After a chapter or two of Faulkner, it’s clear that his work is monumental in several categories, not least scope and ambition. But as a harbinger of modernity, of course he’s not producing art in the traditional American monumentalism, which, as the critic Russ Castronovo explains, was the galvanizing but also controversial nineteenth-century national project of self-definition:

The panoramas of the Hudson River School … the memorial towers at Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Bunker Hill, all imagined a particularly American greatness of civilization. … [T]he monumental stature of America was a particular “natural” cultural concept. But while a monumental identity may have been a way to define all Americans at once, it posed serious consequences for individual citizens, whose desires to remember and exercise civic being have taken diverse heterogenous forms. (108)

In other words, a monumental culture, though unavoidable, is one that speaks for the whole as the expense of some of the parts, silencing the voices of individuals. Faulkner’s work, in this sense, is what the scholar Dana Luciano might call “counter-monumental,” insofar as it seeks to reclaim experiences and voices lost in the shadow of the monument. But beyond this imperative in Faulkner’s work, he populates his pages with real and figurative “monuments,” a word that recurs not infrequently, especially in Absalom Absalom!, the focus of this particular exploration. Monumentalism seems to be very much on his mind and he consistently troubles the idea of a traditional monument, holding up more particular “counter-monuments” instead.

Most scholars on monumentalism start with Nietzche’s The Use and Abuse of History, in which he classifies three types of historical consciousness: the monumental, the antiquarian, and the critical. The critic Richard King helps to encapsulate Nietzche’s schema, beginning with the monumental: “Monumental historical awareness is that mode of apprehending the past which searches for examples of heroic action to enliven the present and to teach the present how once more to be heroic” (143). The antiquarian is also backward-looking, but it revels in the particularities of the past without the monumental distinction “between the essential and the non-essential” (King 143). Faulkner’s nostalgic characters in the vein of Light in August’s Reverend Hightower might fall into this myopic camp. The critical consciousness, meanwhile, is relentlessly skeptical of the past and argues for its separation from the present in an attempt to relieve society of historical burden (King 144). But ironically, in its denial of the past, the critical still looks backward.

Thus a monumental consciousness and their literal monuments teach us how to act and behave. As King notes, a national or collective consciousness is inescapably monumental, and the Southern consciousness particularly so in its remembrance of and around the Civil War: the “glory” days before the war, its loss, and its diminished persistence. However, by itself, monumental consciousness can be harmful to a healthy society. As Nietzche explains, “[W]henever the monumental vision of the past rules over the other ways of looking at the past, […] the past itself suffers damage: very great portions of the past are forgotten and despised, and flow away like a grey uninterrupted flood, and only single embellished facts stand out as islands: there seems to be something unnatural and wondrous about the rare persons who become visible at all …” (Nietzche 17). In other words, some histories and individuals are lost as others rise to the surface.

In Faulkner’s world, someone like Thomas Sutpen embodies monumental consciousness and aspiration. King argues that Sutpen’s design is in the critical mode, since Sutpen’s in denial of his particular past (King 144). But in fact that seems the lesser half of his story because he’s so deliberate in achieving his traditionally monumental design, an attempt to capture the “big house” credibility of a past he didn’t inherit. As King explains, the monumental consciousness can be problematic in “its tendency to mythologize, its refusal to acknowledge the difference between the present and the past, and hence its concealed hostility to the present altogether” (144). Sutpen’s guarded past and his drive for a soon-to-be out of fashion plantation suggest he falls into this category. To a large extent, in fact, he does achieve monumental standing, at least in the consciousness of the novel’s characters. He becomes one of those “rare persons” whose story rises to the surface and becomes myth, though it may be infamy.

