Salon has posted a new interview with Lydia Davis. From the interview:
I can’t write incorrectly. I find it very difficult to just relax and have spelling mistakes and grammar mistakes and punctuation – I cannot do that. But I can’t do that even if I write a shopping list, so that’s not surprising. I can’t be casual, so it’s more correct. Sometimes I have fun writing it nicely – doing parallel constructions or, you know – but of course it’s more relaxed than a formal story, but it’s still a piece of writing that has an effect whether it’s a really good friend or a business email so I’m still quite conscious. It’s amazing how you can write something quickly and when I reread it – I always reread my emails – I make mistakes and I’m confusing and you’d think after all this time I could write a quick email that would be absolutely perfect, but I can’t.
The July issue of Asymptote, a journal devoted to literary translation, is chock-full of goodies, including a long interview with David Mitchell, a shorty from László Krasznahorkai translation, and an essay by Fady Joudah with the marvelous title “Dear God, Your Message Was Received in Error.” Here’s the beginning of that essay:
In Borges’ story, “Averroës’ Search,” Averroës interrupts his long day of contemplating the problem that confronts him in Aristotle’s Poetics (how to translate ‘tragedy’ and ‘comedy’ into Arabic) and joins friends for dinner. The Andalusian philosopher seems to be listening (against hope or “without conviction” as Borges put it) for a solution to his problem in something that any of his guests might say. Maybe the answer is “near at hand” or, as in Lydia Davis’ “The Walk,” right “across the street.”
As the conversation meanders through various subjects about writing, God, and art, one of Averroës’ guests brings up the account of the seven sleepers:
“Let us imagine that someone shows a story instead of telling it—the story of the seven sleepers of Ephesus, say.* We see them retire into the cavern, we see them pray and sleep, we see them sleep with their eyes open, we see them grow while they are asleep, we see them awaken after three hundred nine years, we see them hand the merchant an ancient coin, we see them awaken with the dog.”
Borges’ mention of the seven sleepers comforts me, perhaps because I know the story from the Koran. Or perhaps because it serves as yet another cornerstone of what translation work can perform: transforming telling into seeing. Telling a story through seeing is also a gesture at what Averroës could not grasp when he encountered Aristotle’s ‘tragedy’ and ‘comedy': theatre.
Lots of great stuff–check it out.
Lydia Davis has won the 2013 Man Booker International Prize—and the £60,000 that go with it.
Here’s Davis’s short story “Money” from Samuel Johnson Is Indignant (and also in The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis)
I don’t want any more gifts, cards, phone calls, prizes, clothes, friends, letters, books, souvenirs, pets, magazines, land, machines, houses, entertainments, honors, good news, dinners, jewels, vacations, flowers, or telegrams. I just want money.
According to the Man Booker press release,
Sir Christopher Ricks, chairman of the judges, said her “writings fling their lithe arms wide to embrace many a kind. Just how to categorise them? They have been called stories but could equally be miniatures, anecdotes, essays, jokes, parables, fables, texts, aphorisms or even apophthegms, prayers or simply observations.” Davis then is not like any other writer and she follows, and contrasts with, the previous winners of the prize -Ismail Kadaré, Chinua Achebe, Alice Munro and Philip Roth.
I love love love Davis’s work, including her essays, and am glad to see her win the money and the award. Maybe it speaks to a shift in what people are willing to accept as fiction. Or maybe not.
If you’re at all interested in Davis’s work, I highly recommend The Collected Stories, which collects her first four volumes (read my review if you need more persuasion).
Here’s Davis reading some of her stories:
You can also read some of her work here.
Purged the books pictured in the lower right-hand corner and picked up a few: Curzio Malaparte’s Kaputt, which has intrigued me for awhile now, Denis Johnson’s Fiskadoro—in the Vintage Contemporaries edition no less!—and Lydia Davis’s novel The End of the Story, which I somehow haven’t read yet. Hypothesis: Lydia Davis and Denis Johnson may be America’s greatest living novelists (?).
I’m not tired of all good books, I’m just tired of novels and stories, even good ones, or ones that are supposed to be good. These days, I prefer books that contain something real. I don’t want to be bored by someone’s imagination. Most people’s imaginations just aren’t very interesting—you can guess where the author got this idea and that idea. You can predict what will come next before you finish reading the sentence. It all seems so arbitrary.
From Lydia Davis’s story “Not Interested,” published in this month’s Harper’s and originally published in NOON.
“Jane and the Cane” by Lydia Davis; collected in Collected Stories:
“Brief Incident in Short a, Long a, and Schwa” by Lydia Davis
Cat, gray tabby, calm, watches large, black ant. Man, rapt, stands staring at cat and ant. Ant advances along path. Ant halts, baffled. Ant back-tracks fast—straight at cat. Cat, alarmed, backs away. Man, standing, staring, laughs. Ant changes path again. Cat, calm again, watches again.