What we talk about when we talk about editing

Dept. of Corrections

Dept. of Corrections, originally uploaded by p373.

Caroline of Pinky’s Paperhaus raises interesting questions about a recent piece in The New Yorker about Raymond Carver, his editor Gordon Lish, and the editing of Carver’s work. The piece is highly critical of Lish, but more importantly it’s unsigned — no indication is made of who wrote it.

Caroline notes:

Life and Letters pieces going back to 2006 have been signed. I’ve been a subscriber for more than a decade and I can’t think of another unsigned piece of any significant length. 2,200 words is no brief paragraph — it’s substantial work, one that makes a specific argument. Who wouldn’t want to take credit for it? Why would the New Yorker, which values writers as much as any contemporary periodical does, omit this particular byline?

All this new fuss about Carver — his relationship with Lish and the extent to which Lish may have crafted his signature style — is getting attention as Tess Gallagher, his widow, makes moves to print his pre-edited, pre-Lish stories in a new book.

The efforts to publish his work unedited seem to go hand in hand with the calcification of the uncomplicated, lost-and-then-found version of his biography.

I had just finished reading the piece when I read Caroline’s blog post. I hadn’t noticed that it was unsigned, and now that I know that I put a lot less faith into the story it tells.

I remain interested in comparing "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" and "Beginners" — the edited, well-known version of a key Carver story and the pre-edited version. See the edits at the New Yorker website.