The origin of Sutpen’s monumental design is his embarrassment as a boy when the “nigger monkey” of the plantation’s owner tells him “never to come to that front door again but to go around back” (188). At this moment, he becomes conscious of social hierarchy, of an “us” and a “them,” and one of the novel’s most prominent monuments appears: “It was like that, [Sutpen] said, like an explosion—a bright glare that vanished and left nothing, no ashes nor refuse: just a limitless flat plain with the severe shape of his intact innocence rising from it like a monument; that innocence instructing him as calm as the others had ever spoken, using his own rifle analogy to do it with …” (192). Sutpen’s interior landscape is completely devastated and reconceived of in this moment; the parallel to war and reconstruction is clear. But if his innocence is vanquished, so to speak, immediately a monument is erected in its memory that “instructs” Sutpen to pursue the heroic accomplishment of carving out a life that might recreate the innocence lost in his childhood (or at least provide it more securely for his own children). In a sense, then, his innocence persists all along and drives him forward.

That this monument “instructs” Sutpen is in keeping with monumental consciousness described by other critics in the footsteps of Nietzche. As Dana Luciano argues in her essay about the counter-monumental narrative of Melville’s “Benito Cereno”, “The task of the monument is not to teach history but to instruct people how to feel about it: inspired, reverent and moved to appropriate action in their own historical moment. … Emphasizing effect and eliding cause, the monument functions as an ahistorical sign of history, a string tied around the finger of the public to remind it of its own self-image” (35). In other words, monuments are quietly didactic in the service to the dominant societal power. From this perspective, Sutpen’s desire to live up to the “big house” lifestyle, which was held before him as the standard of success, is not so much a resistance or retaliation against the “them,” but a reaffirmation of the strength of this momumental narrative.

Castronovo returns us to the origin of the word to further instruct us on what lies behind a monument: “Most importantly, monumentalism underscores the interstices between the fabrication of historical consciousness and civic being. From monere, meaning not simply ‘to remind’ but also ‘to instruct’ and ‘to say with authority,’ monumentalism suggests that remembering prompts more than independent musings on the past; rather, monumentalism narrates history exercised with power over citizens. It is indeed power that shapes the history that defines people as citizens and collects them in the construct of a nation” (109).

If monere is to say with authority, Sutpen seems intent on establishing his authority through the dominant mode, traditional monumentalism, which has been taught to him we learn from his days on the plantation as a boy. However, Faulkner renders the story so that the reader easily sees the hollowness of Sutpen’s monumental project. His design is an illusion from the start. In the telling of the saga, we witness it messy creation, in which Sutpen works right alongside his slaves to erect his monumental house. And almost as soon as Sutpen’s mansion is complete—and the traditional plantation house does seem a monument, a symbol of success and classical proportion—it begins to fall apart.

In fact, a concrete description of the edifice in the novel proves elusive, accentuating the feeling that this monument is intrinsically incomplete and only facade. We learn only that it was “finished then, down to the last plank and brick and wooden pin which they could make themselves. Unpainted and unfurnished without a pane of glass or a doorknob or hinge, it stood for three years more surrounded by its formal gardens and promenades, its slave quarters and stables and smokehouses …” (29). When the house is furnished, it seems to stand intact only momentarily. The reader in fact receives a far clearer picture of Rosa Coldfield’s “tomblike” abode in the opening chapter although that space hardly figures in the scope of the novel. It’s as if Sutpen’s mansion is always seen in “one dimension,” as Quentin perceives it when he visits and can look “completely through it a ragged segment of sky.” If Sutpen’s home is a monument, from the start it’s a porous one.

Nonetheless, Sutpen’s achievements do often feel monumental; they seem caught between triumphant and farcical, and Faulkner of course doesn’t eschew monumentalism entirely for Nietzche’s critical consciousness, which rejects the past. Dana Luciano points out that to do away with monumentalism altogether would be equally nonproductive. She writes, “In its most severe form, however, this refusal to give space to public memorial does not fully liberate the present from the tyranny of the past. Rather, it tends to disperse and atomize memory, making critical dialogue about the past impossible. Anti-monumental refusal does not erase, but merely displaces monumental history; rather than desacralizing the power of the past, it melancholically denies it” (36-7). But Faulkner does no such thing; instead he both honors and troubles the past.

