pavements, a thoroughfare, a taxi rank, a bus stop . . . proclaim ­ ing with their frozen voices how they are to be used). These [are] beings-neither thing nor man, but practical unities made up of man and inert thing. . . . Later I will go down into the street and become their thing.34

To apply this Parisian glance to the cotton lands of the antebellum South is to see "clod" and "dust" as "beings" in so far as they are "worked things" that consequently issue imperatives and contain futures.35 Virginian "dust" early in the nineteenth century is an Richard Godden 697 Thi s content dow nloaded f rom 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl A ll usc su bject t o JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions ensemble of human practices, chief among them slavery; but to Sutpen on a dirt road, standing in it, the dust is that which will make him its thing, least among its many things (lumpen labor). Of course, it can do this only because, as the container of persistent practices, it contains a sentence that some men have passed on other men.36 Under other systems dust issues alternative instructions, hence Sutpen's boyhood regression to memories of self-sufficiency. In the mountains of western Virginia (circa 1807-1820), land was what you hunted over, it "belonged to anybody and everybody" (182), a property in common from which men took only what they needed and could hold on to Y The dust in such places instructs, "Carry a big gun, since by your prowess shall your individual right to a portion of that which is common be ensured." Sutpen's concern with the "mountain man" who "happened to own a fine rifle" (188, 192, 198) obeys the imperative of these lands at this time. But Sutpen also knows that among those who "eat" and "swap" there will be those who "fence off a piece of land," and while they may not say "this is mine" (182), should they raise grain or perhaps even tobacco on that land, the putative self-sufficiency of their household production will at some point be implicated in a more general and cotton-centered Southern economy. Establishing exactly when the readiness of a self­ sufficient household to produce for a plantation market ties the values of the householder to those of the planter, is difficult. 38 But Sutpen, with his back to an uprooted tree in 1820, recalls mountains to which his "woodman's instinct" can no longer return him (186); furthermore, he is being recalled by Sutpen as he hunts his planta ­ tion architect in 1835. The mountains of 1807 look irrelevant from the cotton lands nearly thirty years later, and their values are anachronistic: small wonder that Sutpen tells General Compson that "his own rifle analogy" could not help with the black butler (196). Very little can. Sutpen is forced to fall back on labor-almost all that he has experienced-to take the "measure" of what he has seen (192). He catalogues the forms of work that he knows. Hunting (irrelevant). His father's Tidewater tasks, unspecified beyond ten ­ ancy (irrelevant, since the butler does not bother to enquire after the message that Sutpen carries from his father to the planter). His sister's brutal domestic work at the washtub (irrelevant, since she is little more than things in process, "a shapeless . . . calico dress," an "old man's shoes," "pumping," though what she does strikes him as "the very primary essence of labour," in that it is "toil reduced to its crude absolute" [194]). The work of the master (inessential because 698 Absalom, Absalom!'s Unreadable Revolutions This content downloaded rrom on Wed. 9 Oct 2013 23:14:07 PM
All use su bject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions slight, consisting of little more than receipt of drinks while in a "barrel stave hammock" [187]). Indeed, so minimal is the master's labor that Sutpen speculates whether he who has a servant to put the glass in his hand and to pull the boot from his foot, has others to chew, swallow and breath for him (182).39 If so, the master does not live. He is dead and his servants do his living for him. The labor of the slave (essential, since the slave's services to the lord's body give that body its substance, "protect" that body (193), and provide it with the vantage point from which it may dismiss, as irrelevant, the labor of surrounding bodies). The implications of Sutpen's labor list would appear plain: he who would be master must have "niggers and a fine house" (196), which is why Sutpen goes to the West Indies. However, to be master is also to depend upon the labor that you dismiss, to be all but dead, and to rest enclosed in the head of a slave. Mastery on such terms is difficult. Sutpen becomes a planter in Mississippi (1835) only be­ cause what happens in Haiti (1827) allows him to repress what he saw in western Virginia (1820). Put tersely, Sutpen can raise the Hundred because, having experienced slavery as the suppression of revolution, he can, in his own defence, displace his knowledge that the master's mastery depends upon the body and the consciousness of the bound man. Again, Haiti is the key, but repression is not easy. The fights with the Haitian slaves (1835 -1850), read within this sequence, mark the return and control of repressed materials: only by "gouging" at the revolutionary eyes (23) on the balloon face can Sutpen preserve the separateness of his "primary fire" (209). Of course, in demonstrating that his whiteness does not depend upon blackness he contradicts himself, since to those who watch in the barn, his whiteness turns black:
And Ellen seeing not the two black beasts she had expected to see but instead a white one and a black one, both naked to the waist and gouging at one another's eyes as if they should . . . have been the same color. (23)
Sutpen constructs his integrity as master through a combination of violence and "innocence." The term, appealed to by most who tell the story, derives from General Compson and the conversation of 1835, during which the General offers a detailed account of its origin, rooting "innocence" in labor experience. Having returned from plantation threshold to tenant cabin, the boy rethinks the house servant's refusal to consider his father's message:

Richard Godden 699 Thi s content dow nloaded f rom 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl A ll usc su bject to JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions And then he [Sutpen] said that all of a sudden it was not thinking, it was something shouting it almost loud enough for his sisters on the other pallet and his father in the bed with the two youngest and filling the room with alcohol snoring, to hea r too: He never even give me a chance to say it: it too fast, too mixed up to be thinking, it all kind of shouting at him at once, boiling out and over him like the nigger laughing: He never give me a chance to say it and Pap never asked me if I told him or not and so he cant even know that Pap sent him any message and so whether he got it or not cant even matter, not even to Pap; I went up to that door for that nigger to tell me never to come to that front door again and I not only wasn't doing any good to him by telling it or any harm to him by not telling it, there aint any good or harm either in the living world that I can do to him. I t was like that , he said, like an explosion-a bright gla re that vanished and left nothing, no ashes nor refuse; just a limitless flat plain with the severe shape of his intact innocence rising from it like a monument; that innocence instructing him as calm as the others had ever spoken, using his own rifle analogy to do it with, and when it said them in place of he or him, it meant more than all the human puny mortals under the sun that might lie in hammocks all afternoon with their shoes off. (195-96)

I quote at length in order to emphasize the labor-based nature of the trauma, and to explore the manner of the cover-up. As so often on this day, agency is composite ("mixed up"). Sutpen receives warning of his irrelevance-because of the irrelevance of his w ords-from a voice whose status is unclear. The "something" that shouts is not a "thought," and, given its apparent availability to others in the room, would appear to derive from outside the boy's consciousness. What­ ever shouts at him (his voice, an interior voice, the voice of another or others) resembles "nigger laughing," and so in this context may well owe its origin to the problematic "balloon face." As some "thing" carried on the master/black's breath, addressing an issue of labor, and identified most consistently by an impersonal pronoun "it," it becomes a vocalization of the very "things" that work produces. Since masters, according to the boy, don't work, and since the voice declares that the labor of poor whites has no substance, the thing that speaks is the work of the slave's hand. Other pronouns prove polyvalent: witness the "he" "which gave the boy no chance to say." Sutpen has earlier identified an italicized "he" as "(not the nigger now either)" (195). However, his parenthesis occurs prior to the problems of "it," and consequently the pronoun ("he") retains its tendency to shift between planter and house servant; in which case, 700 Absalom , Absalom!'s Unreadable Revolutions Thi s content dow nloaded f rom 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl

