The Purpose of the Writer Is To Keep Civilization from Destroying Itself

Bernard Malamud? Albert Camus? Harris Wofford? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Having a grand mission to achieve with your life helps to generate a powerful motivational force. Apparently, one scribe asserted that:

The purpose of the writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.

This remark has been credited to the famous existential philosopher Albert Camus and to the prominent novelist and short story writer Bernard Malamud. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In December 1957 Albert Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and while delivering the Banquet speech he made a point that partially matched the quotation under examination. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself.

The above remark was not specifically about writers; instead, Camus referred to his entire generation. More information about his statement is available here. Camus delivered his speech in French.

In September 1958 Bernard Malamud was interviewed by the journalist Joseph Wershba of “The New York Post”, and he delivered a line that exactly matched the statement under investigation: 2

“The purpose of the writer,” says Malamud, “is to keep civilization from destroying itself. But without preachment. Artists, cannot be ministers. As soon as they attempt it, they destroy their artistry.”

Malamud may have heard the comment from Camus before he constructed a similar exhortation particularized to writers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Purpose of the Writer Is To Keep Civilization from Destroying Itself

Notes:

  1. Website: The Nobel Prize, Article title: Albert Camus – Banquet speech, Speech author: Albert Camus, Date of speech: December 10, 1957, Speech location: City Hall in Stockholm, Language: English translation, Website description: Information from The Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. (Accessed nobelprize.org on November 6, 2019) link
  2. 1991, Conversations with Bernard Malamud, Edited by Lawrence M. Lasher, Series: Literary Conversations, Not Horror but Sadness by Joseph Wershba (Article dated September, 14 1958; reprinted from “The New York Post”) Start Page 3, Quote Page 7, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi. (Verified on paper)