— Lydia Davis, Essays One
“What should the diet of your reading be? Read the best writers from all different periods; keep your reading of contemporaries in proportion—you do not want a steady diet of contemporary literature. You already belong to your time.”
“In her notes, we see her honing her habit of attention, her sensitivity to shades of meaning and the music of language, her tropism toward writers with a talent for noticing.”
— Parul Sehgal reviews Essays One, a new collected volume from Lydia Davis. Read the review in The New York Times.
A few interesting pieces have caught my eye over the last few days. Not least among them is David Collard‘s piece, ‘Déjà lu: On the pleasures of rereading’ from one of the April issues of the TLS:
“Apart from books I’ve conscientiously read and re-read for review purposes, the novels I’ve read several times include Beckett’s Murphy, Isherwood‘s Prater Violet, Moby-Dick, Madame Bovary, Lolita and perhaps a dozen others.”
A more recent issue of the TLS has published an edited version of an article written by Virginia Woolf on Henry David Thoreau back in 1917 • New York’s Tyrant Books has published three (very) short stories by Lydia Davis • Electric Literature offers ’10 Great Novels of the Rural’, courtesy of Michelle Hoover • John Lé Carre discusses why we should learn German to help build bridges in today’s political climate • Open Culture shares 1977 footage of a young David Lynch discussing his iconic début feature length film, Eraserhead • The Wire reports that Robert Mugge’s 1986 film Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus is to be rereleased on BluRay and DVD
Mark your calendars: on Tuesday, April 5, 2016, at Cipriani 42nd Street, The Paris Review will honor Lydia Davis with the Hadada Award at our annual gala, the Spring Revel. (more…)
“We disappear, and yet we resurface”
Around the time I began writing book reviews, I read that reviewing was “what lice will do, when they have no more blood to suck.” If so, the only blood I’ve ever tasted is mine. Early on, I already knew that my writing wasn’t entirely about the books “under review” so much as my internal “reading experience” – though that term might be misleading. In suggesting that my reviews reflect something of my “self,” I’m not about to recount my life story, let alone resort to that fashionable form, the “confessional” essay. On the contrary, literary subjectivity isn’t always aligned with autobiography. Right now, I’m writing this in the first person, but I perceive that person as a perfect stranger.
Put simply, I’ve never known who I am. Nor do I feel securely in sync with the world. I intersect with it at an abnormal angle – my link with life is dislocated. Of course, this condition isn’t uncommon. I mention it only to emphasize that an initial alienation led me to literature. Part of me is predisposed to treat reading as, to quote Houellebecq, a practice that pushes “against the world, against life.” At the same time, I don’t see reading as simply a passive escape from reality. As Kafka famously says, books can be “like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of oneself.” Reading is really a dual movement: books allow us to withdraw from the world, while bringing us back toward it. In reading we disappear, and yet we resurface. (more…)
A very orderly Greek friend visited me recently, and on stepping into my office and seeing the state of my desk, cried out “Dan! What is that?” He was genuinely shocked, perturbed even, at the sight of the books, papers, unopened envelopes, and assorted debris that flows from several piles over my desk, threatening at any moment to spill off the edges (as it regularly does) and onto the floor. My response was not, I hope, unduly defensive: “It’s a sign that I’m being productive.” Indeed, my desk is clear and tidy only ever for a brief moment after some task has just been completed (or at moments when I remember some unopened bill that needs to be paid). I do like to observe something organized emerging from the apparent chaos; and when that chaos threatens to become a liability, I turn to photos of the studios of artists I admire, of Francis Bacon or Alberto Giacometti, and protest: Now their mess really was a mess.
When I was seventeen, I chose to leave Edinburgh, where I was raised, for the University of Sussex, not least because I had read a book by Gabriel Josipovici entitled The World and the Book; it said on the cover that he was teaching there. What I admired (and still admire) about this wonderful critical work was that it dealt openly and freely with different periods and authors, from different cultures and languages, from Dante to Proust to Saul Bellow. Also mentioned on the cover was that Gabriel Josipovici wrote fiction as well as criticism. In some quiet place within me I seized hold of this as a model: a critic who also writes fiction; a novelist who also writes criticism. I had eight fantastic years at Sussex, taught in an ideal setting by the best teachers imaginable. As it happens, on my very first day I was introduced to my “personal tutor” (what in America would be called my “academic advisor”): Gabriel Josipovici. We quickly got to know each other and have remained friends ever since. The Sussex of those days confirmed for me that one did not have to be (only) a specialist, that one could draw inspiration from many sources, refusing to be boxed in to a single discipline or period or language. I still find that the criticism emerging from this openness suits me best. I have recently been rereading with delight Tony Nuttall’s Shakespeare the Thinker—a book by a former Sussex professor that emerges out of precisely what I’d call the “Sussex spirit.” (more…)