A gift: The ‘sound and fury’ of great literature

Kierkegaard recognized, over 150 years ago, that we live life forward but we understand it backward. He was speaking about our being immersed in time itself: The simple truth that we live our present moments in a sort of confusion continuously being clarified by the retrospective understanding that comes later. Most novelists work to soften this opposition between now and later, to blur its sharpness. Most novelists are fun to read because they tidy up experience, give it a recognizable developing shape. They make experience fitting, and we feel smart as we take in the gracefulness of what is taking shape.

Faulkner’s best novels refuse such tidiness. In its place they give us “sound and fury” – the sound and fury of experience unmastered, not yet graced by retrospective understanding. Faulkner grasped that we are born into a family and into a culture that hardly waited for our entry to bristle with motives and complications of every sort. We are born innocent, but the surrounding world into which we are born is never innocent. Nor, we discover later – because we live ineluctably in that surrounding world’s blind spots and complicities – are we. We spend much of our lives figuring out what was actually happening to us and around us, but that we never grasped at the time. —A gift: The ‘sound and fury’ of great literature.