In 1962 the cadets at West Point were visited by a strange impresario who turned out to be a well-known writer. He visited several West Point courses in literature and held a press conference afterwards in which he took questions.
Mr. Faulkner, now that you have completed your question-and-answer session with the West Point cadets, what are your impressions?
I am surprused and pleasantly astonished at the things I’ve found that I didn’t expect to find here. I had the layman’s notion this was a stiff, regimented place where robots move to numbers, and I’ve found it’s a little different since I’ve been here this time.
Didn’t you think they seemed very responsive in their questions?
I don’t know whether I had a selected parade of them, but what I have found here was a – well forwardard of what I’ve found at the other schools I have seen. They were in top gear and they knew they would need to be in top gear and they were. I don’t mean racing or running ends, but they were in top gear. In Princeton and Virginia there is something a little sloppy which is not here.
Are you advocating a military background, sir?
I’m inclined to think that a military background wouldn’t hurt anybody.
I am interested in and was surprised by the cadet reaction to your comment, “If a spirit of nationalism gets into literature, it stops being literature.” What made their reaction rather surprising was the fact that their predecessors from this institution, in certain cases, behave as though they think nationalism is a great virtue. Apparently the present student body doesn’t.
Well, they didn’t believe nationalism was a great virtue while they were here. It’s only after they got out that they became Edwin Walkers – years after here.
About the young people today compared to your life when you were a youth, do you feel that there’s any significant difference?
Do you despair of juvenile delinquency?
No. There are just more juveniles than there were in my time; they are not more delinquent.
One of the questions asked was about the younger generation’s feeling of getting blown up and whether that feeling had changed since you commented on it when you made your address on winning the Nobel Prize.
Well, I still feel that people wonder when I’m going to be blown up, but I still think that ain’t very important.
You’ve advised getting down out of the ivory tower and into the marketplace. In moving about the marketplace these days, what distresses you most about contemporary life?
You’ll have to explain that. I don’t know exactly what you mean.
Just generally about contemporary life. Or perhaps what do you despair of most in contemporary life, in moving about the marketplace?
I don’t despair any of it.
What delights you most?
What I like best is fox hunting.
Do you find as a writer who has by all means “arrived” that you read as much as you used to?
What do you read now?
I read the books that I knew and loved when I was twenty-one years old.
Can you tell us some of them?
Yes, I go back to the people, not the books – but the people. I like Sarah Gamp – she’s one of my favorite people – and Don Quixote. I read in and out of the Old Testament every year. Shakespeare – I have a portable Shakespeare I’m never too far from.
Is this a form of criticism of contemporary writers or writing?
No, it’s the glands. The mind has slowed down a little and it don’t like new things. It likes the old things just like the old man wants his old shoes, his old pipe. He don’t want a new one – the new one’s better, he realizes that, but he don’t want. He wants the old one.
And you’re simply not interested in contemporary literature, is that it?
Not enough to keep up with it. When somebody says, “Here’s something you ought to read,” I read it. And quite often it’s good.
Do you think there are any “up and coming” writers?
What do you mean by “up and coming” ones?
Well, are there any good young ones?
I’m sure there are, that they are still writing. They still must be writing, in Russia and behind all the bamboo and iron curtains.
In our country?
I’m sure there are, yes.
Are there any you would recommend?
Not until I’ve read what they write, and I haven’t read a – I can’t think of a contemporary book I have read in the last, well, since Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.
Did you enjoy that?
Yes, it was a good book. It was a tragic story of a young man that tried to enter the human race and every time he tried it, it wasn’t there. It was a very sad and tragic story.
I would like to know who your favorite author is.
Well, that’s a question that really don’t make much sense to a writer, because the writer is not concerned with who wrote, but what he wrote. To me, anyway, the character, the book is the thing, and who wrote it is not important; and the people that I know and love are Don Quixote, and Sarah Gamp and some of Conrad’s people, a lot of Dickens’ people, Balzac’s people, but not Balzac especially because I think some of Balzac’s writing is bad writing. Some of Conrad’s writing is bad writing, but some of Conrad’s people that he created are marvelous and endured.
Was The Reivers something that you had wanted to write for a long time?
Only the story of the human heart in conflict. Until you have written a perfect one and cut your throat, you keep on trying to write that story.
It’s very funny!
I think so too. It’s one of the funniest books I ever read.
Did you have a good time doing it?
Yes, delightful. I wish I hadn’t written it so I could do it again.
Mr. Faulkner, do you especially like the scene where they were caught on the road and had to be pulled out by the two mules?
Do you find that writing gets any easier as time goes on? Your writing?
I can’t answer that question. If you know what you want to say, it’s easy to put it down, so I don’t know how to answer your question. You mean does it get easy to know what to say? No! No easier, no harder. Some days you know exactly what you want to put down, and you put it down – other days you don’t.
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