Is the Writer’s Only Responsibility to His Art?

by ThisIsShe|Mags


Each week in Bookends, two writers take on questions about the world of books. Faulkner said, “The writer’s only responsibility is to his art.” This week, Zoë Heller and Francine Prose discuss the obligations of artists.

By Zoë Heller

The belief that artists are entitled to be morally careless has proved to be one of the more tenacious parts of our Romantic inheritance.


Zoë Heller Credit Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson

Faulkner seemed to rather relish being horrid in the name of art. “If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate,” he told The Paris Review in 1956. “The ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.” There’s something a little posturing about the epigrammatic cruelty of this remark, but the evidence suggests that Faulkner practiced the mercilessness he preached. When his 12-year-old daughter once asked him to postpone one of his alcoholic binges until after her birthday celebrations, he famously refused, telling her, “No one remembers Shakespeare’s children.”