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Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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01/23/2008

Comments

Jacob Russell

"At what point does a text have sufficient aesthetic integrity that we are justified reading it as a text, and not just a draft still on its way to its artistic consummation?"

How do know if you we don't have both versions to compare?

As for the rights of the dead over their work... what do we say about Max Brod and Kafka? An absurd question... but I can't help but wonder what Walter Benjamin would say. What is an "original?"

Steven Augustine

"At what point does a text have sufficient aesthetic integrity that we are justified reading it as a text, and not just a draft still on its way to its artistic consummation?"

This is precisely the way (or among the cardinal ways) we judge an Artist's ability: the extent to which we agree with the Artist's decision that the work is "finished", or ready to be judged. There is "finished" and there is "finished," of course, as writers often re-work published material. But the material doesn't reach the state of "finishedness" on its own, after suddenly reaching a mystical, critical-mass value of ding-an-sichness (to be funny) or completeness.

DeLillo could have decided to end "Underworld" two thirds of the way through and we'd never know the difference. "On Chesil Beach" could have been a 300-hundred-pager. The Artist decides when to stop and then the critics and readers, in turn, judge the decision.

So, to answer the quoted question: when the Artist says so, in my opinion.

Re: what to say about Kafka and Brod: I'd say Kafka knew Brod fairly well by the time he enstrusted him with his afterlife. How often, in the real world, do words mean only their face value?

King Wenclas

The Ray Carver case illustrates everything wrong with today's publishing system.
Who better to judge the quality of a work than the creator himself?
The ARTIST should himself be in charge.
Interesting that, due to the exclusionary nature of their own times, and their own firm independence, such geniuses as William Blake and Vincent Van Gogh had total control over their own output. Their work did not suffer.

Steven Augustine

"The ARTIST should himself be in charge.
Interesting that, due to the exclusionary nature of their own times, and their own firm independence, such geniuses as William Blake and Vincent Van Gogh had total control over their own output. Their work did not suffer."

King, I'm not sure what you mean by being "in charge" (if you're speaking only on the editorial level, I guess you're saying there should be an Internet for writers to post on), but the second claim of your statement unravels the first, the operative word being "genius".

Blake and Van Gogh were exceptions on the magnitude of one out of how many hundreds of thousands (or millions, even)? In any case, Carver isn't the best shield for your argument, since, without Lish's intervention, we'd never have heard of him, and we certainly wouldn't be arguing about him today. If anything, the "publishing" industry didn't conspire to silence a genius, in Carver's case, it conspired to manufacture one. As it does several times each year.

We don't need more "geniuses"... we need *less*: less geniuses, more productive artists, undeluded by hype, undistracted by popular opinion. I'm not a genius, and you're not a genius, and it's doubtful that any of the writers in your collective is a genius.

Now doesn't that feel better?

Lloyd Mintern

The work of any genius is NEVER completed. Nor stylistic perfected and polished to such a high shine that that author couldn't improve it. And Nabokov knew that; his talk of perfection was only a public image, a self-promotion like his rules for interviews, part of his tactics for attracting and seducing readers (who naively think that genius and perfection are related). Nabokov was a consummate joker; hasn't anyone read his books? Every one of his own books could have been improved, even changed in substance, by his own hand--that he surely knew. Nabokov indulged in the fact of genius being always in pursuit of what it cannot complete; he was a penetrator of mysteries and the incompleteness of existence. He surely must have known that neither his wife nor his son would follow instructions to destroy his papers. There is no difference between this Laura manuscript and correspondence he might have rather not have the world see, or lecture notes. This whole "issue" smacks of a publicity stunt.

Rodney Welch

Dan,

Like the subject under discussion, you're normally the strong opinion type, and the fact that you end your post on an ambiguous note underscores the divided feelings all readers of Nabokov share.

Let's face it: no one wants to see the thing burned, whatever the author's dying wishes. It feels too much like burning the last surviving copy of the Constitution, or the first edition of Playboy, or an NEA grant.

Here's another thought: there's always been a certain amount of pyromania by proxy to Nabokov, and in this regard he's always seemed to me a bit like a would-be suicide yearning for someone to intervene.

