Lydia Davis and tangents of structure

Initially when I read Lydia Davis collection ‘Break it down’ I was attracted to the psychological environments she established through very minimal means and how this freed up an approach to the endings of the stories.

Since reading the interview Structure is Structure that Rina passed on to me the other day I have also become interested in thinking about how the structure of her stories informs my reading of her work as minimal and less invested in causality or its drama.

Structure is a kind of dry word, as if it means to take the magic out of something. In the context of her writing however it takes on a kind of unpredictable power.

It has something to do with scale and proportion, which in her stories seems to focus the psychological boundaries of her characters. There is an investigation of what her characters can know about themselves and their environment and how this informs what they can know of others.

For example in Five Signs of Disturbance, the physical limits of a woman’s state of mind are animated. A democracy between her thoughts and her environment exists. In this situation time is left alone. Later it transpires that it was there, and makes demands only when the character attempts to pin her understanding or confusion on something tangible or immediate. The structure becomes less about repetition or sparseness or lack of dramatic plot, but more about tensions leading to and away from understanding, and how it does or doesn’t find appropriate tangibility in language.

I get excited about the tangents in tangibility, that maybe understanding requires considerable tangents on which to hinge and generate a memory, or a memorable after-life once it is reabsorbed by the pace of life or the mind.

I will leave it at that for now. I am thinking about structure as I am thinking about how it can be experimented with in different ways in long or short fiction and how structure might relate to the logic of conclusion, or scale which is about tangents of boundaries.

Lydia Davis interviewed by Jason McBride can be found on the Poetry Foundation website and is titled Structure is Structure.

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