Saturday, April 13, 2019

On The Anniversary Of The Beginning Of The American Civil War- The Literature Of The Civil War

Click on the headline to link to a Boston Sunday Globe article, dated Sunday April 10, 2011, detailing the various literary attempts to portray the struggles and human drama unleashed by the American Civil War.

Markin re-post comment:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

*The Modern Southern Literary View Of The American Civil War Period- William Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom!"

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the American novelist, William Faulkner.

Book Review

Absalom, Absalom!, William Faulkner, The Modern Library, New York, 1936

I am here to tell you that not every great book that describes the human struggle as we emerged from the mud has to be written from a leftist progressive political perspective, although usually it helps. The novelist, self-proclaimed white racial purist, and Mississippi partisan, William Faulkner, with this very complicated and somewhat rambling novel placed himself front and center in the pantheon of American literary figures who have tried to confront the daunting task of making great literature out of the slavery-driven plantation society of the ante bellum South and of that same locale in the period of defeat after the Civil War. One does not have to sign up for membership in the William Faulkner political fan club to realize that he has created something that speaks to that very contradictory, and at times incomprehensible, human drive to succeed as it has evolved thus far. He does not pull his punches or hold back on the grizzly picture that he paints.

Let me explain that last sentence. I was put on the trail of Faulkner this time, having previously reviewed his “Sanctuary” in this space, by reading and reviewing a book titled “The Unwritten War” by Daniel Aaron. Aaron’s major thesis is that the social, political and military dimensions of the American Civil experience, for both sides, were so traumatic and overwhelming that it took a figure removed in time, like Faulkner, to have a realistic shot at writing the “great American Civil War novel”. Aaron runs through the litany of great American literary figures that did, or did not, try to create such a work in the immediate post-war period and came up dry until the emergence of Faulkner (and, possibly, the “Agrarians” like Robert Penn Warren). One can agree or disagree with Professor Aaron's thesis but it hard to argue, at an artistic level, that Faulkner’s work here, especially the portrait of the central character, Thomas Sutpen, as he emerges from the descriptions of several fellow townspeople, including characters from other Faulkner novels, of the mythical Jefferson, Mississippi is not a serious candidate for that honor.

And what do we have here in the four hundred or so pages of this novel. A description of the intricate web of the roots of one branch of the slavery economy in the French West Indies as it connects to the then (1830’s) virgin Mississippi lands suitable for plantation creation. The trials and tribulations of two varieties of “poor white trash” (Sutpen, and later his overseer). The Civil War as refracted though small town Southern life. Miscegenation. Lust. Incest. Murder, Almost murder. Wannabe murder. Abortion. Southern gentility. Not so gentile Southern life. Ghosts, real and imagined. Fear of going forward. Fear of going back. Hatred of the North. Hatred of the South. Carpetbaggers. Scalawags. Almost every social and human experience, except any serious description of the hated n----r in post-Civil War society, and except as monsters. And that is only a start. So here is the “real deal”. Goddam, William Faulkner can write a hell of a novel. Nevertheless, after reading this novel, I will stick with the lyrics in Nina Simone’s old 1960’s Civil Rights-inspired song- “Mississippi, Goddam"

"Mississippi Goddam"- Nina Simone- 1963

The name of this tune is Mississippi goddam
And I mean every word of it

Alabamas gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about mississippi goddam

Alabamas gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about mississippi goddam

Cant you see it
Cant you feel it
Its all in the air
I cant stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer

Alabamas gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about mississippi goddam

This is a show tune
But the show hasnt been written for it, yet

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every days gonna be my last

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I dont belong here
I dont belong there
Ive even stopped believing in prayer

Dont tell me
I tell you
Me and my people just about due
Ive been there so I know
They keep on saying go slow!

But thats just the trouble
Do it slow
Washing the windows
Do it slow
Picking the cotton
Do it slow
Youre just plain rotten
Do it slow
Youre too damn lazy
Do it slow
The thinkings crazy
Do it slow
Where am I going
What am I doing
I dont know
I dont know

Just try to do your very best
Stand up be counted with all the rest
For everybody knows about mississippi goddam

I made you thought I was kiddin didnt we

Picket lines
School boy cots
They try to say its a communist plot
All I want is equality
For my sister my brother my people and me

Yes you lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears
And talk real fine just like a lady
And youd stop calling me sister sadie

Oh but this whole country is full of lies
Youre all gonna die and die like flies
I dont trust you any more
You keep on saying go slow!
Go slow!

But thats just the trouble
Do it slow
Do it slow
Mass participation
Do it slow
Do it slow
Do things gradually
Do it slow
But bring more tragedy
Do it slow
Why dont you see it
Why dont you feel it
I dont know
I dont know

You dont have to live next to me
Just give me my equality
Everybody knows about mississippi
Everybody knows about alabama
Everybody knows about mississippi goddam

Thats it!

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