On the Inimitable Lydia Davis

by Andrea Scrima

In one sense, the stories of the collection Almost No Memory, originally published in 1997 and reprinted in The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis in 2009, can be read as a psychological portrait of a middle-aged woman coming to terms with all the usual things life has to offer after a certain age: the convolutions of domestic discord, shrinking horizons, the sobering insight that very little can change us anymore. The voices are both many and one, converging in a polyphony of percipient anxiety and resignation: we hear “wife one,” an “often raging though now quiet woman” eating dinner alone after talking on the phone to “wife two”; a professor who fantasizes about marrying a cowboy, although she is “so used to the companionship of [her] husband by now that if I were to marry a cowboy I would want to take him with me”; and a woman who “fell in love with a man who had been dead a number of years.” There is also a woman who “comes running out of the house with her face white and her overcoat flapping wildly,” crying “emergency, emergency”; a woman who wishes she had a second chance to learn from her mistakes; and one who has “no choice but to continue to proceed as if I know altogether what I am, though I may also try to guess, from time to time, just what it is that others know that I do not know.” The list continues, from a woman wondering why she can become so vicious with her children to another whose mind wanders to sex at the sight of “anything pounding, anything stroking; anything bolt upright, anything horizontal and gaping” and one who is filled with “ill will toward one I think I should love, ill will toward myself, and discouragement over the work I think I should be doing.”

Almost No Memory strikes a different set of chords than the collection preceding it, Break It Down. While there is a dry hilarity to some of the stories, others take on a surreal aura. “Liminal” describes “the moment when a limit is reached, when there is nothing ahead but darkness: some thing comes in to help that is not real.” When the innocent cruelty inherent in the relationship between predator and prey stands for truths that lie just beyond our ability to comprehend them, animals take on the weight and magnitude of totems. Read more »

The Immensity Of Killing Bin Laden vs. The Banality Of Language

By Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash

Obl-nypost

There are events so shocking, untoward or thrilling, they are bigger than language. Beyond words.

In my lifetime, such events have included the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and Bobby Kennedy, as well as 9/11 and the killing of Osama bin Laden. Being a South African-American, I'd add the 1976 Soweto Uprising and Mandela's release from jail.

What sets these events apart from all others? They scorch the collective cerebellum. They rip away the veil we construct between us and reality to such a degree that, for at least a minute, and sometimes for days, we look straight into the heart of the raw what-is. The realness of the Real upends our world and blows our minds. We find ourselves staring into an approximation of Kant's Ding an sich. Language becomes inadequate. Eloquence cannot meet the moment. The event is too original for any rhetoric to be appropriate. As Adorno famously observed about the greatest crime in history, “Poetry isn't possible after the Holocaust.”

Listen to a mother talking about what happened when she and her husband heard the news that Osama bin Laden was dead. Maureen and Alexander Santora lost their firefighter son on 9/11, and this is from an interview on May 5th at Ground Zero. Mrs. Santora is talking.

“Well, Al was out watching TV and I was on the computer and he yelled out, come out right away, and I came out to the TV and on the bottom was, you know, Osama bin Laden is dead. And then they kept, you know, delaying the President coming out to speak. And we thought initially the President would say, we thought it was him, but it was a mistake. And when he came out and he said he's actually dead, we just sat there for 20 minutes and didn't move. We were just motionless. And then we were just filled with joy. We just were filled with joy. We were just elated at the realization that this had actually happened.”

Zapped by reality for 20 minutes. As if there were too much reality to absorb. And then filled with a wordless joy.

But that's not where it ends. After the merciless intrusion of the real, something happens that robs us of that moment, that wrenches us away from the unmediated experience of the raw what-is, the actual Actual.

That something is language. Inevitably, a consensus language emerges. An official narrative spins the event out of our original grasp — or nongrasp — into the pastiche of consolation or celebration.

It's like a couple ready to claw each other's clothes off, but trapped in a wedding that goes on forever. The wedding is beautiful, but it allows no room for the raw, wet desire that drew them together in the first place.

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