Wednesday, October 17, 2007


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So short story master Raymond Caver's works might have been edited beyond his satisfaction by Gordon Lish and others prior to their publication. They were published though, to wide acclaim. Carver's widow, Tess Gallagher, now wants to restore the Lish-licked texts to their former "expansiveness." The NY Times wades through this potential literary controversy pretty well. Gallagher's proposal for a Carver revision is posted by the NY Times, too. To be honest, the side by side comparisons do not bode well for the superiority of Carver's initial vision. Let's take a look.

Here is the ending of the story "One More Thing" in its unedited glory:

L.D. put the shaving bag under his arm again and once more picked up the suitcase. “I just want to say one more thing, Maxine. Listen to me. Remember this,” he said. “I love you. I love you no matter what happens. I love you too, Bea. I love you both.” He stood there at the door and felt his lips begin to tingle as he looked at them for what, he believed, might be the last time. “Good-bye,” he said.

“You call this love, L.D.?” Maxine said. She let go of Bea’s hand. She made a fist. Then she shook her head and jammed her hands into her coat pockets. She stared at him and then dropped her eyes to something on the floor near his shoes.

It came to him with a shock that he would remember this night and her like this. He
was terrified to think that in the years ahead she might come to resemble a woman he couldn’t place, a mute figure in a long coat, standing in the middle of a lighted room with lowered eyes.

“Maxine!” he cried. “Maxine!”

“Is this what love is, L.D.?” she said, fixing her eyes on him. Her eyes were terrible and deep, and he held them as long as he could.
Here's the ending as edited by Gordon Lish and published in the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love:

L.D. put the shaving bag under his arm and picked up the suitcase.

He said, “I just want to say one more

But then he could not think what it
could possibly be.
The unedited version is imbued with more closure, and a lot more melodramatics. You get more of a sense of how the story resolves (in how the relationship is dissolved). The actions are clunky, heavy handed, somewhat veering towards cliché. The edited version, in its concision, allows for the characters in the story to live on, to inhabit a space beyond the page, to, in a sense, endure. The notion of "one more thing" needed to be said becomes imbued with the same power as the more explosive unedited version, but this power and strength comes from what is not said, what is lost on L.D. The unedited version attempts to redeem L.D. while the edited version leaves the reading much more open. There's more respect for the reader in the edited version, and that respect, I think, allows the story to be more nuanced, dare I say more literary. Suddenly the characters are left within the reader, to resolve or not resolve their predicament. Suddenly this scene can be either a repeated, common incident among these characters, or the end to a strange family unit. The possibility of L.D. loving Maxine isn't lost, but what it is he has to say, what he's feeling, is, for the moment, lost on him. The story shows relationships for their mystery, their dysfunction, their intangibility. The longer version flattens these senses. The expansive version in effect creates minimal meanings, while the minimal version allows for a more meaningful story.

We're kind of stuck with a chicken or the egg situation here. Carver's reputation was founded on the stories in their leaner form. I wonder if he'd have had the same impact if they weren't given this treatment. They endure because of their lack of resolution. They stay with readers because there's so much that isn't said.

The Real Carver: Expansive or Minimal? [NY Times]

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Callahan's Kind of Cool

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Assured, sharp, cool (tempered, comfortable in his own skin), Bill Callahan took to the stage of the Echoplex at around 11:20 last night and got down to business. Notably it wasn't (Smog) who performed. (Smog) being Callahan's moniker from his earliest days on the indie scene back in 1988. This time around, he's simply Bill Callahan, touring in support of his album "Woke on a Whaleheart." And Callahan, with a company of incredible musicians (bass, violin, and a percussionist who worked it standing up), put on an excellent show.

Callahan's songs all came off well, his trilling, mildly low voice ushered his lyrical loops while the music often started of spare and would build, slowly, to a cacophony made all the more impressive given the presence of only 4 people on stage. At times the sound seemed bigger than all of them. Like how the energy of the more propulsive track, "Diamond Dancer," was palpable. The percussionist, who heretofore was exemplar with his subtlety and controlled erratics and atmospherics, suddenly thundered a hard 4/4 beat, while the violinist hit a higher and more haunting register than she had with other songs, peeling askew and gorgeously shrill, with hints of lamenting vibrato. And of course, Bill, his expressive maw, hollering in this calculating, controlled sense.

And that was the essence of the whole show. It was experimental in that the songs all had the space to lumber and exist on a very mellow level. The music was imbued with a sense of composure, subsumed by the very necessity of the songs. That's what I was ultimately left with, Callahan's necessity. Necessary, as in, it's necessary to hear him sing to you, and because the venue was small and only half-filled, it felt like he was addressing us. It was necessary to hear him sing,"Oh I never really realized death is what it meant to make it on my own," in an excellent rendition of "Say Valley Maker." That was the line that stayed with me the most. He's saying that we're all in this together right now, in this moment (you can be alone when you die).

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Friday, October 05, 2007


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Holland Cotter exalts the "sleeper" exhibit, “Eternal Ancestors: The Art of the Central African Reliquary” at the Met in NYC. Cotter just short of begs museum goers to give up the modernist, western focused ghost, if only for a second, and, like, totally check out this little exhibit, because, you'll totally get something out of it, I swear. Which is an interesting thought because so much of what marks modern art is its lack of substance, or its theoreticalness, or its opaqueness. And suddenly, seemingly rudimentary, savage works, boring pedagogical fodder (thus the traditionally "sleeper" section of the museum) at least in this article, are suffused with meaning. The meaning being the historical connections between African and European treatments of their dead. Cotter somewhat bemoans the need for Euro connections, but hell, the Met has to get people in there somehow. And then:
The show ends theatrically too, though whether with tragedy or comedy is hard to say. One of the final images [above] is also one of the most startling: a reliquary figure from Congo. Standing six feet tall and made from layers and layers of cloth, including red European blankets, the figure is bulked up to resemble a giant female doll, all but nude, with brick-red skin and a smile of what looks like avid glee on her face.

Who is she? What is she? Several things. She is a portrait of someone who has died and also a receptacle for that person’s mummified body. She is an image of a specific category of ancestor, one recently dead. But she will fully claim status only after she has been buried with the relic she holds.

So she's ultimately a kind of metaphysical object, a body within a body that constitutes a whole only when a) she's dead and b) contained within her depiction. Crazy interesting. No sarcasm here. Cotter wins me over at the end of the piece with, " The lesson: In death, as in life, ambiguity rules." Yes! Ambiguity totally rules!

Keeping Watch Over the Dead [NYT]

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Monday, October 01, 2007


Bessie Smith singing, oh how she's singing, "Careless Love Blues."

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