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“Faulkner and Material Culture” by Urgo et al. Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Sep 5th, 2020

Faulkner and material culture is the work of Faulkner. The book has a collection of eight essays covering issues which Faulkner introduced and the ones he created. Within the story, readers are introduced to Faulkner’s home town, a place where he studied and worked. Readers are also introduced to Mississippi, where Faulkner was raised. According to the author, Oxford is a place of imagination built by Faulkner. On the other hand, Yoknapatawpha is described as a County, which Faulkner constructed. Readers are also made to understand that Oxford is not Jefferson but the inhabitants are people of Oxford. In addition, readers are also introduced to Lafayette County which belongs to the inhabitants of Mississippi.

With the efforts of a writer, one can become a Jefferson because its ownership is granted to anyone who can read, enter and become a Yoknapatawphian. Faulkner describes the people who stay there as migrants or residents and have personal contacts with the Courthouse in Oxford and Jefferson. The author claims that for an individual to be considered as a Jeffersonian or Yoknapatawphian, one must undergo certain processes. These include being able to decipher the deeper meaning of the Cecilia farmers identity which could be seen from the jail house window pane. He also argued that by observing the window pane, it could be easy to understand what took place in the regions described in the essays detailed in Faulkner and material culture.

Historians claim that there had been numerous things which had taken place there which cannot be reconciled with the material reality of the place, but have to be observed repeatedly. Faulkner took some interest and made some accounts over the places discussed. The main interest was to observe two different worlds with some sense of vision and to discover some truth.

The place being discussed in the essays is the Northern part of Mississippi. The author had the intention to uncover the material reality and observe the emergence of the literary phenomenon surrounding the artistic work and change the direction of the literary history.

The essay begins with the topics covered in a conference held in 2004 which coincided with the reopening of the Rowan Oak. The topic which was discussed in the conference was about the Faulkner and Material Culture, which demonstrated that the existence of the two worlds intermingles in a continuous manner, and must intersect, in order to be recognized. The author applies imagery by referring to the rowan tree to demonstrate Faulkner’s sense of the two intersecting worlds, which also emerged as his creative work. Readers are made to understand that the rowan tree is used as an imagery to signify peace and security. In addition, readers are made to understand that Faulkner was concerned with what was absent in his intervention, and what never existed.

Faulkner started his creative work on Light in August, with a working title as Dark House. On the other hand, the audience should understand that the name Rowan Oak was used to make the world understand that the place became immemorial and that the name given to the site overlays Lafayette which today stands in isolation. Currently, it serves as a sanctuary due to the increased urbanization which continues to sprawl from Oxford to the town towards the University of Mississippi. This is a secluded site where one can conduct some fiction and experience the two worlds. In this analysis, we start by defining the term material culture. The audience is made to understand that the term refers to objects ranging from tangible objects to imaginative features that can express a landscape form. In addition, the term also refers to some distinctive odors which may be used to refer to a place that attract the readers’ senses.

Charles S. Aiken, worked on an essay incorporated in the book ‘Faulkner and the Passing of the Old Agrarian Culture where he describes the Faulkner’s depiction of the landscape, and he came to a conclusion that Yoknapatawpha was a place situated in the Lowland south, which is a delineated region. Thus, readers are made to understand that the importance of Yoknapatawpha County may be understood by its dusty odor, as a result of the falls in the nearby towns because of the erosion of the fine loose top soils. Aiken observed the changes in the landscape and the culture which took place during Faulkner’s time. These include changes in infrastructure, use of machinery, changes in diet, and use of new forms of energy. There were also other changes in the regions, as a result of the abandoned plantation infrastructures, cotton gins, as well as, the tenants housing units, in the New South. In addition there were changes in the forms of land tillage. For instance, the Southerners began to use machinery, such as, tractors. In addition, there were other developments, such as, the introduction of new forms of energy, such as electricity, which improved the living standards of the people.

The essay also covers the Philosophy of the Furniture by Jay Watson. This was also regarded as the Light in August or the Material Unconscious. This attracts the attention of the readers and enable them to understand the meaning of the word material which derived from a Latin word meaning wood, which links to the Greek concept of wood. Watson attracts the attention of the readers by involving the timber business; hence, providing an analysis of the term material culture which links reality with metaphors. In this sense, Faulkner’s material culture reveals the hidden meaning of Light in August which refers to an integrated economic subplot explaining the socio-political context of the New South.

On the other hand, Patricia Yaeger focused on Dematerializing Culture, where he provides a description of opposing ideas of modern detritus. In addition, based on the views of a materialist, readers are introduced to the readings on Flags in the Dust and the Material Culture of Class brought forth by Kevin Railey. According to a review conducted by Davis in his “Mechanization, Materialism, and Modernism in Faulkner’s Flags in the Dust, the author commented on Faulkner and the material culture by connecting the increasing “mechanization of the Southern infrastructure” with the deterioration of family and social structures and with the rise of modernization” (Davis, 67). Railey observed that consumption of objects operates in two distinctive ways, which includes subjecting objects into valuable commodities and to convert subjective identities into commodities which can be utilized.

The volume of essay ends with the contribution of Jackson Lears based on True and False things and the existence of the world of good things. This makes the audience understand the emergence of the elite class of the Southerners, as well as, the emergence of antimodern modernism. This takes the audience to another level to understand the existence of the class system, and the gap between the rich and the poor.

In conclusion, this collection of essays explains how the society changes with time. It demonstrates the experiences of Faulkner and the transition from the old ways of life to the new ways of life which began in the early 20th century. The changes in the material culture were preserved through this literary piece. This collection of essays is very practical and more relevant to Faulkner’s learners as it embodies the relationship between the societal conditions and the works of an artist.

Works Cited

Davis, David A. “Mechanization, Materialism, and Modernism in Faulkner’s Flags in the Dust.” Mississippi Quarterly 59. (2006): 415-34. Print.

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