No Short Cuts

Now you see me. Now you don’t. Now you see me. Now you don’t …

When the (then still) mysterious literary online magazine > kill author asked me in 2011 to write a guest introduction to their issue eleven named after Raymond Carver, I began my work by ordering a celebrated Carver biography praised by Stephen King (!) and reading all the Carver stories I could get hold off. That wasn’t the smartest way to start…I do know that too much research too early in the day can silence the birdie.

Interestingly, I had not thought of myself as a Carver fan but I became one in the process – even though the obsession with detail in Sklenicka‘s biography did eventuall put me off as much as the details of Thomas Mann’s digestion in his diaries full of suppressed anal eroticism bored me stiff when I tried to read them years ago (never mind the comparison, which concerns form not content). Carver is such an « American» writer. I was amazed that I liked him so much even though his background and his subject matter were so different from my own. What I especially enjoyed was his sense for the absurd, which I had never noticed before and which was going to become my point of entry for the editorial. Mental note: must watch “Short Cuts” again, made by Altman, another master of modernity.

Back to my editorial journey: first I had to embark on a painful, prolonged example of writerly procrastination — right until I received the pieces that were going to be in the magazine. It still took a while for me to stop sitting on my hands: a bit of a blur now but I think reading a fair amount of Beckett (“Watt”) and Camus (“Exile and the Kingdom“, a sculpted account of the absurd without the hopelessness) helped. Not surprisingly, my first couple of drafts of the editorial were pure philosophy, artfully abstract, and dry as a fir-wood coffin. Absurdly unreadable.

The five mysterious editors of > kill author (multiple personalities of Vaughan Simons)

I soon realized what my problem was: I was abusing the editorial as a mirror for my own ideas. I had unconsciously thought of it as an essay à la Speh with a reference to the work of the authors of issue eleven. Perhaps this is trivial to anyone but me — I had to turn the whole thing around to achieve anything worth doing at all, look away from myself and at the work of the others! So I dug in – and if you even have half the fun I had reading these texts, you’re in for a lot of fun. Somehow, the only way I could find to express my appreciation for both the whole issue and the individual writers was using collage as a technique & trust my own process & intuition. Which is why the guest editorial is what it is now: a riotous riff on 25 authors and their 42 pieces, a collage with a coda,  a short closing bow from me.

Hanna Höch, Photomontage (U Chicago)

The result is an odd mixture between fiction and non-fiction, a dada collage – think Hanna Höch or John Heartfield with a poetic instead of a political bite. I can’t quite classify it myself but I do like this piece quite a bit and I do hope that the authors in that issue, whose work I greatly respect, do not feel shortchanged either…both the intro and the issue are another proof of > kill author‘s ability to innovate and inspire.

This was an important humbling experience for me that I’m happy to share with you here. And now hurry over there, give yourself a treat and don’t kill any authors along your way.


 Postscript: Part of this post was written in 2011 when kill author’s issue 11 came out. I felt then like holding off on posting this, because frankly I felt that I was asking for too much attention at the time. I was never really comfortable with the editor’s chair. Still, there might be some valuable observations about process in here, and I still like the meta-fictional text I ended up writing for the magazine. In the meantime, kill author has ceased  publication. Read my recent tribute to its editor, Vaughan Simons.

2 thoughts on “No Short Cuts

  1. I took the 2009 Library of America’s Carver collection with me on a trip to North Carolina a couple of years ago and felt so much more love for Carver, especially reading the unedited “What We Talk About.” I was greatly impressed by what was unedited and wonder what would he would have become without Lish and yet it was the spareness that helped him garner notoriety, no? Yet the absurdity was still there even in the more prodigious prose of the original. I like your point about connections to a couple of masters of absurdism. Nice article Marcus.

    • Hey, thank you. I have wondered about this Lish/Carver muddle… I’ve never thought very highly of said spareness of expression in Carver, for me, as I said, the value didn’t lie in style but in meaning, in a deep-seated humanity that as far as I know haven’t been expressed before. At least not in that time. But all in all I’m really a dumb head when it comes to American letters…

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