Honoré in the Middle

The Unknown Masterpiece?  A scene from Malcolm In The Middle

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The painter Laurie Fendrich recently posted a lovely entry about the craft of writing at her indispensable blog.  “The Perfect Paragraph”, it’s called.

In the post, Fendrich describes a Flaubertian exercise in clarity and concision.  She asked students to pare down to its essence a summary of Honoré Balzac’s great short story “The Unknown Masterpiece”.  Fendrich includes the first two drafts and then the “final little jewel”.  As a firm believer in writerly mercilessness, especially when it comes to those awful creatures known as adverbs, I took a peculiar thrill in how much was gained by the whittling away of almost 100 words.

I also liked being reminded of “The Unknown Masterpiece”.  Did I read somewhere that Picasso and de Kooning were haunted by Balzac’s cautionary tale of artistic obsession? The story is included in my syllabus: Students are required to write a paper comparing “The Unknown Masterpiece” to “Hal Quits”, a contemporary re-telling of the Balzac story by the writers of the FOX television series Malcolm In The Middle.

It’s episode #14 in season two of the show and highly recommended.

© 2010 Mario Naves

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