Quantcast

Video of the Day

Masthead

Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Managing Editor
Kara VanderBijl
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Senior Editor
Durga Chew-Bose
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

Live and Active Affiliates
Search TR


follow us in feedly

Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Entries in william faulkner (4)

Thursday
Apr122012

In Which William Faulkner Was Always At His Best

Nothing Ever Happens

One of the saddest things is that the only thing that a man can do for eight hours a day, day after day, is work. You can’t eat eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day nor make love for eight hours — all you can do for eight hours is work. Which is the reason why man makes himself and everybody else so miserable and unhappy.

In spring of 1947, the English department of the University of Mississippi had William Faulkner address one class a day for a week. The teacher of each class was barred from attending the sessions. Faulkner spent the entire time answering questions from students.

Q: Which of your books do you consider best?

WILLIAM FAULKNER: As I Lay Dying was easier and more interesting. The Sound and The Fury still continues to move me. Go Down, Moses - I started it as a collection of short stories. After I reworked it, it became seven different facets of one field. It is simply a collection of short stories.

Q: In what form does the initial idea of a story come to you?

WF: It depends. The Sound and The Fury began with the impression of a little girl playing in a branch and getting her panties wet. This idea was attractive to me, and from it grew the novel.

Q: How do you go about choosing your words?

WF: In the heat of putting it down you might put down some extra words. If you rework it, and the words still ring true, leave them in.

Q: What reason did you have for arranging the chapters of The Wild Palms as you did?

WF: It was merely a mechanical device to bring out the story I was telling, which was one of two types of love. I did send both stories to the publisher separately, but they were rejected because they were too short. So I alternated the chapters of them.

Q: How much do you know about how a book will turn out before you start writing it?

WF: Very little. The character develops with the book, and the book with the writing of it.

Q: Why do you present the picture you do of our area?

WF: I have seen no other. I try to tell the truth of man. I use imagination when I have to and cruelty as a last resort. The area is incidental. That's just all I know.

Q: Since you do represent this picture, don't you think it gives a wrong impression?

WF: Yes, and I'm sorry. I feel I'm written out. I don't think I'll write much more. You only have so much steam and if you don't use it up in writing it'll get off by itself.

Q: Did you write Sanctuary at the boilers just to draw attention to yourself?

WF: The basic reason was that I needed money. Two or three books that had already been published were not selling and I was broke. I wrote Sanctuary to sell. After I sent it to the publisher, he informed me, "Good God, we can't print this. We'd both be put in jail." The blood and guts period hadn't arrived yet. My other books began selling, so I got the galleys of Sanctuary back from the publisher for correction. I knew that I would either have to rework the whole thing or throw it away. I was obligated to the publisher financially and morally and upon continued insistence I agreed to have it published. I reworked the whole thing and had to pay for having the new galleys made. For these reasons, I didn't like it then and I don't like it now.

Q: Should one re-write?

WF: No. If you are going to write, write something new.

Q: How do you find time to write?

WF: You can always find time to write. Anybody who says he can't is living under false pretenses. To that extent depend on inspiration. Don't wait. When you have an inspiration put it down. Don't wait until later and when you have more time and then try to recapture the mood and add flourishes. You can never recapture the mood with the vividness of its first impression.

Q: How long does it take you to write a book?

WF: A hack writer can tell. As I Lay Dying took six weeks. The Sound and The Fury took three years.

Q: I understand you can keep two stories going at one time. If that is true, is it advisable?

WF: It's all right to keep two stories going at the samet ime. But don't write for deadlines. Write just as long as you have something to say.

Q: What is the best training for writing? Courses in writing? Or what?

WF: Read, read, read! Read everything - trash, classics, good and bad; see how they do it. When a carpenter learns his trade, he does so by observing. Read! You'll absorb it. Write. If it is good you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window.

Q: Is it good to copy a style?

WF: If you have something to say, use your own style: it will choose its own type of telling, its own style. What you have liked will show through in your style.

Q: Do you realize your standing in England?

WF: I know that I am better thought of abroad than here. I don't read any reviews. The only people with time to read are women and rich people. More Europeans read than do Americans.

Q: Why do so many people prefer Sanctuary to As I Lay Dying?

WF: That's another phase of our American nature. The former just has more commercial color.

with Eudora Welty

Q: Are we degenerating?

WF: No. Reading is something that is in a way necessary like heaven or a clean collar, but not important. We want culture but don't want to go to any trouble to get it. We prefer reading condensations.

Q: That sounds like a slam on our way of living.

WF: Our way of living needs slamming. Everybody's aim is to help people, turn them to heaven. You write to help people. The existence of this class in creative writing is good in that you take time off to learn to write and you are in a period where time is your most valuable possession.

