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And no tricks, wise guy

November 2, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Raymond Carver:

I overheard the writer Geoffrey Wolff say “No cheap tricks” to a group of writing students. That should go on a three-by-five card. I’d amend it a little to “No tricks.” Period. I hate tricks.

I get this by way of the Guardian Books Blog, which proceeds to defend tricks.

I like tricks. I like formal invention; not for its own sake, but in the sense that it gives the reader something to think about, to look at from another angle. To be told that this is wrong, somehow mistreating the reader, made me suddenly quite angry. What about Barthelme, I thought….

What about Barthelme, indeed? Let’s ask Carver himself (same source as above):

It should be noted that real experiment in fiction is original, hard-earned and cause for rejoicing. But someone else’s way of looking at things – Barthelme’s, for instance – should not be chased after by other writers. It won’t work. There is only one Barthelme … the real experimenters have to Make It New, as Pound urged, and in the process have to find things out for themselves.

So Carver didn’t say, “don’t experiment.” (And it’s disingenuous — a cheap trick, if you like — to pretend that he did.)

What he said was, “don’t experiment just because the other guy did it.” Which strikes me as sound advice.

And leaves me wondering what comment Carver might make on reading a few issues of our little magazines.

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