Thursday, May 8, 2008

Quick hits on Babel

I can't write an Isaac Babel sentence. Neither can you. No one alive can do it. Of all the dead people, I'd say, maybe...Kafka? No, he'd screw it up with some weird twist. "Ivan took the nail, rusted from the rain. The nail suddenly turned around and sank itself in the fleshy base of Ivan's thumb." It would be interesting, but he's too deliberately, you know, Kafka. So the sentence would change. That excludes Barthelme, too.

Hemingway? No. He'd add something about his testicles. Or the eight women he'd screwed and left since Monday. How about Raymond Carver? With Gordon Lish's help, maybe. But it would be about suburban depression, and the absence of action until words were lost at the bottom of a whiskey glass. There would be no Russian exuberance, no Jewish understanding of the inevitable.

So Chekhov, then. He gets closest. But he wrote plays, too, and that bled into his stories. So like Babel he wants the true emotion and actions to occur off the page, to only be hinted at with the most succinct descriptions. But oh boy, those few words.

After reading his stories I feel like I'm always rambling. Now, every sentence is a run-on. I spent more time editing this than I did writing it, and it still feels like I'm going on and on. His work shames and provokes me. Go read it. Right now.

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