Sunday 24 June 2012

A Writer's Privilege

We, as writers, have the power to change our world for the better. I pin my colours to the mast in my blog biography, when I explain why I write:

I write because I believe that words have great power: they can bring comfort, joy and hope. They can reveal secrets and lies. And, while they may not change the world, they can - at their best - change people's lives, even if only for a moment.

I've long made it clear that I believe writers must use their creative gifts with thought and care for the impact those words have on the world they are released into. 

 Elaine Scarry discusses the ethical power of literature in her brilliant Boston Review article "Injury and the Ethics of Reading"

And I've had a lot to say about the power of words in the following articles:

The Prerogative of the Harlot

What responsibility does a writer have?

Why are movies so depressing these days?

If I've said so much about it, why am I repeating myself?

A while ago I came across a blog (can't remember where, sorry!), which had a link to the great William Faulkner's Nobel Banquet Speech in 1949. Today I was tidying out my desk drawers and found the printed speech. I wept at the beauty of the words. And I realised that, all those years ago, Faulkner put into the most beautiful words what I've been struggling to say for years (that's why he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, I suppose!) 

 The whole speech on the Nobel Prize website is worth reading, but here are my favourite excerpts:

"... 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 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.
... 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 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."
I rest my case.  And I'll continue to strive to write stories that, I hope, uplift and inspire people to change their inner worlds and, through that sea change, make the external world a better place.


Yvonne Osborne said...

Thanks for sharing the Faulkner speech. I strive to write about things worthwhile...the agony and the sweat, and, yes, the constant conflict within the human heart. He was a genius when it came to command of language, and I think you.

Judith Mercado said...

WF's words are gorgeous. My book discussion group will be reading his Absalom, Absalom book so they are timely for my research. I too will continue to write my stories, though if truth be told I can't help but write my stories. What the world does with them is another matter.

Davin Malasarn said...

This is beautiful. Thanks for putting them up, Judy. I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about what I want to say instead of what I want to write. It feels like the hardest work I have done in a long time.

city said...

nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

YVONNE: Yes, Faulkner’s genius shines through in this speech! Makes me feel quite humble, but also inspires me to, like you, continue writing about the gritty conflicts that so often drive us humans.

JUDITH: So true! And so important that we write what we must write and just accept that what the world does with them is not always what we hope for.

DAVIN: The struggle between what one wants to write and what one needs to say is hard … I went through it with my romance writing (I really wanted to write romances, but what I needed to write was completely out the box.) The good news is that once I’d made that leap between want/need I’m happier in my writing than I ever was before (even if I had to change and compromise a lot of goals I’d set myself, e.g. I said I’d never self publish, and look at me now – thriving on it!) :) Good luck with your struggle; you’re such a talented writer on so many levels, I hope you find your true writing path very soon!

A Cuban In London said...

Many thanks for sharing the Faulkner speech. I'd never read it before and I can see why it inspired you to write the way you do.

I agree with you. Writers cannot change the world, but they can change a person, who happens to be part of the world.

Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

CITY: I found your comment under "spam" :( Glad you enjoyed the post.

CUBAN: Every time I read it I'm left gasping it's so marvellous! :) Hope you're not too wet from all the rain you're having!!

Ann Summerville said...

Thanks for posting this. Words are powerful indeed.

Misha Gerrick said...

I must say that I only partly agree with him.

Yes I believe writing can be a prop, but only if it's written in a way that doesn't preach. And yes, perhaps it's true that some modern writers seem to write from the glands, but that doesn't give anyone the right to try and silence their voices.

The way I see it, most people write from their hearts and whether we experience that depends on our backgrounds and frames of reference. Somewhere there might be a person who loves and cherishes that exact book that I may despise.

And the fact remains, that regardless of what anyone says, every writer has to be loyal to their own hearts and voices first before trying to please others.

Anyway, I guess this comment veers quite a distance away from what you intended to say, so I'm going to stop writing.

If memory serves, the previous comment I made here was to a similar effect and we disagreed then. Looks like that will continue. :-P

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Judy .. certainly we can see so much lack of any thought about anything now-a-days .. I'm not sure where we're going - but I sure hope understanding about others, compassion, care, love from the heart, sacrifice and endurance can be kept a part of our whole self ... it's Mandela's birthday tomorrow - I wonder what words of wisdom will ring out ..

With thoughts - cheers Hilary

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

ANN: Words are so powerful and, because we as writers live and breathe words, sometimes it’s too easy to forget their power and we don’t think of the consequences or effect those words have.

MISHA: Haha! Yes, we did disagree on the same matter previously but, in the spirit of the great French philosopher Voltaire, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” So, thanks for adding an alternative view to the conversation!

HILARY: Hard to believe Tata Mandela was 94 years old on the 18/7. He’s amazing. And here’s why:

“It is never my custom to use words lightly. If twenty-seven years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.” Nelson Mandela in the closing address at the XIII International Aids Conference, July 2000.

Such a great and wise man! I think we can only be whole when we use the strength of our words with kindness and compassion and thought of the impact they will have.