Saturday, July 9, 2022

Quote of the Day (William Faulkner, on Speaking Out for 'Honesty and Truth and Compassion’)

“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion, against injustice and lying and greed. If you… will do this…you will change the earth. In one generation, all the Napoleons and Hitlers and Caesars and Mussolinis and Stalins, and all the other tyrants who want power and aggrandizement, and all the simple politicians and time-servers who themselves are merely baffled or ignorant or afraid, who have used, or are using, or hope to use, man's fear and greed for man’s enslavement, will have vanished from the face of it.”American Nobel Literature laureate William Faulkner (1897-1962), Address to the Graduating Class at University High School in Oxford, MS (1952)

Sixty years ago this week, William Faulkner died. It had taken more than two decades for him to achieve recognition from the public, but he had already won the Nobel Prize—and would shortly win the first of two Pulitzers—when he addressed local students in his hometown.

If anything, Faulkner’s influence has only grown since his death, as readers see how he came to grips with racism, greed, the despoliation of the environment, and other sins concerning the Deep South but which, in truth, are also wider American dilemmas.

As I read this speech, I could hear echoes of Faulkner’s more famous Nobel Prize acceptance lecture, in which he spoke of “the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.”

Faulkner wrote of the innate dignity and courage that enabled people to survive an age of dictators abroad and “politicians and time-servers” at home. I hope today’s teachers, in spite of dangers from every direction, are instilling in students the lesson Faulkner imparted 70 years ago. I hope that we all, despite our failings, reach for the best in ourselves that he recognized in addition to the enemies that beset us still: “injustice and lying and greed.”

For a succinct consideration of Faulkner’s relationship to Hollywood, where he worked as a screenwriter at a time when his books hadn’t yet caught on with a wide reading public, see Laura Alvarez Trigo’s post onthe PopMeC Research Blog.

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