Saturday, September 5, 2009

Carver in the Rough

Artist types throw around their "influences" an awful lot, but generally I think they assign that title to the greats of their profession for the sake of an answer. At least, the number of times I've furrowed in my brow in doubt or confusion when reading or hearing of someones influences far outweighs the times I solemnly nod my head in acceptance. For me as a writer, one of the few people who I can undoubtedly call a true influence is minimalist short story writer Raymond Carver.

Before I read Carver, I don't believe I knew how to read like a writer, or at the very least, I couldn't do it as well. As is the minimalist tradition, themes, and often the very plot in his writing, is drastically understated. They exist in minute details, subtext, and symbols. This applies to length, of course as well. I don't know that I even consider it so much a style as much as an example of the level of subtlety every writer should strive for. A number of my stories, most notably The Murder, are directly influenced by his work. Needless to say, his work is important to me.

I recently read on the New York Times website that Library of America will be publishing a volume of all of Carver's work before it was edited by Gordon Lish for publication. It's no secret that Carver's work blossomed in the hands of his editors-- the level of subtlety he achieved cannot be discussed without some attribution to them. Despite my overwhelming curiosity, I can't help but worry about the significance of the transformitive abilities a liberal use of the proverbial scissors. Is it Carver who has helped shape my writing, or someone else entirely?

It's a precarious situation, especially because by the time Carver arrived at his final collection, Cathedral, his writing style was noticeably different. Not bad, far from it-- some consider it his best work-- but the stories become "easier" to read; The intent isn't nearly as shadowed. Will an unearthing of his unedited work reveal more of a direct bridge from one way of working to another? Was it more progressive than a simple early period, middle period, late period? Probably-- and given that my own favorite stories by Carver come from What We Talk About When We Talk About Love-- what would be considered a part of his middle period, it's likely the most significant number of changes will be in these very stories.

I learned as much about writing and reading from Carver than I have from any professor I've ever had, if not more and I certainly have more affection for him than any of them as well. I certainly plan to read the forthcoming publication (at least I will after I read several of his collections as they currently stand. My experience with Carver was with Where I'm Calling From, a 500+ page collection encompassing work from his entire career) and I'm pleased that what Carver deemed finished will finally get published but it remains unnerving. He is a genius regardless, but not necessarily my influential teacher.

P.S. Initial skimming of the comparison link on the Times Page is rather disheartening.


CC44 said...

From my experience, many of the greats, in any creative field (Possibly with the exception of the visual arts), require a partner, someone to collaborate with, in order for it to "work." Damon Albarn always needs someone to filter his ideas, someone to focus him. If Carver was made better by the guiding hand of an editor, I can understand why it would make you nervous, but, at the same time, that simply puts him in good company. It's a lot like listening to the demos Albarn threw together in hotel rooms while on tour; I can hear the beginnings of the genius, I can trace its growth, but it requires that second piece to complete it.

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