Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles WAI CHEE DIMACK: OK. So we're starting on our final novel and I'm very glad its Faulkner. There's so many stories to tell about Faulkner, just about the composition of the novel. So this started out having a different title. It started out being called Dark House. So you can see that it really is right on the other side of the spectrum. And it's a really an interesting thing that actually this novel could be described as either Dark House or Light in August. So really, light and dark obviously are have the two constitutive parts of the novel, even though it's the light that has been highlighted in the present title. In fact, it could just as well have been dark. This is what Faulkner says about the title that we now have, Light in August. This is much later when he was talking about it at the University of Virginia in 1957. "In August, in Mississippi there's a few days somewhere about the middle of the month when actually there's a foretaste of fall. It's cool, there's a lambence, a luminous quality to the light, as though it came not from today, but from back in the old classic times. It might have fauns and satyrs and the gods from Greece. And that's all that the title meant. It was just to me a pleasant, evocative title, because it reminded me of that time of the luminosity older than our Christian civilization. Maybe the connection is with Lena Grove, who has something of that pagan quality." This a great entry point to the novel. It's about quality of light in Mississippi. So it has this very important, local dimension to it. But it also sees itself as completely looking back to an extremely long literary tradition, going back to the classic times. And in fact, it predates Christianity. So that's very important to consider this, that while Christianity is very, very important in this novel, but it's very important to remember that Faulkner actually also has a reference point that is older than Christianity. So because Faulkner was talking about fauns and satyrs. I think that those words are just words to most of us, so I just found some illustrations. This is from the Roman mosaics, the satyr. So you see basically it's like human beings, except, the feet are the hooves of a goat. So this is not a very pretty image of the faun. I think that in our minds, we tend to think of the faun as very delicate and graceful, but actually it has kind of an animalistic dimension to it. And this is probably looking more like our stereotypical image of the faun, very graceful, but nonetheless with the hooves of a goat. So in As I Lay Dying, we talked a lot about the relation between animals and humans. So it's very important to keep that in mind as well, just in the reference to the faun. Faulkner is invoking that whole uncertain boundary, and certain in betweenness between human and animal. And the satyr actually has an even long history. The faun basically is Roman. Satyr, it goes back to the fifth century BC. Basically it's Greek. And there's a whole genre called the satyr comedies, featuring this creature. It's again, looking for most part like a human being, but having the tail of a horse, and also the ears of a donkey. Just to see the way in which the satyr has been reactivated, and picked up and reincarnated in the twentieth century. Here is someone with the years of a satyr. We call them Vulcan's ears, but looking exactly like the ears of a satyr. And here is another image, basically the ears are the giveaway of this creature. Also it's small, not very noble looking compared to a human being, or to a god. So but Faulkner, even though he's interested in the satyr and fauns, he's not really writing about them. He's mostly interested in Lena and the fact that she is a pagan character to him. So the more on Lena. "She was never ashamed of that child whether it had any father or not, she was simply going to the conventional laws at the time... and find its father. But as far as she was concerned, she didn't especially need any father for it anymore than the women that-- on whom Jupiter begot children were anxious for home and a father." So Faulkner seems to be really interested in women who get pregnant out of wedlock. We've seen this in As I Lay Dying, in Dewey Dell, and the way in which that is the constant burden on her mind. And it seems that now he has gone to the other side of the spectrum. If pregnancy was a constant burden on Dewey Dell's mind, here it appears that it is not a burden at all on Lena's mind. And maybe that's why she's a pagan. It's that it's completely OK to be pregnant out of wedlock, not to have a father, not to have a wedded father as the father of your child. And the reason that is this case is that Jupiter has had this long history of having fathered many children who can point to Jupiter as the father-- Jupiter or Zeus-- as the father, but otherwise not having a human father. So it's a completely honorable thing to have a baby when you don't know who the father is. And the most famous example of course is someone called Leda. So you guys know-- picking two very chaste illustrations of Leda and the swan, Tht swan being Zeus, obviously. But if you would just go and look it up, you can find numerous other illustrations-- some not so chaste-- showing Leda and the swan. And this is the most famous example. Leda was married to someone else, and Zeus was