Department of Psychiatry, tape 2
DATE: 7 May 1958
OCCASION: Department of Psychiatry
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William Faulkner: [...] problem, the old folks will probably have to die off. The tragedy is that right now white people and colored people simply do not like and trust each other.
Unidentified participant: What are the greatest defects that you see in our current education system other than this mediocrity, mass leveling thing [that certainly applies] [...]?
William Faulkner: The level of the school, of the classes, is at the lowest so that—that the—the one at the foot of the class won't be made to feel inferior. And I never could understand why he shouldn't be made to feel inferior since he is.
Unidentified participant: [Along with] this business of conforming, this business of respectability so often comes in. Do you have any particular ideas or opinions on this, particularly in terms of the conflict between being a member of the human race, yes, but also not getting lost in it in terms of the—the super-respectable, should also to some degree [be a] conforming person?
William Faulkner: Yes, you've got to do a certain amount of compromising in order to have room to be free as—who was it said, "Fear God, sir, and the police." That there's simply not room on the earth, and it'd be pretty lonely to be too free. And then, also, you probably wouldn't know what freedom was unless you had some boundaries to it, that—that my freedom must stop where the end of your nose begins. [...] [One's] got to be conscious of that, too, know what the freedom is that he's trying to preserve and fight for.
Unidentified participant: Do you think, at this time, that economic factors are influencing policies about segregation much? Are there largely—the difficulties are largely the results of prejudices—prejudices based on—on other matters, such as the fear of the sexual intermingling?
William Faulkner: I would say that the quarrel was, in the beginning, economic, that in my country anyway, the South, I mean Mississippi, where the agrarian economy was based on the necessity for the cheapest sort of labor, that the—the white man didn't want to lose his Negro peon, really. He dressed it up in all sorts of emotional conditions because the—the poor white man, who was in actual economic conflict with the Negro for the same crop on the same sort of poor land, could respond to that. The white man would see the Negro with—with the same poor land as he, but—and with worse tools, with worse stock, yet would seem to be happier, to make a better living for his family. All that white man had to justify himself was that he was white, so he was better than the Negro, so he—then he wouldn't have to say, "I—I'm a worse farmer than he is." [He'd] say, "That don't matter. I'm better than he is because I'm white." I think that had a great deal to do with it in my country. Apart from that notion of mine that, because of our mutual past the white man and—and the black man simply don't like each other and can't trust each other. Which is a condition—I don't know what to do about that. It would take a psychiatrist or psychologist to eradicate that [one]. [audience laughter].
Unidentified participant: Do you think the white man trusts the white man?
William Faulkner: He will, yes. That's sort of a general—general statement, a general answer. He will distrust the white man for any one of a number of reasons. He—he may have indigestion or he may have had dealings with another white man that looked like him or had the same name, but he will distrust the colored man at once because the colored man has black skin. Not because of his—his trade or profession or his appearance, simply because he has a black skin.
Unidentified participant: Don't you think that this is the rationalization of the person in order to discharge by channeling his hostilities on something?
William Faulkner: Yes, if you grant that that hostility is a—a—an inability to—to trust a man of another race because of the color of his skin.
Unidentified participant: Well, what I mean is that there is not any basic hostility to a Negro, to a colored man, but the only thing is that we are not able to show this hostility, to come out at people, and we can find somebody on whom we can show this hostility because he has a different color. I mean, it's something where people can unify and forget their inter-hostilities in between themselves.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir. People on the West Coast of this country distrust Japanese because they're Japanese. There are other people that distrust Jewish people because they're Jewish. But all white people seem, to me, to distrust Negroes. Not white people on the West Coast to distrust Negroes, but all white people seem to—to distrust Negroes, that they do not like Negroes. It's—there's near as—as I can see without any geographical reason, as the Californian has for not liking Japanese.
Unidentified participant: Do you think this is true of European white person too?
William Faulkner: It seems to be, that they got along with—with Negroes very well until suddenly a lot of Negroes began to appear in—in European countries. I have known Italians and French and Germans. Of course, in the German could have been something of Nazism that still hung on. But any—among all—any white people where there have been enough Negroes to where the Negro was not a—a novelty and a curiosity, I could—think that I could feel that distrust and that dislike.
Unidentified participant: Do you have any idea how this started in the beginning [...]?
Unidentified participant: Do you think it's the influence of our culture?
