I will never claim to be an expert as an undergrad at anything, but in my personal opinion, McCarthy is not the son of Faulkner in the Southern Literary Renaissance. McCarthy and Faulkner share common view in the complexities of nature and its subsequent weave with the human condition. The psychological complexity of Faulkner also stems from his desire to explore the true heart of people and not their surfaces (note his Nobel Prize Speech). While McCarthy exposes personalities and creates unbelievable characterizations (the Judge) I don’t personally feel that sometimes a true soul is left out. I do not believe that this takes away from his writing, but he would probably focus on distancing himself as far from the Faulkner stigma southern writers are labeled with in order to produce a distinct new form of literature (which in some realms he has).
The violence stems from human nature and has been a part of literature for centuries. Most notably, the Victorians may have influenced McCarthy with depressing yet duty bound works as Hardy’s Jude the Obscure and Browning’s poetry of destruction and desolation.
Then again, this is just my unqualified position dashed out at a first response. Thank you for your time and would like to read others opinions.
From: Christian the Heretic
What in God’s name are you talking about? You’re sounding as logical as Fat Freddie Freak after a long speed binge. How can you possibly say that Faulkner is not an influence on McCarthy’s fiction? It doesn’t make sense. I will agree with you that there are certainly other influences and these are as pervasive (perhaps) as Faulkner, but Faulkner is all through McCarthy’s work.
This is a hot button for me as well since I’m currently working on Light in August in comparison to Outer Dark and Child of God. First the writing style IS similar, although this is arguable from any perspective. While Faulkner uses huge and bulky sentences, McCarthy tends to use a similar rhythm broken by periodic periods. I realize that my explanation of this makes no sense. A more definable and arguable position is with the themes that lie in Faulkner’s work. Particularly when we view LIA, we see characters living on the borderlands of society. Joe Christmas, Lena Grove, Byron Bunch, Gail Hightower, Johanna Burden–all of them are characters who (like Rinthy and Lester Ballard and all the rest of them jake legged melon *censored*ing necrophiliac sons of bitches) exist on the borderlands. And there is certainly a mirroring of Faulkner’s treatment of Joe Christmas and McCarthy’s treatment of Lester Ballard, not to mention the Rinthy Holme / Lena Grove parallels. Both Faulkner and McCarthy like to play with Christian imagery (as characters with more than one father ala Christ and all the other Biblical imagery in LIA among others).
This is all to say that Faulkner is certainly an influence on McCarthy. True that scholars are perhaps beating that influence to death at the expense of looking at other influences but that doesn’t mean that it’s not there–any such argument smacks of a knee jerk reaction.
As you can see, there’s a good case to be made for McCarthy as an inheritor of Faulkner and as a new breed, more closely akin to O’Connor or (it pains me slightly to agree with Mr. Wallach) even Hemingway. My own opinion is that critics tend to lump McCarthy into the Faulknerian school primarily because he’s prone to using long, viny sentences. Secondarily, the fact that both authors usually address characters and situations which are outcast, marginalized, etc., makes for easy categorization. While these similarities are substantial, there is a difference in method (rather than style) which, I think, distinguishes the McC’s approach from Faulkner’s. At the core of this difference is the fact that Faulkner’s prose takes place, and is generally constructed around, the internal environments of his characters. To some degree his writing can be described as comparative psychological portraiture (forgive me for interjecting my own made-up jargon here). McCarthy, to make a slightly tired point, stays external in regard to his characters, treating them as artifacts or products of the world. They play roles in the grand scheme of things (especially evident in the closing of Blood Meridian) and their individual personalities are entirely secondary to these roles. Maybe you could say, or I could suggest, that in Faulkner the outside world is a reflection or a consequence of the characters’ internal makeup, while in McCarthy the internal makeup is only sufficient to the tasks of the outside world. Does this offend anyone’s sensibilities?
From: Rick Wallach
Probably it offends lots of sensibilities, but that’s surely no reason to retract your comments. The problem with studies of influence in modern criticism is that when we speak of influence, we usually mean cause…as in, Faulkner causes McCarthy’s style. This unfortunate (and often involuntary) brand of illogic is probably a byproduct of the pedagogic imperative to argue rather than demonstrate — which, in turn, is a subspecies of the old H.L. Mencken observation that the reason academic politics is so vicious is that the stakes are so small.
But if not cause, how then does influence operate? How do you prove that the mere fact of a sequence of two authors’ preoccupation with similar themes represents influence as opposed to mere observation of comparable phenomena in the world around both of them? Are we justified in using the term influence when what we observe is the dialogue between an author and a predecessor? Is one author’s deliberate parody of a situation or a character in an earlier author’s work…ie, the Rinthy Holme / Lena Grove correlation…a form of influence ? I’m not sure about that…such broad-form recourse to a term like influence empties it of specificity and makes a cliche out of it. I submit, however, that the only time McCarthy actually sounds anything like Faulkner is in The Crossing, where his sentences tend to get away from him and unravel like a dropped string ball, in an incidental mimicry of Absalom, Absalom’s torturously synthetic diction.
At any rate, I certainly agree with one thing Christian the Heretic said — that his explanationof the similarity between McCarthy’s sentence construction and Faulkner’s makes no sense at all. If I got this right, he seems to argue that Faulkner constructs his sentences the same way as McCarthy, except that he uses different types of words and punctuation. Uh…okay, I can live with that assertion, I suppose. But don’t look for it to surface in Chris’s forthcoming article in Southern Quarterly. Betcha he plays it safer there!