Q: What is the best age for writing?

WF: For fiction the best age is from 35-45. Your fire is not all used up and you know more. Fiction is slower. For poetry the best age is from 17 to 26. Poetry writing is more like a skyrocket with all your fire condensed in one rocket.

Q: How about Shakespeare?

WF: There are exceptions.

Q: Why did you quit writing poetry?

WF: When I found poetry not suited to what I had to say, I changed my medium. At 21 I thought my poetry very good. At 22 I began to change my mind. At 23 I quit. I use a poetic quality in my writing. After all, prose is poetry.

Q: Do you read a good bit?

WF: Up until 15 years ago I read everything I could get a hold of. I don't even know fiction writers' names much now. I have a few favorites I read over and over again.

Q: Has "The Great American Novel" been written yet?

WF: People will read Huck Finn for a long time. However, Twain has never written a novel. His work is too loose. We'll assume that a novel has set rules. His is a mass of stuff - just a series of events.

Q: I understand you use a minimum of restrictions.

WF: I let the novel write itself - no length or style compunctions.

Q: What do you think of movie scriptwriting?

WF: A person is rehired the next year on the basis of how many times his name appeared on the screen the previous year. Much bribery ensues. In the old days they could give a producer three hundred pounds of sugar and be reasonable sure of getting their names on the screen. They really fight about it and for it.

Q: To what extent did you write the script for Slave Ship?

WF: I'm a motion picture doctor. When they find a section of a script they don't like I rewrite it and continue to rewrite it until they are satisfied. I reworked sections in this picture. I don't write scripts. I don't know enough about it.

Q: It is rumored that once you asked your boss in Hollywood if it would be permissible for you to go home to work. He gave his approval. Thinking you meant Beverly Hills, he called you at that address and found that by home you had meant Oxford, Mississippi. Is there anything to this story?

WF: That story's better than mine. I had been doing some patching for Howard Hawks on my first job. When the job was over, Howard suggested that I stay and pick up some of that easy money. I had got $6,000 for my work. That was more money than I had ever seen, and I thought it was more than was in Mississippi. I told him I would telegraph him when I was ready to go to work again. I stayed in Oxford a year, and sure enough the money was gone. I wired him and within a week I got a letter from William B. Hawks, his brother and my agent. Enclosed was a check for a week's work less agent's commission. These continued for a year with them thinking I was in Hollywood. Once a friend of mine came back from England after two years stay and found 104 checks enclosed in letters that had been pushed under his door. They are showing a little more efficiency now, so those things don't happen much anymore.

Q: How do you like Hollywood?

WF: I don't like the climate, the people, their way of life. Nothing ever happens and then one morning you wake up and find that you are 65. I prefer Florida.

Q: On your walking trip through Europe how did you find everything?

WF: At that time the French were impoverished, the Germans naturally servile, I didn't find too much.

Q: Did your perspective change after travel to Europe and to other places?

WF: No. When you are young you are sensitive but don't know it. Later you seem to know it. A wider view is not caused by what you have seen but by war itself. Some can survive anything and get something good out of it, but the masses get no good from war. War is a dreadful price to pay for experience. About the only good coming from war is that it does allow men to be freer with womenfolks without being blacklisted for it.

Q: What effect did the R.C.A.F. have on you?

WF: I like to believe I was tough enough that it didn't hurt me too much. It didn't help much. I hope I have lived down the harm it did me.

Q: Which World War do you think was tougher?

WF: Last war we lived in constant fear of the thing catching on fire. We didn't have to watch all those instruments and dials. All we did was pray the place didn't burn up. We didn't have parachutes. Not much choice. World War II must have been tougher.

Q: Is association (such as a boarding house) good or bad as a background for writing?

WF: Neither good nor bad. You might store the facts in mind for future reference in case you ever want to write about a boarding house.

Q: How much should one notice printed criticism?

WF: It is best not to pay too much attention to a printed criticism. It is a trade tool for making money. A few critics are sound and worth reading, but not many.

Q: Whom do you consider the five most important contemporary writers?

WF: 1. Thomas Wolfe. 2. Dos Passos. 3. Ernest Hemingway. 4. Willa Cather. 5. John Steinbeck.

Q: If you don't think it too personal, how do you rank yourself with contemporary writers?

WF: 1. Thomas Wolfe: he had much courage and wrote as if he didn't have long to live; 2. William Faulkner; 3. Dos Passos; 4. Ernest Hemingway: he has no courage, has never crawled out on a limb. He has never been known to use a word that might cause a reader to check with a dictionary to see if it is properly used. 5. John Steinbeck: at one time I had great hopes for him - now I don't know.

