Jeff Baker – Interviewer in the Dust

Interviewer in the Dust: A Great Southern Novelist Reveals All.

On September 27, 1959, I was privileged to interview William Faulkner. I recorded our conversation so as to preserve his wisdom for the ages, but was devastated to learn when I played back the tape that while the microphone had captured each of my questions, it had not picked up a single word he said. Nonetheless, his indomitable spirit comes through so strongly that I know our conversation will be a source of insight for Faulkner scholars for weeks to come.

INTERVIEWER: First, I’d like to thank you for agreeing to this interview.

FAULKNER: [Southern-accented murmur]

INTERVIEWER: I know you didn’t exactly, but an unlocked attic window IS an agreement in my book. Speaking of books, let’s get started. You once said that you “react violently” to personal questions, so let me assure you that I’ll keep this professional and dignified. After a day of crafting work that shows “the human heart in conflict with itself” — to which I might humbly add, by the way, the right thumb of Man wrestling with the left thumb of Nature — and you retire for the night, what are you wearing: PJ’s, long-johns, or do you go it nudesies? T.S. Eliot does, you know. Also, any embarrassing puberty anecdotes?

FAULKNER: [Irritated grumbling]

INTERVIEWER: But I just got here. What inspired you to write about a little girl’s tragic disfigurement in “A Nose for Emily”?

FAULKNER: [Indistinct]

INTERVIEWER: A rose? Well, as they say, a rose by any other name would smell just as damn good. Unless you don’t have a nose, like poor Emily. Moving on. You’ve stated that the only thing that can stop a writer is death, yet your own As I Lay Dying was obviously written posthumously. Explain this inconsistency — in other words, Gotcha! And I think you know what that means…now get over here and take your noogie like a man.

FAULKNER: [Bewildered silence]

INTERVIEWER: Suit yourself, Pappy. Say, would you mind putting that pipe out? I’m allergic, and when I sneeze I tend to lose sphincter control.

FAULKNER: [Hastily taps pipe into ashtray]

INTERVIEWER: Not since Balzac — Lou Balzac, the legendary Snuffy Smith rewrite man — has a writer created a world as complete as your fictional fiefdom of Yucky Naphtha, the “Green-stamp of naïve soil” that’s been home to so many memorable Missourian men and mules and echoes with the indelible and inedible old verities they speak. Yet there are surprisingly few Eskimos in your work. Thoughts?

FAULKNER: [Low growl]

INTERVIEWER: I make Benjy seem like J. Robert Oppenheimer? Not sure I follow, but compliment accepted. Now, regarding your quote about how “the pest isn’t dead.” Amen to that one, brother. My kitchen has been overtaken by moles. Or maybe they’re voles. Been after those yellow-toothed mini-Snopeses all week with a double-barrel pea-shooter and still can’t evict ‘em. Reminds me of a good joke, though—had Jack Paar on while I was reading up for this. Bear walks into a bar. No, wait — bear walks into the woods. Big woods, fathomless in their ancient verdancy. He symbolizes the vanishing wilderness and the fading past. Hunters are after him, including a boy who will become a man during the hunt. Bear turns to one of the hunters’ horses and says, “Hey, why the long face?” Haw HAW HAW! [Emits rude noise] Sorry, happens when I laugh, too.

FAULKNER: [Pained groan]

INTERVIEWER: So, do you agree with Malcolm Cowlick’s contention that the joyous cartwheel Colonel Comptoris performs at the end of The Unvarnished signifies — Whoa! Is this it? The actual Nobel Prize medal? Pretty hefty, huh? Like a big ol’ coin. Hey, call it in the air, winners keepers. Whoop—

[Metallic clanking]

FAULKNER: [Anguished cry]

INTERVIEWER: Well, go down, Moses! I couldn’t have made that thing roll all the way across the floor and down that heating grate if I’d tried.

FAULKNER: [Angry shout, chair being pushed back]

INTERVIEWER: Just calm down, Mr. F., I’m sure you can win another one.

[A violent struggle, furniture being overturned, etc.]

FAULKNER: [Discernable but unprintable]

INTERVIEWER: Uncle, uncle! Aunt? Unhand me, mustachioed laureate! You’re…chokinckkkhh—

[Loud crashes and thuds, as if a tape recorder has been thrown through a plate-glass window, followed by an interviewer.]

INTERVIEWER: [Weakly, muffled by shrubbery]

Oof. Back’s out. Help me up to your bed?

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