William Faulkner: I would say, yes, because I don't know people too well of other cultures, if you mean by our culture what we call the Christian culture. I don't know how Russians, Siberians, might feel toward Negroes, if it would be instinctive with them, too. I don't know that. I would think that—that some of it would be because of our culture, yes'm. Certainly that's true in—in my part of the South where part of our culture has been that agrarian economy in which the Negro was inferior because it was necessary that he be either a slave or a peon. It seems to me that in this country, once the Negro was freed of that—the—his condition in that agrarian economy, then the culture, his culture, and the white man's culture don't touch anymore except in the installment plan, automobiles and juke boxes, things like that.
Unidentified participant: Do you feel that this innate—whatever type of dislike for colored people [by] white people, is going to cause a terrific, long lasting struggle, [say] in the South, if the Supreme Court decision is forced on the South in regard to pressure for [ending] segregation?
William Faulkner: It would be a long time. I think that that Supreme Court decision has caused a great deal of—of trouble. It has set back a gradual change of—of the Negroes' condition for the better in the South, but it has not changed it in the long run. In the long run, it was bound to come. The Supreme Court had to make that decision. I would say that within five hundred years the—the Negro race in this country will have disappeared. It will be fifty years before Negroes are permitted in white schools in Mississippi, I would guess, [though]. That would be the last of the states. And that may be because Mississippi is—is last in literacy, or they may go hand-in-hand, anyway.
Unidentified participant: How much effect do you think the exodus of the Negro [...] [will have] on the situation down [...]?
William Faulkner: It's changed a lot, but that's a question like, which was first, the chicken or the egg? We still don't know whether the invention of machines that will do the work which mules and human hands had to do once has caused the Negro to move or whether the Negro leaving the South has brought in the machinery. But if—there's been a definite change. In my county, in the last twelve months, there were thirty six hundred Negroes left for the North. Out of that there will be—usually, ten percent will stay for a year or two and then come back. But they are—the Negro is—is leaving Mississippi, going to the big cities. It—it may be that his—his young people were drafted. They saw something of the city and just liked urban life and are—are going to the big town. Because there were fifteen hundred white people left Lafayette County, too. And they were the ex-soldier that had seen something of the world, of city life, and didn't want to spend the rest of their lives looking at empty fields, feeding mules, and running tractors to raise cotton.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, you're not entirely dispassionate about this problem are you? I mean you show concern as a person about what you might call social problems. As a writer would you be able to divorce yourself entirely from passionate feelings?
William Faulkner: I—I—hope that I'm not dispassionate about it, but I think that a writer had better save all his passion to making credible the human beings which he creates from the observation, the experience, and the imagination, to set into dramatic instances of man's struggle in the condition, to have any left to preach to anyone about segregation or about tolerance or any—anything else. If he does that, he had better stop trying to be a fiction writer and—and be a—an essayist or a propagandist. I'm quite sure that—that—that you can't keep out of—of your work your own opinions and—and convictions about things, but I think the writer has no business dragging in his opinions. He'd better stick to dealing with man in his dilemma, in his predicament, his struggles with the human heart, the—the old verities that he has always had to struggle with, which have—have outlasted the—the changes in culture, economics.
Unidentified participant: But now what we [see] about something depends on how we have had our experience. I mean, I can see to the same thing, you will see different things [and everyone else is] going to see different things. Anything that we use, our imagination, our observation, is just based on our previous experience.
William Faulkner: Surely. It—it won't chase—change the basic fact we look at. I mean by the verities the people that—that—the facts that—that young people fall in love and want to sleep together, that man wants certain things, and he knows if he gets it, the police may get him. He knows that—that the weak should—should be protected by the strong, that he should have com—be capable of compassion, of pity, of courage, of honor. I grant you that—that everyone, in looking at these instances, will see them from a slightly different point of view, with a slightly different illumination on it, but it's basically the same truths which he looks at.
Unidentified participant: Don't you think that these are the basic experiences that the culture gives to us? I mean, to a certain extent we have all the same ideas, to a certain extent, because the culture [has incultured them] to us? If you go to another culture, they won't do the same. They won't feel the same, maybe. The basic areas are going to change, to a certain extent.
William Faulkner: Well, they are ephemeral changes, unless we mean different things by culture. To me, a part of—of our American culture is the pressure of everybody to throw his old car away every year and buy a new one. It's the pressure of—not to read, but to listen to the television, to the radio. That is what I mean by our culture. I don't mean that the—the tradition of—of—of wisdom that we could get from—from solitude or from—from reading books. [Because] if we mean different things by culture then we are at slightly cross purposes.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner—
William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.