Take the famous story about the composition of "Lolita," which he was about to put in the incinerator before Vera interceded. Obviously, if he really wanted to burn it, he would have; instead, what he really wanted was someone to stop him. He wanted a vote of confidence. He wanted his wife to tell him to keep working on it. Maybe the same is true here; if he wanted to torch it, why didn't he do it himself? Instead, he once again left the job to Vera, who in typical fashion again kept it from the flames, passing on that duty to her son, who is no more capable of the task than she.

I say leave the manuscript alone. It's what he would have wanted.

John M

"Maybe the same is true here; if he wanted to torch it, why didn't he do it himself? "

Presumably because he was working on it. I don't think this is a complicated issue. If you promise someone you will do something you are obligated, morally, to do it so long as it is within your power. Not to honour the promise is an insult to the person it is made to. If you cannot honour it, don't make it. This goes for Brod too. He betrayed a friend who trusted him. There are special words for people like that.

King Wenclas

One person we KNOW for sure isn't a genius is Random House editor Gary Fisketjon, the person objecting most strenuously to the publication of the versions RAY CARVER HIMSELF preferred.
Again, I'll go with the author's vision. Carver was extremely upset by what Lish did to his work-- his art eviscerated; mangled-- yet was too subservient to the all-powerful publishing system, too cowed by it, too eager for any kind of acceptance, to fight what occurred.
Did this have an effect on him?
It's crushing being a writer and pinning your hopes to acceptance by the mainstream. Those who opt for this course accept the psychic burdens which go with it.
Nice that Dan Green thinks Lish's version better. Excuse me for saying this, but Who the fuck are you? Are you the Authority-- over Ray Carver himself?
There's no way I would want your style of writer editing my work. (Nor would you want me editing yours!)
Your academy-style is word-clot, as I see it. Oh yeah, let's "foreground" this discussion a little more.
No doubt a big house editor would do something about the verbiage, to make the statement more readable for the general public. He'd likely remove entire chunks of your thoughts.
I'm against this.
I argue, Not!
No! Leave Dan Green's prose alone!
Awful or not, it's a reflection of the mentality and the man-- the words and viewpoint he wishes to present to the world.

Steven Augustine

"Are you the Authority-- over Ray Carver himself?"

King, who's a better musician: Pat Boone, or Stevie Wonder? Would you accept the notion that someone who answers that question with "Pat Boone" is welcome to his or her opinion, along with zero credibility in judging such matters? Or is it all merely subjective, rendering all of these discussions pointless? Or maybe we should let Pat Boone decide?

Why not take your argument to its logical conclusion: who the "f" is anyone to claim that the work of Franz Kafka or Joan Didion is more valuable than the earnest, truth-telling diary entries of Buffy-Jane Schneidermann, 14, of La Jolla Junior High?

What's your argument against publishing everything ever written, by *everyone*? Do you have one at all?

Dan Green

I'm hardly claiming "authority" by admitting I prefer the versions of Carver's fiction that I first encountered in the early books--which were, after all, signed by Carver whether or not he was "cowed" by Lish. The unedited versions just aren't as good. That is, of course, my opinion, but I don't see why I shouldn't be entitled to it.

I don't think you'll find many posts on this blog extolling the virtues of editors. Just the opposite, in fact. But in Carver's case, if he hadn't acceded to Lish's editing, his work might have been published anyway, but he wouldn't have had nearly the influence he did have, and his work would now be mostly forgotten.

Jill

"If you cannot honour it, don't make it. This goes for Brod too. He betrayed a friend who trusted him."

Brod never promised to burn the papers. In fact, he told FK that he would NOT burn them. That FK still charged him with the task is taken by many as an indication that FK didn't really want them burned.

Rodney Welch

"Presumably because he was working on it."

Well, yes, but I suspect that at the point he was conscious enough to request that it be burned if he died might also be the point at which he should have done the job himself.

"This goes for Brod too. He betrayed a friend who trusted him. There are special words for people like that."

What's the word for dying people who lay cruel, onerous burdens on their loved ones? A few come to mind, and "meticulous artist" isn't among them.

