Faulkner’s Benjy as Body without Organs

Benjy Compson, the “idiot” in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, reminds me of Deleuze and Guatarri’s body without organs. He also seems like the schizophrenic, as well as the smooth space as differentiated from striated space. These are all different ways of discussing the same thing. In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari write,

In order to resist organ-machines, the body without organs presents its smooth, slippery, opaque, taut surface as a barrier. In order to resist linked, connected, and interrupted flows, it sets up a counterflow of amorphous, undifferentiated fluid. In order to resist using words composed of articulated phonetic units, it utters only gasps and cries that are sheer articulated blocks of sound.

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Benji’s only sounds, as heard by others, are cries, whimpers, and moans. They are always telling him to “Hush up that moaning.”

The first chapter of The Sound and the Fury is told by Benji; it is the “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Benji’s stream of consciousness jumps from memory to memory without transition. But it’s not random; the links are associational, as when the golfers say “Caddy” and Benji remembers his sister Caddie. His memories jump from when he was a child to his adult years. In a larger sense, the whole novel is written this way. The chapters could conceivable be read in any order, like a hypertext. The logical articulations or transitions that readers expect are absent. Memories are just jammed together. Thus, it’s a lot like Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. The readers are offered some help, however, by the font changes, switching to italics when Benji’s time frame changes.

When other characters interpret Benjy’s sounds–saying what he allegedly means or speaking for him–they are writing on the smooth surface, or turning it into striated space. They are making links or articulations, connecting his sounds to known language or stories, “making sense” of his sounds. Interpretation is interruption. The characters interrupt Benjy’s sounds, as when Luster tells him to “shut up that slobbering and moaning.” His slobbering embodies the slipperiness of smooth space. To see these statements as interruptions, or efforts to control, offers a different reading perspective. They even change his name from Maury to Benjamin/Benjy after his uncle Maury falls out of favor. Striated space is interrupted space; the mapping of nomadic space is striation. As nomadic space is mapped it becomes sedentary space; however, there is always a tension between nomadic and sedentary space; it’s a fuzzy distinction, like the colors on a spectrum. Territoralized space can always be deterritorialized.

The body without organs has organs grafted onto it, but is also resists this process.


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