Unidentified participant: Do you think we get certain things from reading books? And I'm sure there are certain ways to communicate feelings about things, and I have a feeling, from your books, that you are trying to communicate certain very strong feelings that you have about things. Now you—you don't do them in an obvious, sermonizing way, but I do think that your books, [...] [that come to memory] are, to a certain extent, books which propound certain systems of values. And I don't mean, again, to sound like that—by that [standing on a soap box], but, for instance, the one on—on segregation, [...] [Intruder in the Dust], [...] I think you—you do more than just [sermons]. I think you make certain points about people and [their] values.
William Faulkner: Yes'm. I agree with you, but they are—are coincidental. The writer is too busy writing about people struggling with their own hearts, with others, or with environment, that his own convictions and opinions about injustices come out, but he's not, at that moment, concerned in telling the reader, "This is what I think about injustice or morality." He's simply trying to—to take from his experience and imagination and observation people and make them stand up and assume enough of reality to, you might say, cast a shadow behind them and themselves move, engage in the—in the struggles which have been man's nature ever since he became man, for—for love, for—for pleasure, for money, to be brave, to be honest, as much as he can.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, maybe this sounds like a stupid question, but why does the writer write? Is it just to depict people in action or what they're doing? Why would you be motivated to write if you don't particularly have a point to prove or a sermon to preach? Is it just to put down what you observe and [see how it works out or—]? Could you comment on that?
William Faulkner: Yes. First, you are demon driven. You can't help it. Also, it's fun. It's the one occupation you have found which is fun because you're never bored by it, because you can't do it. There's no such thing as satiety. You never can write the book which you want to write. It will never quite match that dream, so you always have something to get up tomorrow to do. In the last analysis, as I said a while ago, you know that you're here for a specific time, which is comparatively very short, that someday you'll pass through the wall into what you don't know, and you will have left on that wall simply, "Kilroy was here." It's not especially for—for glory nor fame, but to just leave a scratch on it. It's that it was me that made that scratch. It wasn't anybody else but me. Just old Bill Shakespeare or whatever his name is. [audience laughter]
Unidentified participant: [Do you have] any idea where this demon comes from or why some people seem to have it? Others wish they have it or try to convince themselves they do and others don't.
William Faulkner: Well it may be that it's from providence or—or the—the boss of whoever runs things that feels it's necessary to keep a record of—of frail, fragile man's struggle with his dilemma that never has licked him and probably never will. Maybe it's necessary that record be kept, and the painter, the musician, the people that delve into man's mechanisms to find what makes him do and leave a record of it, are all leaving a record of man's successful struggle, not his—not that he prevailed over his dilemma, but that at least he endured it. And, in a sense, he has prevailed because he continues to reproduce and will still endure it, and as I said, the last sound in the dying world will be two folks going somewhere.
Unidentified participant: How old were you when you first were aware of the possession by this devil that you must write?
William Faulkner: Oh, when I got slowed down. As long as I was writing, as I was [hot,] I never had time to think about it. It was fun. But when I got long in years and found that it was—was a chore. It was work to write, and I'd say, "Well, I've done a few books now, so I think I'll quit." I found out that I wasn't going to quit and that I never would quit. And then I decided that it was—[evidently] it was a demon. That it certainly wasn't me, and it certainly wasn't any inclination of mine to keep [going.] I just couldn't quit. It was less trouble to go on and write than to fight the demon off. [audience laughter]
Unidentified participant: How old were you when you first started to—to write, to as a career, as a way of life, to—? Were you in a teens?
William Faulkner: I had always been scribbling, as soon as I learned to spell. I—from what my mother tells me, I was inventing fantastical romances mainly to get out of having to do chores at home before that. But I never became a serious writer until around—I was around twenty-two, three years old. [...]
William Faulkner: [Okay, back to] —
Unidentified participant: What do you think will happen to the—the artisan that you just named a few minutes ago, when our schools become all scientific, when we copy the Russians [for our education]?
