I don’t think anyone has ever accused William Faulkner of being the possessor of a light touch (not, at least, as evidenced by Absalom, Absalom!, a work whose crushing solemnity could convert coal into diamond). So perhaps instead we could say that his is a delicate touch: The book, certainly—like the flowerbed which is depicted in its pages displaying ample evidence of a light-footed ruminant visitor—has its author’s “delicate prints” all over it.
For all their operatic histrionics—the outrage, the fury, the despair—the denizens of Yoknapatawpha County can be a pretty fussy lot, with their “various delicate scruples” and their “entire delicate spirit’s bent.” This is, after all, a place where people give birth to “morose and delicate offspring”—a place where the girls are “not only delicate but actually precious,” the boys are “light in the bone and almost delicate” with “limbs almost as light and delicate as a girl’s,” and the Stepford spawn—or whatever you would call the “thin delicate child with a smooth ivory sexless face”—is apparently awaiting final gender-stamping by the lab.
This is a place of such topographical fragility that a farmer’s crops are planned for “a narrow delicate fenced virgin field” and even “roadside undergrowth” stands “delicate and rigid and immobly upward.” Down these gentle byways, passengers ride in coaches (of questionable-sounding roadworthiness) that sport “proud delicate wheels.” Any one of these hothouse flowers may be found at any moment putting up the pinkie on his or her “delicate hand” and making a gesture that is “delicately flattering.” They possess wind chimes whose tones are “delicate and faint and musical.” (OK, actually, all wind chimes sound like that.)
But get a load of their “delicate garments”—like one fellow’s coordinated getup seemingly from the underfed-Garanimals section (“his delicate shirt and stockings and shoes”) and another’s that manages to be both ethereal and hobo-esque (“delicate and overgrown tatters”). This delicate sensibility informs everything from mystical thinking (“the delicate and perverse spirit-symbol”) to philosophical debate (“supported by legal and moral sanction even if not the delicate one of conscience”), from perceptual similes of looking at girls (“girls appear as though seen through glass…their very shapes fluid and delicate”) to animal similes of looking at women (“the woman…upon whom he had already come to look as might some delicate talonless and fangless wild beast crouched in its cage”*).
And speaking of that poor creature and its sorry state of talonless-ness and fangless-ness, it is yet another twisted creation of Dr. Faulkner-stein and his odd inclination for stitching words together, whether grafting un to the head of any number of seemingly inapt transplant recipients (to produce the likes of unamaze, unchastity, unfree, unkin, and unorganism—among many others) or, as in this case, affixing a less to the hindquarters of each ill-fated patient. The results of these mad experiments I itemize here in ascending order of eccentricity, from the merely everyday (“soulless,” “pointless”) to the crimes-against-nature, locked-up-in-the-basement variety (“oxygenless,” “climaxless”).
Lab rats from the doctor’s operating theater, then, include one character’s “soulless rich surrender,” a “pointless formal door,” “moonless September dust,” a “sentient though nerveless shell,” a “blank fathomless stare,” “incomprehensible and apparently reasonless moving,” “busy eventless lives,” a “tearless and stone-faced daughter,” a “sonless widower,” “the fear of dying manless which…old maids have,” “fitless garments” and a “fitless house” (I don’t know if it’s better or worse that these appear in the same sentence), a “carpetless room,” “murdered women and children [who are] graveless,” a “masculine hipless tapering peg,” both “the saddleless mule” and “the spavined and saddleless mule,” “soilless and uncompelled peasantry,” “a sort of dreamy and destinationless locomotion,” a “dreamy and heatless alcove,” a—triple dreamy alert!—“dreamy and volitionless daughter,” “impossible and foundationless advice,” “the abashless and unabashed senses,” “water refined to the oxygenless first principle of liquid,” and—as was touched upon in a recent mention of epicene—“one anonymous climaxless epicene and unravished nuptial.” It’s alive…alive, I tell you!
Obviously, the nuptial which is both climaxless and unravished (as well as the peasantry both soilless and uncompelled) manages to incorporate displays of both phenomena, but it is with a touch of surprise that I have to report that Absalom! does not feature any combinations of the two—no delicate young girls who are unchastityless, for example—so you are, if nothing else, spared here a Human Centipede joke.
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