Monday, December 03, 2007

Whose Carver?

James Campbell considers the planned re-issue of Carver's collection What We talk About When We Talk About Love (with Carver's original title Beginners), in the light of the comparative endings of the story One More Thing which have now been made available. It's clear that Gordon Lish's so-called 'edit' amounted to a breathtaking rewrite which, as Campbell says, changed utterly the character of the protagonist, turning him away from verbosity and towards the taciturnity we have come to associate with both Carver's characters and his prose. The Lish treatment gives the story that resonant and ambiguous combination of full stop yet lack of closure which is common to Carver's stories as published, but which is missing from the original version of this one.

Campbell points out one factor which will make any well-known author with similar plans of redress quail: it matters not a jot which version is better; in the most significant sense, the well-known versions of an author's characters (and his or her prose) no longer belong to him, his executors or his publishers. They are emotionally owned by the reading public, and it is therefore the well-known versions which are most likely to survive.


Vanessa G said...

Speaking totally subjectively, the final line of the original holds far more of an ache than the somewhat curt albeit clever rewrite, and I understand why Carver railed against the changes.

And it is also subjective... but the character who emerges through the verbosity is a far more vulnerable one. I am drawn to that.

But I am left wondering... all this stuff we are told by those who know, about making the reader work, leaving space for the reader at the expense often of colour, texture... will there be a pendulum swing against that?

Thanks for posting... its thought-provoking stuff as always.


Elizabeth Baines said...

Well, I do agree with you actually - but it's so different from what we expect from Carver, that there's something shocking about it all... It's the actual verbosity which is moving, I think, that retreat into (or even redemption through) words...?

Wayne said...

Raymond Carver died in 1988, a day before I turned twenty-five, at the age of fifty. Any further edits to his work can only be dollar based edits. I won't be buying them.

Adrian said...

Oh, its a can of worms isn't it? My all time favourite novel is "Tender is the Night" and there are 2 f-ing versions of it! It seems obvious to me that the one that begins on the Riviera is the right one, yet its structurally so wrong, and Fitzgerald changed it, then recanted. He fixed the problem, I guess, then created another problem. But then, I LIKE the voiceover in "Blade Runner", and felt the directors cut was overlong (aren't they always?) - and now he's done ANOTHER version. I could scream! Or rather, I could sit here smugly, thinking: even the greatest works of art are still in transit, still a word or a scene or a timeshift away from perfection. In other words, they are again in the world of the achievable...