We could conceive of Sutpen’s “design” as an allegory for the nation, then, in the sense that all of America was cut from “virgin” wilderness and only afterward were standard-bearing “big houses” and big men made official. But if Sutpen’s Hundred is to represent the nation, it must have monuments, which Faulkner does scatter through the novel. Castranovo notes that “The monuments and icons of American culture represented a history untarnished by the tyranny, oppression, and serfdom that marred Europe’s past” (162). Which does seem to be the intention of the liter monuments Sutpen’s plants on his land. They belong to old guard, for we learn that Sutpen “ordered them from Italy, the best, the finest to be had.” Clearly this is looking backwards. They present only a smooth white exterior.

But of course, Faulkner is intent on revealing the dark interior, of exposing exactly those things that Castranovo suggests a monument effaces: tyranny, oppression, serfdom. In the South, the white dominance and hierarchy is contingent on black suppression and labor; Sutpen’s plantation only comes to fruition this way. On Faulkner’s terms, accordingly, the actual monuments within the novel are never allowed to stand as wholly positive monuments, but are always already critiqued—which is to say cracked. The novel is intent on portraying monuments as a burdensome, and ultimately empty ornament to the real, unresolved story.

Consider for example Quentin’s recollection of his visit with his father to the Sutpen gravesite in a lonely cedar grove on the Hundred:

[T]he five headstones like drops of not-quite-congealed meltings from cold candles on the marble: the two flat heavy vaulted slabs, the other three headstones leaning a little awry, with here and there a carved letter or even an entire word momentary and legible in the final light which the raindrops brought particle by particle in the gloom and released … Both the flat slabs were cracked across their middle by their own weight (and vanishing into the hold where the brick coping of one vault had fallen in was a smooth faint path worn by some animal—possum probably—by generations of some small animal since there could have been nothing to eat in the grave for a long tie) though the lettering was quite legible.

These monuments are cast as temporary, “meltings from cold candles” destined to be reshaped, “awry” and “cracked” as if sabotaged by their own overbearing symbolism. Moreover, the slab is hollow—and something lives hidden inside, “generations of some small animal” that, for our purposes, might be the particular lives of people (this suggestion within an aside, the hidden life of a sentence). The image almost invites the reader to follow the trail to discover what lies within.

Castronovno notes, “As an architectural structure the monument may be rooted on a patch of ground, but as a narrative invested with aesthetic codes of homogeneity, the monument casts of local geography, becoming authoritative and abstract” (113). Just so, the monuments in Absalom Absalom! are shown to be out of step with the lives they memorialize, overshadowing them sometimes to a cartoonish degree. For example, Ellen Coldfield’s grave: Although in her illness and death she is “a butterfly” with “no body to be buried: just the shape, the recollection,” she is made “to lie in powder-light paradox beneath the thousand pounds of marble monument which Sutpen [..l] set above the faint grassy depression which Judith told him was Ellen’s grave” (AA 100). The monument seems to efface her particularities entirely. Instead, she is compressed or oppressed by its weight, crushed by the expectations implied by a thousand pounds of marble.

But some of the novel’s monuments aren’t even allowed their patch of ground, for example in the way they trail behind Sutpen, again quite farcically: “It seemed to Quentin that he could actually see them: […] that much bombastic and inert carven rock which for the next year was to be a part of the regiment, to follow into Pennsylvania and be present at Gettysburg, moving behind the regiment in a wagon driven by the demon’s body servant […] like a piece of artillery, speaking of the two stones as ‘Colonel’ and ‘Mrs Colonel’ […]” (AA 154).

