Faulkner's Lesson of Life...
Even When the Last Ding-dong of Doom has Clanged.

When I was in high school over a half century ago, we had to memorize several hundred lines of either poetry or prose each year. To say that I hated that dismal duty is a gross understatement. I do not recall any of my friends enjoying that educational endeavor either. We would have to come in early or stayed late to recite what we had memorized that week.

 This was Mrs. Davis' textbook with her notes in comparison to a regular textbook.

This was Mrs. Davis' textbook with her notes in comparison to a regular textbook.

To be honest, I do not know why I picked William Faulkner's acceptance speech for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature as one of my sources for memorizing. However, I bet it was due in part to liking the alliteration or the onomatopoeic sound of "the last ding-dong of doom has clanged." Nonetheless, I memorized those dozen lines back then and still can parrot back...more or less much of that speech given in 1949 in Stockholm.

Faulkner receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature

Faulkner receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature

Now, Faulkner and I have several things in common. These similarities include that we both have mustaches, gray hair, and for most of my life, I parted my hair on the left as he did. In addition, I used to smoke a pipe while in graduate school. I thought that a pipe gave both Faulkner and me an intellectually urbane appearance.

Faulkner at work

Faulkner at work

As for our writing abilities with or without those above mentioned similarities, I cannot hold a candle to Faulkner's writing. I could not even write a short paragraph that could ever be confused with one of his...even if my life depended upon it.

William Faulkner William Faulkner
While both of us like alliteration, I am far less drawn to the sound of the words today as I am with the meaning of words that describe how he viewed the human condition. We do share a common view of the human condition. Even though we are flawed to a great deal, the essence within each of us is that we have "a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance." I bought into that belief back then while in high school, college, and graduate school. Back then, America had to address civil rights issues that had been ignored for all too long. My generation knew that we could deal with those issues. We knew in spite of the past and the segregationist's "puny inexhaustible voice, still talking" that we would "endure and prevail," which we did.

Read the last third of his speech after receiving his Nobel Prize for Literature:

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 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.

Faulkner's belief is most admirable. He sees a writer as someone who is not just writing about something in the past. Writing is one of the means by which writers can support the human condition in the present. While I still love the sounds of Faulkner's words and his cadence, his message is something about which I truly understand. I knew it back then at one level when I was barely into adulthood.

Today, at the other end of my adulthood years, I see it far more fully than I did in the nativity of my adulthood. I have had many decades of experiences. I have seen some of the stupidest people strut their time on the stage of life resulting in nothing positive. They often create a great deal of negativity like causing people to suffer and even die. As Shakespeare put it:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing. -Macbeth

It is interesting that Faulkner wrote his novel, The Sound and the Fury in 1929 based Macbeth's famous soliloquy.

The sixth best book of the 20th century

The sixth best book of the 20th century

Granting that Faulkner was one of the top writers in the 20th century, he was honest and caring enough to provide literary lessons for people who wish to follow his example as writers. I read this a long time ago.

Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.

Over a quarter a century ago, I told a friend of mine who was a writer and who taught at the University of Chicago that I wanted to be a writer. My desire was not filled with hubris or vanity but only with desire and drive.

My friend and I met for a half-dozen years each Friday afternoon. I would provide an essay for her to read during the coming week, and she would return one that I had given her the week before. It was for a long and humiliating process to have someone proof your writing, grammar, and logic. As they say, "No pain, no gain." Nevertheless, whatever writing ability I possess today rests largely upon those tutorial years when I went to school at fifty-years of age.

Today, besides not considering myself stylistically even a good writer, I am driven. I am glad that I have the computer and the Internet to assist me. I cannot imagine writing using a typewriter like Faulkner. I do so much editing that I would waste hours either erasing or rewriting entire pages many times. I recall reading that Ernest Hemmingway triple-spaced all his writing so that he could edit a page without retyping his manuscript.

Perhaps writers like Faulkner or Hemmingway are great writers because much of their writing has been edited in their minds long before the words reached the paper. That is another reason why I am not a great writer. However, in the time remaining left here on earth to wander and write about the world, I am working on improving my writing.

Faulkner at work typing

Faulkner at work typing

Beyond comparing the dissimilarities in writing ability between Faulkner and me, there is another difference. I do not recall ever writing in a suit or in a shirt and tie. However, I am writing this article in a sweatshirt from the University of Chicago. I have four sweatshirts from the U of C. The first of them I bought during the time of my tutoring by a professor from U of C. Wearing a sweatshirt would have been the closest that I could have gotten to being a student there.

I wore that U of C sweatshirt so often that I replaced it with a new one a decade later. I still have and wear both of them. In fact, I have worn both of them so often that their condition forced my wife to buy two new ones. Actually, I did not think that I needed two newer ones. Nonetheless, hardly a week goes by that I have not written while wearing one of the four. In addition, I am not sure whether my personal dress code has any bearing on my writing ability or not. Well, I doubt it. However, I do know that my 12th grade English teacher and my U of C professor would be proud of me...a half century after memorizing and a quarter century after learning to write.

And you thought that I might have been pushing the truth a bit.  
Can you tell which is the one that I have had for thirty years

And you thought that I might have been pushing the truth a bit.
Can you tell which is the one that I have had for thirty years?

This is a postscript. This essay was an attempt of mine to do as Steve Jobs suggested in his commencement address to the graduating class of 2005 at Stanford. Now that I have seen the light, I need to begin the process of Connecting the Dots.

In addition, the following is Faulkner's acceptance speech of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

On Seeing the Light

On Seeing the Light

Visit the On Seeing the Light page to read more about this topic.

Connecting The Dots

Connecting the Dots

Visit the Connecting the Dots page to read more about this topic.