Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Different Tradition Altogether

Christopher Benfey's piece on Raymond Carver makes a number of points similar to those I made here and here. But it also adds this very nice insight:

[Lish] thought that Carver was in the tradition of Hemingway, that he was a “minimalist” of some kind, an artist of radical abbreviation; in short, a writer of “short stories.” Lish certainly “improved” Carver’s stories by the standards of that tradition, giving them extra point, concision, suggestiveness, and climax.

But in fact, as we can now see from the original versions of his stories in this important Library of America volume, Carver was part of a different tradition altogether—the tradition of orally based storytellers such as Mark Twain and Sherwood Anderson. One could even argue that the abbreviations of the “short story,” as taught at Iowa and elsewhere, are fundamentally opposed to the oral nature of the kind of storytelling that Carver was practicing.

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