Tuesday, March 15, 2011

William (Possessed) Faulkner

Success is feminine and like a woman; if you cringe before her, she will override you. So the way to treat her is to show her the back of your hand. Then maybe she will do the crawling.

The above quote is taken from a Paris Review interview with William Faulkner around 1956. Sure, it displays the sexism of the 1950s, but that was all leveled and reconstructed through efforts in the 70s and 80s, right? Can we thank Kate Millet, Gloria Steinem, Hélène Cixous, or is there still a lot of work to be done in the “rewriting Freud” arena? Well, I think we can all at least agree that the issue is as proliferated as the television in America.

In any case, I’m not advocating the heavy-handed brash machismo of Faulkner’s comment. Au contraire: I’m simply using the quote to catch your attention. What I really want to point out is that Faulkner’s interview is nothing short of inspiring for aspiring writers. Especially now, as it seems to me there’s a new push for writers to be critics and theorists and formulaic geniuses. What ever happened to the writers like Faulkner and Kafka, who were driven to write? These guys wrote because the need to write loomed larger than the need to be understood or accepted (by critics, fellow artists, et al.). Faulkner plainly states that the true artist does one thing: s/he writes. The true artist does not follow a theory—and certainly has no time to read critics’ reviews. The writer has only time to write.

An artist is a creature driven by demons. He don’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done.

But I also do not intend to glorify Faulkner as a literary hero without faults. Consider the exchange between Faulkner and Hemingway (my own paraphrase from, I think but probably not, Norman Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself):

Faulkner: He [Hemingway] has never been known to send a reader to the dictionary.
Hemingway: Poor Faulkner. Does he really believe you must use big words to convey big emotions?

I love it when literary heavyweights exchange jabs! And what’s more? Spend some time thinking about the two arguments here in light of the fact that Hem’s The Sun Also Rises, or his short story “Up in Michigan,” is as genius as Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying or The Sound and the Fury. But they’re both different. They use different forms and devices. So who’s right in the exchange? Neither one of them! That’s the beauty. True genius is not following Hem’s Iceberg Theory, nor is it following Faulkner’s James Joyce-inspired stream of consciousness technique. No, it’s writing because you have to write. Stop wondering how you will compare to others. Stop considering how your work will look under the myriad theoretical lenses out there.

The more important argument in Faulkner’s interview is that, if you’re a good writer you will only improve with each moment spent writing. If you’re a writer, you only have time to write.

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