Q: What one obstacle do you consider greatest in writing?

WF: I'm not sure I understand what you mean. What do you want to do? Write something that will sell?

Q: I mean whether the obstacle is internal conflict or external conflict.

WF: Internal conflict is the first obstacle to pass. Satisfy yourself with what you are writing. First be sure you have something to say. Then say it and say it right.

Q: Mr. Faulkner, do you mind our repeating anything we have heard outside of class?

WF: No. It was true yesterday, is true today, and will be true tomorrow.

1947

"Too Late" - Spiritualized (mp3)

"Headin' For The Top Now" - Spiritualized (mp3)

The new album from Spiritualized is entitled Sweet Heart, Sweet Light, and it comes out on April 17th.


Wednesday
Jul272011

In Which Vladimir Nabokov Did Not Care For William Faulkner

Lethal Arrangements

When he answered Vladimir Nabokov's first letter on November 12th of 1940, Edmund Wilson resembled many American intellectuals during the early days of the Cold War: his sympathies lay with the Soviet Union. Since he had never experienced the oppression of the Soviet regime firsthand, Wilson's ideas were necessarily absurd and fantastic. You would think that meeting someone who fled from those restrictions would at least slightly alter his worldview. The fact that this person was Vladimir Nabokov would seem to increase the likeliness of his conversion. Yet some men are more easily captivated by ideas than people, and the ones that drew Edmund Wilson were akin to a virulent disease.

Their relationship, as encapsulated by the letters included here, was direct, honest, and sometimes incendiary. Nabokov was better at taking criticism from people who didn't deserve to empty his bedpan than any writer of his talent. Most geniuses live in the thrall of their dominance - Nabokov had to suspect he was the greatest artist of his generation, but he never behaved that way. He may have felt Wilson misguided, but he tried his best to accommodate an ignorant American socialist who was kind to him and his family and a shitheel to everyone else.

December 24, 1945

Dear Bunny,

There are several reasons why Hamlet, even in the hideous garbled versions current on the stage, should be attractive both to the caviar eater and the groundling:

(1) everybody likes to see a ghost on the stage;

(2) kings and queens are also attractive;

(3) the number and variety of lethal arrangements are unsurpassed and thus most pleasing-

(a) murder by mistake,

(b) poison (in dumb show),

(c) suicide,

(d) bathing and tree climbing casualty,

(e) duel,

(f) again poison-

and other attractions backstage. Incidentally it has never occurred to critics to note that Hamlet does kill the king in the middle of the play; that it turns out to be Polonius does not alter the fact of Hamlet having gone and done it. Anthology of murder.

We somehow hoped that you would come here these days. I am working furiously at my novel (and very anxious to show you a couple of new chapters). I detest Plato, I loathe Lacedaemon and all Perfect States. I weigh 195 pounds.

cordially yours,

V. Nabokov

Wilson had sent some drawings of butterflies to Nabokov, and this letter followed.

March 24, 1946

Dear Bunny,

Many thanks for the lepidoptera: most of them belong to Ebriosus ebruis but there is a good sprinkling of the form vinolentus. At least one seems to be an authentic A. luna seen through a glass (of gin) darkly; the person who drew these insects possessed the following attributes:

1) was not an entomologist;

2) was vaguely aware of the fact that a lepidopteron has four, and not two, wings;

3) in the same vague groping way was more familiar (very comparatively, of course) with moths (Heterocera) than butterflies (Rhopalocera);

4) the latter suggests that at one time he may have spent the month of June (for the luna lurking at the back of his mind occurs only in early summer) in a country-house in New York state; warm dark fluffy nights.

5) He was not a smoker since the empty Regent cigarette box with the sketches would have contained a few crumbs of tobacco if he had been using its contents just before; it had been lying about and he just picked it up. (in margin:) The reasoning here is uh-uh.

6) May have been together with a lady: she lent him the scissors to cut out of the cigarette wrapping paper the specimen of Vino gravis; the scissors were small pointed scissors (because an attempt was made, but not pursued, to cut out one of the months on the paper napkin).

7) There is a faint smudge of lipstick on the lid of the box.

8) He had not been eating when he started to sketch - because the first one (the pseudo luna) was drawn on the paper napkin when it was still folded.

9) He was not a painter but may have been a writer; this is however not suggested by the presence of a fountain pen; quite possibly he borrowed the pen from the lady.

10) The whole thing may have started from a curlicue; but the further development was conscious.

11) There is a cherteniata or diablotins strain in the general aspects of the moths.

