This paper looks at changes in visual representation in the 1930s as a means of understanding Faulkner's newly historiographic methods in this decade. The advent of Kodachrome® in 1935 as the first widely used color film stock presaged the turn toward the black-and-white documentary mode so important to the nation's efforts to "countenance," or see, the economic crises of the period. Faulkner's descriptive and representational practices in the period 1929-36 also shifted from a more pervasive use of coloration to a style like the silver halide photos prevalent in the middle nineteenth century--the period of the past-tense events in Absalom, Absalom! and of the original "documentary" photos of Matthew Brady and others. In addition to references to the daguerreotype and photographs at key points in this novel--or to Kodak in Light in August--Absalom uses a sustained metaphor of the illuminating "glare" or flash of understanding that Walter Benjamin used to describe the photographic quality of history. The essay uses Benjamin's "Theses on the Philosophy of History" to explain this pattern in Faulkner's writing and his arrival in Absalom at a full-blown historicist fiction, one that takes the full measure of time's rupture and of characters' efforts to understand material history in the face of Sutpen's designs on time and his dynasty's continuum.
Copyright © 2012 University of Iowa. This article first appeared in Philological Quarterly 90:2&3 (2012), 229-253.
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Lurie, Peter. "Faulkner's Literary Historiography: Color, Photography, and the Accessible Past." Philological Quarterly 90, no. 2&3 (2012): 229-253.