Literary endurance

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. (William Faulkner, Nobel Prize Speech) According to this quote by Faulkner, immortality is defined by endurance. Faulkner is speaking about a human death, but insists that an author’s immortality is his literary endurance.

As an author, the challenge of death is not physical endurance, but the strength of his literary works. The modernist author is faced with a constant fear of literary death on two levels, a loss of voice and a loss of capacity. The literary loss of voice is a test of the strength of an author’s existing works. The literary loss of capacity is the author’s inability to produce future works. In death there is an implied impotence. The fear is the end of their literary career, and becoming nothing more than a memory. This fear of the death of the author’s literary voice is seen in Hollow Men.

Eliot alludes to a literary death of voice in his description of the dead, or of “The Hollow Men”. Eliot refers to the dead as having “dried voices. ” Eliot’s completed works hopefully would have been significant enough for history to remember him. However, in death, Eliot would also experience a literary loss of capacity to create future works. As one of the Hollow Men, Eliot would become “empty”, devoid of new material (Eliot, The Hollow Men). He would be “sightless,” unable to express what he sees (Eliot, The Hollow Man).

Similar to a feeble dying person who no longer can do the same things that they used to do, an author is portrayed as helpless in death. Eliot may have feared losing his brilliance and analytical abilities. This can be summarized in Eliot’s expressed discouragement that life ends in a “whimper” (Eliot, The Hollow Men). Death is implied as the loss of glory. “I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker…and in short, I was afraid” (Eliot, Love Song of ). Death is the loss of one’s greatness. In death, humans can’t carry over their material achievements.

Immortality is to retain greatness, even in death. Faulkner describes immortality as an “inexhaustible voice, still talking,” or rather the completed literary works of the author (William Faulkner, Nobel Prize Speech, Stockholm, 1950). The modernist author suggests that there is no life after death, but an eternal emptiness. However, this eternal emptiness is filled with unfulfilled, unfinished desires. This is because the author does not want to give up his greatness. He is defined by his literary accomplishments and can not find a new identity in his new world.

In The Far and The Near, old age is equated to a loss of hope. If old age is a loss of hope, then death is predicted to be dismal. In The Far and The Near, the old man associates the women in the white house with hope. He implies that this hope was something “beautiful and enduring, something beyond all change and ruin, and something that would always be the same” (Wolfe, The Far and the Near). It seems that the author fears change because it eventually means that he will get old and die, physically, intellectually, and worst of all on a literary level.