Random Thoughts

Lydia Davis philosophical investigation

... the mysterious Lydia Davis

by Ed Boyd


I first came across Lydia Davis from her book in “Can’t and won’t: stories.”
These are very brief stories some of which are hard to understand. Some are
so short they flirt with being poems. But my curiosity was stimulated to
wanting to see more of Lydia

Davis. In 2009 Davis had published “The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis.” I
first tried the library but ended up buying her book for twenty dollars.

I am happy I bought this book because I can sit and thumb my way through
the 733 pages. Many of these are brief and send my thoughts spinning

In “Almost Over: What’s the Word?” He says, “When I first met you I didn’t
think you would turn out to be so
… strange.”

Or, try this one:“Getting to Know Your Body”

“If your eyeballs move, this means that you’re thinking, or are about to start
thinking.If you don’t want to be thinking at this particular moment, try to
keep your eyelids still.”

These should keep you thinking, a bit.

So Lydia Davis is a bit of a mystery. I took the trouble to look her up on the
web. In a critical essay Davis says, “…my higher value is some kind of
philosophical investigation.” Then, in the same essay she compares her
investigations to that of a Zen monk, “… he is doing it for himself; it’s his
own necessary practice; and even if he had no following, no monastery, he
would continue to do this. And I feel that way too.”

What I want to talk to you about is a story, “The Walk”, pp575-587, twelve
pages. I don’t want to give the impression that I have read all of these
stories, but this particular story fascinates me. I must have read it over a half
dozen times. I want to try to take you through these pages and seek your
help in understanding its meaning.
“The Walk"

“A translator and a critic happened to be together in the great university
town of Oxford, having been invited to take part in a conference on
translation.” So it begins in the third person, giving the story a little distance.
“She knew something about him as they had corresponded now and then…
He had a certain almost obsequious charm.” Then it goes on to talk about
the mild disagreement between them. He felt she stayed too close to the text
where he wanted to be more expansive.

They both decided independent of each other, to stay and have dinner at the
college. Not a single soul stayed after the conference was over. They both
enjoyed their dinner and conversation and thought they might talk a walk.
“The sun hovered low in the sky, hanging above the horizon, descending so
slowly that its decent was barely perceptible, and bathing the yellow stones
of the old buildings in the honey-colored light. The sky above the rooftops
was vast, a pale painted blue.”

They really did not know each other all that well. “He was a small man, and
delicate in his motions and gestures. She took care not to walk too close to
him, and thought from his slight unsteadiness now and then he was
probably taking the same care to keep a certain distance from her.”

A while back a retired librarian had pointed out the home of Charles Murray,
the great editor of The Oxford English Dictionary. Her companion was
especially interested in the mailbox for the editor’s use. It was late so they
parted farewell.

Lying in bed she lets her mind wander. “She would have been disappointed if
she had not seen Murray’s house … disappointed that some of the other
participants had not stayed. Then she remembers the long walk and the
changing impressions she had of the town, “… with its empty streets, the
hallow spaces of its courtyards and back gardens, the darkness, against the
sky, of its church steeples and clock towers, with its short alleys and narrow
lanes, and its soft stones that, in her memory, had reflected the sky in tints
of coral, growing just a few shades dimmer, as the hours passed, in the cool

As she read, she stopped to think. “… the walk remained, as a presence,
some where behind or beneath her reading, until she relaxed completely and
slept, no longer bothered by the hard pillow.”

The next morning, “… he and she had ordered taxis for the same hour … but
neither of them had suggested sharing a taxi.” He stepped into his cab and
said, “rather portentious”, “We will probably not meet again.”

I am going to end this tale by giving the exact words as this ends:

“He then made a graceful gesture of the hand that she later could not
remember exactly, and whose meaning she could not quite grasp, though it
seemed to combine a farewell with a concession to some sort of inevitability,
and his cab moved slowly down the street, followed, soon, by her own.”

Lydia Davis does have a way of making you wonder.

July 4, 2014

You can search below for any word or words in all issues of the Melrose Mirror.
| Return to section | The Front Page | Write to us |

Write to us