A ll usc su bject to JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions the "he" whom Sutpen acknowledges as beyond harm is master and slave in the fullness of their interdependency. Sutpen recognizes that he and his class cannot affect the master class; his recognition, involving a simultaneous acknowledgement that the substantiality of the master is inextricable from the works of the slave, is explosive. But Sutpen's term, "explosion," is modified in the telling. The labor materials so central to the boy's trauma are suppressed. The speaking "things" are silenced, and in their place "innocence" instructs. The awkward "it" is simplified so that "when it said them in place of he or him," "it," innocently renamed, refers to the planter as a class type whose unenigmatic properties are to be countered by possession of equally unenigmatic properties ("land and niggers and a fine house"). The modification is achieved in two swift steps. Step one: "explosion" is replaced by a synonym, "bright glare," whose emphasis falls less on damage than on illumination; brightness so obscures the work of dark hands that neither ashes (dark marks) or refuse (refusal) remain. I am reminded of Quentin's equally hygienic "Be Light" (6), where biblical reference and archi­ tectural expectation as to plantations and whitewash ally to obscure twenty Haitians and one master, united in labor and mud. Step two: in the space made by erasure a "monument" of overtly sexual design is raised, its shape both phallic and "intact." Gone is Sutpen's debilitating vision of slave production as the free passage of black bodies into white through labor. Instead, "innocence" grants male authority by expelling the black body from the white, which, cleansed of traumatic stain, may claim integrity. Sex displaces labor to cast integrity as virginity, deriving not from Sutpen but from Rosa Coldfield; "intact" complements Sutpen's claim to have been a virgin on his wedding night (204), but its shape is hymeneal and echoes Mr. Compson's vision of Rosa's hymen-rampant:

Perhaps she even saw herself as an instrument of retribution: if not in herself an active instrument strong enough to cope with him , at least as a kind of passive symbol of inescapable reminding to rise bloodless and without dimension from the sacrificial stone of the marriage -bed. (50)40

Asked (in 1862) by Ellen (her sister) to save Judith (her niece), Rosa (according to Mr. Compson) installs herself in the Hundred to await Sutpen's return from the Civil War (1865). More particularly she installs herself in the bed chamber, where her spectral slightness serves, in a metaphorical reworking, to heal her sister's hymen; the Richard Godden 701 Thi s content dow nloaded f rom 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl

A ll usc su bject to JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions repair protects Judith by gathering her back (unborn) into the generic integrity of Coldfield womankind. This fantasy belongs to Mr. Compson (by way of Quentin), but takes its preoccupations from the Cult of Southern Womanhood, which raised the standard of the unbreachable hymen in order to counter fears over miscegenationY My point here, however, is merely to note just how far the anteced­ ents of a single w ord -"intact" -have carried us from an "explosion" as it is used in 1820. Sutpen's experience is all too easily lost under the interpretive parentheses of his narrators. Mr. Compson and Quentin combine to translate labor fears into sexual fears, thereby producing a more local and manageable problem. Sutpen's sexuality will eventually bring his house down; it does not and cannot bring down the plantation as a system of production.


Of course, to blame narrators is to simplify Sutpen, who in 1861 can no longer afford to see what he saw in 1820. After Haiti, and with the Hundred built, he has to control his memory. However, his transition to full planter status remains awkward: for three years, between 1835 and 1838, with house built and cotton in the ground, he refuses to emerge through marriage into dynasty (33) , and instead uses his property against the grain of its imperatives. He retains himself in archaic form as "a fine rifle" (188), employing his house as a hunting lodge; implicitly, he is loath to commit himself to full slave production and to its peculiar form of mastery. In 1864, after twenty three growing seasons, Sutpen may be said successfully to have pursued the public logic of his wealth; as a result, on entering general Compson's legal office to renew their conversation, he can deny his earlier insight, describing "the boy symbol" as "just the figment of the amazed and desperate child" (215). To gloss -the practice of slave holding has allowed him to repress his knowledge of the interdependence of slave and master. Further, three years into the Civil War, he is prepared to compound repres­ sions by declaring a complete absence of class antagonism between slave -holding and non-slave -holding whites. Tenant and planter, up­ country yeoman and black belt lord elide as he tells his class ally how, if a "nameless" boy came to his "white door" now, "he would take that boy in" (215). As one elected Confederate officer to another, with the war going badly and desertion particularly high among yeoman from the hill counties, Sutpen needs a vision of Southern unity.42 He, and every other planter, on "look[ing] ahead along the still undivulged 702 Absalom, Absalom!'s Unreadable Revolutions Thi s content dow nloaded f rom 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl

A ll usc su bject to JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions light rays," hopes to see a Confederate future, with white "doors," "bigger" and "whiter" than their Virginian prototypes still intact, and with at each of them, if necessary, a poor white child welcomed into an independent slave holding republic. Without such images, planter hegemony, strained to breaking point by 1864, could not hope to counter yeoman claims that this was "a rich man's war and a poor boy's fight.''43 Sutpen's re-working of the boy at the door is a piece of Confederate utopianism that still has resonance in 1910 for at least one grandchild of the plantocracy. Shreve interrupts Quentin's retell­ ing to observe, "Dont say it's just me that sounds like your old man" (215). Quentin extends the echo:

Maybe we are both Father. . . . Yes, we are both Father. Or maybe Father and I are both Shreve, maybe it took Father and me both to make Shreve or Shreve and me both to make Father or maybe Thomas Sutpen to make all of us.

Given that his Harvard fees derive from the sale of some of his grandfather's landed property, Quentin is, in a very real sense, Sutpen-made, a product of planter efforts to ensure their class continuity.
Failure to hear Sutpen's insistence that the boy at the door would be admitted "now," in 1864, deprives the image of historical and political specificity. Durk Kuyk rewrites 1864 as 1933 when, "in the midst of the Depression . . . plenty of nameless strangers were knocking at front doors": so Sutpen becomes a New Dealer, seeking "to teach society the lesson that those lucky enough to have risen above brutehood should at least care about the feelings of the unlucky."44 Further to the right stands Carolyn Porter's Sutpen, whose career, "conducted in the name of equality," is dedicated to "vindicating the American dream itself."45 Both descend from Sutpen out of Cleanth Brooks, whose antecedents are Henry James's The American and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, as literary representations of a generically "American neurosis."46 Sutpen, like Newman and Gatsby, is a self-made pursuant of an "abstract idea" which, since its form is "money" and its practice "the Protestant work ethic," may be said to be "a characteristically American aberration."47 These Sutpens show scant concern for a dependent labor system: indeed, each celebrates "the idea that the cash nexus offer[s] a permissible basis for human relations"-anathema to the antebellum planter.48 They are "capitalist entrepreneurs," whose intense and various espousal of "human perfectibility" (Brooks), "the principle of Richard Godden 703 Thi s content dow nloaded f rom 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl

