Although Faulkner had already, with his earlier fiction, established himself as a practitioner of a rarefied, regional modernism, in If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem he addresses the reading tastes and pleasures of the commercial market. Commenting as he does on the doctor and his wife’s tastes in the novel’s opening, Faulkner reveals his disdain for people who prefer the culture industry’s generic products to something more personal or idiosyncratic. Yet as his potential audience, those people or their tastes were of interest to Faulkner in 1939, the year the novel appeared. Following extended periods working in Hollywood, as well as efforts in his magazine short fiction to satisfy the insatiable market for what he called “trash,” Faulkner was in a position and a mood to examine critically the standard plots and subjects of mass culture. Taking these on in “Old Man” but, especially, in the “Wild Palms” section of the novel, Faulkner shows readers their own “canned” tastes for certain forms of narrative. The strategies of representation in “The Wild Palms” and its story suggest an immensely popular and influential genre: the domestic tragedy and the melodrama. As wayward lovers on the run from the sterile confines of marriage, Charlotte and Wilbourne epitomize a classically melodramatic trope. And with the section’s ending, Faulkner extends and sharpens his critique of popular cultural materials. In the use of the closed-cell setting at the end of “The Wild Palms,” Faulkner suggests the deep affinity between structures of feeling commonly produced by popular culture, and in particular by one of its sub-genres: pornography. Against these strategies, and reflecting critically on them, the “Old Man” section also invokes a cinematic model. But it does so through an abstract and modernist use of language that subverts the “The Wild Palms” romance of lovers on the run.

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Copyright © 2002 Presses Universitaires de Renne. This article first appeared in Etudes Faulkneriennes 3 (2002), 21-32.

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