It’s the Idle Habits

I opened up The Sound and the Fury today, looking for a passage about the effects of clocks and time. Remember I am writing a tale of time. I turned right to the page; I knew that it was the beginning of a chapter of Quentin Compson’s, June Second 1910.  Here are the words; they certainly illustrate Faulkner’s genius and suggest to me my own lack–“hearing the watch. It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire . . . Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair . . .” and later, the part I was really looking for, “it’s always the idle habits you acquire which you will regret”.

I wonder what that means. First I should wonder that I thought about it today. It’s still June here, sweltering summer, maybe the same sort of day as Quentin Compson’s summer, the day he commits suicide at Haaaarvaaard. So time is definitely on his mind. What are the idle habits that we learn to regret? Is it like Seinfeld, caught picking your nose in a taxi and losing a chance at a beautiful woman? Is it fiddling with the radio dial while driving and running into a deer? Is it smoking cigarettes? That’s an idle habit that’s hard to break, and hauling around that oxygen tank later in life could definitely cause some remorse. Is Quentin just obsessed with time, and already preparing to jump off the Anderson Memorial Bridge into the Charles River?

Perhaps the meaning is this: that life collects for us our idle habits, and that we slip into them with greater and greater ease, so that as life goes on we find it harder and harder to do anything special. Or that we realize that for most of us there is really nothing special to do, that we will live out our lives and they will seem to be full of sound and fury, but in the end they really signify nothing. Is it presumptive, on this June day, to believe that this constant work can create a novel? If I think about it too much will I, like Quentin and his father, become convinced of the futility of man against time? Or can I just travel on, oblivious, cracking jokes to myself that no one else will ever understand? It’s better to be naive, I think.

I think of another watch, the gold watch in Pulp Fiction, that Butch’s father sent to him from a Vietnam POW camp in Captain Koons’ rectum. It’s the gold watch that Butch returns to his apartment to collect, and so ends up in, well, you know where he ends up. Watches, passed from father to son. They seem important. They work great as plot devices. They signify the folly of man.

I’m glad I quit smoking.


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