Lydia Davis--Another Take

Biblioklept posts a very short story by Lydia Davis.

Far be it from me to say, but when I read things like this, I get the sense that I'm looking at Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain."  Or, to use another metaphor this is the 4' 33" of the short story world--if there is a story, it is not in the writing, but in what goes on inside the reader--and Lydia Davis is not the "author" of that story, though she is the progenitor of it.

Because an artist signs it does not make it art.  Neither is a single line a short story just because one who writes says that it is.

That's not to say that it isn't interesting, but folks, if you buy into this definition of a short story, you're also applauding the Emperor's New Clothes.

Interesting, fascinating writing--yes.  Short story--no.  But then, does Ms. Davis contend that they are?  Just because these aphorisms are collected as short stories does that cover the author's intent?

I think perhaps that there is something new here--something that is more compact than a short story, not quite a poem, and neverthless a live-wire in the writing world.

I suppose it doesn't much matter what one calls it in the end. . . for what's in a name? A rose. . . .

Comments

  1. What's in a name? chuckle... a lot. Just try calling someone an unpleasant name or by the wrong name and see what happens.

    I have to disagree with you here: it IS important what one calls it in the end. Giving one a rose is a sign of affection, whereas giving one a bag of household garbage and calling it a rose just won't work--at least not for me.

    Names are important, for without names and a common agreement on what is meant by those names, communication breaks down.

    Those are aphorisms, marginalia, a hint of a story perhaps . . .

    Sorry about this: it's just the dinosaur in me breaking out again.

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  2. Dear Fred,

    I don't think we're in much disagreement, I'm sort of trying to argue myself around to the fast and loose way we play with words and call things what they are not; however, I'm not certain I'm succeeding in convincing myself.

    It is one thing to say that they are evocative, provocative, or even art, all statements that I might be able to agree with. But as to short stories. Hmmmm. Perhaps someone can convince me.

    shalom,

    Steven

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  3. Steven,

    I encountered this sort of nonsense in grad school, and I didn't make myself very popular with my opinions .

    I consider this to be posing as an intellectual, or somebody's conception of an intellectual. In discussions I always felt those adopting this stance did it more to impress the audience than for any real attempt at discussing serious issues. Orwell was and is right, even more today than he was when he first wrote the essay.

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  4. I don't think that Davis has a definite name for what she does, although if you read her work--which really needs to be read in context, which is to say against/with her other pieces -- I think, you will find that she does work occasionally (rarely) within the idiom of the "traditional" short story. (She also writes riffs, histories, memoirs, scenes, jokes, half poems, fake aphorisms, notes, etc.).
    Calling them "short stories" is a simple way for publishers (and others, of course) to call attention to them, market them, etc.
    Davis's intellectualism is not a pose, but I don't think Cage's or Duchamp's were either, so maybe I've already lost this one.
    Cheers.

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  5. Dear Biblioklept,

    No, I'm not talking about anyone's intellectualism, I think that is a false start. I don't want to assert that Davis is "redefining" the genre, but I do want to question whether or not these are short stories or if they are something else.

    As I note, I'm willing to grant that they are intrinsically interesting, whatever they may be called. And I don't view the desire to break out of previous definitions so much as intellectualism--it is the critical circle that then devolves around the event that I would typify as possible arrant and possibly specious intellectualism. What an artist does in breaking out isn't necessarily an intellectual exercise in the sense of deep theory. It may be more a movement, a thrusting outward.

    So please don't read this as faulting Davis, but more asking the question--what do we call these, shouldn't be recognize them as something quite distinct, in some sense, quite new, and quite interesting.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    shalom,

    Steven

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  6. Dear Biblioklept,

    To add and say it shorter--I think typifying this work as a short story does an injustice to the work itself--and that is more my point--not to fault Davis, but to fault those who would take this achievement and consign it to a category ready-made with all of its own conventions.

    I think Ms. Davis's work has moved beyond that set of conventions and is striking out in a new direction. Calling these short stories seems to undermine the intrinsically radical nature of them.

    shalom,

    Steven

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  7. Dear Frank,

    I think this comment is probably attached to the wrong post. I think it was meant for the genre ergo not literature post. And if so, I could not agree more. It is a very tiring pose.

    shalom,

    Steven

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  8. Dear Frank,

    "This" should have said, your second comment. It seemed odd when I read it and then concluded it may just be misplaced.

    Thanks.

    shalom,

    Steven

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  9. Dear Fred,

    The last two messages should have been addressed to you.

    shalom,

    Steven

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  10. Steven,

    I was referring to the tendency to redefine words, to broaden their meaning so that they become essentially useless. In this case, calling a phrase or a sentence a short story would be an example of that. Call it an aphorism or a bon mot or a possible plot line or story line, but to redefine short story so to include this just won't work, for me anyway. It's just being clever with words, rather than conveying something new.

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