A MORBIDITY OF THE MIND: A STUDY OF PSYCHOPATHOLOGICAL RHETORIC IN WILLIAM FAULKNER'S FICTION
Doctor of Philosophy
Faulkner's canon includes an overwhelming number of psychopathologically disturbed characters. Traditionally, such disturbed characters have been viewed somewhat indiscriminately as evidence of Faulkner's preoccupation with the doomed perversity of human nature. In fact, Faulkner conceived of these emotionally ill characters fictionally as occupying and defining three distinct rhetorical communities: neurotic; sociopathic; and psychotic. At the heart of each emotional illness is a psychologically demonstrable language disorder. Faulkner's fragmented and tortured structures form the perfect containers for his characters who try to overcome their emotional exile. His frequent counterpointings between sick minds and healthy ones provide his fiction with the fullest range of imaginative possibilities. His characters challenge the border between sanity and insanity; with each incursion by a character into the realm of madness, the reader is provided with a new angle of vision regarding what it means to suffer and what it costs to discover truths. Faulkner felt a kinship with those characters that suffer emotionally. And he was in basic sympathy with all the problems that human beings have in making themselves understood. The compound tragedy of psychopathologic character in need of fellowship and least able to express that need provides the perfect laboratory for a fiction writer who hoped his writing "may improve man." Ultimately these designated abnormalities, psychologically rooted and fictionally documented, offer linguistic metaphors for the South as region (neurosis), for Faulkner as citizen-author (sociopathology), and for his literary philosophy as a study of the tragedy of human isolation (psychosis). By revealing his abnormal characters through their distorted rhetorical patterns and their accompanying communication disability, Faulkner wrests fictional energy from the invigorating powers of pathology. Pathology as a fictional technique asserts itself as a positive activity; it represents the mind's ability in reading or writing to imagine life from a new angle--even a despairing or a deformed perspective. This centering on Faulkner's morbid personalities allows for a better understanding of the complexity of Faulkner's characterizations and fosters an appreciation of the stylistic gains Faulkner achieved by tapping the semantics of disfigured emotions.