Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Gordon Lish's Edits of Raymond Carver

The New Yorker has run a copy of one of the stories from the Raymond Carver manuscripts. They show how the story was edited by Gordon Lish. Whole pages cut out. Whole paragraphs added by Lish. Even names of characters changed. The whole last 2 pages is cut and Lish writes a new ending paragraph.

Reading through it, so often Lish is right. His cuts definitely improve the story when they are taking away things that make the story too sentimental seeming. A lot of times the edits are cutting things that reminded me of things you seem in workshops that you wish you could say should go, but that most people do not. The edits often improve the story.

Cutting the last two pages and several pages before that seems awfully extreme. It changes the entire story. Whether the story is better or not, I'm not sure. It's hard to say such a thing. I like the paragraph Lish ended the story with better than the way Carver wrote it.

I like extremes.

I imagine Gordon Lish believes in absolutes.

I often believe I believe in absolutes though I will not argue them except with certain people.

It is hard to imagine what Carver must have felt. But he let the changes continue. I believe his last book CATHEDRAL he did not show to Lish. I'd like to have gotten to hear some of Lish's lectures.

It's funny reading stuff Lish edits and stuff Lish writes. He loves to say one thing and then say it again and again slightly differently. Things other people would definitely cut, he used and exaggerated.

Everyone should taste some Lish, though when I got obsessed with him a little his style started to rub off on me and my writing got really bad. Like unreadable. Though there are certain lessons I have learned from him (or things I've heard attributed to him) that have made me a better writer now, I think.

I think he used to talk about having one word, and every other word followed from that word one after another, like association. A whole story would germinate from one sentence germinated from one word. Not stream of consciousness. Association.

I use association.

I mean that in several ways that are hard to describe.

I read an anecdote one time about Lish showing up for a lecture with a spot on his shirt where he'd spilled something and then pretty much ruined the shirt trying to wash it out to the point that the cloth was ripped through.

His book EPIGRAPH is about how the narrator's wife is dying in another room in his house and he's going in to help her but he sees a little speck of something on the carpet (I forgot what he calls the speck but it's something strange) and then he gets so obsessed with the speck that his wife dies while he's attending to it. Or something like that. It's hard to tell certain things about his writing.

It's hard to tell certain things about anyone's writing.

It's hard to tell certain things.

It's hard.


Tao Lin said...

i wouldn't say lish is right, he just prefers it a certain way

i enjoy both pre-cathedral and cathedral, they are different

i don't know which one i like more, i like them both

i think my last submission to noon was like 3000 words and the printed one will be something like 1600

and the one before that was like 3000 words and the printed one was like 1500

and a few of the stories in my bear parade book were 12,000 and 6000 word stories that got edited to like 500 and 800 words

i think it is just a matter of willingness, of one person to let another person use their thing, of situations where one person feels like they are with someone that won't be hurt by it or they will gain more by it based on what they want, for example maybe carver was drinking a lot and didn't really care about other things except getting some money or something

i think it is just different, letting someone edit it or not letting someone edit it, and then looking at the finished thing and realizing it is just different, no one is right, no one is wrong, it is just different things

i think if everyone viewed it like that there wouldn't be so much fighting about this and there won't be as much fighting that will happen from this being published

everyone arguing about who 'actually' wrote the stories and who is better and if carver would still be 'good' without lish, etc.

i really honestly think all these things about who is 'right' and if someone's edits are 'correct' and whose version is 'better' is clearly, obviously, very obviously distorting how things really are, making it into something else

can't anyone see that tens of thousands of people like to read one kind of writer (and they honestly do) and tens of thousands of people like to read a different kind of writer?

and a lot of the time i can't tell the difference between what tens of thousands of people like and what no one liked in a college workshop, and i don't think people who like nicholas sparks or someone are 'wrong,' it is impossible for them to be wrong, they are honestly enjoying nicholas sparks

gordon lish probably could have edited nicholas sparks into raymond carver if he wanted to or raymond carver into nicholas sparks

i don't know, i think based on what i know i would rather have people view all art as different rather than good or bad or whatever

thank you for reading my comment

Tao Lin said...

if i write a non-fiction book it will be about how it is immoral to unsarcasticly think in terms of 'right' and 'wrong' and 'good' and 'bad' for art and moral to think and talk in terms of 'like' and 'dislike'

before i write that and think about it a lot i want to say that i'm not completely sure what i'm talking about that much, i have thought about it a lot but not in an organized way

but still i have thought about it a lot

Tao Lin said...

people say it is assumed that when someone says an edit is 'right' that the person means 'it is right, to me' but i do not believe that is true for most people because look at everyone arguing about what book is good and what book is bad, i do not think those people are just 'screwing around' and arguing sarcastically, their tones almost always are serious and literal

Tao Lin said...

but some people have different contexts and goals and therefore different morals

i would try to account for everything in my non-fiction book about good and bad in art

the book will be called 'many people whose contexts and goals make it so that it would be moral to view art in terms of like and dislike rather than good or bad are viewing it in terms of good or bad, i think'

Tao Lin said...

i freaked out in the comments section of your blog, i'm sorry

this happened on a different blog about a week ago and i regretted it, now it has happened again, i am sorry


don't regret it. i like your thoughts. i figure you'd respond saying there is no 'right' answer to the situation. there isn't. i don't care who did what to the stories and i think the argument lish wrote carver's stories is a waste of time. the story is the story. it would be a story no matter which way it was printed. i do think there is some kind of weird application of self going on here, but the story still the story.

i believe in absolutes sometimes in my own mind and sometimes when i discuss things aloud i am talking about in my version of the world, the one i have in my head, and i don't bother to differentiate and explain that shift to people.

your ideology is a good one: the no 'good' or 'bad'. but it is still an ideology.

thus you use the phrase 'i think' in your title.

'i think' is an important and 'good' way to phrase things one thinks, i think.


i am also guilty of multiple commenting things. and i can never sleep. thank you for thinking here tao.


i'd like to see the way your NOON stories were edited.

i just edited a 57,000 word novel i wrote down to 8000 words and it is way better as the short one. i think.

Ken Kaye said...

Hi Blake - congrats on your publication and forthcoming work. I've never read anything by or about Gordon Lish before the NYorker piece, but your comment re the Carver story makes me plan to do so.
Glad to see you're thriving and working hard --
Ken Kaye (Bennington 06)

Tao Lin said...

i try make it not an ideology by saying that viewing it as 'good or 'bad' has a certain effect, while viewing it as 'like' or 'dislike' has a certain effect

and the reason i would 'lecture' about this is because most people would prefer the effect of viewing it as 'like' or 'dislike'

and if asked what they view as moral and immoral and what they want to do with their life they would probably, in my view, most people, say they would want the effect of viewing art in terms of 'like' and 'dislike'

in that way what i am saying is not an ideology, if i say it accurately which i probably did not in my giant thing

i might post my noon story already published in both forms on my blog and type about editing

they didn't add any sentences or words like gordon lish did though


hey ken! good to hear from you. long time. hope you are well.

tao: you should post it. i'd like to see the edits.