23 octobre 2015

ENG - Himes' tribute to Faulkner

While he was writing his first novel for the Série noire in 1957 (For the Love of Imabelle or A Rage in Harlem), Himes, lacking inspiration after the first 80 pages, turned to Faulkner: "The first thing I did on returning to my room was to reread an old beat-up paperback of Faulkner's Sanctuary to sustain my outrageousness and give me courage" (My Life of Absurdity). When he described in Plan B blacks  covered with dust and plaster after being shot by the police cannon, Himes wrote: "William Faulkner would have been vindicated in his description of black skin turning the grey of wood ashes".

Faulkner's influence is manifest in the narration. For example, the structure of Sanctuary, with its alternating focus on the two main characters (Temple and Horace Benbow), and the structuration of time essentially by light marks (in the 1st chapter, the conscience of the passing of time stems from the setting sun, the dusk, the light of a lamp) have certainly inspired Himes. The meeting of Horace Benbow and Popeye, which opens the book with its very cinematic eye contact is obviously quoted by Himes in the sequence between Dummy and Sugar in The Big Gold Dream (chapter 14) with its match cuts connecting the eyes and glances of the two characters.

And Faulkner is also present in the vision of the History of the South. In Plan B, the History of Tomsson Black's plantation is a "crappy counterpoint"[1] to the epical clearing and planting by Sutpen in Absalom, Absalom.

There is, finally, an issue on which the two authors coincide. We grasp it better thanks to the magnificent interpretation of Édouard Glissant in Faulkner, Mississipi. This is "the merciless impartiality" of Faulkner, his uncompromising gaze focused on blacks. Himes goes even further: the monstrous is present in The Heat's on, and in his last two novels, Blind Man with a Pistol and Plan B.

[1] Chester Himes, l’unique.

1 commentaire:

  1. Hello, I have commented on the influence of Faulkner in Chester Himes writing on the french version of the text above. I won't repeat myself. However it dawned on me that no one else could have described black characters realistically but a Southern white writer. I am not taking away Faulkner accomplishment. I am saying that while black people struggled to end segregation, they had to be united and black writers knew that as victims of oppression, a realistic portrait of their community would hamper the movement of progress they were making. Chester Himes, away from the USA, was one of the few prominent writers who under the guise of detective stories described his people in a more realistic way.


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