Beyond the Periphery of Modernist Prose: Digital Faulknerian Stream-of-Consciousness

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Abstract (in English): 

The first two chapters of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (hereafter SF) (1929) use stream-of-consciousness prose to represent the perspectives of the intellectually-disabled Benjy and suicidal Quentin, respectively. The text moves freely between time periods, using italics to indicate shifts, establishing what Faulkner calls ‘unbroken-surfaced confusion’. As a result, the novel depicts the novel’s titular ‘Sound and Fury’.

To this day, SF poses editorial dilemmas. Polk (1985, XIV) lists four difficulties: (i) none of the extant documents fully preserve Faulkner’s ‘final intentions’; (ii) the documents preserve inconclusive and contradictory testimony; (iii) it is impossible to determine who caused variations between the book and carbon typescript; and (iv) given the nature of the text, it is difficult to determine which variations are corrected ‘errors’ and which are not. Faulkner’s correspondence with his literary agent also reveals his desire to use colourised text, which has led to the development of colour editions: the 2012 Folio Society edition and the 2003 hypertext edition.

In textual criticism, an ‘ideal text’, Gracia (1995, 83-4) argues, can be understood in three different ways: (i) as an ‘inaccurate version of a historical text produced and considered by an interpreter as an accurate copy of the historical text’; (ii) as a ‘text produced by an interpreter who considers that it expresses perfectly the view that the historical text expressed imperfectly’; and (iii) text produced by an interpreter as the ‘text that perfectly expresses the view the historical author should have expressed’ (85). Adopting Gracia’s third approach, the colourised editions of SF could be regarded as the view Faulkner should have expressed, had he access to digital technologies.

The digital novel, Little Emperor Syndrome (2018), follows the decline of the Selkirks, an upper middle-class Australian family, from the years of the Global Financial Crisis to the beginning of the Abbott government. Different family members determine each chapter. Its form is inspired by Faulkner’s SF, and attempts to create Faulkner’s ‘unbroken-surfaced confusion’. Like the 2012 Folio edition, this electronic text allows the text to be colourised and navigated using a key. It also adds functionality that allows lexias to be rearranged in various modes: ‘stream-of-consciousness’, ‘cosmos’ (chronological), and ‘chaos’ (random). Time-frames can also be isolated or removed. I argue that this electronic format better articulates Faulkner’s vision. At the very least, such a form could be regarded as an – if not ‘the’ – ideal text of SF.

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David Wright