The Signifying Eye
Seeing Faulkner's Art

Candace Waid

A groundbreaking study of Faulkner's engagement with the visual arts


"The Signifying Eye will teach even experienced Faulknerians something new on just about every page, while those early in their encounter with Faulkner's novels will be offered a series of brilliant perspectives on the author's astounding creativity and the superabundant richness and complexity of his body of work. With The Signifying Eye Waid will take her place among the most important of all Faulkner critics, and all of us will have to engage and reckon with her book."
—Michael Zeitlin, University of British Columbia and past editor of The Faulkner Journal

"In this innovative and arresting work Waid persuades us of the value, ultimately the necessity, of understanding Faulkner as a southern modernist working within two seemingly incompatible traditions: the oral traditions of southern, regionalist literature and the self-conscious, print-based textuality of the modernist avantgarde. Yet The Signifying Eye offers us still more. It develops into a meditation on the unique visions of experience that give modern American writing and painting their distinctive character and appeal."
—Maria DiBattista, Princeton University

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A bold book, built of close readings, striking in its range and depth, The Signifying Eye shows Faulkner's art take shape in sweeping arcs of social, labor, and aesthetic history. Beginning with long-unpublished works (his childhood sketches and his hand-drawn and handillustrated play The Marionettes) and early novels (Mosquitoes and Sartoris), working through many major works (The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Sanctuary, Light in August, and Absalom, Absalom!), and including more popular fictions (The Wild Palms and The Unvanquished) and late novels (notably Intruder in the Dust and The Town), The Signifying Eye reveals Faulkner's visual obsessions with artistic creation as his work is read next to Wharton, Cather, Toomer, and—in a tour de force intervention—Willem de Kooning.

After coloring in southern literature as a "reverse slave narrative," Waid's Eye locates Faulkner's fiction as the "feminist hinge" in a crucial parable of art that seeks abstraction through the burial of the race-defined mother. Race is seen through gender and sexuality while social fall is exposed (in Waid's phrase) as a "coloring of class." Locating "visual language" that constitutes a "pictorial vocabulary," The Signifying Eye delights in literacy as the oral meets the written and the abstract opens as a site to see narrative. Steeped in history, this book locates a heightened reality that goes beyond representation to bring Faulkner's novels, stories, and drawings into visible form through Whistler, Beardsley, Gorky, and de Kooning. Visionary and revisionist, Waid has painted the proverbial big picture, changing the fundamental way that both the making of modernism and the avant-garde will be seen.

The New Southern Studies

A Friends Fund Publication

Page count: 368 pp.
9 color photos, 33 b&w photos
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $44.95

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Candace Waid is a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is the author of Edith Wharton's Letters from the Underworld: Fictions of Women and Writing and editor of the Norton Critical Edition of The Age of Innocence.