A ll usc su bject to JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions social equality" (Porter) and radical egalitarianism (Kuyk), must presumably be premised upon a thoroughly bourgeois faith in the individual as free, equal, and autonomous.49
Such Sutpens bear no traceable relation to the boy of 1820, or indeed to the man revising that boy in 1864. However, Brooks would seem to have a point when he reminds us that Sutpen believes that his first wife will not object to being put aside, because Sutpen "was willing to make a just and even generous property settlement for her benefit."50 Brooks cites the cash nexus, and certainly there is much talk of "valuation," "schedules," "compensatory amounts of time" and two party agreements (217). But this is not simply the language of bourgeois contract. Sutpen breaks his marriage when he learns that Eulalia is black; as a free black woman in the West Indies she may freely enter contractual agreements, but were she to visit the South she would have to prove her "free" status, and without proof would be designated a slave, sans contractual rights. Her child (as Haitian born) would similarly be free but required to prove it, and would therefore stand constrained by popular assumption. His ability to enter into contracts would also be compromised, unless he chose to "pass." Sutpen enters into a contract with persons who, on racial grounds, in the antebellum South, have no contractual rights. Sutpen omits to tell General Compson why he repudiates Eulalia, but knowing what Quentin and Shreve suppose about her antecedents, we may read his market lexicon both as inappropriate and as contrived to obscure racial trauma. Brooks misses the historical sub­ text. Sutpen's discovery that his first family is 'black' marks the return of his childhood recognition that a white skin emerges from a laboring black body; whether that labor produces property as cotton or property as person is less significant than the fact that Eulalia's child is potentially a white dynast in a black skin. So read, "explosion" rather than "abstract" calculation informs the repudiation. Brooks mistakes Sutpen's motives. Porter makes a stronger case for the structural nature of his "design." Her case runs: Sutpen's "dream of parental authority," far from tying him to Genovese's pre­ bourgeois planters, typifies the degree to which he and they espouse market liberalism, since paternalism was throughout the first half of the nineteenth century another name for the nastier forms of bourgeois appropriation.51 Witness Andrew Jackson's fatherly re­ moval of Indians, temporarily designated docile children as a pre­ lude to being recast as underfed or dead. With "paternalism . . . from the outset serv[ing] one interest . . . that of Capital," Porter's 704 Absalom, Absalom!'s Unreadable Revolutions Thi s content dow nloaded f rom 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl
A ll usc su bject to JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions Sutpen, a "grandiose" father, "merit[ing] the analogy with King David implied by the novel's title," allows Faulkner to explore the self-contradicting logic of market paternalism, which "logically dic ­ tates that fathers exile and repudiate their sons."52 Her argument is worth stating more fully:

As Faulkner explained, Sutpen was "a man who wanted sons and got sons who destroyed him" as a result of his failure to recognise that he was "a member . . . of the human family." Herein lies the central irony of Sutpen's dream of founding a dynasty. In the name of his patriarchal design, Sutpen ruthlessly violates the bonds of love and blood with stunning consistency. He repudi ­ ates one wife and refuses to recognize his eldest son . . . he turns one son into the murderer of the other. . . . Needless to say, these are not the acts of a benign paternalistic planter in a panama hat and a white suit; these are the acts of a character of mythic dimension in whose career is inscribed the history of America itself, revealing, for one thing, the irony of paternal authority in the name of which Africans were enslaved. 5

But Sutpen is no kind of paternalist: he treats his Haitians as Jacobins not as children. Nor, despite his interpreters, does he regard Bon as a son; in this instance, neither paternity nor miscege ­ nation is his problem. Witness how he names his Haitian child; Quentin, citing his father and his father's father, notes: Father said he probably named him himself. Charles Bon. Charles Good. . . . Grandfather believed, just as he named them a ll-th e Charles Goods and the Clytemnestras. 54 (218-19)

Bon: Good: G oods-the pun is cruelly obvious and is recognized as apt by a tradition whose authority over labor extended to the naming of new slaves, whether new by birth or purchase. Planters were entitled to declare their title or property within a slave by naming that slave as they wished, and in so doing they deadened the slave's right by birth to human connections. Orlando Paterson describes this renaming as "natal death."55 Sutpen does not deny his son his patronym, since Eulalia does not give birth to a son but to goods, and in naming him as such Sutpen declares Bon dead, and himself an owner not a father. A residue of the psychic cost of this is contained in Faulkner's choice of name for Sutpen's wife: the root of Eulalia is Eula, Greek for jo y-a term that threatens to release good from goods; joy, however, is negated by a marital context in which the bride's "trick" (224) of obscuring her origins prompts an additional letter (r), so that "joy" is tacitly cancelled by Faulkner himself (Eula- Richard Godden 705 Thi s content dow nloaded f rom 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl

A ll usc su bject to JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions liar). He calls Bon's grandson Jim Bond, in a complex nomination that underwrites my device of the additional letter. However, much more is involved. Quentin encounters the simpleton Jim Bond on his visit to the Hundred in 1909: after telling of that visit, he takes to his Harvard bed, "rigid" and silently quoting from "The Raven": "Never­ more of peace. Nevermore of peace. Nevermore Nevermore Never­ more" (307). His choice is fitting, since Poe's poem features a talking bird that settles on "the pallid bust of Pallas" to torment the poem's already disturbed narrator.56 Poe's selection of perch (referred to three times) is doubtless color le d -a n "ebony" bird on a white head. Pallas euphonically yields "pallid" but is also another name for Minerva, goddess of wisdom, who, it is popularly supposed, sprang from the split skull of her father, Jupiter. Poe's black bird is an obscurely wise head-ache, and in quoting it Quentin may well be attending, through its choric word, "Nevermore," to the choric cry of another obscure blackbird. "Jim Bond," in the context of "The Raven," euphoniously yields "Jim Crow" because the semantics of the pun, "bond," would have it so. "Bond," whether as "shackle" or "binding agreement," contains the idea of constraint. The name was presumably given at birth (1882), and although the network of Jim Crow laws, disenfranchising Southern blacks, was not fully in place as a legal system until the 1890s, one of the first instances of such legislation was adopted by the Tennessee legislature in 1881.57 Jim Bond is bird-like in another sense; he is that which cannot be caught. He can be heard, but Quentin and Shreve agree "they couldn't catch him" (309, 312); further, Quentin admits on the novel's final page that he "still hear[s] him at night sometimes." Jim Bond may have vanished when the Hundred burned in 1910, but his howling persistence in Quentin's head (whether or not annotated as black wisdom liable to split white skull) provides Shreve with the pattern for his final and infamous joke: I think that in time the Jim Bonds are going to conquer the western hemisphere. Of course it won't quite be in our time and of course as tliey spread towards the poles they will bleach out again like the rabbits and the birds do, so they won't show up so sharp against the snow. But it will still be Jim Bond; and so in a few thousand years, I who regard you will also have sprung from the loins of African kings. ( 3 ll) Just as Minerva, having been eaten in foetal form along with her mother, by Jupiter her father, sprang black and bird like from the paternal skull, so Jim Bond, constrained to be little more than a loud 706 Absalom, Absalom!'s Unreadable Revolutions This content downloaded rrom on Wed. 9 Oct 2013 23:14:07 PM All use su bject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions thing, will prove seminal once it is recognized that his blackness, as that which gave substance to white bodies, also provided them with their true patronym.58 The joke is metamorphic: Bond's bleached out bird, under pressure from "snow," transforms into semen, be­ coming a flutter in the "rabbit" loins of an African king. By means of innuendo and contortion Shreve suggests ·that his and Quentin's heirs (like Bon's before them) will eventually descend from a great black father. His is a joke against white paternalism, which turns the novel upside down in a manner owing much to Sutpen's key recogni­ tion of 1820. Shreve, like the boy at the door, though with different emphasis, points out that white 'comes' from black: an insight that allows him to retell the Sutpen story, in its last and most minimal form, as a story of black paternity.
Quentin, still in bed, still "rigid," but now "panting," is shoc ke d­ not by a reworking of the one about miscegenation (''I'm the nigger that's going to sleep with your sister" [295]), he's already heard that earlier in the evening -but by his own response to the joke and to the question that follows it, "Why do you hate the South?":

