It's also the birthday of a later and (to my taste) more admirable American writer, John Gardner (1933). Sunlight Dialogues could name this blog too. I recall reading his novel Mickelsson's Ghosts early in grad school because it was rumored (probably falsely) to be modeled on one of my new teachers, an eccentric distinguished philosopher. Most philosophers don't believe in ghosts, but this one (the fictional character and his alleged template) did. And does, so far as I know. I believe in human spirits too; but mine are alive in the natural world.
Gardner's Art of Fiction made me want to write a novel myself. Still do. He wrote, possibly with Hemingway in mind:
To write with taste, in the highest sense, is to write [...] so that no one commits suicide, no one despairs; to write [...] so that people understand, sympathize, see the universality of pain, and feel strengthened, if not directly encouraged to live on.And,
Fiction does not spring into the world fully grown, like Athena. It is the process of writing and rewriting that makes a fiction original, if not profound.Gardner's On Moral Fiction took a hard line against art for art's sake:
In a world where nearly everything that passes for art is tinny and commercial and often, in addition, hollow and academic, I argue--by reason and by banging the table--for an old-fashioned view of what art is and does...It confronts despair and emboldens the reader to get up and face the sun another day. In fairness, lots of ultimately-suicidal writers (like Papa Hemingway) did that too, before despair got the better of them. We all have to take life one day at a time.
Gardner was not a fan of Faulkner, as he made clear in an interview with Paris Review, but his stance towards the moral function of art reminds me of Faulkner's nobel speech:
I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. 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 poet’s, 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.In other words, humankind: don't quit.