How does this keep happening? I’m behind again. In fact, if you had asked me in December if I expected to one-the-ball with my posts in the New Year, I would have told you “no.” Somehow, I saw this coming. Still, excuses, excuses. No more. It’s time to catch up, to move on, to get myself into a position where I can open a post without apologies.
Recall a couple weeks ago Dr. Donaldson lectured on Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and spent some time speaking of the single story’s multiple narrative perspectives. There’s a name for this narrative framework.
The Rashomon Effect: a narrative arrangement wherein one story or event is told through the separate and unique psychological perspectives of multiple characters; there results an emphasis on subjectivity and the question of narrative reliability. The name of the effect comes from Akira Kurosawa’s archetypal samurai film Rashomon (1950), itself based on the short stories “In the Grove” (1922) and “Rashōmon” (1915) by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa.
Akutagawa’s story was published 15 years before As I Lay Dying went to press, it would be another 20 years before Kurosawa’s film version was released, whereupon it won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival and was granted the Academy Honorary Award at the 24th Academy Awards in 1951.
Faulkner lived until July 1962. As well as writing novels, short fiction, and poetry, he was an accomplished screenwriter. He was involved, to varying degrees, in writing nine Hollywood-produced screenplays between 1933 and 1955. Notably, Faulkner wrote the screenplay for To Have and Have Not (1944), which takes its title – and title alone – from the novel by Hemingway, as well as The Big Sleep (1945), adapted from the novel by the grandfather of 20th century American pulp and crime fiction Raymond Chandler, and which the Library of Congress holds as culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.
I wonder if Faulkner knew of or watched Kurasawa’s Rashomon. There is a good chance he did. And though the Rashomon Effect was by no means particularly groundbreaking by 1950, I also wonder if Faulkner thought to himself, “Hey, I did that twenty years ago.” Likely, he wasn’t so petty.
Wikipedia, as a testament its infinite unreliability, has a fantastically inadequate page about the Rashomon Effect. It mentions Kurasawa and Akutagawa only in the intro. It then poses two sections that offer up examples of the effect in movies and in popular culture, the latter section listing only TV show instances. There are examples in Batman: the Animated Series, CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, and The Simpsons, among others – a well-researched entry, isn’t it? In fact, that’s all Wikipedia offers on the subject, neglecting to even provide a section on the use of the Rashomon Effect…in literature! No mention of Akutagawa beyond lip service in the intro; no mention of Kurasawa in the “Use in Movies” section. Let this be a lesson to those of you who wish to view Wikipedia as a source of reliable information. (To those who use it in academic papers…don’t!) Nor does the Wiki entry on the Rashomon Effect make mention of Faulkner or As I Lay Dying. Anywhere.
You may think that I have digressed from the topic of Faulkner and the Rashomon Effect. But I have not. Though I have composed a bit of a diatribe against Wikipedia, it is related to the Rashomon Effect and the unreliability of narrative. Because Wikipedia is, as it were, the result of the Rashomon Effect sneaking into what we want to think of as an accessible encyclopedic database. Like Rashomon and As I Lay Dying, Wikipedia is the presentation of information through the aggregate effort of innumerable and variously-qualified writers and editors. So regard the information provided there with the same questions and suspicion of unreliability that you read As I Lay Dying.
With my bizarrely circuitous logic in mind, thank the ghost of Faulkner for prepping readers for the age of the Internet.