just enamored of her. So he comes to her in the form of a swan. And the offspring, one of the most famous offspring from that union, was Helen. So basically the whole of The Iliad, the whole of The Odyssey really comes from this union between Leda and Zeus. And there would have been no epic at all if there had not been this union between Leda and someone who's not quite human. So here's another illustration. This one is Greek and this one is Roman, once again Roman mosaic, and many modern incarnations as well. Yeats also has a poem about Leda. So basically someone who goes down in history as-- even though it's not presented in this is way, but she's really going down in history as the most honorable instance of pregnancy outside wedlock. But Faulkner is also not writing Leda's story. He's writing Lena's story. So this is very much a case of the American Lena's updating the Greek Leda, even though maybe she doesn't know the father, or maybe she's not sure that she can get the legitimate wedded husband to be the father of the child. She's definitely going to go and she's going to get someone. So, "It was her destiny to have a husband and children and she knew it, and so she went out and attended to it." Completely matter of fact. This is the American case, it's not the old classic times anymore. In twentieth century America, you need to find a guy. So she's on the road to find this guy, whom she still thinks ought to be the actual father. So today's lecture is really about the updating of the old classic unwed mother. And this is the structure of today's lecture, the way that I've been talking about it, obviously you know that this is going to be a comedy on the part of Lena. So it's comedy and essentially sex as comic. But because this is a road novel, one of many, it also has an epic dimension to it. And another innovation that Faulkner is bringing to bear on the novel and that really is a serious updating of the classic epic comedy -- is the introduction of two allegorical names, Byron and Burden. I want to go back still, just linger with the classics for a moment in defining comedy in a particular way. Usually we just in think of comedy as like a Jane Austen. That would be comedy, it has a happy ending. But actually in the Poetics, Aristotle defines comedy in a slightly different way that actually is closer to the way that I would like to talk about comedy in this class. In the Poetics he says, "The participants in comedy were called komoidoi not from their being revelers, but because they wander from one village to another. So wandering, on the road. Persons who are inferior, not however going all the way to full villainy, but imitating the ugly of which the ludicrous is one part. The ludicrous that is, is the failing or a piece of ugliness which causes no pain or destruction." So this is a very counter-intuitive definition of comedy. A lot of it is not that nice. It has to do with villainous people, but not going all the way to full villain. Ugly people, but again, not going all the way so they're utterly despicable. It has a lot to do with people who are not noble. And that really is the classic definition of comedy. The emphasis really lands on the happy ending, that on the fact that they are low born, that they are low in another way, that they don't rise to the tragic height of nobility, which is the elevation proper to tragedy. Comedy is of a much lower elevation. So they are sometimes ludicrous, they are basically not admirable people. But one result of not being completely admirable is that they actually survive quite well. They actually manage to hang in there. So they bring no pain or destruction either to themselves, or to other people. Don't forget, this is the exact opposite of tragedy. We have mass destruction at the end of tragedy -- if you think about the tragedy of Troy, or the tragedies based on the story of Troy -- mass destruction. Here a comedy suggests that everyone is going to be able to survive. So with that definition in mind, let's think about the ways in which Lena is pagan, especially in relation to her sexuality, and way that Faulkner represents this aspect of the human condition. This is the story of how Lena gets pregnant. "She slept in a leanto room at the back of house. It had a window, which she learned to open and close again in the dark, without making noise. She had lived there eight years before she opened the window for the first time. She had not opened it a dozen times hardly before she discovered that she should not have opened it at all. She said to herself, that's just my luck. Two weeks later, she climbed again through the window. It was a little difficult this time. If it had been this hard to do before, I reckon I would not be doing it now, she thought." So the entire story what could have been seen as tragic, traumatic, devastation in person's life, one whose life's been ruined, all that is told through Lena's relation to the window, that she can open it without making a noise, that's she's done it a few times, and then she realized she shouldn't have done it, and then the final time it's very hard. But she wished that it had been that hard to begin with. So it's all told through this completely off focus off center relation to the main event. And it doesn't seem especially bad, really, even though it's a matter of inconvenience. And that really is what the pregnancy is to Lena.