William Faulkner on art, life and the Nobel prize speech
“The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.” WF
Life is not interested in good and evil. Don Quixote was constantly choosing between good and evil, but then he was choosing in his dream state. He was mad. He entered reality only when he was so busy trying to cope with people that he had no time to distinguish between good and evil. Since people exist only in life, they must devote their time simply to being alive. Life is motion, and motion is concerned with what makes man move—which is ambition, power, pleasure. What time a man can devote to morality, he must take by force from the motion of which he is a part. He is compelled to make choices between good and evil sooner or later, because moral conscience demands that from him in order that he can live with himself tomorrow. His moral conscience is the curse he had to accept from the gods in order to gain from them the right to dream.
– Could you explain more what you mean by motion in relation to the artist?
The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move. This is the artist’s way of scribbling “Kilroy was here” on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass. (W.Faulkner)
William Faulkner (1897-1962) was born in New Albany, Mississippi. As a boy, his family moved to Oxford, Miss., the little town that became the setting for much of his beloved fiction.
He created endearing characters in classic works such as; The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Sanctuary, These Thirteen (short stories) and Light in August.
Faulkner was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature, during a time of worldwide fear over the possibility of atomic warfare.
In this acceptance speech, he addresses those fears as they might impact young writers and reminds them of their duty:
I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work — life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand where I am standing.
Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.
Until he learns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.
William Faulkner – December 10, 1950
Wiliam Faulkner’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
William Faulkner reads his speech accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he was awarded in 1949. At the time this speech was given, the world had just emerged from the chaos of the Second World War, and the threat of atomic annihilation hung over humanity. Faulkner’s faith in the human spirit, as expressed in this speech, rejects in his way the horrors of the preceding decade.
http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4954/the-art-of-fiction-no-12-william-faulkner, interviewed by the Paris Review, in 1956