Thursday, May 20, 2010

There is only the question: When will I be blown up?

I am unabashedly biased in most of my artistic preferences. I gravitate towards Celts & Southerners. Particularly in high school, Tennessee Williams & Faulkner & Flannery O’Connor (and of course, Margaret Mitchell) were about all I needed in the world. (I’ll get to Celts later, but today, Southerners—one in particular.)

I’m hanging out with my old boss this weekend in beautiful Forrest Hills Gardens, so I was reminded of the time a few years ago (I was really struggling about [the ususal] writing, the human condition, etc) when he sent me Faulkner’s Nobel Acceptance speech.

There’s also this “video” which is just a still, but has the original audio (practically inaudible due to Faulkner’s [amazing] thick drawl) which I’m including as well. Apparently, in the room, (because you couldn't make out what he was saying) most folks didn't realize the magnitude and power of the speech. It was only later, when they saw it printed. 

The kind of calamities and world tension of today seems to echo his sentiments of 1950. For as specifically period & specifically local as Faulkner writes, his world view transcends all of that.

I love looking at other people’s lists of “Greatest Writers of All Time.” This one, of the 100 Best from This Recording, is one I can pretty much get behind. (Keats is #30, Tenn is #55 , Flannery #57, Dickens #16 [I’d rate him nearer #1, personally]  Iris Murdoch #40. I’d ditch at least one of the people on this list in favor of Camus, of course, but  It’s got this guy at number one, which I’m cool with. 

(More on Faulkner here)

Stockholm, December 10, 1950

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work — a 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 here 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 old 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 relearns 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.

1 comment:

  1. I understood every Southern gentile syllable! Flannery O'Conner, ahhh, my Mother's favorite author, and she lives 10 miles from Andalusia in Milledgeville, where she visits often and requires all of her guest to visit too.


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