This is not how I expected William Faulkner to sound. [Well, I didn’t expect that outfit either.] I thought he’d at least read a little better, you know? I guess I’m used to the modern day writers who hone their performance skills.
But then you read the text of his speech and realize that with words like that, it simply doesn’t matter. He could have croaked it out with a banjo and it’d still have had the same resonance.
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 the 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 labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of 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.
He said those words in December, 1950.
Whether you take it literally or metaphorically – and anyone who has ever written so much a comment on the internet can tell you they do so with one eye open for a flame war – the fear to express yourself remains by far the greatest one.
Whatever the context, be it a personal situation or a political one, the moment you put your thoughts into words is incredibly fraught. The vulnerability that comes with the knowledge that people now have a direct window into your brain is next to indescribable. They might not know that, but you do.
And yet, unless you can move past that moment, and express yourself honestly, all the words in the world mean nothing at all. There is nothing less satisfying than watering down your point of view for the sake of other people’s good opinion, than saying things you don’t really believe in because it’s easier, more convenient, safer, less risky.
You can hide your thoughts from other people, sure. But what are you going to do about yourself? With all those ideas rattling inside you?
[via James Fallows who really wants you to read the thing ]