William Faulkner: Oh, he—he will—his—with the help of his demon, he will withstand that too. He—he won't go to school if he can help it, but if he's compelled to go to school that won't bother him. Because even a totalitarian government ain't going to make him go to school longer than eight hours a day. That still leaves him sixteen hours to sleep and eat and read Dostoyevsky in. He'll find plenty of time. That won't stop him. Because he's—as I said, he's doing something that's fun. In my opinion, it's the—the most fun of any occupation a man could have, is to take the old shopworn material and try to make something just a little new out of it, with it. Something that wasn't quite here yesterday. Never to do it. Always to spring out of bed the next morning, rubbing your hands, eager to go back to work at it because this time it'll come off. You know it won't, [audience laughter] but it may.
Unidentified participant: It sounds very much like psychotherapy. [audience laughter]
William Faulkner: It probably is [pretty good psychotherapy].
Unidentified participant: [Could you discuss] your feeling about genius and—and the—the artist and maybe—maybe in relative—in relationship to madness? What is a genius?
William Faulkner: Well, I—I think that—that he is a madman, but he's driven by his demon so that he hasn't got time to be a public nuisance with it, [audience laughter] that he has a—has an escape for it, that he concentrate on his piece of marble with his hammer and his chisel or his canvas or his ream of typewriter paper, and he can discharge it so—for the rest of the time he is socially immobilized, and nobody pays any attention to him, that he's very likely insane, too.
Unidentified participant: A lot of our patients are either writers or want to be or artists in one way or another. [And are coming] really pretty close sometimes to being good. [It often puzzles me as to] why, or what is the difference, as far as some don't quite gel and others do?
William Faulkner: Probably that's why they become your patients. They—they couldn't quite gel and couldn't bear it, that others couldn't quite gel, and they—their frustration is channeled into some harmless condition.
Unidentified participant: Or is it, sir, the tension that some have—have been [in is] so big that they are completely disorganized in their activities, and others who have been under pressure and have some good parts in themselves, and then they reproduce that and can develop these ideas in order to give them more security in their work or in their capacity. I mean they—I do believe that genius don't grow in a family where the [equilibrium is very good]. I mean they—they are under pressure themselves, and they feel unhappy. They feel bad, and they have to develop certain things that are going to make them feel more comfortable, have some fun, and get something out of their lives. I have seen a lot of people that have—were very brilliant, but they were in a class, for example, where they had not to spend too much time, and they have been becoming lazy, and they didn't work, because they were able to do—to produce very easily, and when there was something that had to be done with difficulty, they never produce anymore. But I have seen people that have been under pressure, and they—they spend a lot of time, and they—they are a real genius. I have seen people that were under pressure, in very difficult situations, that have become genius, and people that have had a very easy life never have produced anything.
William Faulkner: I can't say. Of course, you would know more—better than I because you would have had a wider range of observation than I. I would make a—one simple, more or less hard and fast rule. If you have a first rate demon, then he's going to take care of everything else for you. [audience laughter]
Unidentified participant: Does that mean that you place little emphasis on craft and such things as revision and—
William Faulkner: Oh, sure. There's always somebody will correct the grammar and punctuate it for you. [audience laughter] You don't need to worry about style. Get it down on paper is all you need to do.
Unidentified participant: [I think all the—I think] [...] What Doctor [Neigrims] was saying, he feels stress and unfortunate situations are necessary for genius. Do you think that's so?
William Faulkner: No, sir, I don't think so, but then Doctor [Neigrims] had a wider range to observe than me, that he's interested in—in people as people. I'm interested in people as material, you might say, that I really don't—don't give a damn about that—
Unidentified participant: Did you have a very hard and unfortunate life?
William Faulkner: No, sir. As far as I know, I had a good life. I had—had a very pleasant one.
Unidentified participant: You don't think your reactions are in—in response to stress?
William Faulkner: No, sir. I think that the demon lit on my shoulders— [audience laughter] I don't know where he came from or why he picked on me. That's the only explanation I have. It—it may be that—that I took up writing as a—what do you call it—a protest to being—against being small and insignificant, that I wanted to be big and brave and handsome and rich. It could be that. I don't know. [audience laughter]
Unidentified participant: What was the [actions] of your family all along [...]?
William Faulkner: Well, my father thought that the oldest son ought to go to work and be ready to take over the family when his time came, and I wanted to be a tramp, and we never did see eye to eye on that, but I got along all right with it.
Moderator: [Mr. Faulkner, we certainly thank you.]
William Faulkner: Well, thank you all.
Moderator: We enjoyed it [tremendously].
[end of recording]