These traveling monuments make literal Castronovo’s point that “as a narrative invested with aesthetic codes of homogeneity, the monument casts of local geography” (113). Clearly they underscore Sutpen’s overwhelming (and premature) desire for monumental recognition. But that they’re in motion belies this “bombastic and inert” self-mythologizing, and might also imply that a monument will never quite catch up to the particulars of an individual, always remaining a substitute or shadow (“‘Colonel and Mrs Colonel’”) for the real person. At the same time, these monuments seem aligned with the state (“a piece of artillery”) and are dead weight, a kind of ball and chain dragging behind the Confederate Army or Southern identity. Perhaps we could read these trailing monuments as a metaphor for the baggage of monumental culture more generally.

In another example of uprooted monuments, Faulkner renders the Sutpen gravesites as stage props: “It must have resembled a garden scene by the Irish poet, Wilde: the late afternoon, the dark cedars with the level sun in them, even the light exactly right and the graves, the three pieces of marble […] looking as though they had been cleaned and polished and arranged by scene shifters who with the passing of twilight would return and strike them and carry them, hollow and fragile and without weight, back to the warehouse until they should be needed again […]” (157). Again, what’s highlighted is the fakery and melodrama of memorialization, the marble’s emptiness as symbol. It’s a cliché production (“the light exactly right”), which ironically calls into the question the ability of the storyteller, Mr. Compson, to imagine an authentic scene instead of relying on stock images. Thus the passage is effective commentary on monumentalism on two levels: Mr. Compson critiques monuments in his description, and paradoxically, in the very act of doing so, he shows that the monumental (the major motion-picture) narrative prevails over him.

The limitations of Mr. Compson’s perspective and others becomes clearer as the novel progresses and more tellings of the Sutpen saga emerge. To continue with the language of film, the novel becomes a multi-layered montage, which is the key means of counteracting monumentalism. In fact, the root of montage is the French monter, “to mount,” a useful consideration if we think of Faulkner’s work as a mounting of evidence (a mountain of material). Luciano further explains the danger of a taking a one-dimensional monumental stance: “Variant inscriptions of history and dialogic engagement with the past are alike foreclosed as the monument, in its effort to transmit a complete narrative, attempts to stop time, enshrining a located and particular interpretation of an event’s or individual’s significance as universal and timeless. Even as it speaks to the necessity of remembering the past, then, monumentality severs the past from the present” (35).

By itself, Mr. Compson’s imagining of the gravesite does sever the past from the present in the way it dismisses its authenticity. On the whole, however, Absalom Absalom! steers in the other direction, in many directions that is, encouraging “variant inscriptions” of this family saga. “Dialogic engagement” is the novel’s mode, as epitomized in scene, to so speak, by Shreve and Quentin, who has out their speculations across the table within the “tomblike room” in Cambridge. We come to see that any one point of view, especially Rosa and Mr. Compson’s earlier in the novel, is only a partial one: Each teller has their particular wounds and agendas that color the telling and thus their testimony is only an incomplete, surface-level inscription on the headstones of long dead characters. Only through the aggregate telling does the memory of the Sutpen saga begin to coalesce and, even then, the understanding is that this history is incomplete and unknowable.

Luciano goes on to distinguish between the anti-monument, which steadfastly denies the past, and the counter-monument, which “deploys the critique of the monument differently, resisting both monumental amnesia and anti-monumental melancholia” (37). This term is borrowed from the critic James Young, who defines the counter-monument as “brazen, painfully self-conscious memorial spaces … conceived to challenge the very premises of their being” (qtd. in Luciano 37). Which well describes Faulkner. In essence, counter-monuments don’t clearly signify to the viewer how to think about what they’re seeing. They place the burden of interpretation squarely on the viewer, or reader’s, shoulders.