"I dont hate it," Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; "I dont hate it," he said, I don't hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark; I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it! {311)

His reaction is automatic but not immediately meaningful. That which he does not apparently ha te -"the S o uth"-a p pears too ge­ neric to signify anything in particular.59 What significance there is seems, in the first instance, to reside in euphony. The rhythm of denial precisely recalls Quentin's earlier use of Poe's negatives: he offered five "Nevermores," Poe's raven croaked the word seven times, Quentin gives us seven denials. Moreover Quentin's two reiterations echo one another in their format, both consisting of two phrases, one short, one longer, each staccato. I labor their affinity because rhythm is not customarily considered a key semantic ele­ ment outside a poe m. Yet here, Quentin's denial, recalling his prior use of Poe's denial, also calls into itself an awkward signifying chain running from the raven and the crow, through Bond and Eulalia to Bon, and so to Sutpen's designation of his son as goods. If all that falls into place as an archaeology imminent within the repetition, semanticizing its euphony, what is it that Quentin denies? The manner of that denial is difficult, given that by saying no so often he seems to contradict himself, affirming his hate. But either Richard Godden 707 Thi s content dow nloaded f rom 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl A ll usc su bject t o JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions way, affirm or deny, what object does he address? Of what Southern thing or event does he think? My answer is unnervingly s pecific­ "Bon," not as a person (fictional or real) but as an associative path through a collection of words, leading back to Sutpen's act of naming, that is, to the owner's translation of a nominal son into real property (Sutpen believes, quite literally, that he has paid (225) in acres and slaves for Eulalia's labor and "goods"). As I have already argued, Sutpen's choice of the name "Bon" derives from and re­ presses a prior event (the turning away from the planter's door). By calling the slave who comes from his own white body "goods," Sutpen disclaims his earlier vision of the master's white mastery emerging from the body of black labor. The term "Bon" proves to be less a name than a collection of verbal traces obstructing the trauma to which they refer. This "Bon" is what Quentin sees, and does and does not hate. Paralyzed indecision is par for his circumstance; he retells Sutpen's story in 1910 because his Harvard place is paid for by the sale of ex -plantation land. His is a region where white bodies and accumulations "spr[i]ng" from the work of black bodies; to know as much is to know that you must deny it, should you wish to remain at Harvard, and perhaps alive. Since "Bon" comes to mean so much, I had best reprise how so much meaning came upon it. My attempt to explain a single act of naming (Bon), lead me to a small group of names (Bon, Eulalia, Bond). Attracted by the euphonies, puns, contortions and distor­ tions released by their conjunction, I find that I have discovered a labyrinth, zigzagging through space and time from Haiti to Harvard, and from 1820 to 1910.60 My textual stratagems would be entirely pointless, and lacking in any functional relation to Absalom, Absalom!, without the instigatory force of Sutpen's traumatic experience in western Virginia. What he saw was, in effect, slave labor's primal­ scene, which scarcely happens before it is repressed, and to which no planter or planter's child or grandchild can give credence. He witnessed the simple and debilitating truth of slave production, that the master's body is made by the slave's work: a fact that casts ethnic interdependency as white dependency. It should be stressed that in the antebellum South sexual production literally resembled cotton production, insofar as both yielded a crop that could be taken to market. With the banning of the overseas trade in slaves (1808), miscegenation was always liable to become another way in which slaves made goods for masters. By naming Bon for property, Sutpen suppresses a trauma whose force continues to distort the working of 708 Absalom, Absalom!'s Unreadable Revolutions This content downloaded rrom on Wed. 9 Oct 2013 23:14:07 PM All use su bject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions the very word through which he attempted suppression. In pursuing "Bon" and its network of related names I have produced an intermi­ nable decipherment, which at any and every point risks re -encrypt­ ing that story's unbearable truth.


That truth would not trouble a capitalist. After my detour through "Bon," I return to what prompted it, to Carolyn Porter's claim that Sutpen's paternalism makes him a typical liberal capitalist of the first half of the nineteenth century. I t is undoubtedly true that the antebellum planter was "deeply embedded in the world market," in that his products tied him to the western capitalist order.61 Cotton, sugar and tobacco are the staples of Europe's mid-century consumer boom.62 However, it is equally apparent that at the level of produc­ tion, rather than distribution or consumption, his preferred labor relations are distinct from the labor relations of those with whom he trades. Indeed, the Southern planter class stood in increasingly hostile relation to the Northern bourgeoisie, eventually choosing "to wage a 'civil war' in order to break free from its political and economic ties within a bourgeois national state."63 The bone of contention was slavery, and the South's determination to defend its distinctive system of labor. Since Sutpen's "design" is to become a planter, he is perhaps best understood through his status as a distinctive labor lord. Had he been a Northern capitalist he would have paid wages, thereby declaring himself independent of his free employees, since in the bourgeois market place those who contract together, whether as purchaser or seller of labor, do so under the assumption that each of them is a free and independent unit. Contract is an institution that both separates and equalizes its signatories, or so the story goes; a contract to exchange wages for labor is at least nominally non­ coercive, implying that those who sign do so freely and even equally in so far as both parties are property owners (one of the means of production [plant], the other of the means to labor [body]). "Every­ one shall be free, and shall respect the freedom of others. . . . Everyone possesses his own body as a free tool of his will."64 Such an agreement may grant them only "an equal opportunity to attain inequality," but is premised on the existence of each party as the possessor of a free, equal and autonomous will, expressed through property. 65 Contract cushions the hirer: he need feel no dependence on the hired since contractually he purchases only a part of the Richard Godden 709 Thi s content dow nloaded from 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl A ll usc subject to JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions laborer (his labor-power), and may freely discard that part whenever it serves his own best interest to do so, not least because the hired­ hand is equally and contractually free to take his independent tool elsewhere. Manifestly, under slavery the bound laborer is not free, and any suggestion that he might possess rights or will, independent of the will of his lord, strikes at the working of the entire system because it threatens the grounds upon which the owner owns and uses the slave:

When a slaveowner purchases a slave he or she acquires, not the use of the slave's labour-pow er-not, that is, only part of the slave's activities-but the slave's la b ou r-a ll the activities in which the slave engages. The fundamental social relation of slavery is thus total, e'!raging the full personalities of the slaveowner and the slave.

