Critics have always struggled to situate the work of short story writer and translator Lydia Davis within wider trends in postwar and contemporary literature. Paying particular attention to a group of Davis’s “grammar stories,” this essay reads Davis’s fiction as Wittgensteinian “grammatical investigations” that attempt to work against what Toril Moi has described as the “generalized doubt” that characterized the theoretical and aesthetic “skepticism” of postmodernism. Davis’s commitment to this process situates her work within post-postmodern debates about doubt and belief, but reframes these concerns about communication, both aesthetic and social, as problems of grammar. The essay examines how her grammatical investigations resist poststructuralist interpretations of language that dominated the work of her postmodern contemporaries, especially (her ex-partner) Paul Auster, in the 1980s and 1990s. It goes on to explore the gendered labor involved in these kinds of grammatical investigation, labor that is often excluded from the institutional mainstream but crucial in devising “therapies” for problems of linguistic skepticism.
Lydia Davis’s Grammatical Examples
Lola Boorman is a lecturer in American literature and culture at the University of York. Her work has appeared in Post45, ASAP/J, and The Cambridge Companion to the American Short Story (2023). She is currently writing a monograph about the connection between grammar and twentieth-century American literature.
Lola Boorman; Lydia Davis’s Grammatical Examples. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 September 2023; 69 (3): 271–292. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-10814813
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