RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #24

Favorite Conversations

From: William Faulkner’s Mosquitoes

“Well, it is a kind of sterility — Words,” Fairchild admitted. “You begin to substitute words for things and deeds, like the withered cuckold husband that took the Decameron to bed with him every night, and pretty soon the thing or the deed becomes just a kind of shadow of a certain sound you make by shaping your mouth a certain way. But you have a confusion, too. I don’t claim that words have life in themselves. But words brought into a happy conjunction produce something that lives, just as soil and climate and an acorn in proper conjunction will produce a tree. Words are like acorns, you know. Every one of ’em won’t make a tree, but if you just have enough of ’em, you’re bound to get a tree sooner or later.”

“If you just talk long enough, you’re bound to say the right thing someday. Is that what you mean?” the Semitic man asked.

“Let me show you what I mean.” Fairchild reached again for the book.

“For heaven’s sake,” the other exclaimed, “let us have this one drink in peace. We’ll admit your contention, if that’s what you want. Isn’t that what you say, Major?”

“No, really,” Major Ayers protested, “I enjoyed the book. Though I rather lost the habit of reading at Sa — ”

“I like the book myself,” Mark Frost said. “My only criticism is that it got published.”

“You can’t avoid that,” Fairchild told him. “It’s inevitable; it happens to everyone who will take the risk of writing down a thousand coherent consecutive words.”

“And sooner than that,” the Semitic man added, “if you’ve murdered your husband or won a golf championship.”

“Yes,” Fairchild agreed. “Cold print. Your stuff looks so different in cold print. It lends a kind of impersonal authority even to stupidity.”

“That’s backward,” the other said. “Stupidity lends a kind of impersonal authority even to cold print.”

Fairchild stared at him. “Say, what did you just tell me about contradicting myself ?”

“I can afford to,” the other answered. “I never authenticate mine.” He drained his glass. “But as for art and artists, I prefer artists: I don’t even object to paying my pro-rata to feed them, so long as I am not compelled to listen to them.”

“It seems to me,” Fairchild rejoined, “that you spend a lot of time listening to them, for a man who professes to dislike it and who don’t have to.”

“That’s because I’d have to listen to somebody — artist or shoe clerk. And the artist is more entertaining because he knows less about what he is trying to do. . . And besides, I talk a little, myself.”


There are several of my favorite lines about writing and writers, “artists” in general, in this work from 1927. Quotes more applicable to today’s explosion of stylistic and “voice” sausage in the cavalcade of self-published casseroles that almost read like writing. A number of conversations in this work are textbook examples of how characters can have opinions and preach for the author’s POV without “preaching.” We get Faulkner’s take on artists, art groupies and pinball relationships wrapped up in a novel, not standing in front of his soapbox.

Aside – God knows I love to see Grammarly telling me how to correct (sterilize) Faulkner. 


Published by

Phil Huston


11 thoughts on “RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #24”

  1. I didn’t understand half of that, probably not even a quarter and I’m pretty sure I don’t have time to re-read Faulkner whom I abandoned after acing grade 12 and running away as fast and far as I could to return to my life of job and relationships hunting, which be the way went pretty well except I learned that you can keep a job but a relationship? Too much work for the payback. Anyway, by way of comment… I had a good laugh here and that’s good, isn’t it? 😅

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed. I laughed out loud. I mean “I like the book myself,” Mark Frost said. “My only criticism is that it got published.” That’s what I say about most contents of Barnes and Noble, and let’s not go to Amazon…the entire conversation is glorious and funny and spot on so if you laughed it was good. Early Faulkner has more adverbs than Nancy Drew.


  2. > Well, it is a kind of sterility — Words

    Take a wonderful, personal moment and weld, bolt and screw it into a set of words—loses something.

    Campfire stories were our first filtered virtual reality. Could you really experience what Grunk felt when he stabbed that woolly rhino? When it gored him in the thigh? What its liver tasted like raw as he plucked it from the offal and gorged on it?

    An equivalent is impossible, however, a facsimile through imagination may be even better—sans risk, all reward.


    1. There’s a line a mentor in one of my waiting for the final turd polish books uses. I even found it – god bless Scrivener. About that point you just made.

      “What’s so funny, Punkass?”

      “Now I can tell everybody I know what dork dude heaven looks like ‘cause I went to Tulsa and played a gig there one time. With a skinny guitar player and a big, crazy black man that made me wear a tux that didn’t fucking fit.”

      “People think you’re lyin’ you tell them that shit, Punkass. Can’t tell folks how it truly is. What we see, what we do. Even who we are. You tell them how pretty the girls were and what fine figures of manhood you and that wise, handsome black man cut in your tailored tuxedos. That they’ll believe. Folks love a good story.”

      “Wise and handsome?”

      “I got wise and handsome just after I thumped your ass for calling me crazy.”

      Liked by 1 person

    1. For me a lot of Pynchon is akin to a bipolar Eco. The reading equivalent of getting dizzy and walking into a wall!
      Grammarly – it pops up to remind me that the first three words of every sentence are an introductory clause, here’s your comma. ANY sentence. I argue with it to keep me on my toes because it does recognize certain kinds of slop. But the comma, algorithm, is, flawed.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I do appreciate this passage. Those are some cool lines by Faulkner. I like how he’d prefer to pay to hear artists and be around them. And maybe like the acorn, he figures if you’re around enough of them, one of the brilliant ones is bound to rub off on you. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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