12) Was under the impression that a moth's body is all belly: he segmented it from tip to top; this may mean that he believed in the stomach rather more than in the heart: e.g., he would be apt to explain this or that action on material, and not sentimental, grounds.

13) The lady was doing the talking.

Well, Watson, that's about all. I am eagerly looking forward to seeing you! Your book is causing quite a "sensation" among my literary friends here. Neither am I attracted by Marion Bloom's "smellow melons" or Albertine's "bonnes grosses joues", but I gladly follow Rodolphe ("Avancons! Du courage!") as he leads Emma to her golden doom in the bracken. I mean, it was in that purely physiological sense that I criticized your hero's prouesses.

Lovingly yours,

V.

Nabokov had sent along a draft of his dystopian novel to Wilson.

January 30, 1947

Dear Vladimir:

I was rather disappointed in Bend Sinister, about which I had some doubts when I was reading the parts you showed me, and I will give you my opinion, for what it is worth. Other people may very well think otherwise: I know, for example, that Allen Tate is tremendously excited about it - he told me that he considered it "a great book." But I feel that, though it is crammed with good things - brilliant writing and amusing satire - it is not one of your greatest successes. First of all, it seems to me that it suffers from the same weakness as the play about the dictator.

You aren't good at this kind of subject, which involves questions of politics and social change, because you are totally uninterested in these matters and have never taken the trouble to understand them. For you, a dictator like Toad is simply a vulgar and odious person who bullies serious and superior people like Krug. You have no idea why or how the Toad was able to put himself over, or what his revolution implies. And this makes your picture of such happenings rather unsatisfactory. Now don't tell me that the real artist has nothing to do with the issues of politics. An artist may not take politics seriously, but, if he deals with such matters at all, he ought to know what it is all about. Nobody could be more contemplative or cooler or more intent on pure art than Walter Pater, whose Gaston de Latour I have just been reading; but I declare that he has a great deal more insight into the struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism that was raging in the sixteenth century than you have into the conflicts of the twentieth.

I think, too, that your invented country has not served you particularly well. Your strength lies so much in precise observation that, in combining German and Slavic, you have produced something that does not seem real - especially as one has always to compare it with the hideous contemporary reality. Beside the actual Nazi Germany and the actual Stalinist Russia, the adventures of your unfortunate professor have the air of an unpleasant burlesque. I never believed in him much from the beginning, was never moved by the wife and son; but I thought you were going eventually to turn him inside out, take the whole thing apart and show that our ideas of injustice and tragedy were purely subjective or something of the sort. (I'm sorry that you gave up the idea of having your hero confront his maker.) As it is, what you are left with on your hands is a satire on events so terrible they really can't be satirized - because in order to satirize anything you have to make it worse than it is.

Another thing, Bend Sinister is (with the exception of that play) the only thing of yours that has seemed to me to have longueurs. It doesn't move with the Puskinian rapidity that I have always admired in your writing. I know that you have been aiming here at a denser texture of prose than in a thing like Sebastian Knight, and some of the writing is very remarkable, but there are moments,-don't send me an infernal machine! - when I am reminded of Thomas Mann.

You have certainly improved it a lot, though, since the manuscript I saw. I expect to reread it when I get the book and find much that I didn't appreciate. By the way I see that I was wrong in changing the gender of derriere in the proof - for some reason, I always think of it as feminine. One thing I believe I forgot to correct is the girl's saying that the man has "a regular sense of humor." This is impossible. She would have to say either that he had a wonderful sense of humor or that he was a regular card (I don't believe you want regular here at all).

About the New Yorker: I'll take up it with them. Wallace Shawn, not Mrs. White, is the person to talk to about it. The thing to do is for you to write him a letter, and I'll speak to him about it when I call him up again. I think it is a good idea. Hamilton Basso and I now do one review apiece a month, but I still owe them several from my last year's contract, so for awhile things won't look much different,.

Is it Nicholas who is doing the broadcasting? I didn't know he was back from Europe.

Before giving up Henry James, try the long novel called The Princess Casamassima and the first volume of his autobiography, A Small Boy and Others. These represent two departments of his work which you may not yet have sampled.

We are living up here in Wellfleet. The days become rather monotonous, but we are quietly working for civilization. Nina is staying in the house with us till Paul gets back from China. We don't expect to get to New York till sometime late in March. I'm still working on my book about my trip to Europe. By the time it comes out next fall, it will be deliriously out of date.

Yes: I'm completely finished with Laughlin - wrote him long ago, when he asked me to do some favor, telling him what I thought of his practices. I regard it as a calamity that he is bringing out a book of your stories. Do try to have Holt take it over.

