“I was listening to myself”: African-American space and the forcing of Faulkner’s narrative hand in Go Down, Moses

GoDownMoses_musicofyesterday

An arrangement of the spiritual “Go Down, Moses,” which is the source of Faulkner’s novel’s title.  The Wikipedia article for the spiritual notes that Harriet Tubman used this song as one of two for codes with slaves she helped to escape.  I have no idea if Faulkner knew that history of the song, but for purposes of this post I do like the happy coincidence of Tubman’s using the song as a means by which to create black space for the people she helped to liberate.

Here is part of the compositional history of Go Down, Moses as told in Heart in Conflict: Faulkner’s Struggles with Vocation by Michael Grimwood (my source for this is p. 147 of Philip M. Weinstein’s book Faulkner’s Subject: A Cosmos No One Owns): after he added additional material to “Pantaloon in Black” and “Delta Autumn,” Faulkner both created “The Fire and the Hearth” out of three previously-existing stories and, even more crucially, added the long fourth section of “The Bear.”

What happened, that compelled Faulkner to engage in writing this additional material?  Basically, Roth’s lover is what happened.

(Here and below the fold follow some speculation inspired by Minrose Gwin’s insightful readings of Faulkner.)

While, yes, it was Faulkner’s conscious decision, when reworking the first version of “Delta Autumn,” to have Roth become Ike’s kinsman and to make Roth’s lover the granddaughter of James “Tennie’s Jim” Beauchamp, something in that new material compelled Faulkner to add that section to “The Bear.”  In that fourth section, we learn why Ike decided not to inherit his grandfather’s plantation (something we learn nowhere else in the novel), and we learn of Ike’s attempts to find and pass on to them the money bequeathed by Ike’s grandfather to his (the grandfather’s) black descendants.  (Regarding the specifics of Ike’s passing on the money to Lucas Beauchamp, Faulkner provides a fuller description of that moment in the material added to “The Fire and the Hearth.”)  All of this is past information that Roth’s lover at least alludes to in the new material in “Delta Autumn.”  Ike signals his reluctance to revisit those past memories when he says to her, a couple of times, “Never mind that” (341, 343; except where indicated, all quoted passages are from this edition of Go Down, Moses).  Yet, here we are in Go Down, Moses, reading these things.

In this post on the novel I wrote a while back, referring to Gwin’s excellent essay “Her Space, His Hand: The Spaces of African American Women in Go Down, Moses” (found here), “Faulkner is not completely in control of the forces created by certain of his black characters’ narratives as they push against the confines of the world in which they find themselves.”  I think this is especially true of what we see happening in “Delta Autumn” and Faulkner’s post hoc emendations to, in particular, “The Bear.”  Ike may not have wanted to hear or think about what Roth’s lover says to him in that hunting camp; but then again, it’s probably the case that she does not much care what Ike thinks: her description of herself while on her sojourn with Roth, “I was listening to myself,” could just as easily apply to her conversation with Ike as well.  Even so, she sure gets Faulkner’s attention.  Still, as I’ll discuss below, that additional material does not neatly close up what otherwise would have been narrative gaps in the novel.  Rather, they reveal still other spaces in his narrative created by African-Americans that Faulkner himself only vaguely understands but, to his immense credit, lets stand as vaguely understood.

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