Monday, 10 January 2011

William Faulkner, his Pen, his Ink, his Pencil


Maybe stop being careful, stop being organized. Maybe follow your stream of consciousness, perhaps that’s the key. Maybe do it like Faulkner. William Faulkner who in October 21, 1918 announced to his mother “I have a fountain pen now” and then went on to fill it (or some other similar) with blue ink, then green ink, then black ink – without carefully cleaning the writing instrument before refilling – just went on refilling and writing on – so that the archivist who looked at the manuscript of Absalom Absalom! would delight that “the color of the ink shifts gradually as the fountain pen was filled with blue, then green, then black ink. The subtle shifts in colors, the colors of the pasted fragments and the crossed out and reworked  pagination allow one to speculate on the chronology of the manuscript. Faulkner’s struggle with certain passages is evident.” Yes. Fill my fountain pen with an array of inks one following another and see where this gets me. Let others determine my chronology and my struggles from the colour of my ink. And then write on the wall. With a pencil. And then declare like Faulkner “I’ve got to feel the pencil and see the words at the end of the pencil.” And then write so small and so illegible that like Faulkner I will have to type my work – often 13 hours’ worth – at the end of the day. Switching then to a typewriter, wear it down (like Faulkner) and use another and then another – an Underwood Universal Portable, a Champion, a Noiseless, a Junior. And then with a pencil (like William Faulkner) write the outline of a novel (like Faulkner with a graphite pencil and a red grease pencil) on my wall.

After Faulkner has finished writing “A Fable” his wife had the wall repainted over the outline. Using photographs as guide, Beverly Lowry writes in NY Times, the outraged writer redid it and afterward, shellacked the wall for permanence and posterity.


Thinking of Home: William Faulkner's Letters to his Mother and Father, 1918-1925, W.W.Norton & Co. 2000; Karen Pavelka, "Treating Manuscripts from the William Faulkner Collection", The Book and Paper Group Annual, vol. 13, 1994; Robert Hendrickson, American Literary Episodes, New York 1990.


PS. Faulkner has bought a fountain pen for his dad. It has been suggested by Pendemonium that at the price of $7.50 it might have been a Parker Duofold.

1 comment:

  1. Oh to be a letterman. Wait, that's not quite right. Oh to be a man of letters scraping away the layers to reveal the hidden depths below.

    Thought begets thought. Is not "feeling the pencil" what all accomplished writers do? Faulkner's throwaway is blogger's gold. "Feeling The Pencil" is almost as good a name for a literary blog as "Palimpsest".

    Yet another delightful nugget from Palimpsest!

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