The PhD students in English and American literature at Ole Miss have a tradition of drinking at William Faulkner‘s grave — a stone’s throw away from the campus. It is germane to everything that department does — the specter of Faulkner, though he dropped out of the school and went his own way — haunts the halls. Who is the next immortal among us, he seems to ask.
However, despite the lovely, rich prose, Faulkner, were he in fact a king-maker, would never point his scepter at a woman or a person of color to indicate that we were smart or interesting in any way but perhaps sexually. I’m sure I would have scared the crap out of Faulkner, so in going to his grave at Saint Peter‘s cemetery, I had no problem trying to spook him. I am the kind of woman who would have wanted to scare the crap out of him, anyway,when he was living — a Yankee feminist who worked as a speechwriter and pamphleteer to end apartheid. To Mister Faulkner, whose worst nightmare I am, I say “Boo!”
One does not drink alone at Faulkner’s tombstone. Apart from the shade of the author himself, his longsuffering wife is buried next to him, his parents across from him. One wonders who chose the inscription “Go with God,” which must be read ironically, if one has ever read the guy’s work. Not only did I drink with the former Faulkners, I also drank with my pals in the PhD program Victoria, Thomas, and Ebony, who are all very cool. Thomas provided the booze (see the Maker’s Mark in my hand). Victoria provided much of the prose from Faulkner and the photos. Ebony brought the fabulousness. I just brought the bad attitude.
We had trouble finding the grave. Saint Peter’s cemetery is not next to Saint Peter’s church, and it was cold and dark outside. We wandered the streets of Oxford, Mississippi, following the confused navigator function of Victoria’s phone. I think we were bamboozled by it because of the magnetic waves emanating from the tombstone. The waves are a transmission from the next dimension, which declares in a garbled text message:
OMFG — you will never have immortality as writers. Post-modern criticism has killed the cult of the author. Give it up. I am more fabulous than you will ever be. Even Satan bows to me in Hell.
I knew it was a lie from the pit itself. We disregarded it. We climbed into Ebony’s car for warmth and listened to Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. Whatever is true about the so-called cult of the author, the cult of the diva is alive and well, as evidenced by Ebony’s i-Pod play list, as evidenced by Ebony and her fabulous diva self.
I care about the Pulitzer. I care about the Nobel. I care about the National Book Award. I care about authors. I care about Divas. No tombstone can talk me out of this. All it can do is lend perspective on the notion of authorial immortality.
I once saw a graffito that went like this:
“God is dead” — Neitzche
“Neitzche is dead” — God
Shakespeare is an immortal writer. His bones are turning to powder as we speak. It is not good enough to be an immortal writer. One must actually go with God, not just have relatives, who would burn every copy of one’s heretical books if they could, inscribe such a thing on a tombstone that they never meant to be ironic. There is truly only one kind of immortality — the resurrection kind. That said, without the other kind, how will I explain to future generations why I thought the giraffe-print furry hat and giraffe-print furry bag I had with me the night I did shots at Faulkner’s grave were really cool? I intend to be an immortal writer who is immortal indeed, not like the godless, misogynist, racist genius at whose grave I poured libations a few days ago.
Here’s a picture of me with Ebony, wandering around looking for the grave:
Ebony is a brilliant woman who is funny, hilarious, and — despite all Mississippi siren calls that might have drawn her away from this — always impeccably dressed.
If Faulkner were living and breathing, he wouldn’t like either of the women in this picture — one he would utterly dismiss, and the other he would just loathe. Faulk him and his genius, I say. We’re fantastic.
Finally, the four of us found our way to the grave. We all took a shot, and Victoria read a lovely passage of prose from the man in the grave about the enduring quality of words.
As the moon stood in a sliver against the black of the night, and the wind rustled in the breeze, I couldn’t allow myself to make this a worshipful experience. I don’t believe in ancestor worship, even of really fantastic ancestors, but while Faulkner was fantastic as a writer, he wasn’t such a great antecedent.
After Victoria finished reading, I took what was left in my glass and splashed it on the grave.
“Bitch, give me your talent!” I shouted.
Ebony, Victoria and Thomas are used to such outbursts from me – not so much the cursing as the incongruity — and they just took it in stride.
Thomas read a passage from “A Rose for Emily,” one which involved the repetition of the n-word over and over again. I took the bottle and poured out half of it on the engraved name beneath us, interrupting Thomas to say, “That’s what you get for saying ‘n*gger’ so many times. You’re just lucky it’s not my urine.”
We went afterward to a reading of living writers. It was time to go. Let the dead bury the dead. We were out of booze, anyway.
Insulting Faulkner while taking note of his talent seemed appropriate — not worship, just acknowledgment. The cult of the author, per Derrida and his sychophants, is dead. Perhaps it should be. Instead, long live the diva, I say. Long live Ebony. Long live you, whoever you are. Go with God.