Classical Anna: Absalom, Absalom

200px-AbsalomAbsalomThere are some sentences one re-reads because they are so beautiful, so delicious, that one wants to experience them again.  Take, for instance, this gorgeous passage from the Japanese classic “Naomi” by Junichiro Tanizaki, in which the narrator describes his beloved’s body: “This back was a landmark of my love. My hands, my fingers, had frolicked joyfully in this chillingly beautiful snow.” What reader wouldn’t love to roll around in pages filled with such sentences?

Unfortunately, there are other sentences one re-reads because they are so obscure, so wandering, that one needs to go over them numerous times to grasp their meaning.  This is the problem with William Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom,” a book with such a murky, wordy writing style that the intriguing plot is nearly lost beneath it.

First published in 1936, the book concerns the success and sudden downfall of the Sutpen family in fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi during the Civil War.  Faulkner reuses the character of Quentin Compson from “The Sound and the Fury” as a transmitter of this story, as he hears it told layer by layer from those who bore witness to it and attempts to come to some conclusion as to what caused the family tragedy.

Faulkner was a pioneer of experimental, modern fiction, along with James Joyce and Marcel Proust, and because of this a reader nearly expects to find difficulty understanding the action and meaning of his books. The most famous example of this may be Benjy’s section in “The Sound and The Fury,” which is narrated by a mentally challenged person and therefore is a literal, child-like, disorganized stream-of-conscious. This part is challenging and requires piecing together on the part of readers, but when they succeed in comprehending the narration it is a rewarding moment, as it allows them to see the story in through a unique mind.

“Absalom, Absalom” was also considered experimental, as it is non-linear and, like “The Sound and The Fury,” pieces together a story through several points of view.  However, the prose style, instead of seeming cutting-edge and electric, is cumbersome, heavy-handed, and repetitive, reminding one more of a 19th century novel instead of a modern American one:

…she was even more inaccessible to the grandfather of whom she had seen but little during her life and probably cared less anyway – that state where, though still visible, young girls appear as though seen through glass and where even the voice cannot reach them; where they exist (this the hoyden who could – and did, outrun and outclimb, and ride and fight both with and beside her brother) in a pearly lambence without shadows and themselves partaking of it; in nebulous suspension held, strange and unpredictable, even their very shapes fluid and delicate and without substance…

An entire book of sentences like this is irritating, even more so because every character talks in this same style, whether they are an old maid with little education, a southern gentleman, or a northern college student, which makes them indistinguishable from one another.

It is unfortunate that the plot is obscured beneath all this flourishing prose, because it is a Southern-Gothic tale about a doomed family and such tales in the hands of writers like Tennessee Williams are often intriguing.  However, Faulkner does not reveal the truly riveting plot details until the end of the book, and this makes much of the novel feel like a lot of fuss about nothing, merely the story of a slightly dysfunctional family.

“Absalom, Absalom” is considered one of the greatest American novels, but much of what made it so powerful and cutting-edge has since worn off: the book is structured upon the once-experimental methods of non-linear plot and unreliable narration, and because today’s readers are adept in navigating such techniques, the edginess of the book has worn off. For many readers, it may not only fail to live up to its status, but instead prove to be a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.


CSS Troubleshooting

With the introduction of the new Themes in WordPress v1.5, boring and commonplace website layouts have become a thing of the past. With a few clicks, you can change your layout instantly. With a few more clicks and tweaks, you can screw up your layout instantly as well. Welcome to the exciting world of web page design.

When you encounter a screw-up in your layout, many people come running to the WordPress Forums. While the willing volunteers can do what they can to help you, there are some steps you can take to get to the solution, or at least a better idea of where the problem may lie, before you get to the Forums.

Know Before You Go
We have a list of things you need to know before you go to the forums with layout design problems, and tips on solving the problems yourself.
Examine Your HTML and CSS
Take a close comparative look at your HTML and CSS and make sure that all the references match.
Isolate Your CSS Challenges
Below we’ll show you a couple of techniques to help identify the areas that are causing your problems in an effort to narrow down the problem to a specific area and code.
Common CSS Errors
You are not the first to have this problem. We have a list of some of the most common CSS errors to help you fix the little details that can mess up your layout.
Pest Control – Watching Out For Browser Bugs
While we will help you identify some of your CSS challenges, a lot of them come from bugs and conflicts between browsers, so we’ll give you some tips on how to work around the various browser bugs.

It is the goal of this article to help you solve your layout design problems within the CSS file, not within the HTML or PHP files. For help on modifying those, check out Using Themes for more information.





Before beginning any of these problem-solving tips and techniques, be sure and backup your data just in case. Also, backup the files you are working on as you try different things so you have some places to go back along the way.

You can do “live” CSS testing without editing your WordPress files

If you have the means, it is much quicker and safer to do your CSS testing and troubleshooting “on the fly” using (e.g.) Jesse Ruderman’s Edit Styles bookmarklet or the Edit CSS extension for Firefox. When you’re done making changes, copy your new (edited) code into the appropriate WordPress theme files (after you back them up).

The Web Developer extension for Firefox can help too.

Know Before You Go

If you are new to CSS and web page design, start with a visit to WordPress’ CSS Tips, Techniques and Resources to find information on the basics of CSS and possibly answer some of your questions. At the least, you will get a basic overview of what CSS is, the impact it has on the HTML or structure of your page, and learn some jargon to help you ask a more informed question on the forums.

You will also need to know some basic terminology to help you express your problem to others. This isn’t a how-to-CSS guide but more of a “what is thingamahjig called” guide.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are bits of code that influence the presentation or the look of your page’s HTML code. In WordPress, the CSS styles are generally found in a file called style.css in the specific Theme folder you are using. The HTML code and CSS references that hold the structure of your page are generally found in the index.php file in your Theme folder.

The PHP files are found within your Theme folder and contain the code and references which generate your HTML page. It is here, in the final run, that you may make changes to the specific CSS selector tags, not your HTML page. For help on modifying those, check out Using Themes for more information.

CSS selectors (names) are generally grouped into three specific references: The ID, CLASS, and HTML tags.

The ID

The ID is a reference to a specific unique area on your web page. It is generally seen represented on your HTML web page as an enclosed DIV (division) block:

<div id="header">Title of the Page</div>
In the style sheet (CSS) the ID selector is referenced as #header and might look like this:
#header { position: relative; margin:0; padding:0;
	height:100px; width: 100%; background: red;
	color: white;}


The CLASS is a reference to any element on a page that needs to look a specific way when this reference is used. For example, if you frequently want to highlight a word or two within your text (we’ll use red as a highlight color in this instance), you might have a CLASS selector in your style sheet like this:

.hilite { color: red}
and the reference in your HTML might look like this:
...this is some text about something
I want <span class="hilite">in red</span>. And 
some more rambling here...
As you can see, the difference between ID and CLASS selectors in the style sheet is that an ID uses a pound sign (#name) and a CLASS uses a period (.name). ID references must be unique on a page and used once. CLASS references can be used repeatedly in the same page.


If you want to “design” a specific HTML tag reference, such as a blockquote, the code within the web page may look like this:

<blockquote>This is a pithy and brilliant quote 
that I knew you would enjoy.</blockquote>
In the style sheet, the reference to the blockquote would not have a # or period but would just simply list the HTML and then the design elements. This example indents the quote on both sides and puts a blue line on the left side of the quote and makes the text italic.

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