“[T]he counter-monument disorients its audience,” Luciano explains further, “disallowing the self-consolidating security of standing outside a completed history tidily packaged for mass consumption and emphasizing the observer’s implication in an historical narrative that remains unresolved” (37). If a traditional monument eclipses some of the past, a counter-monument, by contrast, has the “destabilizing effects of allegory, which links past and present without collapsing them and disperse meaning across time rather than gathering it in a single transcendental instant” (37), as we might look upon a marble sculpture, for instance. She points to the way Holocaust memorials engage the looker “from moment to moment, as one struggles to move through the memorial site or watches its appearance and disappearance.” We do, of course, read Absalom Absalom! on allegorical levels—in the way Sutpen’s Hundred might resemble the nation, for one—and we might also conceive of the novel spatially, not least because the metaphor of Sutpen’s house is so conspicuous. In this sense, we are navigating through a “dark house,” rather than around a gleaming monolith with polished, undifferentiated surface.

But while the novel may stand as counter-monument at large, it may also be useful to zoom in on one particular object that the novel holds up as an alternate memorialization: Bon’s stove polish letter to Judith. At first glance, this ephemeral letter and the solid stone of a heavy monument seem worlds apart. But Faulkner points to the letter directly alongside the traditional gravestones rooted on Sutpen’s Hundred. The connection is made explicit through Mr. Compson’s imagining of Judith’s words as she passes on of the letter to his mother:

… all of a sudden [life is] all over and all you have left is a block of stone with scratches on it provided there was someone to remember to have the marble scratched and set up or had time to, and it rains on it and the sun shines on it and after a while they don’t even remember the name and what the scratches were trying to tell, and it doesn’t matter. And so maybe if you could go to someone, the stranger the better, and give them something—a scrap of paper—something, anything, it not to mean anything in itself and them not even to read it or keep it, not even bother to throw it away or destroy it, at least it would be something just because it would have happened, be remembered even if only from passing from one hand to another, one mind to another, and it would be at least a scratch, something, something that might make a mark on something that was once for the reason that it can die someday, while the block of stone cant be is because it never can become was because it can never die or perish …. (101)

The passage pivots directly from a consideration of a classical monument that, in theory, resists decay to a counter-monument: an ephemera “not to mean anything in itself” but simply to be passed delicately from hand to hand. Mr. Compson (as Judith) places greater value in the fragility of the document and the personal transmission of memory and personal story—the very gesture of handing over the keepsake, “one mind to another”—than on monumental “instruction.” Meanwhile, the passage’s distinction between is and was suggests that “inert” stone, to use Quentin’s term, doesn’t partake of life as the letter does.

Beyond the tight pivot between these two objects, though, the language used to describe the stove-polish letter is quite similar to the language used to describe the headstones in the cedar grove, reinforcing the parallel. Faulkner writes of the gravestones, “Quentin looked at the three identical headstones with their faint lettering, slanted a little in the soft loamy decay of accumulated cedar needles, these decipherable too when he looked close, the first one: Charles Bon. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Died at Sutpen’s Hundred, Mississippi, May 3, 1865. Aged 33 years and 5 months” (155; emphasis original). Similarly, Bon’s letter holds a “faint spider script” that is “like a shadow cast upon it and which might fade, vanish, at any instant” (102). We can also imagine the commonalities between these objects more broadly: The white marble is equally a “blank surface of oblivion,” to use Mr. Compson’s description of the letter, and tablet-shaped.

But key distinctions exists: the headstones prove both less enduring and they contain less information (although, "Aged 33 years" is significant: It’s thought to be the age of Christ at crucifixion.) They seem more difficult to read: “here and there a carved letter or even an entire word momentary and legible in the final light which the raindrops brought particle by particle in the gloom and released” (153). Their bare inscriptions leave the novel’s interpreters and the reader guessing, and Quentin and Shreve must invent a story around them. They can only do so, in fact, with the help of the letter, which despite its faint quality is an “undying mark” (102). And though the letter provides no rote biography—it is “without date or salutation or signature” (102), which is about all that’s on Bon’s headstone—it is complex and rich with personality and allegorical meaning.

