Formalist novel criticism has a strange relationship to artistic failure. Although an array of twentieth-century theoretical frameworks have taught critics to find value and meaning in negative formal phenomena that may resemble writerly lapses (such as moments of contradiction, discontinuity, or ambiguity), the same critics rarely make actual negative judgments about literary form. This article examines and challenges this critical trend. It begins by introducing the new formal category of the narrative glitch: a microscopic disruption of fictional mimesis that resembles both a formal experiment and a simple writerly failure. It then turns to the work of William Faulkner, whose novels Sanctuary and Absalom, Absalom! reveal a buried alliance between criticism's customary ways of understanding glitches and an older modernist aesthetics. In Absalom, Absalom!, General Compson's celebratory close reading of a temporal rupture in Thomas Sutpen's narrative models an essentially modernist trope of glitch interpretation (the aesthetic redemption of a formal rupture as temporally mimetic) that remains popular in criticism to this day. At the same time, Faulkner's own glitches in Sanctuary, when read as genuine writerly lapses, dramatize the fallibility of this enduring critical gesture and thus subvert and estrange criticism's latent modernism.

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