*Essays One*, by Lydia Davis

Is there anything more enthralling than a writer of supreme intelligence covering topics she understands deeply?  Here is just one bit from this fantastic collection:

We know we are not being asked to believe in a woman named Oedipa Maas or a man named Stanley Koteks, and our attention is distracted from the story to the artifice and artificer.  What is shared by the two books is a sense of tight control by the author over the characters, the language, the book, and probably the reader.  Sometimes the control is achieved through his mastery of a graceful prose style or an appealing notion (“Creaking, or echoing, or left as dark-ribbed sneaker=prints in a fine layer of damp, the footstep of the Junta carried them into King Krjö’s house, past pier glasses that gave them back their images dark and faded, as if some part were being kept as the price of admission”): here is control by persuasion.  Sometimes, on the other hand, the young author goes beyond eloquence to a kind of hyper-eloquence that becomes a display of power over language itself that perhaps borders on control by coercion.

Or how about this?:

Franz Kafka’s “The Burrow,” because of the confident and convincing narrative voice of its obsessed narrator, who begins: “I have completed the construction of my burrow and it seems to be successful.”  Kafka fully inhabits his characters and presents them with a realism that makes them, though they are impossible, believable.


I have given students in writing classes the assignment to read, analyze, and then imitate stylistically one of [Thomas] Bernhard’s small stories.  Younger writers these days often have trouble constructing long, complex sentences.  They often restrict themselves to short, simple sentences, and when they try a longer, more complex one, they run into trouble.  I see this in otherwise good writers — including good published writers.

Make sure you read her short essay “Thirty Recommendations for Good Writing Habits” (you won’t agree with them all, though I think I do)

This is one of the very best books to read if you wish to think about writing more deeply.  You can pre-order it here.


Ms. Davis is known as a writer of "flash fiction", stories that are only a couple of sentences, long, complex sentences. Here is how the New Yorker described her:

"The question of what constitutes a story is troublesome. E. M. Forster wrote, “ ‘The king died and then the queen died’ is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief’ is a plot.” Davis’s stories have very little in the way of plot; sometimes people get indignant and ask her why she doesn’t call them poems or fragments. (She prefers the deeper associations of the word “story.”) Like thoughts, her pieces are reiterative; she sooner makes chronology a subject than a formal device." https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/03/17/long-story-short

The expression "if I had more time I would write a shorter letter" is attributed to Mark Twain, but the French writer, mathematician, etc. Blaise Pascal is credited with "Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte" (I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter). A tribute to brevity. Cowen is a master at communication, using words both creatively and sparingly. He would appreciate Ms. Davis (as do I).

Why are you talking to yourself?

I wish rayward would encourage more brevity on the part of rayward.

A man who is his own counselor has a fool for counselee.

hey bayer!
"science" not a verb

Well... it is now,

This is why we can't have nice things. Instead of just writing, everyone gets an MFA in writing being taught by pretentious snobs like this who prioritise crafting complex sentences full of difficult words over actual storytelling.

Here is my short story:

Stephen King is a writer.

People like him. They buy his books.

Then he writes more books.


Harold Bloom is still dead.

I recall Kurt Vonnegut saying that America didn’t need better writers; what was needed were better readers.

From the Wikipedia entry for "Academy of American Poets":

In 1984, Robert Penn Warren noted that "To have great poets there must be great audiences, Whitman said, to the more or less unheeding ears of American educators. Ambitiously, hopefully, the Academy has undertaken to remedy this plight."

--or, as the sentence might have been edited: "In 1984, Robert Penn Warren noted (to the more or less unheeding ears of American educators) that 'To have great poets there must be great audiences, Whitman said, to the more or less unheeding ears of American educators' . . ."

Can't say what the AAP has done for poetry or for literary education over the past thirty-five years: I for one do not detect any enhancement of the American public's receptivity to reading anything, much less challenging poetry or challenging fiction.

American readers have been treated to literary disincentives aplenty at least as much as American writers have been ill-served by the academic captivity administered by overwrought MFA programs and their academic commissars.

If America's "literary interregnum" endures as perniciously as it seems to since the ascendency of MFA programs and the wholesale minting of MFA grads trained to write lifeless commercial verse and prose, America's remaining readers of fiction and verse might be better served by a few decades' work of able translators than by anything emerging from the literary sclerosis imposed by American academics.

Link to a comparatively recent non-academic essay:


So that is it. While the world burns, you want to retreat to you safe space and yap about Literature. It is Munich all again. By the way, isn't it funny how grossly ant-Trump rants are not deleted? I wonder.

Lydia Davis is also a fine translator. Nothing is more pathetic, even if highly comical at the same time, as people who say with a harumph that a fine work of art is "Total crap, because I don't understand it." We can all agree that you don't understand it, so let's leave it at that.

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