The title of this entry is a quote from William Faulkner. Like the statements Faulkner made when accepting his Nobel Prize, this statement has much truth to it. After all, Shakespeare is considered the world’s greatest writer because his writing plumbed the depths of human experience better than any writer before or since.
But is this what Faulkner was referring to when he said the above quote? Clues come from the aforementioned Nobel Prize acceptance speech. In brief, remembering all that makes us human makes us humanists. And yet in the speech, Faulkner highlighted mankind’s best attributes, saying it is not enough to write about mankind’s worst attributes only. If mankind (and womankind) is to prevail, writers must remind their readers of all the good that is within them.
Think of the last great movie that you saw and see if any of the universal truths that Faulkner highlighted are found within. You should find at least one. If you don’t, I’d recommend watching different movies. Great books, great movies, great paintings–they all include universal truths that speak to the better parts of our natures. That is not to say that one cannot write about or enjoy reading or seeing or hearing about the darker aspects of humanity, but it cannot be all dark, or we shall not care what the outcome is. Even in the dark Japanese movie Sansho the Bailiff, the struggles and hardships that the main family endures would mean nothing if none of the universal truths that Faulkner mentioned–“love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice”–were not displayed by that long-suffering family, if they forgot their humanity in the face of their hardships. One of them almost does, but his sister–through her love and sacrifice–makes him remember.
One of the problems I find with much of the fiction written today is its dark view of humanity. The characters endure, but they do not prevail. The encroaching darkness has become darker, the struggles have become more pointless, and while these writers know that “the human heart in conflict with itself…alone can make good writing,” too many of these conflicts seem to succumb to outside forces beyond the control of their characters. Is not one of the writer’s jobs to shine some light in the darkness? Is it not to ignore the fear that may grip the real world, and detail how the world can once again find itself? I feel this is what Faulkner meant when he closed his speech with these words:
“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.”