William Faulkner: A Flag above the Dust

For his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel” and for all writers eager for inspiration. Here is an excerpt from William Faulkner’s Nobel Banquet Speech that not only moved the city of Stockholm on December 10, 1950, but also influenced John Steinbeck’s Nobel Banquet Speech in 1962.

And so they live on, Faulkner’s words like the great emulsifier. A rhythmic swaying of ceaseless hardship, bobbing below unrivaled genius. Of course, as scholars and readers, we’ve come to recognize the importance of time in Faulkner’s work. Though historical, his writing is ageless and endlessly relevant, and proves that all things beautiful are borne by suffering. As such, Faulkner demonstrates the eclipse of tribulation, and gently validates the hope we have inside us for survival.

May you endure, may you exceed and may you find a way to exist in a world full of infinite obstacles. And, perhaps, find the courage to explore one or two seemingly infant ideas welling within you. For, as Faulkner writes in The Sound and the Fury, “Wonder. Go on and wonder.

[…]

“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.”

-William Cuthbert Faulkner (1897-1962)