Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Shut Up He Explained"

I'm just finishing short story writer/anthologist/publisher/critic John Metcalf's memoir/travelogue/literary critique "Shut Up He Explained", and, though I've somehow managed to be previously unfamiliar with the prolific Brit transplant, I've found myself nodding many times with his literary aesthetic: which is to say, contrary to many readers and (sadly) writers, he has one.

Didacticism is rightly denigrated, and lyricism, language, attention to technical concerns, and manipulation rather than -- in Morley Callaghan's (a favourite antecedent punching bag of Metcalf's) approach -- "telling it like it is", is the timeless and artful standard.

I've adhered to this for decades: an end to "message" poetry and "message" stories! Metcalf quotes one of my favourite novelists, William Faulkner, on his response to a woman who asked him what his message was in writing a certain story: "If I'd wanted to send a message I would have used Western Union".

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