Friday, January 28, 2011

Michael Turner: What We Talk About When We Talk About Editing

My friend Mel Herb McGinnis, a cardiologist, was talking. Mel McGinnis is a cardiologist, and sometimes that gives him the right.  The four of us were sitting around his kitchen table drinking gin. It was Saturday afternoon. Sunlight filled the kitchen from the big window behind the sink. There were Mel Herb and me I and his second wife, Teresa—Terri, we called her—and my wife, Laura. We lived in Albuquerque, then.  But but we were all from somewhere else. There was an ice bucket on the table. The gin and the tonic water kept going around, and we somehow got on the subject of love. Mel Herb thought real love was nothing less than spiritual love. He said When he was young he’d spent five years in a seminary before quitting to go to medical school. He He’d left the Church at the same time, but he said he still looked back on to those years in the seminary as the most important in his life.


Above is the opening paragraph of a story by Raymond Carver entitled “Beginners”, renamed “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by the man responsible for the bold type, the cross-outs and the pilcrows, the writer Gordon Lish. Lish’s editing of Carver is one of the great stories of modern literature. But is it editing? And if not editing, what then?


Co-writing?

Why not.

After years of trying, Carver’s widow, the poet Tess Gallagher, has succeeded in having Knopf re-publish Carver’s stories in their “original” form. Put another way, Gallagher has removed Lish’s unattributed co-authorship without regard for Lish. Are these stories “better”, or are they merely closer to Carver’s intentions, the “authentic” Carver as it were?

Personally I am happy to have both, rather than one or the other, or neither (see below):

The Widow Gallagher My friend Mel Herb McGinnis, a cardiologist, was complaining talking. The Widow was complaining, and that gave her Mel McGinnis is a cardiologist, and sometimes that gives him the right.  The four of us were sitting around Ray’s galleys his kitchen table drinking gin. It was a Monday afternoon It was Saturday afternoon. Sunlight filled the office kitchen from the big window behind the photocopier sink. There were the Widow Mel Herb and me I and her lawyer his second wife, Teresa—Terri, we called her—and a life-sized cardboard cutout of Ray my wife, for promotional purposes Laura. We were at Knopf’s New York office lived in Albuquerque, then.  But but we were all in this together from somewhere else. There was a contract an ice bucket on the table. The pen gin and the tonic water kept going around, and we returned to somehow got on the subject of editing love. The Widow Gallagher Mel Herb thought editing real love was nothing less than meanness, or in Ray’s case, aesthetic imperialism at the hands of Gordon Lish spiritual love. She He said When he was young she’d spent five years reading Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead before having the courage to contact Knopf and demand that Ray’s stories be republished in their original form in a seminary before quitting to go to medical school. She He He’d left the Church at the same time, but he said she still didn’t like how Ray looked in cardboard, and couldn’t we do more to bring out his eyes still looked back on to those years in the seminary as the most important in his life.


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Michael Turner is a Vancouver-based writer of fiction, criticism and song. He tends a blog of his own. If you're still curious you can find more about him here.

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