N°1 | Echoes of Yoknapatawpha : William Faulkner’s Universe between Parody and Plagiarism
Par Ineke Bockting
This article focuses on different types of “echoing” of William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha novels The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, as well as their reception. I start out with the winning story of the 2005 “Faux Faulkner” contest at the University of Mississippi, “The Administration and the Fury: If William Faulkner were writing on the Bush White House” by Sam Apple, the reception of which effectively brought the contest to a halt. Using the French narratologist Gérard Genette’s theories on such “echoings,” in his work Palimpsest, Literature in the Second Degree, this study then explores the novel Last Orders by the British author Graham Swift and De Metsiers, Hugo Claus’ debut novel, both of which brought serious accusations of plagiarism. At the end of this essay, an approach that changes our perspective on such “echoings” is brought forth, proposing an inversion of influence, that is, from the second text, what Genette calls the “hypertext,” back onto the original text, Genette’s “hypotext.”
Cet article porte sur diverses formes d’écho de deux romans de William Faulkner situés dans son comté mythique de Yoknapatawpha – Le Bruit et la fureur (The Sound and the Fury) et Tandis que j’agonise (As I Lay Dying) – et s’intéresse à leur réception. La première œuvre étudiée est la nouvelle “The Administration and the Fury: If William Faulkner were writing on the Bush White House” de Sam Apple, qui a remporté le concours “Faux Faulkner” organisé par l’université du Mississippi en 2005 et donné lieu à des réactions qui ont condamné le même concours. À partir des théories exposées par le narratologue français Gérard Genette dans Palimpsestes: La littérature au second degré sur ce type d’échos, on s’intéresse ensuite au roman La Dernière Tournée (Last Orders) du Britannique Graham Swift et au premier roman de Hugo Claus, La Chasse aux Canards (De Metsiers), tous deux accusés de plagiat. Une approche qui suggère un changement de perspective est finalement introduite, proposant un parcours inverse en revenant à l’hypotexte (le texte de départ) à partir de l’hypertexte (le second texte), suivant la terminologie de Genette.
For years, the annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference at the University of Oxford, Mississippi (“Ole’ Miss”) featured a contest of alluding, “pastich-ing,” parodying, ironizing, satirizing, queering or otherwise appropriating Faulkner’s texts, which involved hundreds of participants, up to 500 or more, from all over the world. First organized by Faulkner’s niece Dean Faulkner Wells, and sponsored by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the Yoknapatawpha Press and American Airlines—who would publish the winning story in their magazine Hemispheres—this “Faux Faulkner” Contest was held 16 times, from 1989 to 2005. During this time it produced many fans and followers, as well as a collection of stories called The Best of Bad Faulkner: Choice Entries from the Faux Faulkner Contest, thus upholding Faulkner’s heritage in an interesting way. Certain other “echoings” of Faulkner work, on the other hand, have caused great upheaval. In order to understand their fundamental similarities and differences, I will first take a closer look at the last prize-winning “Faux Faulkner” story, and then make a brief comparison with two cases of “Faulkner-echoing” that have received a lot of negative criticism, as they have been seen as plagiarism: the 1966 novel Last Orders by the British author Graham Swift, which was made into a film also called Last Orders by the Australian writer and director Fred Schepisi in 2001; and the 1950 novel De Metsiers, debut novel of the famous Flemish poet, playwright and novelist Hugo Claus.[i]
The last year that it took place, in 2005, the “Faux Faulkner” contest was won by Sam Apple, a 29-year-old graduate from Columbia University’s creative nonfiction MFA program, with a story called “The Administration and the Fury: If William Faulkner were writing on the Bush White House.” It presents a first-person narrator, Georgie, and five other characters, Dick, Condi, Rummy, Father and Jeb. What follows is the first part of the text:
The Administration and the Fury:
If William Faulkner were writing on the Bush White House
Down the hall, under the chandelier, I could see them talking. They were walking toward me and Dick’s face was white, and he stopped and gave a piece of paper to Rummy, and Rummy looked at the piece of paper and shook his head. He gave the paper back to Dick and Dick shook his head. They disappeared and then they were standing right next to me.
“Georgie s going to walk down to the Oval Office with me,” Dick said.
“I just hope you got him all good and ready this time,” Rummy said.
“Hush now,” Dick said. “This aint no laughing matter. He know lot more than folks think.” Dick patted me on the back good and hard. “Come on now, Georgie,” Dick said. “Never mind you, Rummy.”
We walked down steps to the office. There were paintings of old people on the walls and the room was round like a circle and Condi was sitting on my desk. Her legs were crossed.
“Did you get him ready for the press conference?” Dick said.
“Dont you worry about him. He ll be ready,” Condi said. Condi stood up from the desk. Her legs were long and she smelled like the Xeroxed copies of the information packets they give me each day.
“Hello Georgie,” Condi said. “Did you come to see Condi?” Condi rubbed my hair and it tickled.
“Dont go messing up his hair,” Dick said. “Hes got a press conference in a few minutes.”
Condi wiped some spit on her hand and patted down my hair. Her hand was soft and she smelled like Xerox copies coming right out of the machine. “He looks just fine,” Condi said.
