Obama man Steven Chu quotes Faulkner


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Yesterday President-elect Barack Obama announced the nominees for his energy and environment team, including Steven Chu for energy secretary. A 60-year-old professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley, Chu is also director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a Nobel Prize winner.

When invited by Obama to say a few words, Chu began as you’d expect: ‘I’m honored to be selected as the nominee for secretary of energy. In the years ahead, the Department of Energy will be a major force in meeting the challenges that the president-elect has described.’ Following a few more words about the future of America’s energy policy, Chu got literary, saying:


On December 10, 1950, William Faulkner spoke at the Nobel banquet in Stockholm. He said, “I believe that man will not merely endure; he will prevail. He is immortal, because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion, and sacrifice, and endurance.”

Faulkner had taken the moment to address the dire question of nuclear proliferation, which has now faded into the background behind immediate threats like terrorism and the long-term challenge of economic uncertainty. But that makes the threat considered by Faulkner no less meaningful. And in contrast to Chu, he saw the answer to the nuclear threat not in science but in literature. This is his closing paragraph, which includes the quote Chu referenced:

It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong 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. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

-- Carolyn Kellogg