Bourgeois contract turns on "partial relations," which direct the owner to ignore aspects of a worker's person or circumstance that are unrelated to production.67 Slave production turns on relations of personal dependency, which are "total," involving the whole life of masters and the whole life of slaves.68 Of course, the whole life of a slave is wholly negated if he or she is reduced to a chattel; nonethe ­ less, even total subordination (without which basic precept, slavery cannot work) commits the owner to the whole life-as-living-death of the owned, in a way that bourgeois paternalism (freed by contract to be as finally irresponsible as it may wish) only pretends to do.69 Planters were bound by ties of interdependency to their bound labor. They could and did disguise this fact in all manner of ways, but they could not and did not perceive their activities through the language of bourgeois individualism, since as Genovese puts it, "opportunities for individual autonomy" were limited in the antebel­ lum South.70 Which is another way of saying, contra Brooks and Porter, that Sutpen is no capitalist because he founds his design on relations quite other than those between capitalist and free labor:

Slaves and masters . . . occupied the same social household. To the extent that this environment contributed to the individual identity of each, it contributed to their self definition relative to each other. The paternalistic forms it generated carried a far greater psychological force because of that common base, and the scope of autonimous identity and activity were reduced by the extent of mutual dependence.71

710 Absalom, Absalom!'s Unreadable Revolutions Thi s content dow nloaded from 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl A ll usc subject to JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions Sutpen's vision of the consequences of mutual dependence as white dependency, lead him away from paternalism as a language through which to address the relations of slavery. Paternalism does not suppress enough for Sutpen because, in its presentation of the master as father to an extended black family, it not only posits black gratitude in return for white responsibility, but implies filial rights, thereby contradicting "the principle of submission" lying "at the heart of the master's self justification."72 Haiti allows Sutpen to go for total submission, becoming Judge Rifkin sans sensitivity, because having experienced a private revolution in Virginia and having enacted a necessary counter-revolution in Haiti, he can do nothing e ls e -a t least if he wishes to keep his property. Here is Judge Rifkin (circa 1829):

The power of the master must be absolute to render the submis ­ sion of the slave perfect. I most freely confess my sense of the harshness of this proposition. . . . But in the actual condition of things it must be so. There is no remedy. The discipline belongs to the state of slavery. They cannot be disunited without abrogat­ ing at once the rights of the master and absolving the slave from his subjection.73

The return of Bon to Sutpen is, for Sutpen, the return not of a son but of a slave. Sutpen has no apparent difficulty withholding his paternal acknowledgement because he does not see Bon as his child but as goods. Indeed, it is as goods and not as a son that Bon threatens him: the threat derives not from miscegenation but from labor, since Bon reminds Sutpen of "the actual condition of things" under slave production-that every master and every master's son is a black in white-face. My remark is not intended rhetorically. Faulkner stresses that Sutpen is "faced" (224) with a "face" (219): when he sees Bon ride up to the Hundred in 1859, he sees his own features on a male slave:

"And h e - " . . . "-s a w the face and knew". . . . and Father said that even then, even though he knew that Bon and Judith had never laid eyes on one another, he must have felt and heard the design-house, position, posterity and a ll-com e down like it had been built out of smoke. (219-20)

The form of their meeting is resonant of Virginia:
He stood there at his own door, just as he had imagined, planned, designed, and sure enough and after fifty years the forlorn nameless and homeless child came to knock at it and no monkey- Richard Godden 711 Thi s content dow nloaded from 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl A ll usc subject to JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions dressed nigger anywhere under the sun to come to the door and order the child away. (220)

Except that to decipher, on the basis of what Sutpen knows, is to recover the butler, and to see what Sutpen saw in 1820. The recurrence of slave labor's primal scene revises the status and position of the subjects involved. The boy who is and plays Sutpen is a slave (black goods); the master who is and plays the "monkey nigger's" part is, despite his name (Sutpen), black goods. Faced with this, Sutpen has no o ptio n-he must turn the boy (and the insight) from the door, or lose the door. To extend the logic of the insight is to appreciate the extent of the "explosion"; should Bon marry Judith, the Hundred will not only be a materialization of black work but its inheritors will lose their euphemistic patronym (Sutpen), becoming goods (Bon) in name as well as fact. As a result, the white master's nominal authority along with his nominal irony, will vanish "like . . . smoke." As in the 1820s, so in the 1860s, Sutpen responds by using Haiti on Virginia, meeting revolutionary recognition with counter ­ revolutionary violence. Henry will kill Bon at his father's bidding, but in so doing he will kill that which manufactures mastery. Conse ­ quently, Henry vanishes to all intents and purposes as he pulls the trigger. He returns to a diminished Hundred "to die" (307), a "wasted yellow face" with "wasted hands," who is "already a corpse" in 1909 because, as a planter who killed his own most vital part (labor), he has been a corpse since that act in 1865. Critics who speculate on what might have happened had Sutpen let matters take their course, allowing Bon to marry Judith and become (in a region without primogeniture law) co-heir with Henry, miss the point. Brooks argues that had Jefferson somehow come to know that Bon was Sutpen's son, Sutpen-backed by property and the Coldfield link-could have outfaced the bigamy charge. Further ­ more, by letting the community know that Bon was part negro, he could have legitimized Henry's claim to full inheritance. By such means Bon might have been controlled, and the "design" realized intact. This works, if the design is simply "getting richer" (214) after the manner of capital's American dream. But Sutpen plans to accumulate by means of slave production, and consequently his accumulations are founded on a primary repression: repression of the fact that mastery is made by bound labor. Sutpen cannot keep this truth down; he therefore knows that, complete or incomplete, his design is vitiated. He tells General Compson, in 1864, that if he does nothing, "let matters take the course which I know they will 712 Absalom, Absalom!'s Unreadable Revolutions Thi s content dow nloaded from 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl A ll usc subject to JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions take and see my design complete itself quite normally and naturally and successfully to the public eye," what results will be "a mockery":

A betrayal of that little boy who approached that door fifty years ago and was turned away, for whose vindication the whole plan was conceived and carried forward to the moment of this choice. (225)

