The extended historical “moments” that Crane and Faulkner both seek to offer readers may then be defined by their affinities with pain. In the context of American history, that painfulness refers to the experience of historical subjects such as the American Indian as well as marginalized populations like Southern blacks and, as with young Thomas Sutpen, rural poor whites. What both Faulkner and Crane signal in key sections of their work is the way that historical awareness, on the part of either characters or readers, is activated by and necessitates a textual effect of suffering. It is the different valence of this suffering as experienced by readers—masochistic and identificatory, for Crane, sadistic and distance, for Faulkner—that I suggest contributed to either writer’s relation to the modernist canon. Faulkner’s Southernness and supposed traditionalism were only part of his appeal to Tate and the Agrarians. Among other things, what appealed to the group that became the New Critics about Faulkner’s modernism, and what prevented them from “entering the dimensions” of Crane’s poetry, as Paul put it, was precisely this difference in either writer’s sexuality. Faulkner’s text, we will see, wields a force that follows from his heterosexuality and that evokes conventional (sexual) models of aggression. In his treatment of characters who are crucial for his reflections on Southern history such as Rosa Coldfield and Quentin Compson, but who for him also raised problems of sexuality, Faulkner inscribes effects that suggest a type of punishing as well as distance. Crane’s text, conversely, bears the traces of a queer sexuality that evokes a shared suffering with his historical subject and an openness to what Kaja Silverman, in her theoretical work on masochism, calls a productive form of “deviant” masculinity, a socially destabilizing pleasure in pain. For the critics who helped establish the modernist canon and who laid such emphasis on a traditionally ordered, masculine culture and society, and for reasons that to Paul appeared puzzling but which I hope to make clear, Faulkner’s version of historical pain proved far more appealing.
Copyright © 2004 University of Central Florida. This article first appeared in The Faulkner Journal 20:1&2 (2004&2005), 149-176.
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Lurie, Peter. "Querying the Modernist Canon: Historical Consciousness and the Sexuality of Suffering in Faulkner and Hart Crane." The Faulkner Journal 20, no. 1&2 (2004&2005): 149-76.