Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Title

William Faulkner's Hebrew Bible: Empire and the Myths of Origins

Date of Award

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D. in English

First Advisor

Jay Watson

Second Advisor

Willa Johnson

Third Advisor

Ethel Young-Minor

Abstract

I propose that William Faulkner's literary imagination is charged by a Jewish sensibility rooted in reverence for the Bible as a text that is as vital and relevant in his time as in any since its composition. The Hebrew Bible's narrative method of compiling, redacting, doubling, and retelling, and its attention to curses, genealogies, covenants, and nation-building, reverberate in Faulkner's time as resoundingly as in any preceding it. There are myriad links in Faulkner's work between the Hebrew Bible, Southern Christianity, and American colonialism that merit our attention within ongoing discussions of Faulkner, empire, and nation-building, the Bible and colonialism, and Faulkner and the Bible in order to situate a postcolonial reading of Faulkner and scripture. I suggest that William Faulkner, raised Methodist and on record as considering himself a "good Christian" is, ontologically speaking, Jewish. That is, Faulkner, as his texts bear out and his many comments on the Hebrew Bible, Christianity, God, morality, and Messianic time substantiate, is imbued by a Jewish sensibility. Within a framework informed by Mieke Bal's "counter-reading" approach to the Hebrew Bible, Walter Benjamin's "constellation of events," and Susan Handelman's conception of literary theory as rabbinical, I want to consider Faulkner's interrogation of US imperialism and his dismantling of the authority of origins. I begin by locating Faulkner within a Jewish, text-based tradition, and then canvass Faulkner's historical moment—the rise of US imperialism at home and abroad—to suggest why the Hebrew Bible, itself an account of empires and nation-building, echoes so poignantly in Faulkner. Close readings of Absalom, Absalom!, Light in August, and Go Down, Moses follow, with an emphasis on a Hebrew Bible dialogue between ancient Israel and modern America as negotiated by William Faulkner. The ethical imperative, intones Faulkner, is to recognize that oppressive behaviors are no progress at all but rather contemporary realizations of the originary Exodus enslavement, upon which America's imperial assault marches onward.

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