To vindicate that boy he had to repress what the boy saw, and to go on doing so for nearly half a century (the years of major slave production in the South). When that is no longer possible, when the unrepressed child (Bon, or white as black goods) finally becomes father to the man (as his posterity), then the man as planter may as well be dead. If Sutpen lets "the design complete itself," care of Bon, he must witness his own dynastic body become what it always was-black property. Sutpen considers his design "a mockery" (225) because it rests on an "initial mistake" (225) that is the "sole cause" of its failure (223). In this he is right, except that he nominates the wrong "mistake," directing the general's attention, at least in 1864, to the Haitian marriage. Although he never quite says as much, Bon becomes Sutpen's way of repressing his own founding narrative. Sutpen's "mistake" lies here: he uses miscegenation, barely confessed in 1864, to mystify labor fear, more fully confessed in 1835. The earlier story is deeply disruptive of planter properties, and in 1835, less commit­ ted to those properties, he almost said as much to the general. However, neither then nor thirty years later can he bear full witness to the boy's insight into the labor facts of the master's matter. As a labor lord Sutpen cannot let the revolution in his own consciousness be readable to himself or to others. In this, at least, he is successful; his labor trauma passes almost unremarked by inter ­ preters in and outside the novel. While it is fair, therefore, to say that repression delivers the goods both cognitively and politically, it must be added that Faulkner marks Sutpen's chief repressive device (counter-revolution, care of Haiti) as a mistake. Put crudely, repres­ sion in Haiti in 1827 is, quite literally, an impossible counter ­ revolution. Interpreters should not have been misled, yet it remains entirely understandable that they were and are. It will not have escaped attention that Absalom, Absalom! is almost unreadable; as a record of an attempt by a planter and his class descendants to tell the story of planter accumulation it is the product of characters who, in order to live with themselves and their properties, have to make Richard Godden 713 Thi s content dow nloaded from 1 31.94.1 6.1 0 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl A ll usc subject to JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions themselves more or less unreadable to themselves and to others. Repression, cognitive and political, is their cast of mind, yielding stories that contort, distort, evade and displace what they know. It would be a mistake to read the novel's difficulty as raising primarily epistemological questions; while readers must ask, Who knows what, when and how? this should not-critics to the con­ trary-induce a crisis of knowledge culminating in some form of the unanswerable question, How can they (or we) know at all?74 In Absalom, Absalom/, a novel designed to explore a repressive class "design," difficulty begs the altogether more answerable question, How can those who know so much, repress so much of what they know? As with most things in this novel, Sutpen is there first: apparently motivated by a desire to make himself intelligible he holds two conversations, separated by thirty years, the former, a story about labor experience, is so concealed under the latter, a story about marital "innocence," that decipherment leads to encipherment. Mystification depends upon overlap. Were the two stories manifestly different, the second would not encrypt the first. However, because the second half of Sutpen's conversation appears to continue the first, right down to starting at the point where the first part ceased (the marriage), distortion can occur under the guise of resolution. So, one "error," the Virginian decision to become a labor lord when the consequence of such lordship is perceived as bondage, becomes another, the Haitian decision to marry a woman whose "Spanish" mother is found to have been black. Similarly, one child at the door (Sutpen), subjected to labor trauma, becomes another child at the door (Bon) subjected to another and familial trauma. In each instance, affinity disguises the degree to which Sutpen's narratives are collusively cryptic. For example, while it is true that a master's sexual use of a female slave results in large part from the more general condition of slave labor, miscegenation cannot be said to express the essence of that condition.75 Yet the interference of Sutpen's two stories, one with another, promotes a reading of Bon not as goods but as miscegenated son. Alternatively, while it is true that the history of the Sutpens is familial, in the South the family as "household" always extends beyond the family as oedipal unit: which is simply to say that Sutpen, the father is also a man who does not take sugar in his coffee, who fights slaves, who allies with merchant capital and who is an elected Confederate officer.76 Yet because the link between Sutpen, parts 1 and 2, appears to be Eulalia as wife and 714 Absalom, Absalom!'s Unreadable Revolutions This content downloaded rrom on Wed. 9 Oct 2013 23:14:07 PM

All use su bject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions mother, rather than Eulalia as route to slave properties, Freud and not Hegel has provided the prevalent critical glossary to the novel. I t remains the case that if the labor truth is missed, it is because Sutpen would have it so. He tells his second story in order to avoid unbearable truths in his first. Since he renders himself unreadable, it is perhaps understandable that so many have compounded his unreadability. The nature and consequence of their collusive repres­ sion is the substance of yet another essay on Absalom, Absalom! Keele University


1 Eugene Genovese, From Rebellion to Revolution (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1979), 85.
2 Dirk Kuyk, Jr. is unusual in that, although he recognizes the misdating, he removes it from the provenance of history; in his version Haiti becomes the "wild, alien space" where the "quester" of "romance" faces "adventures and tests" with "valour" before "he wins the maiden and gains riches." See Kuyk, Sutpen's Design: Interpreting Absalom, Absalom! (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1990), 85. 3 The quotation is from Sylvia Frey, Water From the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1991), 231. On black rebel­ lions, see Genovese (note 1) 95; William Freeling, Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina , 1816-36 (New York: Harper, 1969), 58-60, and Stephen Oates, The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner's Fierce Rebellion (New York: Mentor Books, 1973), 12, 17. 4 Herbert Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freed om, 1750-1925 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1976), 24. 5 C . Vann Woodward, ed., Mary Chestnut's Civil War (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1981), 834. 6 Rod Prince, Haiti: Family Business (London: Latin American Bureau, 1985), 11. 7 William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1971), 206-7. Subsequent pagination will refer to this edition, and will be included in the text.
v 8 C. L . R. James, History of Negro Revolt (London: Race Today Publications, 1985), 9. Neither Prince (note 6) nor James cite sources for these figures. But the main point of reference in discussions of this subject is usually Philip Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1969). There have, however, been recent criticisms of Curtin; see esp. J. E. Inkikori, "Measuring the Atlantic Slave Trade," Journal of African History , 17.2 (1976), and the discus­ sion in 17.4 (1976). Alasdair Pettinger enabled me to trace these materials. 9 On Vodlln, see C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins (London: Allison and Busby, 1982), 85 -86.

1 0 See William Faulkner, "Appendix Compson: 1699-1945," in The Sound and the Fury ( New York: Norton, 1987), 227. 11 Frey (note 3), 235. Joel Williamson, The Crucible of Race: Black , White Relations in the American South Since Emancipation (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1984), 31.

