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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Que'es que c'est fiction?: The short stories of Lydia Davis

Read a little further in Lydia Davis's fascinating "story" collection Can't and Won't. Just think about this one, which unfortunately I am going to paraphrase but will get it close: "Beneath all this dirt, the floor is actually quite clean." Again, this is an "apercu" and not a story as we traditionally think of short fiction - or is it? You can see here why Davis reminds me of Wittgenstein, as this little piece is also a {philosophical investigation," and reminds me as well of one of my influences, the comedian Stephen Wright (who inspired me to take it on stage; in fact I have a one-liner similar to Davis's, though I do not claim it as one of my short stories: What do you do if you spill soap?). But why is this piece not "just a joke"? It has broader dimensions and scope than a mere joke or quip or witticism: It forces is to think of the material world and its juxtapositions in a new way (what does it mean to be "clean"?), it is an essay in physics, and it's also a moral essay: can one have a "clean" soul within a mind of sin? Or is claiming inner cleanliness a dodge, a way to avoid the consequences of one's evil "exterior" nature: I may seem like a tyrant, a predator, an exploiter of men, a sly fox - but inside I'm really a good guy. Sure. I also want to note a little further on the translations from Flaubert that Davis runs through these stories: they're actually more than just translations, they are actually re-thinking Flaubert, as they seem to be fragments that Davis has lifted from F's journals or letters - pieces that he, in his day, would never have thought of as stories or even as separate and distinct pieces, but Davis, who is pushing us to see short fiction in a new way, has "found" these stories w/in Flaubert's work - just as many of these stories are found in flashes of conversation overheard, a sign spotted in passing, a note jotted while on the phone (one of her best, note while talking on phone with mother - which ends in her making a group of nonsense anagrams of the word "cotton").

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