Why Colonel Sartoris?

Allow me to explain the puzzling title. Colonel Sartoris is William Faulkner's greatest character. He exemplifies those values that his society cherishes, namely tradition, patriarchy, courtliness, and courage. Though modernity's slow march tries to strip him of these things, Sartoris continues to live as he always has, knowing that "the past is never dead. It's not even past." He seeks order in the honorable folkways and mores of his forbears. Let us not forget his example.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


"A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not respond to rebukes."  -- Proverbs 13:1

The word "heed" does not appear once in the New Testament (NIV translation).  In all of the Bible, it appears a mere twenty times, with fully half of those in Proverbs.  Ecclesiastes records four "heeds"; Ezekiel, 2; Psalms, 2; and Micah and Samuel both with one.  Were one to practice exegesis by sabermetrics, I guess you'd look to Proverbs--that's where it appears most; that's where it's significant.  As a student and teacher of ancient language myself, though, I'm tempted to examine every single usage in the original language.  That's a great template, but it proves problematic because my Hebrew skills, at this point, are precisely nil.

So I will examine the English text--a good, second-best option.  At the very least, the context around the words will help inform me of the meaning of "heed."  And I'll start with Proverbs, because it contains the most words, and, because it's written by a single author, its usage is internally consistent within the book, providing us a significant mass of usage to parse its meaning.

I put the verse above up to show the typical structure of a verse in Proverbs.  A correct, wise, and godly course of action is stated, and its counterpoint--the ill-advised, foolish, and sinful--follows.  It is a juxtaposition of both persons and their actions.  Thus, while we might readily understand the meaning of the words in the first clause, the second must necessarily sharpen that understanding.

Taking the first verse of Proverbs' thirteenth chapter, the verse holds out a son and his action in relation to some form of counsel--here, his father's instruction.  And the second independent clause holds out a "mocker."  It does not explicitly say "a son who mocks."  But these two independent clauses are juxtaposed in this sentence for a reason.  So let's look at the verbs used, the action of the sentence.  We see "heeds . . . instruction" and "not respond to rebukes."

"Heed," per Merriam Webster, means simply "to pay attention."  That definition does not necessarily hold up when compared to this verse, though.  For "heed" here is explicitly contrasted with "not respond[ing]."  In other words, there is not only an attentive component, one of notice, but also one of action.  "Respond" has, at its core, a component of adjusting one's own behavior, of correction.  When one "responds" to someone, one necessarily takes into account something else.  "Heed," therefore, must itself have a component of adjustment to it.

Adjustment does not mean "consideration" or "taking into account."  It means, instead, to alter a course of action.  I can consider many inputs before I change my decision.  But if I adjust my decision, I have altered it in response to some information I have received.  And THIS is the point of Proverbs--the wise man is not wise simply because he's privy to the correct, prudent course of action, that he hears what he should do.  Nor is he wise because he can divine what he should do.  He's wise because he does--he acts on--what he should do.

The argument for "what he should do" equating to the truth is beyond my simple explication of Proverbs 13:1 at this point.  I may very well get to that later, but Proverbs, as a book, explicitly holds out a correct, wise, righteous course of action and thought, and a crooked, foolish, sinful course of action and thought.  Whatever the epistemological validity of a "correct" or a "righteous" course of action, it is worth noting that it does not prescribe "thinking about" something as wisdom--it prescribes doing as wisdom.  And that is a hard battle to fight, for sure.  But wisdom, of all things, is worth pursuing.

And Proverbs equates pursuit to action--and not just thought.

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