A few weeks back I typed up some notes from Amy Hempel’s workshop I attended. I found my notes on Mary Gaitskill’s portion of the workshop and finally had the chance to type them up.
I remember she was intense but I got some good notes down on how workshops can be “imperfect” she lectured but also can be energizing. She began by saying workshops can be like twelve heads or dreams barging into your dream. I like the idea of a fictive space as a dream. And I guess this analogy or metaphor appropriate since she also lectured on the writings “inner quality” as she called it. The subtle and strange feeling that exists beneath plot, character and theme. This quality makes the best writing “live or die” she stated. She called it the guts and she called it the soul.
One of her examples: “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor. And as I would find later I believe her work is a strong example of this idea.
She went on to lecture this feeling or mood came from the irrational level—the feeling or the tone coming from language. She stated this was beyond psychology—the soul of the book. In the story it is what cannot be manifested in life. It’s all created by phrase and tone. She kept referring to it as the soul or the unseen. The idea is to use something not important to take yourself and reader somewhere very deep. Language creating images and the subliminal to radically enhance what we see.
All this made me think of Tracy Daugherty and the idea that language and phrasing creates the skin of a character. It made me think of Stanley Kubrick movies where the most minor or insignificant detail or thread at the right place and time can enhance the atmosphere or feel of a piece of writing.
Found this clip of Gaitskill’s reading–beginning around 37 minutes in. I think she gives a great example of the ideas she lectured on: