Faulkner on arresting motion

“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life.  Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move.  This is the artist’s way of scribbling ‘Kilroy was here’ on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion  through which he must someday pass.”
William Faulkner

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The human heart in conflict with itself

William Faulkner accepted the Nobel Prize in Literature 66 years ago. The printed version of his speech is worth reading in its entirety, not only for the universal truths expressed but for the counsel on how to write when our world is gripped by the physical fear of being blown up:

“Ladies and gentlemen,

“I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

“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.

“Until he relearns 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 simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong 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.”

Incarnation and metaphor

“If it sounds too religious to call metaphor an incarnation, then let’s call it a manifestation,
for it makes available to the senses what is often intangible, invisible, unknown, obscure;
metaphor brings to light, it reveals, it unifies the fragmented,
it is an act of creation indeed.”
–Mark Jarman

The impeded stream

“There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say, ‘It is yet more difficult than you thought.’ This is the muse of form.

It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
Wendell Berry

The wider view

“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.”
Annie Dillard.

Focus, focus

“The most important thing in a work of art is that it should have a kind of focus, i.e. there should be some place where all the rays meet or from which they issue. And this focus must not be able to be completely explained in words. This indeed is one of the significant facts about a true work of art—that its content in its entirety can be expressed only by itself.”
Tolstoy

A manifestation

“If it sounds too religious to call metaphor an incarnation, then let’s call it a manifestation, for it makes available to the senses what is often intangible, invisible, unknown, obscure; metaphor brings to light, it reveals, it unifies the fragmented, it is an act of creation indeed.”
–Mark Jarman

An act of faith

“We routinely practice a form of faith, seeing clearly and moving toward a creative goal that shimmers in the distance—often visible to us, but invisible to those around us.

Difficult as it is to remember, it is our work that creates the market, not the market that creates our work. Art is an act of faith and we practice practicing it. Sometimes we are called on pilgrimages on its behalf and, like many pilgrims, we doubt the call even as we answer it. But answer we do.”

≈Julia Cameron≈

Moments of awakening

It’s extraordinary how we go through life with eyes half shut, with dull ears, with dormant thoughts. Perhaps it’s just as well; and it may be that it is this very dullness that makes life to the incalculable majority so supportable and so welcome.
Nevertheless, there can be but few of us who had never known one of these rare moments of awakening when we see, hear, understand ever so much — everything — in a flash — before we fall back again into our agreeable somnolence.

≈Joseph Conrad≈

Making sight

“My task which I am trying to achieve is,
by the power of the written word,
to make you hear,
to make you feel—
it is, before all, to make you see.
That—and no more, and it is everything.

If I succeed, you shall find there, according to your deserts, encouragement,
consolation,
fear,
charm,
all you demand—
and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth
for which you have forgotten to ask.”
≈≈≈Joseph Conrad

The fathomless mystery

“Listen to your life.
See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.
In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness:
touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it
because in the last analysis all moments are key moments,
and life is grace.”
Frederick Buechner

Be present at the great spectacle of life

It is an uneasy lot at best,
to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy:
to be present at this great spectacle of life
and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self–
never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold,
never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed
into the vividness of a thought, the ardor of a passion,
the energy of an action,
but always to be scholarly and uninspired,
ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.

George Eliot, Middlemarch