Oxford, Mississippi

In the grips of an uncertainty itself enacting the African-American response to Faulkner’s work he describes in the third chapter of Faulkner, Mississippi, Edouard Glissant and three friends wander north into Mississippi in search of Rowan Oak and the South “to estimate [Faulkner’s fiction’s] worth, as we saw it” (7). “Our ambivalence was prolonged by wandering,” he writes, “a strange roving yet to come. When we finally reached Oxford, we were not able to find Rowan Oak. We drove in circles. [. . .] Our ambivalence turned to panic as the day wore on. It was as though we had to pass a test before we could reach Rowan Oak” (9). From the “‘deferred revelation’” that results once they arrive at Rowan Oak with its “imposing but neglected” air, Glissant sees a further enactment, this time of the “source of [Faulkner’s] technique”: “an accumulating mystery and a whirling vertigo—gathering momentum rather than being resolved, through deferral and disclosure—and centered in a place to which [Faulkner] felt a need to give meaning” (9).

Glissant’s book makes a strong case for reading Faulkner’s technique digeneticly. Against Western conceptions of Genesis, concentrated ideally as those conceptions are by a fundamental ordering and control of nature by culture (Caribbean Discourse 72-73), Glissant upholds digenesis, from which originates every composite culture “whose component parts are multiplied ad infinitum” (Faulkner, Mississippi 195). In Faulkner’s aesthetic of deferral, in his poetics of the list, as well as in his circularity and repetition, Glissant sees Faulkner enacting the digenesis (“the calamity of bloodlines” in the case of Absalom, Absalom! [140]) at the root of his technical mastery, which undermines the certainties of linear narratives, expands time into infinity and Yoknapatawpha into a totality, invests his characters with suspension of being, and attests to the impossibility of establishing foundations (112, 140, 195-207).

From the south, you take I-55 North until you get to Grenada, where you bear right on MS-7 and follow it north toward Coffeeville, past Water Valley, and into Oxford, where you make the left onto University and continue onward until you reach the junction with South Lamar Boulevard where you make another left, careful to get off University before it gets lost in circles in front of the bookstore and library on campus, left, away from the square, toward MS-6, but you turn before that, a right at Old Taylor Road, which you drive along through one stop sign until you get to where the road bends. There is a narrow shoulder of dirt and gravel on which to park and a fence at the beginning of the drive informing you that you are entering school property. Between tall trees lining the driveway you walk toward the front portico and brick terracing of the house, ignoring the stones that remain of the concentric circle garden behind you. You enter the house (they charge an entry fee now, so be prepared), bypass library and parlor and walk down the back hall to Faulkner’s office (the floor is slightly canted), the room in which he composed nearly everything he published after his purchase of the old Bailey Place in 1930. Along the walls markings in red grease pencil in Faulkner’s hand outline in stark linearity the Holy Week of A Fable. Resist the temptation to view yourself at the center, to feel as though your feet are resting upon a foundation. Fend off the neat orderly biblical temporality sketched out before you. You are not looking at Genesis, Glissant insists, “but a historical fact established over and over again and erased over and over again from public memory: Slavery” (195). In other words, when you find yourself in Oxford, Mississippi, don’t believe your eyes.

 

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