Anyone ever having seen Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury, without even reading it, will, of course, recognize the echoing between the two titles with Shakespeare on the deepest level of the palimpsest:
Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury
Apple: “The Administration and the Fury”
In addition, anyone who has at least gotten through the first page of Faulkner’s novel will be reminded of it:
Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. They were coming towards where the flag was and I went along the fence. Luster was hunting in the grass by the flower tree. They took the flag out, and they were hitting. Then they put the flag back and they went to the table, and he hit and the other hit. Then they went on, and I went along the fence. Luster came away from the flower tree and we went along the fence and they stopped and we stopped and I looked through the fence while Luster was hunting in the grass.
“Here, caddie.’ He hit. They went away across the pasture. I held to the fence and watched them going away.
“Listen at you, now.” Luster said. (The Sound and the Fury 3)
First of all, we feel right away the wonderful echoing effect of the pre-positioned adverbial clauses that, in each first sentence, guides the direction of our gaze:
Faulkner: Through the fence…
Apple: Down the hall…
In each case, the anapestic meter of these adverbial clauses creates a particular rhythm, which, interestingly enough, has been called either heroic or stumbling. We can take this interest in rhythm a step further. Indeed, the echoing of Faulkner’s text in Apple’s is produced to a large extent through the syntactic deviation with rhythmic effects that the abundance of coordinated conjunctions with and create. This gives the Apple passage the same childish atmosphere as Faulkner’s original:
Apple: They were walking toward me and Dick’s face was white, and he stopped and gave a piece of paper to Rummy, and Rummy looked at the piece of paper and shook his head. (my emphasis)
Faulkner. Then they put the flag back and they went to the table, and he hit and the other hit. . . . Luster came away from the flower tree and we went along the fence and they stopped and we stopped and I looked through the fence while Luster was hunting in the grass. (my emphasis)
In addition, the syntactic particularity of using the auxiliary could that is found in each text, stands out:
Apple: I could see them talking. (my emphasis)
Faulkner: I could see them hitting. (my emphasis)
It is disappointing, meanwhile, that Apple uses, in this sentence, a properly used intransitive verb—talk—while Faulkner resorts to a transitive verb used as if it was intransitive—hit.
Apple: Down the hall, under the chandelier, I could see them talking. (my emphasis)
Faulkner: Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. (my emphasis)
In the second sentence—Faulkner’s—we are tempted to ask hitting what? Indeed, normally one cannot just hit; one must always hit something. The syntactic deviation effectively draws attention to itself, if only because in this short passage it is repeated no less than three times with the same verb, hit—“they were hitting”; “he hit and the other hit”—and twice with another intransitive verb, hunt:
Faulkner: Luster was hunting in the grass
. . . while Luster was hunting in the grass.
As I have argued elsewhere, this is extremely interesting, because we know from developmental studies of language that until the age of about three, children are not able to make a correct use of transitivity, producing instead constructions with subject and object only, or with subject and verb only, as we see it repeated here in Faulkner’s text. This, of course, compounds the childishness of the speaker’s style, which we already identified as the result of the coordinated conjunctions with and as clausal linker. If Apple had written “I could see them saying” instead of “I could see them talking,” thus choosing a transitive verb used as if it was an intransitive, rather than a intransitive one, the echoing of Faulkner’s text would have increased substantially in brilliance. Not only that, the use of say instead of talk would have provided another echo of Faulkner. Indeed, it will become clear later in the text how important the consequences of this specific deviation of transitivity are, for instance when the narrator tries “to say,” and thereby shows he is unable to understand that in order to communicate one cannot just say but one has to say something:
I tried to say, but they went on, and I went along the fence, trying to say, and they went faster. Then they were running and I came to the corner of the fence and I couldn’t go any further, and I held to the fence, looking after them and trying to say.
. . .
They came on. I opened the gate and they stopped, turning. I was trying to say, and I caught her, trying to say, and she screamed and I was trying to say and trying… (50-51, my emphasis)
Readers of Faulkner know that the narrator’s “trying to say and trying” is completely misunderstood and that he is subsequently castrated because he is seen as a danger to young girls. He is not, after all, a three-year-old, but a thirty-three-year-old “idiot,” as Faulkner himself called him (Lion 146).
This inability to understand human communication suggests that we may understand the character’s particular type of “idiocy” as an autistic syndrome. It is brilliantly signaled from the first by the linguistic shape of the last sentence of the passage we have already seen, this time through a graphological deviation. Compare the following two sentences:
Apple: “Hush now,” Dick said.
Faulkner: “Listen at you, now.” Luster said.
Apple’s sentence, here, is totally normal, but if you look carefully at Faulkner’s, you see that a full stop separates the quote “Listen at you, now”—which has the role of object—from the attribute subject-verb combination “Luster said.” This strange punctuation, of course, allows us at the same time to perceive another example of deviant transitivity, which changes the infantile aspects of the narrator’s text into autistic ones. Again, one cannot help but feel that it is unfortunate that Apple did not notice, or at least did not copy, this type of deviation.