Bon’s letter is something like an artifact, unfinished and inconclusive, “doomed to live” (105) only incidentally and for the sake of intrigue, rather than by any memorial intentions. In fact, the letter announces itself as counter-monumental in its very first line: “You will notice how I insult neither of us by claiming this to be a voice from the defeated even, let alone from the dead” (102). If a jaded monument could talk, probably such a disclaimer is what it would say. Off the bat, the letter rejects its role as a classical memorialization, though its tone is certainly somber.

What is the letter’s project if not monumentalism? It would seem to have no intentions, refusing to hand down pat meaning. Rather it offers an experience for interpretation. Mr. Compson, one interpreter of this counter-monument, argues that the letter is a testament to Bon’s love for Judith. He makes his case to Quentin based on the idea that Judith held onto it. The letter’s weight, for Mr. Compson, is the way it has been handed down to “a stranger to keep or not to keep,” now several generations, becoming a important to the Compson family—and now to the reader (102). If we follow the complex grammar of this sentence, in fact it may argue that an “undying mark” is made not only by writing, but also by reading, by listening to the letter’s testimony. But certainly there are other interpretations.

In the very act of writing the letter, Bon himself seems to be searching for its meaning. His project is not monumental then, but genuine, groping. Before the letter leaps to its major assertion or pronouncement (“We have waited long enough”), Bon explains that he’s deciphering as he goes: “An so, the conclusion and augury which I draw, even though no philosopher, is this.” Such a statement suggest the way in which the letter should be read, in open-minded exploration. “Augury” isn’t so far off from the interpretation that the novel’s characters and its critics must undertake. (Interestingly enough, what follows this statement is white space, oblivion, where we might expect a colon and definitive assertion. This would seem a clever aside of Faulkner: Draw no conclusions, but keep trying.)

Bon’s augurs that “We have waited long enough,” which the reader presumes means for him and Judith to marry. But the philosophical nature of what follows returns us to the realm of generality. He subsequently distinguishes between what “WAS” versus what “IS”—rhetoric which Mr. Compson has absorbed, it seems—which argues for a renewed commitment to the present, for a relinquishing of monumental consciousness (although the reader knows this consciousness has only accrued power in the years since his writing and Quentin’s reading). As a result, we end up reading through or over the bare concerns about marriage: They are not the main or only concerns of the letter. It’s notable that the letter never once refers to Judith by name, or in the particular. In this way, the monument reaches further, to the “you” which, as Faulkner would say, is “myriad”: not only Bon’s intended reader Judith, but Quentin and all imagined readers of the novel.

As a result, we come to read the letter allegorically, and Faulkner has propped up rich images within it for us to weigh. Perhaps not surprisingly, Bon describes what we might interpret as a monument, a monument within a monument: boxes that he and his fellow soldiers capture. He writes, “the scarecrows tumbling out box after beautiful box stenciled each with that U. and that S. which for four years now has been to us the symbol of the spoils which belong to the vanquished, of the loaves and the fishes as was once the incandescent Brow, the shining nimbus of the Thorny Crown …” (103). In light of this exploration, the figure of the boxes suggests a straw man memorial, a vessel without serious content. But what lies within this smooth exterior stamped “with that U. and that S.” is a black interior, which is wielded to give testimony. Used in this way, ironically the stove polish becomes an effective counter-monument that speaks to generations, down through the Compson family to us. Bon’s letter demonstrates that what we might think has no promise (the useless stove polish) in fact does: The stove polish is an authentic monument to individual experience when it is exteriorized.

That’s only one corner of this monument, however. Another prominent metaphor within the letter is the echo, which recurs throughout the novel. Bon writes, “[T]here was the one fusillade four years ago which sounded once and then was arrested, mesmerized [link] raised muzzle by raised muzzle, in the frozen attitude of tits own aghast amazement, and never repeated and it now only the loud aghast echo jarred by the dropped musket of a weary sentry or by the fall of the spent body itself, out of the air which lies over the land where that fusillade first sounded and where it must remain yet because no other space under heaven will receive it” (104). The sentence resembles an echo chamber in and of itself, and seems to question the intention of the war, which might have stemmed, Bon imagines, from an accident of a “weary sentry.” Yet the reader encountering this corner of the monument connects it to the system of other echoes.

