Society & Culture

Faulkner in Japan: The “American Century”

In August of 1955, William Faulkner traveled to Japan.  Based in the out-of-the-way mountain province of Nagano—which, until the 1998 Winter Olympics, enjoyed a benign anonymity in perfect proportion to its relative unimportance in world affairs—Faulkner lectured and temple-toured for two weeks, doing the bidding of the U.S. State Department, which had sponsored his trip.  Capitalizing on Faulkner’s sudden fame following on his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949 and his Pulitzer Prize in 1954 was surely part of the arrangement.  Selling the idea of liberal democracy, bedizened as it was with awards and prizes and Great Novels and the like, to a country that had recently and repeatedly been humiliated into swallowing it, was certainly the end goal of the exercise.  (Lest there be any doubt that democracy was the real hero of this morality play, Faulkner’s sole literary companion on the Far East sojourn was Gay Wilson Allen, who had just written a biography of Walt Whitman on the occasion of the centennial of Leaves of Grass.)

A year later, in July 1956, Kenkyusha Press of Tokyo published, in English, a record of Faulkner’s Nagano sojourn.  Both the book and the visit are now largely forgotten.  Looking through the former, it is easy to understand why.  Perhaps Faulkner was working, marionette-like, from a State Department script.  Perhaps he was merely as...

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