I missed Obama's speech yesterday, but I was reading it this morning and was surprised that he quoted Faulkner. From the transcript:
"Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, 'The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.' We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow."
It's an incredible soundbite (of course, isn't everything he says compulsively quotable?), but here's my problem: he misquoted Faulkner. It comes from Requiem for a Nun, a play Faulkner wrote very late in his career as a sequel to Sanctuary; it's a seldom-read book, but the quotation is the most frequently repeated line from all of Faulkner's works. It comes from the following exchange between Gavin Stevens and Temple Drake:
Yet you invented the coincidence.
Mrs Gowan Stevens did.
Temple Drake did. Mrs Gowan Stevens is not even fighting in this class. This is Temple Drake’s.
Temple Drake is dead.
The past is never dead. It’s not even past.
I get that Obama is paraphrasing in his speech, and that doesn't belittle the meaning of what he was trying to say, but it still bugs me. It kind of reminds me of this girl I went to high school with who graduated the year before me. She was co-valedictorian basically because she managed to take the easiest classes for four years and get straight As, but was honestly as dumb as a brick. (This was before AP classes were offered, so those weighted grades didn't place the people who actually put forth more effort higher in the class rankings than those who took Home Ec.) In her graduation speech, she quoted Charles Dickens as writing, "It was the worst of times, it was the best of times." Sure, that fit in perfectly with the way she spoke about high school ("You guys, ninth grade English was so scary with Ms. Wagstaff, but we learned a lot, didn't we?!?!"), but that's NOT what Charles Dickens wrote.
Transcript of Obama Speech [Politico]
Requiem for a Nun [WFotW]