For Faulkner’s preoccupation with “echoes” is closely aligned to the portrayal of the monumental house. These metaphors collide, for instance, when Rosa recounts charging into Sutpen’s mansion after Bon is killed: “that barren hall with its naked stair (that carpet gone too) rising into the dim upper hallway where an echo spoke which was not mine but rather that of the lost irrevocable might-have-been which haunts all houses, all enclosed walls erected by human hands … (111). If the monumental house and echo chamber are one, suddenly it seems notable that almost every space in the novel is described as “tomblike,” including Rosa Coldfield’s home and the Quentin and Shreve’s Cambridge room. Perhaps we are inside the monument, in other words.

Since Bon's letter is “without date or salutation or signature,” in essence it’s a monument to the anonymous, a tomb to the unknown dead soldier. Which Bon more or less is for Quentin: a mere shadow, held up as a tragic figure. But we might understand this figure as the forgotten hero, or more fundamentally, any citizen whose voice has been silenced and should be heard. Interestingly, the Tomb of the Unknown would play a significant role in Faulkner’s later A Fable and one wonders whether the monument, erected in Arlington National Cemetery in 1921--carved from the same Colorado marble that produced the Lincoln memorial among others in Washington—percolates through this earlier story as well.

In a 1957 interview, Faulkner mentions the tomb directly when asked about how the allegorical nature of the Fable came about: “That was tour de force. The notion occurred to me one day in 1942 shortly after Pearl Harbor and the beginning of the last great war, Suppose—who might that unknown solider be? Suppose that had been Christ again, under that fine big cenotaph with the eternal flame burning on it? That He would naturally have got crucified again, and I had to—then it became tour de force, because I had to invent stuff to carry this notion” (Faulkner in the University 27).

If Bon can be equated with Christ as some have argued, then perhaps this “notion” had already taken hold of Faulkner in the years before 1936. Regardless of inspiration, the parable of Bon edges toward the same themes: his anonymous background, his body unidentified and unverified by Rosa’s eyes, his seeming weightlessness as he’s carried down the grand staircase of the house and entombed in the familial cemetery; and his immense weight in the minds of others like Quentin. But Faulkner lets this anonymous soldier speak for himself in the letter, as if to suggests these stories need to be recovered, the tomb of alternative history opened up.

This extended close reading of the stove-polish letter is by no means intended as a full exegesis, which is precisely the point: Exploring it in multiple directions represents the kind of counter-monument experience that Faulkner and the novel seem to argue for on so many levels. One enters the letter, and the novel more generally, with some hesitation as if it were a space, less a basilisk to walk around than an echo chamber. A dark house. Perhaps we are inside the tomb of the unknown soldier, exploring his history and trying to get out, as opposed to gazing passively upon the marble cenotaph and flame.

–Nick Neely

Works Cited

Castronovo, Russ. Fathering the Nation: American Genealogies of Slavery and Freedom. Berkley: U of California P, 1995. Print.

Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom!. New York: Vintage Books, 1986. Print.

Faulkner, William. “Session Four, February 25, 1957: Undergraduate Course in Writing.” Faulkner in the University. Eds. Frederick Gwynn and Joseph Blotner.
U of Virginia P, 1995. 19-28. Print

Luciano, Dana. “Melville’s Untimely History: ‘Benito Cereno’ as Counter-Monumental Narrative.” Arizona Quarterly. 60:3 (2004): 33-60. Print.

Nietzche, Fredrich. On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life. Trans. Peter Preuss. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1980. Online. <>

King, Richard H. “Memory and Tradition.” Faulkner and the Southern Renaissance: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1981. Eds Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie. Oxford: U of Mississippi P, 1982. 138-57. Print.