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Posts Tagged ‘Lydia Davis’

Long Story Short: In the Studio with Aidan Koch

August 20, 2015 | by

Photo: Amanda Hakan

Photo: Amanda Hakan

On Aidan Koch’s cover for our Summer issue, six panels depict a woman lounging and reading and ruminating at the shore. Each panel exists both as a discrete event—here, she looks at her book; here, she shades her eyes—and as one sentence in a paragraph about the woman’s day at the beach. The issue also features Koch’s comic “Heavenly Seas,” the story of a woman who travels to a tropical location with a man she doesn’t love. It is twenty-eight pages long and contains just over a hundred words of dialogue and no narration. The difference between “Heavenly Seas” and the cover sequence is like the difference between Lydia Davis’s long short stories and her very short ones.

Koch, a native of Olympia, Washington, is the author of three book-length comics—The Whale, The Blonde Woman, and, most recently, Impressions. She also makes sculptures, ceramics, and textiles that reinterpret the classical motifs that appear in many of her comics. Her narratives are elliptical, fragmentary, and open-ended; it seemed appropriate to include “Heavenly Seas” in an issue that is largely about translation. Last month, I met Koch at her studio, in the basement of a tatty mansion she shares with eight other artists and a corn snake named Cleopatra, in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Where did the story for “Heavenly Seas” come from?

I’d been trying to think about how to utilize the idea of traveling. I’d read a couple of Paul Bowles books, and I liked how well he captured the mindset of how foreign places can seem to the traveler and how that’s seductive but also scary. He also thought about people’s attitudes in different countries and in confronting different cultures. That’s something I’d been considering, since it’s a big part of my life. I’ve been traveling constantly for the last three or four years. I left Portland in 2011 to travel and just didn’t stop. I went to Spain and Turkey, then I was in Scandinavia and around Europe. My book Field Studies documented 2012, when I lived in a different room in a different city every month, just because I didn’t know what to do with myself. I thought maybe I’d figure it out along the way. Read More »

Zero at the Bone, and Other News

August 13, 2015 | by

A daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson, ca. 1848.

  • Since David Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008, Infinite Jest has undergone a dramatic change in its cultural significance: once merely the mark of a curious reader, it’s become a totem for bros, who see in its massive size and brainy reputation a chance to show off their own massive size and brainy reputations—and who have no intention of really grappling with it. “How did poor David Foster Wallace go from dissecting the pretensions and shortcomings of mid-century men of letters to holding a central place in the pretensions of their heirs? … [Jest’s] irrefutable bigness is a dare … For these men, Wallace stands as a challenge to be confronted, just as the paperback brick of Infinite Jest stands as a challenge to the guy hauling it on the G train.”
  • Alexandra Kleeman, whose debut short story “Fairy Tale” appeared in our Winter 2010 issue, discusses her new novel, You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, and the altogether surreal experience of seeing ads on TV for the first time after a long break from the medium: “They’re these little pockets of weirdness … You get these characters who so fervently believe in the power of a certain product, they’re so fervently wanting to fix this one problem. You have these weird extreme emotions like jealousies and affections for things that no normal person would, so I find them really interesting and almost beautiful in that way, like surrealist films. You can feel how much money goes into commercials by how swiftly they act on your mind. And they’ve got like a hypnotic quality to the way they present their products. I can feel myself taking on a desire for that thing, or at least like feeling the desire they want me to feel, when I see a beautifully done eye, or makeup, or the softness of some cotton fabric bouncing up and down.”
  • And Lydia Davis looks at the life and work of Lucia Berlin, who died in 2004, and whose story “B.F. and Me” appears in our Summer issue: “We have, most of us, known at least some part of what she went through: children in trouble, or early molestation, or a rapturous love affair, struggles with addiction, a difficult illness or disability, an unexpected bond with a sibling, or a tedious job, difficult fellow workers, a demanding boss, or a deceitful friend, not to speak of awe in the presence of the natural world—Hereford cattle knee-deep in Indian paintbrush, a field of bluebonnets, a pink rocket flower growing in the alley behind a hospital. Because we have known some part of it, or something like it, we are right there with her as she takes us through it.”
  • It’s time to make food a permanent part of the cultural canon: “We have traditionally regarded cuisines as pop or folk art at best­—cherished but ephemeral, beginning as peasant food forged from the local landscape and naturally disappearing as people emigrated and landscapes changed … ‘There is a group of us who want to know the deep flavors of what has endured longest. Those ingredients that mattered for so long that they became “the taste” of the time, the points of reference against which all innovations were measured. For me, those ingredients constitute the canon, and the dishes of the time frame them.’ ”
  • Step aside—Joyce Carol Oates is asking the big questions about inspiration and art. “Why do we write? What is the motive for metaphor? … Is inspiration a singular phenomenon, or does it take taxonomical forms? Indeed, is the uninspired life worth living? … ‘Inspiration’ is an elusive term. We all want to be ‘inspired’ if the consequence is something original and worthwhile; we would even consent to be ‘haunted’—‘obsessed’—if the consequence were significant. For all writers dread what Emily Dickinson calls ‘Zero at the Bone’—the dead zone from which inspiration has fled.”

Now Online: Our Interviews with Elena Ferrante, Hilary Mantel, and Lydia Davis

June 3, 2015 | by

Before we commence with the dog and pony show for our brand spanking new Summer issue, you should know that the three interviews from our Spring issue are now available in full online.

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A page from the first draft of The Story of the Lost Child.

