(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Andre Bleikasten, professor of English at the University of Strasbourg, is one of the most significant of present-day Faulkner scholars. The author of Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” (1973) andThe Most Splendid Failure: Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” (1976), in addition to numerous articles, Bleikasten has studied Faulkner over the past two decades with a dedication and intensity, and with a critical perceptiveness, that demand respect. The Ink of Melancholy is a satisfying and in some ways climactic addition to this body of previous work. In it, Bleikasten extends the ideas he earlier established concerning Faulkner in the first half of the writer’s career. This very long and full book conveys the authority and wisdom of one who has come to know his subject after long consideration.

The Ink of Melancholy is, in fact, a revised version of Bleikasten’s doctoral thesis, originally published in France in 1981. His earlier two books on As I Lay Dying (1930) and The Sound and the Fury (1929) were developed from portions of that thesis. Bleikasten has, moreover, published other parts of the larger work as articles in American scholarly publications such as The Faulkner Journal. Thus, anyone who has kept up with Faulkner scholarship will find a good bit of familiar material in the book. On the other hand, Bleikasten has revised, to varying degrees, his older work, has updated it with an eye on more recent Faulkner criticism and on critical theory in general, and has therefore largely escaped the charge of simply recycling his material.

There is no doubt in Bleikasten’s mind that Faulkner was one of the greatest of the great twentieth century writers. “Among the creators of modern fiction,” Bleikasten states, “Faulkner was indeed one of the most stubborn, most cunning, and most vigilant, and if one must deny him, as one would any writer, the unqualified, unconditional liberty of godlike creation, his achievement as a novelist testifies to mastery of the highest order gained at the price of long and patient work.” The Ink of Melancholy is, in this sense, a very personal work, the ruminations, observations, and critical declarations of a man closely involved with, and very respectful of; his subject. What he has produced is not so much a structured analysis or interpretation of these four of Faulkner’s novels, but more a series of wide-ranging, philosophical “conversations” with the reader about Faulkner and his work.

Bleikasten employs an eclectic approach to his reading of Faulkner. While denying that he belongs to any one school of criticism, he is clearly interested in how the story is told in each of these novels. “My business is not with meaning as such but with the production of meanings and also with suspensions of and resistances to meaning,” he writes. Thus, he is primarily concerned with the texts of these works, giving them the benefit of the kind of close reading one associates with the traditional New Critical school of study. At the same time, Bleikasten also draws heavily on the more theoretical and philosophical methods of reading literature. Faulkner’s works lend themselves ideally to such an approach, and Bleikasten effectively explores their “structures” and “textures” and “rifts and gaps” from this poststructuralist vantage point without losing sight of the emotional or even biographical narrative thrust which engendered them.

The Ink of Melancholy begins with a brief review of Faulkner’s work before The Sound and the Fury. This section basically repeats arguments Bleikasten has previously made. His basic theory (which was the heart of his interpretation of The Sound and the Fury presented in The Most Splendid Failure) is that the young Faulkner was essentially narcissistic, more a performer than writer, a youth caught up in a dramatic posturing and self-involvement which had to be outgrown before he could discover his true identity as author. Early sketches such as “The Hill” and “Nympholepsy” illustrate this self-centeredness, Bleikasten maintains, and Faulkner’s book of poems The Marble Faun (1924) presents the central image of the romantic locked in and paralyzed by his own vapid romanticism. Although Faulkner had to move beyond this posturing in his own life, his books, Bleikasten maintains, remained, in another sense, a different kind of exhibitionisin: “[T]hey are all acts...

(The entire section is 1841 words.)