Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Awestruck: William Faulkner's Nobel Acceptance Speech

Up until recently, I had never read anything Wm. Faulkner had written, save from a few excerpts from The Sound and the Fury in "honors" English class, because I guess they thought it was, honorable? Dense, at least.

Just recently, I found this : (pictured to be added.)
It is a piece of notebook paper, writeen by Yours Truly in either Freshman or Sophomore year of high school. That also makes me feel old, since I realze that was a decade ago. Here's the backstory: we had these required humanities courses in HS, and their curriculum was fairly vague. It was my first period class, and so essentially my mission was to sleep. Listen, you cannot expect 15-year-old boys to get up at 5:30 am for school, and be functional.

But the teacher read us this, and it woke me up. I sat, awestruck, through the entire thing. Then, after class, in the 15-minute break that followed, I borrowed the copy from the teacher and wrote it down verbatim. Then, of course, I promptly put it in a notebook and forgot about it for a few days.

I had made a fatal error: I didn't remember to write down who had written the thing, or anything of the context of it. Since it woke me up, I missed the teacher introducing the piece.

Anyhow, I read it again at the end of high school and was again impressed by its beauty, but I still did not remember who had written it, and I was too embarassed to think of going back to the teacher and show him the handwritten sheet, and ask what it was! I then lost it in my stack of papers.

I found it again, just this week. This time, the information age didn't let me down. I just googled a line from it, and it popped up on several webpages. Now, I'd like to share it with you, if you would. I'm going to get a little cheezy and ask you not to skim it. If you don't have time, that is fine, save it for later. Still here? Get a cup of tea, and begin. Read it aloud, if you like, or at least mouth the words.

"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 dingdong 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."

Wm Faulkner, Stockholm, 10 December 1950

One more thing: I was impressed by my penmanship, or lack thereof, in high school. I won't tell too many tales of it, but I was the kind of student that made teachers ecstatic that they could require typewritten drafts of essays, now that every school in the district had full computer labs. I write, by hand, quite a lot these days, and my penmanship has changed to reflect it. It's still illegible to many, I think, but it works for me. It is at least consistent. It's notable because at that point in high school, I had a fountain pen. Because of the physics of being left-handed, these are the only writing implements that I can really manage, besides sharpies. I'll explain why later, if you care. Anyway, featured below are the 1997, and 2007, versions of the same thing. ((IN A MOMENT, ONCE I TAKE THE PHOTOS))


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