This morning, my friend Bill Keener sent me the following words from Faulkner. They relate directly to the bodily experience of the past few days, so I though I would share them here.
The quote comes from a 1957 question-and-answer session in an American Fiction class at the University of Virginia. You can hear digital audio clips of portions of the session here.
Question: “You spoke of titles before, Mr. Faulkner. I’d like to ask you about the origin of Light in August.”
Faulkner’s answer: “Oh, that was—in August in Mississippi there’s a few days somewhere about the middle of the month when suddenly there’s a foretaste of fall, it’s cool, there’s a lambence, a luminous quality to the light, as though it came not from just today but from back in the old classic times. It might have fauns and satyrs and the gods and — from Greece, from Olympus in it somewhere. It lasts just for a day or two, then its gone, but every year in August that occurs in my country, and that’s all that title meant, it was just to me a pleasant evocative title because it reminded me of that time, of a luminosity older than our Christian civilization…that light older than ours.”
If this seems an overblown response to a cool day in August, remember that Faulkner lived in Mississippi, without AC. For months, life was lived under a sheen of sweat. Any exertion, even in the relative cool of morning, would soak a shirt. At night, lying immobile in bed, tiny rivulets pool in the hollows of collarbones. And the light? A haze of water drawn into air. So when these August days come, the texture of life is transformed. The heat-fogged light snaps into clarity. The simple pleasure of working outside all day and barely breaking a sweat takes on a mythic quality — the body is transported, abruptly, to another world.