On the teaching practices of American writer Gordon Lish
“[Gordon] Lish’s engagement with theory was every bit as revisionary as his editing of Carver and others. As he readily admits, ‘if I read a philosopher, and he’s not interested in what I’m interested in, I’ll revise what he’s said… bend it and change it, to make it come out my way’. In the classroom, Lish revised theoretical concepts into provisional models for literary composition. True to the spirit of the program era, his teaching prioritized practical over propositional knowledge, converting conceptual ‘knowing that’ into the creative know-how of craft.”
David Winters: Let’s discuss the ideas behind your teaching. I’m especially interested in your thoughts on literary originality. In the past you’ve suggested that every human being possesses, at some buried level, a unique relation to the grammar of their native language – what you’ve sometimes called an ‘Ur-language’.
Gordon Lish: Yes. In the old days, I called it a khora. An innate melody that some psychoanalysts would claim issues out of the melody of our name, or whatever affectionate name we might be given by our parents. Early in life, we have established within us a certain brief musical jotting. This is what is elaborated if we spread ourselves out into acts of writing. It can be seen in the writing of others, but I believe that it can also be consciously elicited. In order to do so, you must understand that you’re safest when you’re at your most honest – which I would be quick to justify my own scribbling as being. In my writing, I’m psychopathically engaged with the phonemic; the smallest spicule of the construct is a concern to me. At the same time, I try to give way to a speech which has its origin somewhere well beyond my understanding. It is as if something interior is determined to speak. (more…)
A promising new title from Zero Books: ‘David Winters has quickly become a leading voice in the new landscape of online literary criticism. His widely-published work maps the furthest frontiers of contemporary fiction and theory. The essays in this book range from the American satirist Sam Lipsyte to the reclusive Australian genius Gerald Murnane; from the distant reading of Franco Moretti to the legacy of Gordon Lish. Meditations on style, form and fictional worlds sit side-by-side with overviews of the cult status of Oulipo, the aftermath of modernism, and the history of continental philosophy. Infinite Fictions is indispensable reading for anyone interested in the forefront of literary thought.’ [Read More]