Daniel

I wish I could get up the energy to care, but all this talk of dead authors' manuscripts has me all down in the mouth: Ralph Ellison, Ray Carver, now Mister Butterfly himself.

Jacob Russell

It would be an entirely different subject, if the choice was between, well... a choice, and no choice. But then, it is, isn't it? If we burn: no choice. If we don't--we have both, we have a choice--two versions. A just challenge to our judgement as readers.

Carver was beginning to find his own voice, and the confidence to employ it. When he wrote The errand, he didn't need Lish. But I doubt if he would have been able to find his way to that story without Lish.

Carver needed someone as strong as Lish --to resist. It took him a while. And it seems hard to deny that he learned in that strange apprenticeship. He learned how to hold his own ground... but would he have found that, without Lish? Who can say.

I'm grateful to have the stories he left, but when I first read The Errand, I thought... here was someone who might have been... a writer to remember.

Lloyd Mintern

Dan, why have you joined these two unrelated questions about two completely different authors, Nabokov and Carver, together, as if they had something to do with one another? One is an editing question, the other a question of directions for posterity--they have nothing to do with one another at all. Not only that but readers who like Nabokov are likely to find Carver simplistic, and readers who like Carver likely to find Nabokov precious. THAT might be a topic, but to juxtapose two editorial situations as if they were in the same category? You can see the results in your Comments. Chaos!

Steven Augustine

Chaos can be fruitful! I've enjoyed reading this thread.

Rodney Welch

"Not only that but readers who like Nabokov are likely to find Carver simplistic, and readers who like Carver likely to find Nabokov precious."

I never found it hard to like both. I don't know if Nabokov himself would like Carver -- add that name to a very, very long list for whom the lepidopterist had no use -- but both writers liked Chekhov, and Carver (or is that Lish?) was I think rather strongly influenced by him. If you like the good doctor there's a good chance you may like Carver.

There aren't many better stories than "Cathedral."

Dan Green

"why have you joined these two unrelated questions about two completely different authors"

They seem to be pretty obviously related just at an intial glance: In both cases, someone other than the author (Tess Gallagher, Dmitri Nabokov) are making decisions about what will be published under the author's name. Other questions ensue: At what point does a "draft" become a completed text or at least of sufficient interest that it should be made available to readers, etc.

jonathan

Put me down for both authors, and for discussing them chaotically together.

Fran

I really don't give a damn if yet another overrated male writer's work will or won't be published against his wishes. I think Lolita's misogynistic stereotypical crap, and Nabokov's yet another member of The Overrated Male Writers Club.

However, as far as Kafka is concerned, I like some of his work, and I'm against what happened to it, even though I've enjoyed reading it (see http://franswhatever.blogspot.com/2006/02/kafka-again.html and http://franswhatever.blogspot.com/2006/01/weightier-writerly-worth-when-dead-max.html) for info about Kafka). Likewise, I'm against maggoting of writerly corpses in general, so Nabokov's manuscript should remain unpublished, in my opinion, and not just because I have no interest in reading it. (Also, I think what ultimately happens with an artist's work is the ARTIST'S final decision to make, and no one else's.)

Artists and their works should not automatically be worth more when the artists are dead, yet I think this is often the case. And this worth-more-when-dead system reinforces artist-poverty, reinforces a world where it's acceptable that too many artists/writers are censored and excluded while alive, and are supposed to shut up, smile and be happy with this ridiculous unfair system on the off chance that their day will come--long after they're dead! When they can then enjoy the fruits of their word-labors! ...NOT.

Literary corpses can't enjoy literary successes.

Rodney Welch

Has anyone seen Fran's pacifier?

Fran

Has anyone seen Rodney's brain?

Why not address what I said rather than fallaciously insult me, or would that be too much logic for you to handle? Too much logic for someone who implies burning the first edition of Playboy would be something "no one wants to see" and would be a terrible thing? Where's the first edition? I'd gladly burn it along with all the rest.

Same-old same-old here, largely a bunch of males talking about a bunch of males. Invoking a sexist men's magazine gives away the seeming boy's club here (as I think is the case with much of the supposed "literary" world), as if the whole reading audience is stereotypical heterosexual males.