Richard Godden 715 Thi s content dow nloaded from 1 31.94.1 6.10 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl A ll usc subject t o JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions 12 Eugene Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York: Random House, 1972), 91. 13 Frey (note 3), 232.
14 Genovese, From Rebellion to Revolution (note 1), 95. Alfred Hunt makes it quite clear that the South did not forget Haiti: "Southern slave owners and their sympathizers used St. Domingue and the Haitian Revolution as one of the corner­ stones of their argument against all critics of their 'peculiar institution.' From the earliest reports of the events . . . in 1791 until the last days of the Confederacy in the spring of 1865, they offered their own self -serving historical interpretation of the Haitian Revolution as bona fide evidence of the dangers of a humanist ideology in a slave society. These attitudes, expressed in every decade of the antebellum period, were found not only in private letters, official correspondence and newspapers but also among the more influential proslavery spokesmen. It was a lesson they never forgot." Hunt, Haiti's Influence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1988), 145 -46. 15 Faulkner, "Appendix Compson" (note 10), 227. 16 See Vernon Lane Wharton, The Negro in Mississippi: 1865-1890 (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), 11-13, and William Freehling (note 3), 11, 363 -67. 17 Significantly, when Mary Chesnut recorded her fear of "a new San Domingo," on 14 July 1865, she added a further over -heard remark in qualification: "A Jacquerie not a French Revolution" (Woodward [note 5], 834). "Jacquerie" derives from "Jack -the -man," and refers to a spontaneous peasant protest. Presumably, the soldiers who draw the distinction (whether Union or Confederate is not noted), are unwilling to credit even ex-slaves with the political acumen of the Jacobins, preferring to see them as an unstable peasantry. 18 James Snead, "The 'Joint' of Racism: Withholding the Black in Absalom, Absalom!," in Modem Critical Interpretations: William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1987), 132. 19 Snead (note 18), 124. Snead's essay is important in that he reads the issue of withheld meaning in terms of a more general "censorship and effacement of the black within the southern social narrative" (135). However, "censorship" and a consequent "return of the repressed" are not traced to specific and changing institutional issues. For all his insights, Snead can finally answer the question as to why meanings are withheld only by appealing to a generic racial antagonism. 20 G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, V o l.l, trans. J. B. Baillie (New York: Macmillan, 1910), 184.
21 Hegel (note 20), 176
. 22 Hegel, 182, 186.
23 Hegel, 187.
24 Hegel, 186.
25 Hegel, 173, 175, 176.
26 Hegel, 179, 176.
27 On the various forms of tacit resistance see Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll (note 12), 599 -621.
28 Hegel (note 20), 186. The freed man is quoted in Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution: 1863-1877 (New York: Harper, 1988) 103. 29 Caddy climbs the tree in 1898 (the year of Damuddy's death). No word in Benjy's section antedates 1898; in 1897 Benjy was quite literally a blank. The tree and the stain prompt his earliest encounter with signs, and therefore signal his fall 716 Absalom, Absalom!'s Unreadable Revolutions Thi s content dow nloaded from 1 31.94.1 6.10 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl
A ll usc subject t o JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions into language and consciousness. Sutpen's lapse is less sudden: he and his family "fell . . . by gravity" from mountain to Tidewater plain (83), but the boy's fall into social consciousness occurs on being told "to go around to the back"- a t which point, "he just had to think" (191). Like Benjy, he has words with himself for the first time, but in a voice divided against itself along class lines. 30 Hegel (note 20), 176.
31 Kuyk (note 2) offers useful commentary: "In chapter 7 . . . the third-person narrator, while remaining ever-present, recedes so that Quentin seems to carry most of the weight of the narrative. The bulk of his information comes from General Compson, who learned much of it from Sutpen himself. Through General Compson, Quentin can quote Sutpen directly." Kuyk adds that by receding, the narrator lets Quentin's account stand and therefore "authenticates" it (38). On the eyes of slaves, see Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll (note 12), 432.
32 It must be remembered that Sutpen recalls his Virginian childhood in 1835, four years after Nat Turner's revolt, a rising that prompted the Virginia slavery debate (1831-1832), the last significant debate over slavery in the antebellum South. Contention was sectional, articulating three decades of dispute between prevalently non-slaveholding western counties (self-sufficient, household production) and east ­ ern slaveholding counties (plantation production). The holding of property in slaves (and its attendant political influence) had long been contentious in Virginia. Benjamin Leigh's contribution to the Virginian Convention of 1829-1830, epito ­ mizes the lengthy dispute: Leigh insisted that the slaveholding east must resist, "to the bitter end [any] transfer of power" to the non-slaveholding west. "In every civilized country under the sun there must be some who labour for their daily bread"; westerners who "tend the herds and dig the soil" could never have adequate "political intelligence" to participate in government. Leigh equ ated western "day ­ labourers" with Tidewater slaves in terms of their "place in the political economy," consequently he reiterated that slaveholding planters should never submit to the "grinding tyranny" of the "peasantry of the West." Quoted by Alison Goodyear Freehling, Drift Towards Dissolution: The Virginia Slavery Debate of 1831-1832 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1982), 58. See also chap. 3, "A Temporary Patchwork of a Constitution," 36-81.
33 Joseph Blotner, ed., Selected Letters of William Faulkner (New York: Vintage Books, 1978), 78-79.
34 Jean-Paul Sarte, Critique of Dialectical Reason, Vol.l (London: Verso, 1982), 323. See also, 178-79. 3"' Satre (note 34), 328.
36 Satre, 332.
37 Various guides to dating are available, often expanding upon and suggesting errors in Faulkner's "Chronology" and "Genealogy." See Cleanth Brooks, Willia m Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1963), 424- 26; Edmond Volpe, A Reader's Guide to Willia m Faulkner (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965), 387-92, and Kuyk (note 2), 46-60.
38 The issue has recently prompted considerable, and regionally specific, historical debate. See particularly, John C. Inscoe, Mountain Masters, Slavery and the Sectional Crisis in Western North Carolina (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1989), chap. 2, "Mountain Community and Commerce," 25-58; Lacy K. Ford, Jr., Origins of Southern Radicalism: The South Carolina Upcountry, 1800-1860 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988), 44-95, and James Oakes, Slavery and Freedom: An

Richard Godden 717 Thi s content dow nloaded from 1 31.94.1 6.10 on Wed, 9 Oct 201 3 23; 1 4:07 Pivl A ll usc subject t o JSTOR Terms a nd Conditions Interpretation of the Old South (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990) 113-136. 39 It is worth considering the whole quotation: "Where a certain few men not only had the power of life and death and barter and sale over others, but they had living human men to perform the endless repetitive personal offices, such as pouring the very whisky from the jug and putting the glass into a man's hand or pulling off his boots for him to go to bed, that all men have had to do for themselves since time began and would have to do until they died and which no man ever has or ever will like to do, but which no man that he knew had ever thought of evading anymore than he had thought of evading the effort of chewing and swallowing and breathing" (182).