Still, it is no surprise, of course, that Apple’s text is not nearly as brilliant as Faulkner’s. Apple has since published two non-fiction books, Schlepping Through the Alps: My Search for Austria’s Jewish Past with Its Last Wandering Shepherd (2005) and American Parent: My Strange and Surprising Adventures in Modern Babyland (2009), but he still has to become a Nobel-prize-winning novelist. Even though he said that, after giving up on The Sound and the Fury as a teenager, he found himself “really falling in love” with it as an adult, taking “a lot of pleasure in just listening to the dialect and the different characters” (Associated Press), Apple’s main interests, finally, lie elsewhere. Indeed, we easily recognize its political aspects, which involve Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as well as George Bush Sr. and Jeb Bush, all surrounding the “idiot”—the autist—George W. Bush. The Augusta Chronicle from Jackson, Mississippi of July 25, 2005 came out with an article called “Spoof of Bush wins Faux Faulkner contest,” in which the author argues that it was “a lucky coincidence that ‘Condi’ sounds like ‘Caddy,’ Benjy’s beloved sister,” and that “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.’” The article concludes by saying that Apple deployed his own “weapons of mass description”—to produce a “scathing parody” of the Bush administration.” By using the terms “weapons of mass description” this newspaper article echoes Bush’s “weapons of mass destruction,” thus adding another turn of the screw. According to the same article, Larry and Dean Faulkner Wells accused the United Airlines magazine Hemispheres of “playing politics by not putting Sam Apple’s ‘The Administration and the Fury’ in its print edition—only on its Web site,” and finally terminating their sponsoring of the contest. The Wellses defended their choice of winning story as follows:
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. (Associated Press, also see MacMillan)
The editor of the magazine, however, argued that “politics played no role in the handling of Apple’s winning entry,” and, besides, according to the journalist United Airlines had already decided to end its sponsorship of the “Faux Faulkner Contest” beforehand.
Meanwhile, for those of you who, like me, are lovers of The Sound and the Fury, the whole political “parody” threatens not to work because in the novel, Benjy Compson tends to create compassion rather than disgust and this is surely not what Apple wanted to create towards George W. Bush. In addition, even if Faulkner himself calls Benjy an “idiot,” he shows his compassion in the explanation he gives of his interest in this character, raising the question of “just where could he get the tenderness, the help, to shield him in his innocence” (Lion 146). Readers of Apple’s “parody,” surely, will not be tempted to ask themselves where Bush gets his tenderness, where he obtains his help and where he finds protection, and they will want to see him as stupid rather than innocent. In fact, Apple’s text uses the figure of the “idiot,” and creates it in part after Faulkner’s fashion, but from a moral point of view, his “idiot” is not Faulkner’s “idiot.” Still, the “scathing parody” definitely “touched off” what the Augusta Chronicle article calls “a literary spat.”
The other echoings of Faulkner’s work, Last Orders and De Metsiers, to which we will turn now, have finally caused more than a “literary spat,” as they were accused of transgressing the borders of lawful echoing, moving beyond parody into the realms of plagiarism. In her thesis “A Comparative Study of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Graham Swift’s Last Orders,” defended at the University of Gent, Belgium in May 2007, Dorien Van Gorp tries to determine the precise nature of the echoing between these two novels, written 66 years apart. In her introduction, Van Gorp reminds us that the word plagiarizer is derived from the Latin plagiarus, a name given to the thief of slaves or children, who changes their appearance so as to allow the theft to go unnoticed, from which the 18th century French philosopher Pierre Bayle conceived of the French term plagiat.[ii] The idea of theft and concealment through alteration is, of course, essential here, as plagiarism is seen as intellectual or artistic theft, which the plagiarizer may hide by making minor changes. Van Gorp quotes to this effect Christopher Ricks, whose pragmatic distinction follows this line of thinking, comparing plagiarism to allusion: “the alluder hopes that the reader will recognize something, the plagiarizer that the reader will not” (109).
Gérard Genette, in his work Palimpsest: Literature in the Second Degree, also opposes plagiarism and allusion. But he nevertheless categorizes them—together with quoting—under the term transtextuality, the most explicit and literal forms of intertextuality. He then defines plagiarism as “an undeclared but still literal borrowing” and allusion as a borrowing “in less explicit and less literal guise.” The latter he defines as “an enunciation whose full meaning presupposes the perception of a relationship between it and another text, to which it necessarily refers by some inflections that would otherwise remain unintelligible” (2). So, keeping in mind Ricks’s common sense distinction—that allusion asks for recognition while plagiarism demands concealment—Apple’s echoing of Faulkner certainly falls under allusion rather than plagiarism. Even if, as we saw, the allusion to Benjy Compson may be too superficial and thus put the reader on the wrong track, its purpose of satirizing the Bush administration will only be fulfilled if we recognize the echoing.
