I brought up Lish’s generative theory of consecution in seminar the other day (I refer to it as generative as opposed to critical, since it’s not a theory for dissecting art so much as a theory for creating art). If you enjoy Paley’s style, you might find this very interesting. It’s a micro focused approach to generating fiction at a sentence level.

A little background on Lish:

He is perhaps most widely known (and often despised) for his accused “re-writing” of Raymond Carver’s short stories, even though when Carver was alive he admitted that Lish was responsible for his success as a writer (for what it’s worth, I would appreciate the heavy handedness of an editor as well-read, prolific in his own writing, and passionate about the creation of literary ART as Lish). Would  Carver’s stories have been as influential to contemporary American short fiction without Lish’s heavy handed approach? We will never know. What we do know is that the work of Raymond Carver, as it exists in print, is some of the most spectacular and influential American writing of the late Twentieth Century.

Beyond that, as the senior editor for the major publisher Alfred A. Knopf, Gordon Lish was responsible for the profound cultivation and publishing of challenging literary ART by a MAJOR publisher during the last quarter of the Twentieth Century, something not duplicated since he left. In many ways, he was a champion for literary art at a time when it wasn’t a viable business model. It’s too bad his legend is tied to the he said/she said drama of Carver’s writing. 

Lish was also a teacher, but not in an academic sense. During the 80s and 90s his private workshops were considered the pinnacle environment for serious literary production. Some of the writers that were either championed, taught, or edited by Lish include: Barry Hannah, Amy Hempel, Raymond Carver, Mark Richard, Cynthia Ozick, Ben Marcus, Don DeLillo, Sam Lipstye, Gary Lutz, and Christine Schutt. Anyway, not much was ever documented of his workshop techniques. In my research on Lish I’ve only found one person who is committed to connecting the dots: Jason Lucarelli. I attached a paper he wrote here.

I also attached a lecture that Gary Lutz gave to writing students at Columbia University, which is absolutely amazing.


The Believer – The Sentence Is a Lonely Place

The Consecution of Gordon Lish: An Essay on Form and Influence — Jason Lucarelli » Numéro Cinq 

P.S. If you were shocked by Paley’s writing, and you loved the language; if your mind was blown by the fact that literature could be so fun and imaginative while still getting at the truths of critical concepts and issues, then I might suggest Barry Hannah. I can guarantee it will challenge everything you ever thought literature was. But be careful, it’s not for the faint of imagination.