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01 Jul 2016 at 11:18 am #8399
Woah woah, his “cussedness”, you have to elaborate. How has it never even occurred to me to think about how he takes editing? That’s so interesting. Pardon the geeking out here:
1) How many drafts does he seem to go through, book to book, or is it more like an amalgam where you have a dozen drafts of one chapter and three of another?
2) What were some things editors had a gripe with? I’ve heard on these boards some great affection for a scene from Suttree where a burning cat sets a barn on fire that never made the final cut.
3) How, if you can recall, did he respond?
But also, jeez, a toast to any agent with the testicular fortitude to tell Cormac McCarthy: “write it THIS way.”
asoron0424Quote02 Jul 2016 at 9:27 am #8400
Re: “…a better idea of who McCarthy was and what his motives were with each particular piece?”
There is already much on this in the published crit-lit–interpretative speculation from the scattered clues in the Archives and from what we know of McCarthy’s life. Ellis’s NO PLACE FOR HOME, for example, seems dead on regarding fathers and sons in McCarthy’s life as well as in his work.
Will there be more revelations in the coming years? Sure, and there will be some great crit-lit made of them along with some asinine interpretations, the latter the price of fame on this glistening green globe.
Face it, we want to know but we really don’t want to know. Our heart’s desire is to be told some mystery. Jonathan Franzen wrote that memoir detailing his pompous asshole behavior leading to the destruction of his marriage. Asked by the New York Times the degree to which his life influenced his fiction, Franzen said that he was a writer, and that writers never finish writing without an awful lot of blood on the ground.
I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have the link, but that’s the gist of it, and I think that will apply to Cormac McCarthy too.
Richard L.Quote02 Jul 2016 at 3:17 pm #8401
Perhaps it’s because I’m reading Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady at the moment, but I would hope that the archive contains more explanation on McCarthy’s animus toward James and Proust. I’ve been having a bit of fun reading Portrait of the Lady as McCarthy might have done: snarling at the many ‘indeeds,’ apoplectic after reading: ‘It may appear to some readers that the young lady was both precipitate and fastidiuous; but the latter of these facts, if the charge was true, may serve to exonerate her from the discredit of the former.’
I’m really enjoying The Portrait of a Lady, but part of the enjoyment is knowing how ridiculous it all is
02 Jul 2016 at 5:55 pm #8403
- This reply was modified 9 months, 3 weeks ago by cantona.
It’s been about a decade since I’ve really dug into James, but, I’ve always enjoyed the work that his novels necessitate. “Portrait of a Lady”, “Daisy Miller”, and “Washington Square” were easily my favorites. At one time or another I’ve had “Golden Bough”, “The Ambassadors”, “What Maisie Knew”, “The American” and “Roderick Hudson” on my shelf,but haven’t had the time they need.
I always found great value in James because he shows us the great shit-box that we’ve locally orchestrated, not mattering if it is dealing with “in-laws”, your own family, or the neighbors. James underscores the chaos that we have asked for as we expect our individual freedoms and desires to be granted by all around us. Yes, I need to read some more of him.
My best guess is that McCarthy disliked Henry because James deals with societal interactions, as opposed to the more immediate “life and death” issues in his own work.
mff9200Quote02 Jul 2016 at 8:16 pm #8404
Regarding McCarthy and his editors, I submit the first few grafs of a letter dated May 27, 1977, from Albert Erskine to Cormac McCarthy:
To: C McC
Text: …it is not possible to imitate truly a dull and garrulous discourser, without repeating the effects of dullness and garrulity. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, XVIII
I am enclosing those pages I mentioned on which I have queries, mostly minor, so that you can annotate them and return them to me.
I may have quoted Coleridge at you before — I don’t really recall — but this is one of his shrewdest observations, aimed at Wordsworth’s theory of using the simple language of simple folk in narrative poetry; and to me it applies precisely to such characters as J.B. Hoghead, Primrose, Blind Richard, etc, etc, who after all this time are still indistinguishable one from the other and are equally boring.
If you think this book is the best you can make it as it now stands, I’ll turn it in, with great misgivings, for copy-editing and production. But I want once again to plead for something better and more compact. (Wittliff Collections, 91/19/1)
At the time Erskine made this plea in the spring of ’77, Suttree stood at a bloated, near-900 pages of unwieldy text. When it was published the following year, it came in at 400 fewer pages than that. Still a bit unwieldy, perhaps, but certainly a better work (maybe even a masterpiece) with the huge excisions. So McCarthy obviously took his editor’s sage advice. This letter is one of the items I made copies of on my first visit to the archives seven years ago this week.
02 Jul 2016 at 8:24 pm #8405
Another part of that Erskine letter that I really love:
“The reason for the Hamlet aside is that I was brooding about Suttree when I was watching the Dane, and I was struck by what they have in common and what they don’t. Both are fascinated by maggots, excrement, decay; but beyond fascination, Suttree seems to relish this constellation.” (Albert Erskine in a letter to Cormac McCarthy, May 1977)
So good. Speaking of the Bard, this bit from Richard II resonates with the Erskine and probably even more largely for McCarthy’s work in a big-picture sort of way:
Of comfort no man speak:
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs
03 Jul 2016 at 4:17 am #8407
- This reply was modified 9 months, 3 weeks ago by Glass.
In one of the later drafts of The Crossing there are annotations by his editor, Gary Fisketjohn. Of over 40 suggestions, McCarthy accepts only three. The rest are ignored and the final text is as it appears in the draft.
robmcinroyQuote03 Jul 2016 at 6:37 am #8408
Yes, I felt that a Jamesian immersion was long overdue. However, I will see how things go with Portrait of a Lady first. One thing that I’ve noticed already: although I’ve been enjoying the wonderful wit and elegant prose, the tale of Isabel Archer doesn’t really stay with me as much as I would like. Early days, though. As for your last point, well, I agree, but I get the feeling that McCarthy was railing against the style and tone as much as all that irksome societal stuff.
Peter, the passage from the Erskine letter was eye-opening. Thanks for that! I’ve been writing a great deal about McCarthy and decay (social and bodily) of late. The excerpt from the letter made me feel that maybe I’m not entirely barking up the wrong tree.
cantonaQuote03 Jul 2016 at 9:28 am #8409
Jim, glad you liked that. Your work sounds fascinating and definitely on target.
Rob, that is very interesting McCarthy ignoring those suggestions. I am wondering now if McCarthy ever regretted getting rid of those huge swaths of text from Suttree?
03 Jul 2016 at 11:10 am #8410
Peter, there are certainly bits that could have stayed in because they’re every bit as good as what’s in the final text.
Erskine complained that some scenes were too similar and he may have a bit of a point about that, but overall I think he really missed what Suttree was about. Far from glorying in “blight and decay”, the novel celebrates the diversity of human community and Suttree, far from being “only pitiful”, is a man in the middle of an existential crisis who somehow manages to fashion a way out of it.
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