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In his 1979 analysis of the function of form in Faulkner's novels, Donald Kartiganer charts two interpretive trajectories that allow us to understand the status of the work of art in As I Lay Dying: on the one hand is the meticulously constructed coffin that Cash labors so incessantly to complete in time for Addie to be placed inside of it; on the other is Darl's aesthetically charged attempt to put an end to the Bundren's increasingly irrational journey to Jefferson by setting ablaze Gillespie's barn. For Kartiganer, the aesthetic couple of Darl and Cash encapsulates "the central irony of As I Lay Dying, the gaping distance between vision without form and form without vision": "Darl is the man who rejects the physical, rejects form, pursues a self already committed to absence. Cash is the most artful of all those Bundrens who, knowing little else, know themselves in the impoverished images they have created" (29). Though Darl exhibits penetrating and clairvoyant powers of poetic description and insight, his struggle to identify a personal interest with the march to Jefferson explodes onto the narrative scene as a destructive assault on private property and labor, leaving the Bundrens with no choice but to send him away to the Jackson insane asylum. As Cash remarks, "there just aint nothing justifies the deliberate destruction of what a man has built with his own sweat and stored the fruit of his sweat into" (238). Because Darl has no personal investment in the successful completion of the journey, he is, as Kartiganer suggests, incapable of contributing anything meaningful to the trip, such as the coffin, money, or a horse. Though Kartiganer is nevertheless sensitive to the structural and thematic ambiguity over Cash and Darl's aesthetic contributions to the narrative, he tends toward concluding that "much of the vitality and resilience that is part of the meaning of As I Lay Dying is vested in the figure of Cash, Faulkner's first and only artist to be convinced that 'it's better to build a tight chicken coop than a shoddy courthouse,'" implicitly suggesting that insofar as we can attribute a work of art to Darl, it will fall under the category of the "shoddy courthouse" (30). Kartiganer's estimation of Darl's exclusion from the narrative has found welcome reception in more recent Faulkner scholarship, (1) according to which Darl's ostracism to a mental institution is the necessary consequence of so radically insisting on the negative, or "nihilist," capability of art. (2) With the climactic scene of the burning of Gillespie's barn, it appears as though Darl's perceptive powers have attained such a pitch of aesthetic purity as to violently sever any link with the empirical world. With no firm grasp on the world he inhabits, Darl figures as the consequence of what can occur when representation loses its grip on reality. Writing nearly twenty five years after Kartiganer, Homer Pettey continues the critical tradition of consigning Darl's mode of artistic expression to a socially pernicious no man's land of perception: "As much as Darl wishes to ground his existence upon his perceptions, invariably the disintegration of representation--the disparity between word and world--negates not Addie's haunting presence, but his own being" (27). The negation of his being, the fact that Darl, like his mother Addie, is unable to identify a consistent network of correspondence between word and world, as Pettey puts it, reaches its apex in the burning of Gillespie's barn, an event that signals Darl's complete psychological deterioration.

Professional & Technical
September 22
The Faulkner Journal

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