But what of Swift’s novel Last Orders? And what of Claus’s De Metsiers? To start with, Swift had made it no secret that his novel was an “echo” of Faulkner’s and that the author himself was a “ghostly presence” in the book (Cowley). In an interview he gave to Scott Rosenberg for the magazine Salon, about a year before the book was published, he had said:
A lot of people have said that it makes them think of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. And I say, yes, well, indeed there is a connection. I admire Faulkner very much, and there are obvious similarities between the narrative—although I have my jar of ashes, Faulkner has his rotting corpse, and the setting is clearly very different. So without my having begun the book—or continued writing it—with that novel constantly in my mind, I think there is a little homage at work. (“Glowing”)
Yet, more than a “literary spat” started after the novel received the Booker Prize, in 1996, when John Frow, Professor of English at the University of Queensland, Australia, wrote a letter to the Australian Review of Books, in which he argued that the novel was a clear case of plagiarism of Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying. As Frow puts it:
The simple fact is that Last Orders, in its plot and formal structure, is almost identical to that novel, without acknowledgement and without even, as far as I can see, the kind of knowing nod towards the earlier novel that would have made this acceptable. These are tricky issues, but the borrowing (if that’s the right word) is substantial. (qtd. in Blackhurst, “A Swift Rewrite”)
To this accusation Swift responded: “Professor Frow over-stresses the connection and makes it sound as though the whole point of Last Orders is to do a remodelling of Faulkner’s book. Their worlds are completely different—not just the geographical worlds but the mentality that goes with it” (qtd. in Blackhurst, “A Swift Rewrite”). Many critics, readers and fellow-writers agreed with Swift. Salman Rushdie, for instance, remarks, in an interview for Salon:
It’s a beautiful little book. . . . It’s just about this outing, these four drinking partners out for a day in this borrowed or rented car. That’s all that happens, but it’s very touching and funny and tells you a lot about what these people have been to each other, and it also tells you something about the ritual of death, this last rite of passage. (qtd. in “Swift, “Glowing”)
Yet, several years after, when the issue flared up again because Swift changed publishing houses, Jason Cowley’s reaction, in his article “I’ve been framed,” was still anything but sympathetic, mentioning, in his discussion of another case of plagiarism, “the sly post-modern intertextual echoes, with which we are wearisomely familiar from innumerable wised-up literary novels—the kind of echoes which led to charges of plagiarism against Graham Swift’s Booker-winning novel Last Orders.”
To turn to the case of the novel De Metsiers at this point, the story presents a Flemish family of farmers at the end of World War II. The mother lives with one of the farm workers after her husband’s death years before. The two children, Ana (conceived with her husband, Metsiers) and her half-brother Bennie, who is mentally retarded[iii] (conceived out of wedlock with the farm worker), are driven closer and closer to each other and, as a result of the terrible situation in which they live, an incestuous relationship develops between them that Bennie finally becomes the victim of. The novel was the author’s debut at the youthful age of 19. According to Marcel Janssens, in his lecture to the Royal Academy for Dutch Linguistics and Literature at Gand, Belgium, it seems that a certain Dries Masure, publisher of “gangster and cowboy books,” had offered Claus 500 Belgian Franks for a “thriller after an American recipe” (166)[iv] but that he had torn up his manuscript halfway through the first chapter, to start over to write De Metsiers. Here we find, as Janssens shows, the first link with Faulkner, who pretended to have written As I Lay Dying in 6 weeks (Blotner 634), while Claus supposedly wrote his in 6, 4, or even 3 weeks (Zaal 55, De Roey 41, Van Dijl 241). The shortest period is mentioned by Frank van Dijl, in his article “Mijn eigen werk herlezen? Ik moet er niet aan denken.” The title of this essay is a quote from Claus himself, to say: “Rereading my own work? I mustn’t think of it” or “Reading my own work? No way”—reminding us of Faulkner, who, to questions about what he meant by certain passages in his books, once answered, “Ma’m, I write them, I don’t read them.” Another story, however, has it that Claus had been offered 2000 Belgian Franks by a small west-Flemish publishing house to write an “americanisch” novel but the editor had refused it after he had interrogated the author about his “foreign models” (Duytschaever 149). Claus seems to have agreed that he had read Caldwell and Faulkner but he did not give any titles. He then gave his manuscript to the Nieuw Vlaams Tijdschrift (New Flemish Journal), which published it in its 1950 June and September issues, under the double title De Metsiers or de Eendenjacht (The Metsiers or the Duck Hunt), the final part of the title returning later in the French and American translations: La chasse aux canards and The Duck Hunt respectively.
Like Swift’s, Claus’s work started to raise serious doubts from critics as soon as it received a literary prize, in this case the Leo J. Krijnprijs of 1950. Janssens mentions as an example the fellow novelist Hubert Lampo, who argues in his article “Sensationeel Debuut?” (“Sensational Debut”)—just as in Swift’s case—that the members of the jury must have been misled, adding that he could not “vouch for the complete originality of the novel.” More specifically, Lampo argues that whoever is aware of contemporary American prose will be “somewhat disturbed by the fact that it is a brilliantly prepared mixture of Faulkner’s famous interior monologues and Erskine Coldwell’s style and situation.” Another critic mentioned by Janssens, the fellow poet Paul Rodenko, also notices, “the technical procedure” at the basis of the multiple first-person narrations, which, in any case, he considers “a failure” (qtd. in Janssens 160-61). In his article he compares, in addition, the attachment that Faulkner’s Benjy feels for his sister Caddy to the love of Claus’s retarded boy Bennie for his half-sister Ana, making explicit, for the first time it seems, a link between De Metsiers and The Sound and the Fury.
