The Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech of William Faulkner
by Stan Faryna
American writer and Nobel Prize laureate William Faulkner received the Nobel Prize in Literature (1950). It was awarded to Faulkner “for his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel.” Among Faulkner’s books, The Sound and Fury (1929) should be known to you. The book tells the tumultuous and tragic story of the once privileged, Mississippi Compson family. At the center of the story is Caddy – the obsession of her brothers. Among the devices William Faulkner uses to tell this story is the technique known as stream of consciousness where ideas and images flow and swirl, interrupt each other, consume us, and – if we are lucky – reveal the conflicts that weigh upon the human heart.
Metric, Help I’m Alive
I reflect upon Faulkner’s speech (and I invite you to reflect upon it with me) because we must. Because we shall be better persons for it – each in our own right and nature. Because we shall understand ourselves, each other, the world, and our own future, better, for having done so.
In this matter, I do not exaggerate. If you can not look with me and if you are not breathless with me in the seeing, then you can not see. And I am sorry for you. But I will not stop because someone will not see what I have seen. Some will see. Someone will also see further than I see. My heart will be filled by the former and it will be uplifted by the latter.
Whether you claim or aspire to be a writer, an artist, a blogger, or, merely, John or Jane Doe, there are hot sparks in Faulker’s words – sparks to set us all aflame. If only for a moment. That moment will reach back and forth into our person like a ripple across time. It will touch you in your childhood and as far forward as your last breath.
Just as it does in me.
Our spiritual situation is more dire than Faulkner saw it in his time. The question that Faulkner felt shuddering in the human heart has passed. We are no longer obsessed with the question, when will I be blown up. If there is to be any blowing up, we have accepted that terror, and we are more interested in the questions, what do I do until I am incinerated by the fire of heaven (nuclear blast, solar storm, alien death ray, etc) and what do I do if I am not incinerated. Or consumed by the frosty tongue of an Ice Age.
Our spiritual situation is more dire than Faulkner could have imagined for us. Because our culture of death does not tremble with fear before the faces of death. The hearts of peoples do not tremble deeply enough. Not in the face of our common foolishness, our inability to live truthfully, and our desperate lack of love.
My heart, it trembles. But even my stubborn heart – it does not provoke tears. The tears should run like rivers of blood.
My heart is a stone. And yours? Is it a stone too?
I’d rather be sucking down an Iced Venti Moccachino. Or talking about Michelangelo. Wasn’t he just divine!
I just want more peaches and cream. Give me the sugar and the spice and everything nice. And I will thunder across the plain in my chariot, boast, blasphemy, and rock the iTunes list – but avoid the fight and honor, slip through danger and responsibility, and dodge sacrifice and glory. I cannot evade one without evading the other.
Nevermind that I shall never truly become divine. Nor be saved! Nor shall I truly do my part to save the world. Or me. Or you. NEVERMIND my defects! Nevermind my defects and let’s say to each other: thank you, cheers, and Mazel Tov! For nothing. For there is nothing to celebrate.
I lament that there is nothing to celebrate. Not yet! Maybe, never. There should be no celebration because I am. I did not make me. Nor am I master of myself!
There should be no celebration because of what I have done. Oh – how my evil outweighs and outruns my good. 10,000,000 to 1!
I tremble. I stumble.
It is true, I can not be without you. But, God Bless Us, I want to be… better. Beautiful. Good. True. I WANT TO LOVE!
Help. I’m still alive.
I need you to help me to… love. To become love. Maybe you need me to help you to become love too?
Incomplete recording of William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize Speech
I have relied on the Nobel Prize foundation’s recording and records to provide the text here. Faulkner’s speech is as follows:
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 but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which was not 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 young women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is the ones who will some day stand where I stood this afternoon.
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 one 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 lives under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, and 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 because he endures. 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.
The title and purpose of this post was inspired by @StartYourNovel. The conclusion was inspired by a late night Skype conversation with @Billy_ Delaney and a subsequent #blogchat with @BruceSallan and many others. The endeavor to write this post (sooner than later) was inspired by recent comments and encouragement from @bdorman264, @TheJackB, @GirlyGrizzly, and @DrJackKing.
30 April 2012
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