These include the first-ever in-person interview with Elena Ferrante, who discusses her Neopolitan Novels, her reticence as a public figure, and her approach to her readership:

I publish to be read. It’s the only thing that interests me about publication. So I employ all the strategies I know to capture the reader’s attention, stimulate curiosity, make the page as dense as possible and as easy as possible to turn. But once I have the reader’s attention I feel it is my right to pull it in whichever direction I choose. I don’t think the reader should be indulged as a consumer, because he isn’t one. Literature that indulges the tastes of the reader is a degraded literature. My goal is to disappoint the usual expectations and inspire new ones.

Hilary Mantel cr Alwan Ezzidin copy copy

Photo: Alwan Ezzidin

And Mona Simpson’s interview with Hilary Mantel, who talks about her Cromwell books, the difference between historians and novelists, and the difference between the early and contemporary stages of her career:

When I began writing I had a perfect belief that, although I might not know how to do many things, I did know how to write a novel. Other ­people might have disputed that, looking at my efforts, and no one was in a hurry to endorse my confidence, but I did know within myself that I could write a novel. The reason was I’d read so many that the pattern was internalized. I’ve always been an intensely ambitious individual and whatever I was going to do, I was not going to let go until I got where I thought I ought to be. It’s a question of, What will you sacrifice? What other things will you let go, to clear the space for your book? What develops later is something rather different, as you proceed from book to book, every book throwing up different demands, needing different techniques.

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Davis in Paris, 1972.

Plus, in the Art of Fiction No. 227, Lydia Davis explores her approach to the short story, and to translations, and reflects on the influence her family life had on her process:

We also left each other notes when there was a family conflict. I guess it was my mother’s idea that we should put it in writing, or that we should ­articulate it, because I can see our different handwriting going back and ­forth over this problem, whatever it was. I thought it was kind of a terrible thing that we did that in my family. Because it made writing ... oh, the text became full of emotion. I still have some of the notes that my mother left for me. In fact, we did a little dialogue … I suppose that was part of the family training—Let’s try to figure this out. Here’s how I feel, you tell me how you feel. It is a way to work out some emotional situations, and certainly that went on in our house. It’s just that when I come across those long messages from my mother it fills me with sadness. 

For the latest in our Writers at Work series, subscribe to The Paris Review now—and be sure to check out what’s coming next in our Summer issue, which includes interviews on the Art of Translation with Peter Cole plus Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

Same Time, Another Planet

May 18, 2015 | by

This Thursday, Gunnhild Øyehaug appears in conversation with James Wood and three more of Norway’s most promising young writers: Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold, Lars Petter Sveen, and Carl Frode Tiller. The story below was translated by Lydia Davis, who will interview Dag Solstad on Wednesday at Westway.

Both events are part of the Norwegian-American Literary Festival, a three-night series of readings, conversations, and musical performances in New York this week.

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Image: Santos Gonzales, via Flickr

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The Norwegian-American Literary Festival Comes to New York

April 28, 2015 | by

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Knausgaard’s band, Lemen.

You may have noticed a Knausgaard theme on the Daily today, between our interview with his translator Don Bartlett and Ian MacDougall’s probing analysis of the author’s scatological side. We’re celebrating the release of My Struggle’s fourth volume—but we’re also celebrating the latest Norwegian-American Literary Festival, a series of readings, conversations, and musical performances coming to New York for three nights next month.

The festival begins on Wednesday, May 20, at the Westway in the Meatpacking District, where Karl Ove Knausgaard’s reunited college band, Lemen, will take the stage. James Wood’s band, the Fun Stuff, will perform, too, and Lydia Davis will begin the night in conversation with Dag Solstad about writing family history. Solstad is one of Norway’s preeminent writers, the author of thirty-three books translated into thirty languages. Davis learned Norwegian by reading his latest novel, a four-hundred-page epic whose title translates, roughly, as The Insoluble Epic Element in Telemark in the Period 1591–1896. Read More »

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Nostalgia for the Future, and Other News

April 9, 2015 | by

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Illustration by Dan McPharlin. Via Beautiful/Decay

  • Writers love to hate M.F.A.s; they also love to brag about them. Are the degrees worthless? Essential? Expansive? Detrimental to one’s creative impulses? “It’s no surprise that the promise of the M.F.A.—to make you, if you’re lucky, a famous, well-paid author—strikes so many people with even the smallest literary dream as utterly irresistible.”
  • To master the subtleties of another language is no mean feat—and getting prepositions right is often the most frustrating part. They can seem entirely arbitrary: “Spaniards dream with (not about) something. In the unlikely event that Germans schedule something at an approximate time, it is gegen (against) seven o’clock, not about or around. The ancient Greeks, progenitors of western logic, had many prepositions that do bizarre double duty to the English eye: meta means both with and after; kata means both according to and against.”
  • Lydia Davis, meanwhile, has faced struggles of her own in learning Norwegian: “You see how you are suddenly able to unlock so many words, just by studying the pattern? Take the words beginning with ‘Hv.’ I guessed they were used in questions: ‘hva’ meaning ‘what’, ‘hvorfor’ meaning ‘why’. But it took me a long time to figure out ‘hvis’ was ‘if.’ ”
  • Then there are contranyms, auto-antonyms, antagonyms, Janus words, and/or antiologies—words that can function as their own opposites. Take no, for instance, which increasingly means yes. (Only, mind you, in certain situations.)
  • Dan McPharlin makes art “derived from blueprints laid down decades earlier on the pages of battered sci-fi paperbacks, fantasy art books, and mid-century design quarterlies.”
  • On the “mind-numbing chatter” of the art world: “There is a debate about whether or not something ‘posits something about its ability to posit something.’ One critic tells a student, ‘You have to make better paintings fail.’ One exchange between student and critic involves the critic demanding, ‘What does that paint can stand for, in that painting?’ When the student doesn’t reply, the critic continues, ‘Stop squirming! Is there a political implication to this paint can or not?’ ”