40 Given his labor trauma, it is understandable that Sutpen adopts continence as a shield against mingling and co-present bodies. 41 See W. J . Cash, The Mind of the South (London: Thames and Hudson, 1971), 86; Richard Gray, Writing the South: Ideas of an American Region (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press 1989), 189, and Joel Williamson (note 11), 303-8. 42 See Oakes (note 38), 135. 43 Quoted by Stephen Hahn, The Roots of Southern Populism: Yeomen Farmers and the Transformation of the Georgia Upcountry, 1850-1890 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press 1983), 133.
44 Kuyk (note 2), 20, 22.
45 Carolyn Porter, Seeing and Being: The Plight of the Participant Observer in Emerson, James, Adams and Faulkner (Middletown: Wesleyan Univ. Press 1981), 222.
46 Cleanth Brooks, Willia m Faulkner: Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1979), 299. 47 Brooks, Toward Yoknapatawpha (note 46), 296, 294, and 299. 48 Eugene Genovese notes that the pre-bourgeois spirit of the planters meant that they, "could not accept the idea that the cash nexus offered a permissible basis for human relations." Brooks quotes him, 294. I have modified Brooks's use of the Genovese quotation.
49 Porter (note 45), 222; Brooks, Toward Yoknapatawpha (note 46), 299; Porter, 236, and Kuyk (note 2), 21.
50 Brooks, Toward Yoknapatawpha, 295.
51 Porter (note 45) 234.
52 Porter, 234.
53 Porter, 234-35.
54 Quentin's observation is strange since, at least nominally, general Compson knows neither that Bon is Sutpen's son, nor that he is black. Quentin may be exaggerating his grandfather's point, or he may be hinting at his own suspicion that the general had worked out Sutpen's paternal secrets.
55 Orlando Paterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1982), 8.
56 Edgar Allan Poe, Selected Writings , ed. David Galloway (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967), 80.
57 C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1959), xvi.
58 Pallas/Minerva lends herself to the bird motif, being much associated with both cock and owl. However, I am aware that in establishing this particular associative pattern, I risk straining my reader's patience. I would offer in mitigation Nicolas 718 Absalom, Absalom!'s Unreadable Revolutions ·rrus content downloaded from 13 on Wed. 9 Oct 2013 21:14:07 P/1•.1
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Abraham and Maria Torok's psychoanalytic claim that trauma and its repression can so distort the signs through which it is represented that a "cryptonomy" fo rm s -th a t is, a grouping of words that obstruct comprehension but that can operate as guides when properly read. See, Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, The WolfMan's Magic Wo rd: A Cryptonomy (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1986).
59 I am borrowing a point from Peter Brooks, "Incredible Narration: Absalom, Absalom!," in Bloom {note 18), 105-37. Brooks argues that the novel posits a relationship between its own plot and Southern history, but omits the narrative that might allow these two terms to cohere significantly. As a result, Absalom, Absalom/ is "perilously close to a narrative without a motive" {110). While disagreeing, I find his sense that plot particulars are informed by apparently untraceable historical pressures, which they express but do not represent, extremely helpful. 60 Nicholas Rand glosses Abraham and Torok's "cryptonomy" as follows: "Cryptonomy (coined from the Greek prefix crypto for 'hiding' and an analogy with rhetorical terms such as metonymy) is a verbal procedure leading to the creation of a text (in the Wolf Man's case, understood as co-extensive with life) whose sole purpose is tohide words that are hypothecized as having to remain beyond reach. . . . Divested of metaphorical reach and the power to institute or depose an extralinguistic event or action, cryptonyms create a collection of words, a verbarium, with no apparent aim to carry any kind of knowledge of conviction." However, such repression wears its marks on its own face, indicating the lost knowledge that it dissembles. Rand adds, "Carrying out repression on the word implies that cryptonomy inhibits the process of definition of meaning by concealing a segment of the associative path that normally allows one to move freely from one element to another in a verbal chain." See Nicholas Rand, "Translator's Introduction: Towards a Cryptonomy of Literature," in Abraham and Torok (note 58), iviii, lix. Derrida's essay in the same volume, "Forward: Fors: The Anguished Words of Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok," enhanced my understanding of the significant opacity of "cryptonomy."
61 Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Eugene Genovese, Fruits of M erchant Capital: Slavery and Bourgeois Capital in the Rise and Expansion of Capitalism (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1983), 5. 62 James Oakes (note 38), 45. But Genovese would add that "th e market did not directly impinge upon their [the planters'] system of production or upon their relation with their labour force." The Fruits of M erchant Capital (note 64), 94. 63 Mark Tushett, The American Law of Slavery: Considerations of Humanity and Interest (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1981), 232. 64 Johann Fichte, The Science of Rights (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1869), quoted by Evgeny Pashukanis, Law and Marxism {London: Ink Links Ltd., 1978), 114. My discussion of contract is heavily informed by Pashukanis's chapter on "Commodity and Subject," 109-33.
65 Pashukanis (note 64), 121.
66 Tushnett {note 63), 33.
67 Tushnett, 6. 68 Tushnett, 6.
69 Oakes {note 38), 48.
7° Fox-Genovese/Genovese {note 61), 131.
71 Fox-Genovese/Genovese, 131.
72 Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll (note 12), 91.
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73 Quoted by Tushnett (note 63), 60.
74 The assumption that the facts cannot be known has ghosted readings of th e novel from the first, though the influence of post-structural ideas about language has intensified epistemological uncertainty over the last two decades. For an early and perceptive example of the know-little-or-at-least-less stance see Olga Vickery, for whom "the relation of the reader to the centre . . . points out the essential ambiguity of fact and the multiplicity of'subjective' truths to which it can give rise." The Novels of William Faulkner (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1959), 102. See also Michael Millgate, The Achievement of William Faulkner (London: Constable, 1966), 153. Later and more emphatically, Hugh Ruppersburg insists, "The novel suggests that the search for truth is irrelevant. . . . Correlations between truth and historical reality simply do not exist." Voice and Eye in Faulkner's Fiction (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1983), 130. Once the "truth" about Sutpen becomes so multiple as to be "irrelevant," Sutpen himself vanishes, becoming he about whom nothing can be known; see Estella Schoenberg, Old Tales and Talking: Quentin Compson in William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! and Related Works (Jackson: Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1977). For Derridean versions of Sutpen's recession from "fact" to "absence" see particularly Stephen Ross, "The Evocation of Voice in Absalom, Absalom/," Essays in Literature 8 (1981): 135-49, and John Matthews, The Play of Faulkner's Language (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1982), 115-61.
75 Contemporary observers agree that after emancipation miscegenation between white men and black women was much reduced. Freedom blocked white access to the quarters, while segregation functioned to separate black and white lives. See Williamson (note 11), particularly chap. 7. 76 Elizabeth Fox-Genovese draws a distinction between "home" (or the separate and feminine sphere developing in the antebellum, bourgeois North) and "house ­ h o ld "-a term that refers to a unit of domestic production in which people (some willingly and some under compulsion) pool income and resource. Where the Northern "home" narrows social relations into an essentially private, feminized and familial space (oedipal), the Southern "household" necessarily links private to public and locates familial relations within production relations (ante-oedipal). "Within households, personal ties cross class-lines. Slave-holders and slaves participated in a shared imaginative universe that could shimmer with mutual affection or . . . shatter in mutual antagonism." See Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women in the Old South (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1988), 27; also, 37-99. 720 Absalom, Absalom!'s Unreadable Revolutions

  • Written by: R ic h a r d G o d d e n
  • Tuesday, 03 June 2014

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