15 February 2005

who is this Paul West?

Try this, Paul West's Master Class: Scenes from a Fiction Workshop, instead of dinner.

"I am here to make a point about place-names and to remind [my students] to read intimately into them, make them live the lives of the people who have lived among them . . . I am Uncle Paul."

This after having assigned the class one page of Proust to read all night, it's page 422 in some translation, "my theory of humanity, that we are nature's raw material to be shaped into grotesque works of art."

He calls his students "a vehement motley" and "a hubbub, a maelstrom, a ferment" as he parses the Proust. He calls what happens in workshop "the amorphous sediment of notions exchanged."

When he gets to "really teaching," he starts this way:

"telling them to get what's unique right up front in the sentence. . . Gather up all that is strange . . . a fistful of novelty, and make the reader assimilate it before passing on to the noun or pronoun, thus ensuring the attractive, sensuous part of the sentence gets you off to a good start that keeps its momentum all through, shutting out the rest of the world. . . . I want a dozen sentences . . . that seem to flirt with an ablative absolute but actually specify without much warning the sensuous overture. Celibate gusto wetting his eyes, he . . . You know the rest."

I took this book out from the library, and now I must buy it.


  1. Oh, I must find this book. Thanks, c!

  2. Anonymous12:44

    Hi, just saw your question on Who is this Paul West? I was lucky enough to be one of his students at Penn State in the late 1980s/early 90s. He's a prolific, but unusual literary stylist, who was the toughest teacher many of us ever had. A brilliant man, he could wax eloquent for hours. My first workshop with him, I had no idea what was going on, but I held on and he became a wonderful mentor. He has authored many books, and is well known for the essay "In Defense of Purple Prose." He has no patience with minimalists, but when he sees a spark in a young writer he exudes generosity and has helped to make numerous writing careers. Master Class is a bit of a ride, but think of yourself as being in the same room as someone like Einstein or Faulkner... Lisa

  3. Lisa, what a treat for you. Gad how I wish he'd been my mentor when I was eighteen.