Deep {Literary} Impact – Blog Assignment #6

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth speaks these infamous words after the death of his wife, the conniving Lady Macbeth, as he considers the insignificance of human existence. Though it was not Shakespeare’s Macbeth that has proven most influential in my life– it was the novel christened in the spirit of this existential soliloquy.

William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is a masterpiece and remains, without question, the most powerful literary work I have ever encountered. The novel is a painstakingly thorough and beautiful depiction of life. It is often, as MacBeth describes, “a tale told by an idiot”– indeed, the fictional narrative is portrayed through the eyes of characters both feckless and dreadful–though its vast influence in my life is hardly a consequence “signifying nothing.”

It was the faculty adviser for the Drama Club at my high school who first alerted me to the brilliance of the novel. I had always respected the word of Mrs. Walsh, who was also the head of the school’s English department. She was unfalteringly fair and honest– not one ever to sugar coat her opinion. Such lavish praise coming from her was a rarity. I knew this must be a truly special work.

I did not immediately run off to the bookstore: a deluge of scholastic and extra-curricular obligations provided little time to breathe, let alone tackle a novel. But Mrs. Walsh’s recommendation left a kernel in my memory. A year later, I found myself wandering through the labyrinth of bookshelves in Barnes & Noble when the title caught my eye.

“The Sound and the Fury” was painted in white calligraphic text between a towering proclamation of its author–“FAULKER”–above, and a mass of blue-gray and pink clouds below. I had not been looking for this book or any other book in particular. It was an informal stroll through the bookstore, vanilla latte in hand, turned into pure kismet.

soundandfury

Books had begun to frustrate me. I was finding their impacts to be slight in relation to the time and energy required to read them. Perhaps this impatience stems from my preference for film, a mostly passive visual experience that can aptly penetrate the depths of the human condition in a mere two hours or so. Or maybe I am just another product of the “Twitter generation,” expecting instant results from the weakest of efforts.

I vividly remember the first time I sat down to read The Sound and the Fury. It begins from the point of view of the mentally retarded Benjy, leaping without warning between past and present, offering a warped and jumbled view of the world, flitting from one distraction to the next.

I finished the first section, told entirely through Benjy’s eyes, and sat, flabbergasted. This was unlike anything I had ever read before. Faulkner developed a rich and provoking story of a family torn to shreds through the fragmented memories of a mentally disabled man-child. The emotional connection to Benjy, and even to the characters superficially depicted by Benjy, felt visceral and essential.

The narrative construction alone was boldly unique and fascinating; the layered and sumptuous plot woven through this context was simply miraculous. The remainder of the novel proved just as emotionally and intellectually stirring.

The Sound and the Fury showed me that literature can be at least as affecting as any other artistic medium. It inspired me to read more, to discover more prolific written works. I even revisited novels I had glossed over in middle school and high school, finding greater meaning and inspiration within them by my realigned literary compass. I discovered a similar profundity, for instance, in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a book I felt to be tedious and plodding as a naive eighth grader.

I have long been an advocate of exploring the world of film as an artistic expression. The heights of the cinematic experience can make you think, make you feel, prod into the deepest corners of your soul. Watching movies for entertainment value alone, as most theatergoers regrettably do, is akin to standing at the entrance of a cave and staring into the darkness before you. You fail to see the depths–the beautiful rock formations, the carved and angled walls, the captivating expansiveness of the interior.

I can now say that the same holds true for books. I had been standing at the mouth of a cave. With Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, I went spelunking.

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~ by Adam Mehring on October 21, 2009.

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