ACKSON, Miss. – A scathing parody that likens
President Bush to the “idiot” in William Faulkner’s novel “The Sound and the Fury” has won this year’s Faulkner write-alike contest — and touched off a literary spat.
Organizers of the Faux Faulkner competition are accusing Hemispheres, the United Airlines magazine that has sponsored the contest for six years, of playing politics by not putting Sam Apple’s “The Administration and the Fury” in its print edition — only on its Web site.
“One of the things they asked was that we didn’t have profanity or any obvious sexual content. We watch for that. But anything else, like a political subject, was funny, it was parody. … We felt that that shouldn’t be censored,” said Larry Wells, who organizes the contest with his wife, Dean Faulkner Wells, Faulkner’s niece.
The story portrays President Bush in the role of Benjy, the mentally challenged son — or, as Faulkner himself said, the “idiot” — in his 1929 novel about the wreckage of a Southern family.
Apple, a 29-year-old writer for Nerve magazine in New York, planned to be in Oxford this weekend to read his parody aloud at the 32nd annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference at the University of Mississippi.
Hemispheres editor Randy Johnson said politics played no role in the handling of Apple’s winning entry. The magazine published “The Administration and the Fury” only online, he said, because Hemispheres is trying to bring more attention to its Web site. Plus, he said, Apple’s parody already had been published earlier this year in the online magazine Slate.
“The number of people who are able to see the Web site completely stands on its head any charge of censorship,” Johnson said. “We are making it available to millions of people.”
Hemispheres had already decided to end its sponsorship of Faux Faulkner, a cerebral contest that lets aspiring writers explore their inner “Pappy” with dense, stream-of-consciousness screeds.
Apple’s story is told from Bush/Benjy’s point of view as Vice President
Dick Cheney, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld prepare him for a news conference:
“‘Go and get him Saddam’s gun,’ Condi said. ‘You know how he likes to hold it.’
“Dick went to my desk drawer and took out Saddam’s gun. He gave it to me, and it was hot in my hands. Rummy pulled the gun away.
“‘Do you want him carrying a gun into the press conference?’ Rummy said. ‘Cant you think any better than he can?'”
Larry Wells said Apple’s piece won the contest not because of its political content but because it mirrors the labyrinthine language of the Nobel laureate.
“It was very funny, a brilliant use of ‘The Sound and the Fury,'” Wells said. “The fact that he substituted Saddam’s gun for a horseshoe Benjy liked to hold — it was hilarious.”
Apple said he had struggled to read “The Sound and the Fury” as a teenager and decided to try it again as an adult.
“This time, I was able to appreciate it much more and I really fell in love with the language and took a lot of pleasure in just listening to the dialect and the different characters,” he said.
He set about trying to write in Faulkner’s style, he said, the same way a novice guitarist tries to imitate a pro. Another character’s observation about Benjy made him think of Bush, and Apple has Cheney echo that line in the parody: “‘He know lot more than folks think.'”
Apple said it was also a lucky coincidence that “Condi” sounds like “Caddy,” Benjy’s beloved sister. Just as Benjy has an olfactory memory of Caddy (she smelled like trees), the spoofed Bush thinks of Condi: “She smelled like the Xeroxed copies of the information packets they give me each day.”