I wish that, when you write me, you wouldn't transliterate your Russian, as it is more trouble for me that way. I always have to put it back before I can make out what it is.

Love to Vera. I hope she will forgive me for not liking Professor Krug as well as some of your other creations.

As ever,

EW

Nabokov responds to some of Wilson's corrections on the novel's manuscript, and fires back.

February 9, 1947

Dear Bunny,

Spasibo za pismo i zamechania - sorry, I thought I was giving you little informal lessons of Russian by inserting those Russian words - but apparently my method was wrong.

The point of L'egorgerai-je ou non (To be or not to be) is, of course, the well-known hypothesis that what Hamlet meant by the first words of his soliliquoy was: "Is my killing of the king to be or not to be?"

"Cries on havoc" is correct - it is so in Shakespeare.

"Ghostly apes," etc., is of course not supposed to sound like Shakespeare. The meter is not of his time.

"Lower and belowed" is meant to illustrate a common German mistake ("w" for "v") when printing propaganda in English.

"Recurved" is extensively used in zoological works ("Krug in the larval stage...") Look up, for instance, "ibex" in Webster.

"Froonerism" is a combination of a Freudian lapsus lingui and a spoonerism.

I too had my doubts as to whether you would appreciate the atmosphere of my book, - especially when you praised Malraux. In historical and political matters you are partisan of a certain interpretation which you regard as absolute. This means that we will have many a pleasant tussle and that neither will ever yield a thumb (inch) of terrain (ground).

I am writing another book which, I hope, you will like better.

Vera joins me in sending you our love.

Yours

V.

edmund

In this letter, Nabokov finally responds to Wilson's contentions about his political background.

February 23, 1948

Dear Bunny,

You naively compare my (and the "old Liberals'") attitude towards the Soviet regime (sensu lato) to that of a "ruined and humiliated" American southerner towards the "wicked" North. You must know me and "Russian Liberals" very little if you fail to realize the amusement and contempt with which I regard Russian emigres whose "hatred" of the Bolsheviks is based on a sense of financial loss or class degringolade. It is preposterous (though quite in line with Soviet writings on the subject) to postulate any material interest at the bottom of a Russian Liberal's (or Democrat's or Socialist's) rejection of the Soviet regime.

I really must draw your attention to the fact that my position in regard to Lenin's or Stalin's regime is shared not only by Constitutional Democrats, but also by the Social Revolutionaries and various socialist groupings, and that Russian culture was built by liberal thinkers and writers which I think rather spoils your neat simile of "North and South." To spoil it completely I may add that the rather local and special difference between the North and South is much more comparable to that between first cousins, between say, Hitlerism (Southern race prejudice) and the Soviet regime, than it is to the gap existing between fundamentally different systems of thought (totalitarianism and liberalism).

Incidental but very important: the term "intelligentsia" as used in America (for instance, by Rahv in The Partisan is not used in the same sense as it was used in Russia. Intelligentsia is curiously restricted here to avant-garde writers and artists. In old Russia it also included doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc., as well as people belonging to any class or profession. In fact a typical Russian intelligent would look askance at an avant-garde poet. The main features of the Russian intelligentsia (from Belinsky to Bunakov) were: the spirit of self-sacrifice, intense participation in political causes or political thought, intense sympathy for the underdog of any nationality, fanatical integrity, tragic inability to sink to compromise, true spirit of international responsibility...

But of course people who read Trotsky for information anent Russian culture cannot be expected to know all this. I have also a hunch that general idea that avant-garde literature and art were having a wonderful time under Lenin and Trotsky is mainly due to Eisenstadt films - "montage" - things like that - and great big drops of sweat rolling down rough cheeks. The fact that pre-Revolution Futurists joined the party has also contributed to the kind of (quite false) avant-garde atmosphere which the American intellectual associates with the Bolshevik Revolution.

I do not want to be personal, but here is how I explain your attitude: in the ardent period of life you and the other American intellectuals of the twenties regarded with enthusiasm and sympathy Lenin's regime which seemed to you from afar an exciting fulfillment of your progressive dreams. Quite possibly, had the position been reversed, Russian avant-garde young writers (living, say, in an Americoid Russia) would have regarded the burning of the White House with similar enthusiasm and sympathy. Your concept of pre-Soviet Russia, of her history and social development came to you through a pro-Soviet prism.

When later on (i.e., at a time coinciding with Stalin's ascension) improved information, a more mature judgment and the pressure of inescapable facts dampened your enthusiasm and dried your sympathy, you somehow did not bother to check you preconceived notions in regard to old Russia while, on the other hand, the glamor of Lenin's reign retained for you the emotional iridescence which your optimism, idealism and youth had provided.