Still, most critics, fellow poets and novelists find the work admirable, considering the young age of its author. As Janssens shows, one of them, Maurice Roelants, links what he calls the “phenomena” Hugo Claus to the “typically French psychological novel since La Princesse de Clèves,” but also mentions the profound influence of the American novel. Returning to Caldwell rather than Faulkner, he points to a theme that the three authors—Caldwell, Faulkner and Claus—share: “the dramatic undoing of the pathetic idiot” (qtd. in Janssens 159). In addition, the fellow Flemish novelist Louis Paul Boon writes: “[h]is type of narration is, indeed, somehow American, except that it is even better American than the Americans have written. Hemingway, for instance, couldn’t even do it” (qtd. in Janssens 161). The critic Piet van Aken seems to have been the first to recognize as Claus’s source of inspiration Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying, using the word kinship (“verwantschap”) rather than plagiarism (443-44). Not long after, another critic, Hubert van Herreweghen, argues that the interior monologue leads the reader to both The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying. Interestingly, as Janssens notes, the critic accidentally spells the name of Bennie from De Metsiers as Benny, dazzled as he is by The Sound and the Fury’s “retarded Benjy-figure” (qtd. in Janssens 162). This critic also refuses to use the term plagiarism for Claus’s work; the profound influence from Faulkner, he believes, is not a reproachable fact but rather a sign of the strength of this young author who was certain to go far. Translations of the novel, also, were well received. A short 2008 summary of La Chasse aux canards, for instance, reads:
Ce roman, dont chaque chapitre est raconté du point de vue d’un personnage différent, impressionne par l’immense virtuosité verbale de l’auteur, son propos assez dur, une famille cloitrée dans une ferme qui ne réussit à vivre que dans un éternel malaise, et l’univers plein de violence, tension et sensualité créé autour de cette communauté. (“La chasse aux canards”)
On their website, Gallimard, the French publisher, designate the book as one that already contains “toutes les tentations, toutes les hantises d’une œuvre d’écrivain de génie.” Obviously, neither of them mentions the echoes of Faulkner or other Southern writers.
Claus’s own defense seems much more relaxed than that of Swift. Janssens mentions several interviews that make this clear. Indeed, in one from 1953, already, Claus fully recognizes his dependence on As I Lay Dying for the writing of De Metsiers because, as he puts it philosophically: “invloed is nu eenmaal onvermijdelijk” (“influence is, after all, unavoidable”) (qtd. in Janssens 163). A few years later, in 1957, when, in Janssens’s words “the whole affair around the wonderboy of 19 had worn itself out,” the author, in an interview with H.U. Jessurum d’Oliveira, responds to the question of influence in a characteristically “cool” way: “Oh well, whatever!” He confesses that “such a first book—De Metsiers— […] was ‘more or less a farce’” and he adds “the critic who did not see Faulkner inside and behind it wasn’t worth much” (qtd. in Janssens 163-64). In 1993, in a shared interview with fellow writer Harry Mulisch, finally, Claus calls his work a near-pastiche. While the author himself, then, calls his work a farce and a pastiche, or almost so, Van Straten, who, in the same year, in the chapter “De Mississippi strooms door Vlaanderen” (“The Mississippi flows through Flanders”) of his book on plagiarism, demonstrates its great indebtedness to The Sound and the Fury, calling it “plagiarism, but brilliantly done” (qtd. in Van Gelder).
In order to better understand what is going on here, with these various types of echoings (allusion, kinship, pastiche, parody, plagiarism), let us return, for a moment, to Genette and his work Palimpsest. Genette proposes to recognize, in addition to the already mentioned subcategory of transtextuality—quotation, plagiarism and allusion—four other categories, of which he discusses only one in the rest of his book, namely hypertextuality. This is the one that interests us here, as it contains the classification usually given to Apple’s text—parody. Genette defines hypertextuality as “any relationship uniting a text B (which I shall call the hypertext) to an earlier text A (I shall, of course, call it the hypotext) upon which it is grafted in a manner that is not that of commentary” (5). He also speaks of “a text in the second degree” or “a text derived from another preexisting text.” This derivation, he continues, can be descriptive or intellectual. But it can also be “of another kind such as text B not speaking of text A at all but being unable to exist, as such, without A” (5). The process through which this happens he calls transformation, of which he distinguishes two types: firstly simple or direct transformation, such as that between Homer’s Odyssey and Joyce’s Ulysses, where the original action is simply transposed to twentieth-century Dublin—which he calls transposition—and imitation, such as that between Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid, which requires, as he puts it, “a previously constituted modal of generic competence” (6). The difference between the two is, roughly speaking, “saying the same thing differently” versus “saying another thing similarly” (6). This leads Genette to construct the following grid of the different subcategories of hypertextuality (28).
In this grid we can read that, according to Genette, parody is playful transformation. He reminds us that, in Latin, the word parodia combines the words ode—which means “chant”—and para—which means “next to” or “beside,” together referring to something like “singing off key” or “singing at counterpoint.” Genette subsequently defines parody as “limited, even minimal, modification” (212). Travesty, as is clear from the grid, is satirical transformation, defined “almost completely,” as Genette puts it, “by a single type of stylistic transformation (trivialization)” (213). The other three—pastiche, caricature and forgery—which, as the grid shows, are playful, satirical and serious imitations respectively, present, in Genette’s words, “only functional inflexions bearing on a single practice: imitation—one that is relatively complex but almost wholly prescribed by the nature of its model.” All these forms, Genette concludes, “can produce only brief texts, for fear of losing the reader’s interest” (213).
