March 17, 2004


Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
William Faulkner

December 10, 1950 and September 11, 2001 and Today -- Fear is a wicked weapon. Over the centuries, religious zealots have refined the use of fear as a cynical tool to divide, conquer and govern with hate. In the past, some U.S. leaders have inspired us with hope while reminding us that we have nothing to fear but fear itself; sadly, George W. Bush and his cronies happily pander to our basest insecurities. I wonder if the Real Republicans will ever find the courage and capacity to stand up to the religious fanatics who have seized control of their party. In the meantime, Bush and his disciples of deceit (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Powell, Rice and the others) will continue misleading and mis-leading the country. The deadly threats of terrorism are all too real; but all of our nation's responses to date have been based in fear. With all of this in mind, Faulkner's call to literary arms is more pertinent now than ever:


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 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, 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 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 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 and 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.

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