Wednesday, July 01, 2009
Goddam Golden Syllables
There was a nice crowd at Heritage yesterday, including many old friends — Charles Kesler, Lee Edwards, Noemie Emery, and Matt Spaulding, who graciously introduced me. Most pertinent to Right Time, Right Place was Dan Oliver, a longtime NR veteran in many capacities. I quote his advice to me, and to all writers, on p. 30: don't fall in love with your "every goddam golden syllable." Dan told me he couldn't remember telling me that; I said that he told it to Linda Bridges, who saw its truth, and passed it on.
Dan speaks to the willingness to be edited, and more generally the willingness to conceive of one's work as an assignment, or a form, and hitting the mark. Such considerations do not necessarily separate good from bad writers, but they separate professionals from amateurs — and that disctinction is more congruent with good vs. bad writers than we might think. Are there good writers who are unprofessional? Some. Are there great ones?
Just now I am reading aloud to my wife Jeanne the new Penguin translation of In Search of Lost Time. to me Proust stands out as the only prose writer who is clearly an amateur, and also considered great. I am two thirds of the way through The Guermantes Way, and his amateurism is a trial. There is perhaps less gibberish in In Search of Lost Time than there is in War and Peace, but there is much more wheel-spinning and tedium. Tolstoy's failures are clearly segregated, and easy to spot: anything he says about history, art, or the Russian soul. Proust's indiscipline shows itself on almost every page. I have a feeling that a good editor could have shaved the equivalent of at least 200 pages from what I have read so far.
I will give Mike response time if he likes.
07/01 11:47 AMShare