It is, finally, the subcategory of hypertextuality called transposition—which the grid shows as a serious transformation—that really interests Genette in the rest of his work, because, as he puts it, it “can give rise to works of vast dimensions” (213). It includes, as Genette argues, such moves as translation (214), prosification and versification (219), but also transstylization, which in addition covers transmetrification (226). The latter is not limited to poetry, as prose can have metrical qualities as well. We have already seen how, in the transposition of Benjy’s text into Georgie’s, the rhythm was retained by, first, the anapests of the opening subclauses and, secondly, the coordinated conjunctions with and:
Hypotext (Faulkner): Through the fence…
Hypertext (Apple): Down the hall…
Hypotext (Faulkner): Then they put the flag back and they went to the table, and he hit and the other hit. . . . Luster came away from the flower tree and we went along the fence and they stopped and we stopped and I looked through the fence while Luster was hunting in the grass. (my emphasis)
Hypertext (Apple): They were walking toward me and Dick’s face was white, and he stopped and gave a piece of paper to Rummy, and Rummy looked at the piece of paper and shook his head. (my emphasis)
The syntactic particularity with the auxiliary could also survives in the hypertext, forming a case of transstylization, or—even though Genette does not use this term—might we say transsyntaxization:
Hypotext (Faulkner): I could see them hitting. (my emphasis)
Hypertex (Apple): I could see them talking. (my emphasis)
Notwithstanding these examples—where a syntactic particularity of the hypotext is preserved in the hypertext—on the whole, as we have seen already, the number of syntactic particularities in Benjy’s text is diminished in Georgie’s text, or, in other words, there is a reduction of syntactical particularity between hypotext and hypertext. Genette mentions, as two distinct modes of transposition, that of reduction and that of augmentation. Often these work together, because if one aspect is reduced, the other is likely to be amplified.
Transposition may, in addition to stylistic features, also concern narratological categories, such as setting, plot, characterization, narration, focalization and theme. As far as setting is concerned, in the case of Apple, the story is transtemporalized from 1929 to 2003 and transspacialized from Jefferson, Mississippi to Washington, DC. In that of Swift, the move is from 1930 to 1990 and from around Jefferson, Mississippi to South London, and in that of Claus, from 1928 to 1944—when Belgium was liberated—and from around Jefferson, Mississippi to the Flemish countryside around the small village of Zedelgem. In every case, the transpositions entail a substantial change in atmosphere, which Swift, for example, tries to use in his defense against the accusation of plagiarism. As to narration, in Apple’s case, first of all, the number of narrators remains equal between hypotext and hypertext; at least if we limit ourselves to the first chapter of The Sound and the Fury, we simply move from Benjy to Georgie. Conversely, De Metsiers, Last Orders and As I Lay Dying are all divided into a substantial number of chapters: in As I Lay Dying, there are 59 chapters in a novel of 261 pages; in Claus’s case, there are 25 chapters in a novel of 126 pages. Last Orders augments this to 75 chapters in 295 pages. In Swift’s case, the number of narrators is diminished from 15 in the hypotext to 7 in the hypertext and in De Metsiers to 6. As far as temporality is concerned, As I Lay Dying covers 9 days, in De Metsiers, a timespan of about 1 week is narrated, while Last Orders uses its 295 pages to narrate what is not even a full day. This, of course, creates an important deceleation of plot in the transposition from hypotext to hypertext.
Deceleration of plot, in a novel that consists solely of internal monologue, obviously has an important effect in the field of characterization, as it allows for an augmentation of flashbacks in the hypertext. Indeed, in Last Orders, the narrators get more opportunity to go back in time than the characters of the other novels. In addition, because they are on the whole older, they go back much further. Swift ponders on this in the Salon interview mentioned earlier:
These characters . . . are 70 or approaching 70 . . . . Dealing with older characters does enable you to explore such layers of time, and that’s one of the appeals of them for me. They have a sort of historical dimension which is nonetheless written intimately into their personal life. It can be more archaeological, as it were.
This allows Last Orders, of course, to focus more on changes in the narrators as characters. The transcharacterization, we could say, makes the narrators, as characters, “rounder.” Genette speaks, in such cases, of narrative amplification in the transposition from hypotext to hypertext, which, he says, can make a brief story into a buildungsroman (265).
Language being the important category here, we notice what might be called a transvernacularization. Indeed, if we look carefully, it appears that in Apple’s case the Southern dialect is, to some extent, conserved in the hypertext:
“Hush now,” Dick said. “This aint no laughing matter. He know lot more than folks think.”
Like Benjy does with his black caretaker Luster, Georgie echoes, in autistic echolalia, Dickie’s use of “aint,” his double negative “aint no” and his concord deviation of third-person subject and first-person verb “he know.” In Last Orders, there is transvernacularization to the dialect of South London. In the Salon interview, Swift explains his interest in the vernacular: “None of the characters in Last Orders is in any way intellectual or highly educated, and they seem to be constrained by their colloquial language, a limited (you might think) form of expression. I discovered soon enough that their language was capable of eloquence.” The link with Faulkner’s use of language for characterization shows itself quite openly when Swift mentions that in his internal monologues he hopes to give the characters the opportunity to express thoughts that they would certainly have, but perhaps would not be able to put into words. Like the passage where the undertaker, Vic, staring at the war memorial, talks about how this one death of their friend needs to be seen in the context of all these other deaths.
