William Faulkner on human noses, moral conscience, and motion

Human skull and brain image with Charles Darwin quotation from The Descent of Man

Human skull and brain image with Charles Darwin quotation from The Descent of Man.
Image credit: The Moral Mind: A study of what it is to be human


Critics claim that blood relationships are central in your novels.


That is an opinion and, as I have said, I don’t read critics. I doubt that a man trying to write about people is any more interested in blood relationships than in the shape of their noses, unless they are necessary to help the story move. If the writer concentrates on what he does need to be interested in, which is the truth and the human heart, he won’t have much time left for anything else, such as ideas and facts like the shape of noses or blood relationships, since in my opinion ideas and facts have very little connection with truth.


Critics also suggest that your characters never consciously choose between good and evil.


Life is not interested in good and evil. Don Quixote was constantly choosing between good and evil, but then he was choosing in his dream state. He was mad. He entered reality only when he was so busy trying to cope with people that he had no time to distinguish between good and evil. Since people exist only in life, they must devote their time simply to being alive. Life is motion, and motion is concerned with what makes man move—which is ambition, power, pleasure. What time a man can devote to morality, he must take by force from the motion of which he is a part. He is compelled to make choices between good and evil sooner or later, because moral conscience demands that from him in order that he can live with himself tomorrow. His moral conscience is the curse he had to accept from the gods in order to gain from them the right to dream.


Could you explain more what you mean by motion in relation to the artist?


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 in his interview with Jean Stein titled “The Art of Fiction” (New York: 1956). Available in The Paris Review Interviews, edited by Philip Gourevitch, Volume 2, (New York: Picador, 2007), p. 53. Cited in part by plera in private email correspondence.

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"Critics claim that blood relationships are central in your novels"
William Faulkner Posted on behalf of on Sunday, May 30th, 2010 under Quotations.

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