Misogynistic sexist ideologies are irrelevant to the future, in my opinion. For it to survive, humanity, human society needs to start over again from the ground-up--leaving all the dinosaurs with their dinosaur ideas and behaviors, who've really screwed things up and have driven much of the earth toward extinction, leaving those human dinosaurs where they belong: in the past.

By the time all the dime-a-dozen crap works are published, there probably aren't enough resources left for publishers to publish all the LIVING deserving writers, writers with fresher viewpoints who deserve to be a part of humanity's future, who can maybe push humanity down better paths. Why the hell should anyone give a shit about reading one more manuscript from a dead dinosaur, which may take the place of a living writer's manuscript getting published, which manuscript may be better than that dinosaur's?

Steven Augustine

"Same-old same-old here, largely a bunch of males talking about a bunch of males."

Fran, making sweeping generalizations about posters you know nothing about based on their *apparent* gender(s) doesn't exactly identify you as the new, post-sexist breed of human. It's just more quasi-literary locker room trash talk, isn't it, and am I supposed to rate it more highly, or consider it a bracing session of truth-telling, merely because of the (implied) configuration of your genitals?

Likewise, referring to a writer as a "dead dinosaur" is spectacularly churlish and ignorant of time's process, since you seem to be unaware of the fact that you, and all of your hero(in)es, will soon enough be dinosaurs yourselves.

In fact, given your (apparent) attitude, I'm guessing you're one of those quaint "smash the patriarchy" dinosaurs from the 1970s, blissfully unaware of the comical ironies of using a macho posture with which to attack macho posturing.

Meanwhile: care to support your argument with an excerpt of mindblowing gender-transcendent prose, untainted with influences from any of those filthy dead penis-having no-talent members of the canon?

No rush, of course. Take your time...

Fran

More personal attacks against me, more logical fallacies. That other (male) poster started it, not me, and now another (male) poster is continuing it.

"Fran, making sweeping generalizations about posters you know nothing about"

--Excuse me? So where is my supposed "sweeping generalization" incorrect with respect to this thread? Is it not mostly males talking about mostly males, as in male writers? There's me and one other female-sounding name--Jill. Every other person seems to be a male, at least ten of them. I know several are based on having seen them and/or spoken to them here and elsewhere. Playboy has been mentioned, a sexist magazine that objectifies women, and mentioned as if the demise of an issue of it would be a terrible thing, but very few female writers have been mentioned. Females and their achievements are either barely in this thread and in my opinion, the few mentioned have been diminished anyway by the mention of a sexist girly magazine (this isn't the only thread I've had a problem with here). In my opinion and experience, this is COMMON discourse in the blog world, in the academic world, in the practically anywhere world of humans. Of course many of the males participating in this aren't likely to see it; they are the problem.

Um, doubtful I'll be a dinosaur. I meant dinosaur as a regressive person hanging onto ancient harmful ideologies that should have been extincted by now. In my opinion, Nabokov is definitely a dead dinosaur by my definition. "Churlish"? Don't moralize at me, don't patronize me. Who are you? My boss? My elder? I'll be as outspoken as I want to be in whatever tone I want. I don't have to listen to you.

And people who've used the disgusting sexist misogynistic patriarchal phrase "menopausally shrill" are not people's whose opinions I'd value, especially when they're womenopausally moronic.

"I'm guessing you're one of those quaint "smash the patriarchy" dinosaurs from the 1970s"

--Wow, what a surprise: a misogynist attacking feminists, and a feminist: me. And of course the ageist misogynist assumes I'm older than I am. Gotta keep up with those misogynistic patriarchal attacks on older women!

Care to support your argument with anything other than logical fallacies? Where is your argument exactly? You didn't address any of mine. You just addressed--attacked--me. Typical sexist misogynistic behavior from stereotypical kinds of males.

Unless you someday evolve into a thinking nonsexist nonmisogynist animal, don't talk to me.

Steven Augustine

Fran, you forgot to leave us with an excerpted example of the noble new literature with which you plan to purify the planet (and literary history) of "stereotypical heterosexual males" (to invoke just one of your sweeping generalizations).

You wouldn't be all irrelevant-internet-animus (anima?) and no substance, now, would you? I'm shocked.

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