Hiding and seeking: form, vision, and history in William Faulkner and John Dos Passos

Harding, James William (2012) Hiding and seeking: form, vision, and history in William Faulkner and John Dos Passos. Doctoral thesis (DPhil), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

This thesis investigates how two distinctive and conflicting literary modernisms
generate, and subsequently attempt to deal with the proliferation of difficult
historical meaning.

Part one scrutinizes three novels from William Faulkner’s middle period,
The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), and Sanctuary (1931). Its
arguments issue from three linked assumptions: first, that semantic meaning, in
Faulkner, resides within the smallest of textual locations; second, that this
meaning is insistently historical; and third, that the attempt to hide its release as
historical meaning generates a formal opacity that, in turn, occasions acutely
visual problems at the level of the text. Specific attention is drawn to what I
consider to be the “compacted doctrines” (Empson) of Faulkner’s prose: the
pronoun. It is argued that, in these three novels, historically sedimented
meaning congeals in three single words: “them”, “I” and finally, “it”.

If Faulkner’s texts come into meaning at the level of the word, John Dos
Passos’ come into meaning at the level of the concept. What was “small”,
begrudging, and intractable in Faulkner becomes “big”, abundant, and
eminently retrievable in Dos Passos. The semantic “concept” to which I attend
is The Camera Eye, a place of visual efficiency. Two parallel concerns drive these
chapters. First, I claim that The Camera Eye is the preeminent site of the dialectic
in U.S.A.; second, that these episodes provide the formal indices for Dos Passos’
shift in political intensities. Sustaining an antagonistic tension between aesthetic
modernity and historical memory, however, these mechanical integers
problematize their own semantic productions. With reference to the generation
of surplus and to Marx’s concept of “hoarding” I route the (over)production of
the textual product, and its subsequent channelling into distinct textual
locations, into conversations regarding commodification, reification and the
division of labour.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > American Studies
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PS American literature > PS0185 By period > PS0221 20th century
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 09 Jul 2012 14:12
Last Modified: 04 Sep 2015 13:42
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/39704

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