Saturday, August 1, 2009

Faulkner, Kafka, and Joyce

My favorite writers are William Faulkner, Franz Kafka, and James Joyce and I rank them in that order but do not necessarily think that all of Faulkner’s works are better than Kafka’s or all of Kafka’s better than Joyce’s. (In fact, Joyce would have ranked much higher if he didn’t have instances of silliness like the opening of Portrait and various passages in Finnegan’s Wake.)
Faulkner and Joyce are the very factory the modernist movement stemmed from. Many readers of them complain that they are sometimes difficult to understand (and I somewhat agree, although I find that most of the difficult passages can be understood with a little work on the part of the reader), while admirers of the two claim things like “people just don’t understand their genius” and other such weedy statements; but these “defects” are not due to confusion on Faulkner’s or Joyce’s part, but due to the nature of designing novel effects: new innovations are bound to have mistakes. This can be seen even in the way that Faulkner improved on the stream-of-consciousness style that Joyce introduced to the craft of writing.
Joyce was not as novel in his themes as Faulkner and Kafka, but Kafka most of all spoke the trepidations and anxieties that festered in the twentieth century mentality. Even the stories that seem just outside the grasp of understanding resonate with some hidden meaning and call for another reading.And to me the ability (and desire) to reread a book is the most important criterion affecting fondness for a particular author.

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