What you now see as a change for the worse ("Stalinism") in the regime is really a change for the better in knowledge on your part. The thunderclap of administrative purges woke you up (something that the moans in Solovki or at the Lubianka had not been able to do) since they affected men on whose shoulders St. Lenin's hand had lain. You (or Dos Passos, or Rahv) will mention with horror the names of Ezhov and Yagoda - but what about Urtisky and Dzerzhinsky?

I am now going to state a few things which I think are true and which I don't think you can refute. Under the Tsars (despite the inept and barbarous character of their rule) a freedom-loving Russian had incomparably more possibility and means of expressing himself than at any time during Lenin's and Stalin's regime. He was protected by the law. There were fearless and independent judges in Russia. The Russian sud after the Alexander reforms was a magnificent institution, not only on paper. Periodicals of various tendencies and political parties of all possible kinds, legally or illegally, flourished and all parties were represented in the Dumas. Public opinion was always liberal and progressive.

Under the Soviets, from the very start, the only protection a dissenter could hope for was dependent on government whims, not laws. No parties except the one in power could exist. Your Alymovs are specters bobbing in the wake of a foreign tourist. Bureaucracy, a direct descendant of party discipline, took over immediately. Public opinion disintegrated. The intelligentsia ceased to exist. Any changes that took place between November 1919 and now have been changes in the decor which more or less screens an unchanging black abyss of oppression and terror.

I think I shall eventually polish this letter and publish it somewhere.

Yours,

V

Wilson admired Faulkner's Light in August, telling Nabokov he found it "remarkable." His correspondent could not agree.

November 21, 1948

Dear Bunny,

I have carefully read Faulkner's Light in August, which you so kindly sent me, and it has in no way altered the low (to put it mildly) opinion I have of his work and other (innumerable) books in the same strain. I detest these puffs of stale romanticism, coming all the way up from Marlinksy and V. Hugo - you remember the latter’s horrible combination of starkness and hyperbole - l’homme regardait le giblet, le giblet regardait l’homme.

Faulkner’s beloved romanticism and quite impossible biblical rumblings and “starkness” (which is not starkness at all but skeletonized triteness), and all the rest of the bombast seem to me so offensive that I can only explain his popularity in France by the fact that all her own popular writers (Malraux included) of recent years have also had their fling at l’homme marchait, la nuit etait sombre. The book you sent me is one of the tritest and most tedious examples of a trite and tedious genre. The plot and those extravagant “deep” conversations affect me as bad movies do, or the worst plays and stories of Lenid Adreyev, with whom Faulkner has a kind of fatal affinity.

I imagine that this kind of thing (white trash, velvety Negroes, those bloodhounds out of Uncle Tom’s Cabin melodramas, steadily baying through thousands of swampy books) may be necessary in a social sense, but it is not literature, just as the thousands of stories and novels about downtrodden peasants and fierce ispravniki in Russia, or mystical adventures with the narod (1850-1880), although socially effective and ethically admirable, were not literature. I simply cannot believe that you, with all your knowledge and taste, are not made to squirm by such things as the dialogues between the “positive” characters in Faulkner (and especially those absolutely ghastly italics). Do you not see that despite the difference in landscape, etc., it is essentially Jean Valjean stealing the candlesticks from the good man of God all over again? The villain is definitely Byronic. The book’s pseudo-religious rhythm I simply cannot stand - a phoney gloom which also spoils Mauriac’s work. Has la grace descended upon Faulkner too? Maybe you are just pulling my leg when you advise me to read him, or impotent Henry James or Rev. Eliot?

I am very much looking forward to our Russian book. We ought to plan the volume more definitely.

Sincerely yours

V

November 9, 1949

Dear Bunny,

I did not write you before my book (the autobiographic one) is taking a lot of my time. I was always told that Russian words had only one stress-accent. I am sure I also mentioned in the course of our correspondence that long English words tend to double the accent (though perhaps more so in American speech than in British). I don't see the point of the "-ion" affair, but anyway it is not unlike the change of -ie endings to -'e in corresponding Russian nouns, such as zhelanie to zhelan'e. Ponder this. We shall continue the discussion - of which I seem to be getting the better - when at last I come to you or you to me.

A story about my first love adventure is going to appear soon in the New Yorker, but another piece, on my student days, had to be withdrawn because they wanted me to revise certain passages (that readers might have found offensive or at least surprising) about Lenin and tsarist Russia. It is much the same kind of harmless stuff I once wrote you about Leninism, etc. Sad.

I have still about fifty pages of the book, and my little motor is running sweetly. I am afraid you will not care for the thing but I have to get it off my chest.

