the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time: Reading Faulkner

Will Franco make a version that is more like this:

McClurg's Marginalia

I’m reading Faulkner’s novels in chronological order with a friend. We’ve read Vonnegut and Hemingway, so Faulkner seemed the obvious choice after Hem. After spending so much time with Hemingway, then beginning Faulkner, one of the most obvious takeaways we’ve had is wondering why these guys get compared so much. Other than attempting to be great writers publishing at the same time, there isn’t a lot to compare. Their goals and techniques seem so different that they are almost not even worth comparing.

It’s strange that I’ve actually been asked on several occasions: Hemingway or Faulkner? I would say that anyone who asks that question hasn’t read much of either author. It’s a false dichotomy. I remember in college someone even saying, “I’m a writer from Mississippi, so I can’t like Faulkner.” This was said seriously without a speck of smirk or smile.

Here’s what I’ve read so far:

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Where I’m From

To start the year I am having students write a “Where I’m From” poem. These poems are meant to be one of their first experiences analyzing and mimicking structure. The original poem can be found here.

This is mine (still a work in progress):

Where I’m From

I am from butter biscuits
and Thunder Cat cookies
from a kitchen where the “y’alls” are silver and sweet.
I’m from the a pack of Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum
tucked inside Pawpaw’s shirt pocket.
I am from Nigerian adventures
and Parisian boulangeries
where a chocolate croissant can change your life’s plan.

I’m from marching bands and poker chips
placed delicately on the asphalt.
I’m from X-Men, Masters of the Universe,
and Flash — AHHH , ahh! — Gordon.
I’m from Back to the Future
where I can taste the manure in Biff’s Ford Super De Luxe Convertible
and laugh at screen doors on battleships.

I’m from Kilgore Trout and Billy Pilgrim,
and coffee black and bitter.
I am from bedtime stories and sing-a-longs
led by hungry caterpillars, wild things,
and goblins who’ll get ‘cha if you don’t watch out.

Within a leather journal inside a satchel bag’s pocket
are scrawlings of dusty memories.
They outline the thoughts and actions
of a million former selves.
I am from those moments —
wandering, not lost,
a traveling reader
on a journey without a destination.

Small novels about a big papa. (fin)

Under Kilimanjaro was a rough ride, but it’s over now.  This post concludes my six-word responses to Hemingway.  Be sure to read my friend’s response to our Hemingstein journey here.

My top five Hemingway novels of our read are:

1. Death in the Afternoon

2. A Movable Feast (2009 edition)

3. The Old Man and the Sea

4. Garden of Eden

5. For Whom the Bell Tolls

While fiddling with the small novels, I found that I became partially obsessed, parsing words in speech and thought.  I was on a constant lookout for the six-word gems, internally and externally.  Like whittling wood, I cut my own inner voice down into six word snippets.  I keep coming back to this one that I gleaned near the end of Kilimanjaro:

“Breakfast feels so good in advance.”

Once noticed, they don’t stop appearing.  I am currently reading Colson Whitehead’s Zone One and came across this one:

“Society manufactures the heroes it requires.”

It’s incredible how much depth and breadth we can fit into six words.  I am still on  the fence about the effects of minimalist language/writing forms on society as a whole through texting, Tweeting, flash fiction writing, and status updating.  Do we capture the core or miss the forest for the trees?   Do minimalist forms serve as evidence for the erosion of language in our society? Current events have shown that significant political action and revolution can happen in 140 characters.  There is a concise overview for the new year here.

This project has taught me that purpose drives and enriches form.  I think that without consciously reaching into our own reservoir of language to carefully choose our words, yes, six words or 140 characters will never be enough and will fall flat.  But that point begs the question, what we are reading to fill our reservoirs?  Ralph Fiennes is famously quoted for his input on this topic here, which is disputed by The Guardian here.  I did not necessarily want to debate the issue at this time but wanted to include some context surrounding the issue.

While committed to the six-word frame, I feel that I am getting closer to a truthful description. Every word and punctuation mark becomes precious, which I think  is a novel shift in approach in our era of limitless scrolling within the vast and endless void of the Internet.  For example, I found myself not wanting to waste slots with smaller articles or verbs, though you can see I have not shunned them completely.  And, I often had to swap and interchange prepositions.  The apostrophe helped cheat a bit:

My ring’s in my back pocket.

I started to combine phrases to see if they were any more interesting:

 Man is utterly ruined by himself. And bottles were made to help.

I don’t think I could manage to do an entire story with the sentences in this form (Michael Rosen in the aforementioned Guardian piece reveals that he only used one-syllable words to write the article).  I think it would become more of a gimmick than anything else.

In the end, these were fun.

I will continue to post other lines as they work themselves out.

These are the last of the Hemingways:

(1986) The Garden of Eden

A ménage à trois is thrice the trouble.

(1932) Death in the Afternoon

A writer sketches dances with bulls.

(1935) Green Hills of Africa

Never lose kudu in the bush.

(1964) A Moveable Feast

Important: Stay hungry and keep drinking.

(2005) Under Kilimanjaro

There is death in every joke.

Thanks for reading.

Ask no questions, receive no lies.

a farewell to Papa, for now

McClurg's Marginalia

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
Hemingway,  New York Journal-American (11 July 1961)

I’m lucky enough to have at least one friend who will devote time to reading projects. We just finished our Hemingway list started a year-and-a-half ago. Our goal was similar to the Vonnegut project: read the author’s works in chronological order. With Hemingway, we skipped the poems, letters, biographies, etc. and went to the book-length prose–fourteen books total.

Overall, what I find interesting in doing these extended readings of a corpus is how much these writers do that doesn’t fit with the generalizations often presented as critical summaries. These are necessary evils, I suppose, but they are also a shame. I know I’ve made assumptions about understanding someone’s work based on little evidence. For example, I remember the anthology commercials that played three seconds of every song and I…

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Small novels about a big papa.

Lies will wear comfortably like truths.

A friend and I are on a chronological-read-through-rampage of “Great Books.”  Read his response to Vonnegut here.  Now, we’re almost finished with Hemingway’s novels. Under Kilamanjaro is the last one and is a bit slow going.  We chose his novels, both fiction and nonfiction, instead of his short fiction, because we’d both felt comfortable with our knowledge of him in that vein.  My response is in the form of the “six word novel,” which some say is incorrectly attributed to a writing challenge that was initiated by “Papa” at a bar around his fellow writers. Read more about the legend and how it is discredited here.

Since our reading, I have noticed, and perhaps had been searching, for the little six-word devils.  There are some great causes using the form.  PBS talks about it here and a Six-Word-War Kickstarter met their goal here.  It became fun to play with the form and I was able to see the poetry in the small novel.  My first post starts and ends with two I fooled with, then the first three of the Hemingway’s tribute.

Thanks for reading.

I chase demons in my basement.

For Hemingway:

(1926) The Torrents of Spring

Dreary snows in an unseasonable spring.

(1926) The Sun Also Rises

Silk capes entice bulls and women.

(1940) For Whom the Bell Tolls

Hairless rabbits intertwine in sleeping bags.