Yes. A very silly literal response to that would be, “That character could never have said that!” But that character, like anyone, could have that feeling. Which he might not be able to articulate. But after all, novels are artificial things, with conventions and devices that enable things to happen that don’t happen in real life. So some of these characters are momentarily very lyrical, very poetic. The way people are, or seem from the outside, is not the key to their inner being, by any means. (“Glowing”)
As far as De Metsiers is concerned, the critic Duytschaever believes that “the soberness of Claus’s style” has nothing in common with that of Faulkner, even if he holds that “a memory of the great American is called up as a result of the ‘monologue.’” Still, to this critic it is “the ruthless, hallucinatory simplicity of the drama itself” that links the two novelists (qtd. in Janssens 168). This brings us to the category of thematization. English translations of De Metsiers usually acknowledge openly that the novel was inspired by Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Critics of The Duck Hunt, call it, for instance “an adolescent chronicle inspired by William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying” (“Hugo Claus: Obituary”), or “a first novel inspired by William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying” that presents itself as a “naturalistic family chronicle [which] made Claus famous,” focusing “on the problems of puberty, and show[ing] how innocence is crushed by an absurd fate” (Liukkonen). Still, we can easily identify in each of its hypotexts, The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, the same dysfunctional mother. Whether called Carolyn, Addie, or simply “de Moeder” (“the mother”), she generates the unwholesome situation of the daughter—Caddie, Dewey Dell or Ana, all pregnant—and the infatuation of the brother—idiot, autist, suicidal or otherwise deranged adolescent—whether called Benjy, Georgie, Quentin, Darl or Bennie. The mother, in De Metsiers, simply called a “Mother-goddess,” as Janssens says, speaking “not from her coffin” but from “haar nis van ongenaakbaarheid” (“her alcove of untouchability” ). In Last Orders, however, the echo is quite different. Both As I Lay Dying and Last Orders are stories that, as Swift said in the defense of his case, concern the question of “how the living deal with the recently dead,” which has been told by countless writers” (Blackhurst). Indeed, Addie Bundren and Jack Dodds both want to be buried at a specific place (respectively at the Jefferson cemetery and the sea at Margate), and they naturally have to rely on other people, family and friends, to have that wish fulfilled.
In the hypotext as well as the hypertext, this mission is sabotaged: in the first one by the weather, which makes the journey to the cemetery extremely difficult, as well as by the oldest son Darl, who tries to burn Addie’s corpse to put an end to the humiliating journey; in the second one it is the son, Vince, who wants to scatter some of Jack’s ashes at a different place from where his father wanted them to be. This is a plot that, as Van Gorp reminds us (31), follows archetypal patterns, analyzed by structuralists such as A.J. Greimas, who identifies as elements of all stories six different roles or actants: sender, helper, object, subject, receiver, and, indeed, opponent. So it is not wrong to say that these are stories that, as Swift himself says, are “an archetypal thing” (“Glowing in Ashes”) or, as the Japanese-British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, who received the Booker Prize for his novel The Remains of the Day in 1989, puts it, do “no more than what countless books, movies, paintings and musical works have always done, and will continue to do, that is, to allude to an established classic for its own purposes” (“The Sound and the Fury”).
Still, both Swift and Ishiguro’s words were beside the point when they defended Lost Orders against Frow’s accusations in this way. Indeed, to these similarities Frow seems not to object too much, seeing them as common modernist techniques, as he writes: “The resemblance is not just a matter of the similarity of the story, which is a common one, or of the use of shifting point of view, which again is a standard in the modern novel, or of the representation of vernacular speech” (“The Sound and the Fury”). What bothers the professor of English more is, firstly, a form of transnarratolization in which narrators are identified by their first names at the head of their chapters. This is strange, as it is a rather common way of writing, found in countless novels of the last twenty or thirty years, including De Metsiers.
Secondly, Frow bases his complaint on the fact that both novels present a chapter that is narrated by a dead person, another case of transnarratolization. This is, again, a fairly common device, used from Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town (1938) to Billy Wilder’s film Sunset Boulevard (1950), Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (2002), Amy Tan’s Saving Fish from Drowning (2005), Chuck Paluhniuk’s Damned (2011) and many others (in fact, Wikipedia has a list of 51 fictions “narrated by a dead person,” which includes Faulkner’s novel but not Swift’s—although Van Gorp reminds us that Swift used the dead narrator not only in Last Orders but also in his 1988 novel Out of This World ). Many American Civil War songs, such as “The Battle of Antietan,” to give but one beautiful example, “are sung from beyond the grave.”
Thirdly, Frow complains about the fact that each of the novels has a chapter consisting of nothing but a list of rules, one composed by Cash, in the hypotext, on how to successfully build a coffin, and one by Ray’s, in the hypertext, on how to bet successfully. We may finally turn, here, to what Genette calls a transvaluation. We have already seen it between Benjy and Georgie, where Faulkner’s innocent “idiot,” in the hypotext, is devaluated into Apple’s stupid “idiot,” in the hypertext. We could even say that the anapestic rhythm of Faulkner’s opening words “Through the fence” create a heroic mood that is transvaluated into mock-heroic in the transposition from hypotext to hypertext. Now we see it in the chapters with the lists in As I Lay Dying and Last Orders respectively, where Cash’s artisan concern with balance, in the hypotext, is transvaluated as Ray’s capitalist concern with profit, in the hypertext.
