The sound and the fury

Sergio Sister, I love you or I crush you, 1971, Ecoline, hydrographic, ink on paper, 50 x 71cm


Commentary on William Faulkner's Book

WG Sebald writing about The goalkeeper's fear of the penalty, by Peter Handke, noted that, for this author, language can never go beyond reality, but only surround it. Perhaps this characterization, valid not only for thinking about this work as the rest of Handke's literary work, is also valid for William Faulkner's narrative work. Involving a nucleus, from which the narrative emerges and which sustains it, seems to be Faulkner's hallmark.

In the book The sound and the fury, published in 1929, Faulkner uses four narrators to tell the same story. At the center is agony (the fury of decay); around a family that suffers. The narrative is reduced to four days. Three days of April, 7th, 6th, and 8th, in that order, 1928; and the 2nd of June 1910, interspersed between the 7th and 6th.

This indented chapter, narrated by Quentin, prodigy son of the Compson family, opens with a reflection on time. When the narrator, in the morning, listens to the watch that had been his grandfather's, a gift from his father, he recalls what his father had said to him at the time of delivery:

“I am giving you the mausoleum of all hope and all desire; […] I give you this watch not so that you can remember time, but so that you can forget about it for a moment now and then and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won, he said. No battle is even fought. The field reveals to man only his own madness and despair” (p. 73).

And the composition of the book makes no attempt to tame the sovereignty of time, but operates a disarticulation of the traditional units of time and space, showing us that our lives become more intense and more complex with this disarticulation. Temporal concentration works as a force for the expansion of space.

The first chapter is the radical example of this. The narrator, Benjy, a mentally retarded person, is not inserted in the linear order of time. He only belongs to that order because other family members tell us he is 33 years old. Impressions of him are articulated in an absolute present. Everything is alive and intense to him without any reference to either the past or the future. And by feeling the world this way, he can have his life entirely dedicated to what he really loves: the flower he carries, his sister Caddy, the pasture and the light of the fire.

This dissolution of time into space occurs in every other chapter. In the second, Quentin recalls his love-incestuous relationship with his sister, as he prepares to leave life; in the third, Jason Compson adds his testimony about decadence, centered on his relationship with money, mother and niece. And finally, a third-person narrator tells the story of April 8 in the life of the black maid, Dilsey, who embraces the beginning and end of the Comspon family.

We readers, page by page, since we are still dependent on temporal linearity, feel the dissolution of time in space, and, with an almost total vision-audition, we discover what is happening in the center. The reader is never face to face with the center of the narrative. Always surrounding, we glimpse the suicide of the brother, the escape of the sister, the death of the father, the incest of the brothers, the escape of the niece. In each chapter we feel the common drama and its reflection in each character, and our reading is the result of collecting indirect expressions.

This indirect narrative, however, should not authorize the apotheosis of linguistic subjectivism. Here the real is not swallowed up by the characters, as if the swelling of the self made the real non-existent. At the center there is something, the agony of a family, as in another of Faulkner's books, while I agonize, there was a dying mother; what each character does is express the agony in their own way, according to the conformation that life has given them. Nor can this center be suppressed with a simple change of name, as if the naming game, in the hands of the linguistic subject, could alter the tragedy. The attempt to change the name of the character Benjamin, who was previously called Maury, did nothing to alleviate his mentally weak condition.

This multiplicity of narrative voices in the same book serves to equalize the narrative of the characters, as none of them has sovereignty over reality, they are all subject to the same turmoil of life. And the movement of this whirlwind is always descending (Faulkner's literature is that of the fall). All are descending: from life to death, from wealth to poverty, from good manners to the villainy of the streets, from sanity to madness, from order to disorder, from sound to fury.

It is up to man, in relation to the fury – mysterious, central, infinite life – that reaches him and sustains him, to be just its articulated sound, expressed in various ways, according to the mouth of each one. There will, however, always be a risk in the descent: the fury, when it becomes too intense, is even capable of suppressing the word endowed with meaning from the mouths of men, transforming them into “agony without eyes and without tongue, pure sound”.

* Jose Feres Sabino is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Philosophy at the University of São Paulo (USP).


William Faulkner. Sound and Fury. Translation by Paulo Henriques Britto. São Paulo: Cosac & Naify, 2003 (

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