…”Can’t and Won’t,” a collection of short stories by Lydia Davis.
I had previously read Davis’s “Complete Stories,” which this subsequent volume has rendered in need of a retitling. I’d also read of hers given me by a woman to whom I’d recommended Davis and who’d rushed off to buy everything she could find by her at Amazon — and hated it.
I generally don’t read short stories. I don’t find you can do as much with them as with a book. But a collection works better for me. And Davis is a lot of fun. She is non-traditional, to say the least. A “story,” for her, may be a dozen words long. It may be dreams, either hers or someone else’s. It may be edited passages from Flaubert’s letters. But one is “Can’t,” “Seals” seems to me, by any standard, to be a masterpiece. (Among her less-traditionals, I liked “Cows” a lot.)
Davis raises the question “What is a story?” Her answer seems to be “Anything a story-writer says it is,” which is itself only a narrowing of Duchamp’s axiom that “Art is anything an artist says it is.”
That can be a good thing to keep in mind as you go about within the world.
…”The End of the Story,” by Lydia Davis, and “The Chess Game,” by Stefan Zweig. I liked both. Zweig did a masterful job imagining (I think) himself into the mind of a man locked alone into an enduring solitary confinement. As for Davis, some novelists plot everything out in advance. Some say their characters take over and drive the action themselves. Davis seems to compose a sentence, and then that sentence drives her next one. That’s my major insight, and it was fun to see this play out across the pages.
A medical “incident” (that’s the professionals’ term for it) and a crashed computer, whose replacement I am still being driven semi-batty by, have slowed me down; but let’s try to resume. Now where was I?
Oh yes, my readings. Well, while I’ve been away, I’ve completed Howard Sachar’s “A History of Israel,” which is excellent, but may contain more than you need to know — and my edition ended with the assassination of Yitzkak Rabin; Mark Kram’s “Ghosts of Manilla,” a few-warts-overlooked view of Frazier-and-Ali, written in a highly personal, slightly over-the-edge, but extremely effective style; and Lydia Davis’s “Complete Stories” (except there has been one collection since), which was wonderfully instructive as to what can be a story, or essay, or, even, blog.
I stand ready to discuss all or any.
It is a simple and obvious thing, she said, that I refused to recognize. In fact, it is so simple and obvious that a 12-year-old could recognize it. In fact, she named the 12-year-old, who happened to be her daughter by her third husband. The Emperor’s New Clothes, she said, about this recognition by this daughter of this simple and obvious truth, requiring only one explanation by her to her daughter, and not recognized by me, despite her many explanations.
In fact, it is so simple and obvious that she will not discuss this with me further. To discuss this further would imply that it is not simple and obvious and any support this implication would offer such thinking would to make one into a tool of the perpetrators of the deed which her discovered simple and obvious truth has revealed.