Down with Faulkner!

yours,

V


edmund wilson with mary mccarthAlthough they could not come to terms on their appreciation of Faulkner, Wilson attempted to sway Vladimir's opinion on other English language authors in this excerpt from a letter dated May 9, 1950. You can get a pretty specific idea of Wilson's view on women from the following:

(3) I've just been examining the early text of Madame Bovary that was published last year. It is impressive and to me a little surprising to see how Flaubert worked. The most marvellous passages in the finished version are often quite flat in this one, and even rather inept. It is startling to see the distance (in the scene where Charles Bovary, as a boy, looks wistfully out the window at Rouen)... It is as if he first assembled his data and then at a given point turned on the music and magic. I am especially interested in this because it is more or less my own method. You, I imagine, are more likely to start with the words themselves.

(4) You are mistaken about Jane Austen. I think you ought to read Mansfield Park. Her greatness is due precisely to the fact that her attitude towards her work is like that of a man, that is, of an artist, and quite unlike that of the typical woman novelist, who exploits her feminine day-dreams. Jane Austen approaches her material in a very objective way. Each of her books is a study of a different type of woman, whom Jane Austen can see all around. She wants, not to express her longings, but to make something perfect that will stand. She is, in my opinion, one of the half-dozen greatest English writers (the others being Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Keats and Dickens). Stevenson is second-rate. I don't know why you admire him so much - though he has done some rather fine short stories. I tried reading to Henry and Reuel a couple of summers ago one of the only books of Stevenson I had ever liked, The New Arabian Nights, but completely failed to interest them in it. It surprised me to find that these stories were the thinnest kind of verbalizing and that the characters had not even a fairy-tale existence. Sherlock Holmes, which we had just been reading and which was partly derived from The New Arabian Nights, seems a solid creation besides them. I didn't like Treasure Island even as a child.

EW

You can find more of Vladimir Nabokov on This Recording here.

"Redemption (ft. Robert Owens)" - Icicle (mp3)

"Nausea" - Icicle (mp3)

"Dreadnought (ft. SPMC)" - Icicle (mp3)

"Step Forward (ft. Robert Owens)" - Icicle (mp3)

Summer Reading

from Dayna Evans

from Kara VanderBijl

from Jane Hu

from Andrew Zornoza

from Barbara Galletly

from Dick Cheney

from Karina Wolf

from Alex Carnevale

Tuesday
Nov162010

In Which You Have No Idea What They've Endured

Tell Me How Long James Baldwin's Been Gone

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Before James Baldwin made his first ever trip to the American south in 1957, the Harlem-bred prodigy flew to Washington D.C. to talk to the poet Sterling A. Brown. Where Baldwin's work continues to be read in schools and to a certain extent by the general public, Brown's distinguished career is relatively anonymous outside of appreciators of the master poet.

Before reporting on the civil rights conflict for Partisan Review in an article that would be called "Nobody Knows My Name," Baldwin got a rough guide from his mentor on what to expect in his first destination, Charlotte, North Carolina. Brown reminded Baldwin that blacks in the South might resent or fear him, and in David Leeming's biography of Baldwin, he quotes Brown as telling Baldwin "to remember that Southern Negroes had endured things I could not imagine."

cooking in 1966 in istanbul
It is strange to think of Baldwin alive in the world today, walking around in the world he made instead of the one in which he was made. Born in August of 1924, Baldwin's early life in Harlem would later be chronicled in one of the great first novels ever written, Go Tell It On The Mountain. The ostensible subject was Baldwin's domineering reverend stepfather, but the book was to a greater extent Baldwin's declaration of himself as the ultimate outsider.

Initially titled Crying Holy, Mountain established Baldwin's reputation as an emerging talent in world literature. Written in Paris during the first of Baldwin's exiles, the book is almost incomprehensible to young people today, and it was only assigned reading in my ninth grade class because by the grace of God my English teacher never shaved her armpits and told me that referring to Macbeth as being "whipped" was both sexist and inappropriate. Baldwin himself was quickly identified as a gifted student, and he attended high school at De Witt, the legendary Bronx school, after a recommendation by early mentor Countee Cullen.

with engin cezzar in istanbul 1965
At De Witt, Baldwin's classmates included the likes of Richard Avedon, Sol Stein, and Emile Capouya. Still living in Harlem with his family, Baldwin developed a second community, mostly composed of Jews, where he felt at home. This was a crucial step for the young writer, who was for the first time investigating his sexuality. Although he was very gay, Baldwin had relationships with women throughout his life, the vast majority of which consisting of mothering and unwavering financial support.