Frow’s final objection is to the one-sentence chapter, narrated by Vardaman in As I Lay Dying, and by Vince in Last Orders. The famous sentence “My mother is a fish” in the hypotext is transpostioned as “Old buggers” in the hypertext, where the reduction is from 5 words that still form a sentence to a bare adjective-noun combination. In both cases, the narrator is the youngest of the narrators as well as the son of the diseased—even if Vince is the adopted son. The transposition could again be seen in terms of a transvaluation that devaluates, as Vardaman’s spiritual quest into the nature of death is replaced by the dismissive remark made by a jealous young man. Perhaps these last devaluating transvaluations, the only transpositions that seem to go beyond what many other texts have done—although I am not sure there are no other examples—are at the basis of Frow’s discontent.
Genette, after having introduced this last type of transposition, returns to the issue of plagiarism in literary texts. After having reminded us that all the hypertexts are transformations and/or imitations (381), he continues: “but there are works that we know or suspect to be hypertextual whose hypotext is missing, temporarily or not” (381). Indeed, we may go as far as to conclude that every hypotext is itself a hypertext, always echoing, in one way or another, older texts that they cover with more or less transparency, like in a palimpsest. This is Hugo Claus’s idea, expressed in the simple but philosophically profound way that is his hallmark: “influence is, after all, unavoidable” (qtd. in Janssens 163). This seems also Genette’s idea. In any case, he ends his discussion by quoting Giraudoux, who said: “plagiarism is the basis of all literature except the first, which happens to be unknown to us” (381). Clearly, Genette’s sympathy is with the hypertext, which he finally explains as follows:
Every hypertext, even a pastiche, can be read for itself without becoming perceptibly “agrammatical”; it is invested with a meaning that is autonomous and thus in some manner sufficient. But sufficient does not mean exhaustive. In every hypertext there is an ambiguity [which is] precisely caused by the fact that a hypertext can be read both for itself and in relation to its hypotext. (397)
We should perhaps be satisfied with such “doubleness.”
Clearly, Genette’s sympathy is with the hypertext, which is reminiscent of Julia Kristeva’s observation that “any text is the absorption and transformation of another” (66). Still, recent scholarship has raised a different issue, called “iterative poetics” by Jacob Edmond, which treats not that of the hypotext’s influence on the hypertext, but conversely, of the hypertext’s influence back onto the hypotext, that is, the question of how the hypertext changes the reading of the hypotext. This can be a positive re-reading, bringing out the beauty of the earlier text, as is the case with Apple’s story, but often it is a critical one. As Miriam Mandel put it at a conference on liminality: “all derived texts, whatever their genres, jolt the base text out of its position and onto a continuum, onto a liminal space where gaps are widened and explored, contradictions are revealed, and the host text is challenged and redefined.” This way, the novel The Paris Wife by Paula McLain about Hemingway’s relation with his wife Hadley, for instance, can be seen to highlight the sexist stereotyping in Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and Vanessa Place’s poem “Miss Scarlett” or Alice Randall’s 2001 novel The Wind Done Gone, which a District Court judge called “unabated piracy,” to bring out the racial stereotyping of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. The Appeals Court, in this last case, overruled the decision of the District Court “on the grounds that one of the tests for fair use is whether there is sufficient creative contribution—such as parody—from the appropriator” (see Edmond). That certainly was the case with Apple’s prize-winning story and it is definitely the case, in my view, with De Metsiers. I rest my case for Last Orders.
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Ineke Bockting holds doctoral degrees from the Universities of Amsterdam, The Netherlands and Montpellier, France (“Habilitation à diriger des recherches”). She has taught at Universities in The Netherlands, Norway and France, and she is now a tenured professor at the Catholic University of Paris, where she is Chair of the English Department, and Director of the MASTER program “Textes, représentations et cultures Anglophones,” as well as co-director of the research group « Langues, Cultures, Histoire et Education.” Her publications include works on various aspects of the American South, William Faulkner, ethnic literatures, travel-narrative, autobiography, literary stylistics and pragmatics, and cognitive science and literature. She is a member of the Unité de Recherche “Religion, Culture et Société” of the Catholic University of Paris.
[i] Claus’ book was translated into French as La Chasse aux Canards by Elly Overziers and Jean Raine (Paris: Bernard Grasset, “Les Cahiers Rouges,” 1953). It was published in the United States as The Duck Hunt (1955) and in Britain as Sister of Earth (1966); it was translated into Japanese, as Kamo-ryo (1957), and into many other languages.
[ii] Dictionnaire Historique et critique. The English translation, Historical and Critical Dictionary, was one of the hundred foundational texts that Thomas Jefferson gave to the Library of Congress. James Madison had a copy in his possession when he wrote his part of the Federalist Papers. See canononline.org/archives/
[iii] With the “broad opening of his shirt” (16), to accommodate his large neck, Bennie sounds more like a person with Down’s Syndrome.
[iv] All translations from the Dutch are mine.