with biographer David Leeming (glasses) and othersBecause of his fearsome stepfather, though, the men in Baldwin's young life loomed large. His friends were numerous and bold-faced: Marlon Brando once paid Baldwin's way back to American after an aborted attempt to go stay in Tangiers with Paul Bowles. His connections with the major names in black literature were more fractured. He would resolve to work harder than his predecessors on relationships with the next generation of writers. As Toni Morrison once put it in a remembrance of her friend:

I suppose that is why I was always a bit better behaved around you, smarter, more capable, wanting to be worth the love you lavished, and wanting to be steady enough to witness the pain you had witnessed and were tough enough to bear while it broke your heart, wanting to be generous enough to join your smile with one of my own, and reckless enough to jump on in that laugh you laughed. Because our joy and our laughter were not only all right, they were necessary.

By the time Baldwin was ready for the first trip to the south, he had already felt the lax racism of Paris, where many African-American expats went to gather, including Baldwin's major nemesis/foreunner, the novelist Richard Wright. Baldwin's third piece in the fledgling journal Commentary was an attack on Wright called "Everybody's Protest Novel." The two argued about writing for the expediency of a political cause, and Baldwin ended up feeling uncomfortable under Wright's gaze.

embracing Lena HorneWhen he had first arrived in Paris sometime after his 24th birthday, his welcoming party had included Wright and Jean Paul-Sartre. Returning there later in life, he saw Paris as an escape from the literary culture, and perhaps more importantly an escape from America, where he could be James instead of standing in for someone's idea of him. Still, he did not always find Paris as welcoming as he had hoped, although he once said that at the time, he never intended to return to America.

The publication of two of his essays on the subject of race, collected in The Fire Next Time, thrust Baldwin into a very public position while he toured the country. These broadsides had run in consecutive issues of The New Yorker, and Baldwin appeared on the cover of Time in 1963.

In one sense, this represented a kind of progress, a shifting of the debate. It was also a double-edged sword, as Baldwin deftly noted in the introduction to his collected essays:

But it is part of the business of the writeras I see it to examine attitudes, to go beneath the surface, to tap the source. From this point of view the Negro problem is nearly inaccessible. It is not only written about so widely; it is written about so badly. It is quite possible to say that the price a Negro pays for becoming articulate is to find himself, at length, with nothing to be articulate about. ("You taught me language," says Caliban to Prospero, "and my profit on't is I know how to curse.") ... Nevertheless, social affairs are not generally speaking the writer's prime concern, whether they ought to be or not; it is absolutely necessary that he establish between himself and these affairs a distance which will allow, at least, for clarity, so that before he can look forward in any meaningful sense, he must first be allowed to take a long look back. In the context of the Negro problem neither whites nor blacks, for excellent reasons of their own, have the faintest desire to look back; but I think that the past is all that makes the present coherent, and further, that the past will remain horrible for exactly as long as we refuse to assess it honestly.

Baldwin was the man of his family now, the world traveler. He feuded with William Faulkner over Faulkner's declaration that he would fight in the street with his racist friends if it came to it. Faulkner's advice to the civil rights movement was to "go slow." Baldwin responded in his essay "Faulkner and Desegregation" by quoting Thurgood Marshall's comment that "They don't mean 'go slow.' They mean 'don't go.'"

This is a world we cannot recognize, and Baldwin actually had to answer for why he wanted equal rights so badly! He concluded his appraisal of the Mississippian by writing "There is never a time in the future when we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment, the time is always now."

James Baldwin, Joan Baez, and James Forman (left to right) enter Montgomery, Alabama on the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights, 1965.He did so, obligingly, definitively, eventually impatiently. He rememberd Sterling Brown's advice, and his work about race was usually addressed to whites, aiming to convince them delicately, forcing them to convince themselves, really. For his style and manner he was sometimes reproached by his peers, including Malcolm X, who represented at least something of the religious officiousness that Baldwin had rejected in his youth. All that time he told us how difficult it was to want be a part of something he was convinced with absolute certainty could never be.

Faulkner refused an invitation to the White House that would have put him and Baldwin in the same room. He was of an ilk of white man whose objection to other people's objections was that they made it all about race. This is not to say something about Faulkner, but ourselves. Even now, when someone argues that an issue has eclipsed race, we can hear Faulkner's words to American blacks in theirs, and know it for a lie.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He last wrote in these pages on the letters of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. He tumbls here and twitters here.

digg delicious reddit stumble facebook twitter subscribe

with the painter beauford delaney"Peepsie" - Dntel (mp3)

"Flares" - Dntel (mp3)

"Soft Alarm" - Dntel (mp3)