Inner Life Option

I suppose one reason I’m not keen on Lydia Davis appending the word ‘dream‘ to some of her very short stories is that as soon as I see the word I start wondering what the story is telling me about Lydia Davis – what she’s like, her appetites and fears. Taking up an amateur psychoanalytical position restricts my reading. If she didn’t do this I could reflect upon the meanings of the text across a wider landscape that contained Lydia Davis but also spoke to the society, the culture, the world, the wishes and the discontents ranged therein.

When someone tells you their dream it is because they want to tell you and any reaction you might offer is, if not welcome, then at least sought. As soon as such a contract is formed, tacitly or not, then the binoculars can be exchanged for the magnifying glass and a conversation can unfold. It’s quite hard to do this with a stranger although this seems not to deter palmists, mediums and tarot readers, whose declarations, depending on where you stand on this, might be taken with a pinch of salt.

I should say that I’m enjoying Lydia Davis’ very short stories and while I know nothing about her, I think we might get on at an occasion or around a table. I would be flattered if she then said “There’s this dream I had.” I might reply “I’m all ears!” And she’d tell me then she’d say “What do you reckon?’ But that’s different. I could say something like “Well, Lydia, clearly you are worried that you will not stop being sad,” (that’s just an example, I do not think that Lydia Davis is necessarily sad) after which I might continue “…as we all are in these fraught times in which all that seemed solid is become soil…” Or I might in fact think to myself “Well, she would probably prefer a more personalised response than a pontification on the state of the world from her new acquaintance.” And I’d reserve the broader view for a short story by Lydia Davis that I would read in a room or on a bus, savouring the compactness the drollery the oddness of the ordinary and the matter of factness of the bizarre.

Afternote: I just found an interview with Lydia Davis in The Paris Review which more or less renders the post above obsolete. At one point Davis says ‘In the new book, making stories out of those Flaubert letters or out of people’s dreams, I’m just very moved by the beauty of writing itself. The beauty of a sentence in another person’s writing. Or the beauty of a very simple sentence when somebody is telling me a dream.’

This strongly suggests that Davis sometimes transcribes other people’s dreams and then appends the word ‘dream‘ to them. It seems probable that all the stories followed by ‘dream‘ are other people’s dreams. Damn. This weakens my argument quite a lot but does not wholly extinguish it. I hope.

Piano Dreams

One thing Lydia Davis does in her very short stories is to append, after some stories, in lower case italics, the word ‘dream’. This instantly dilutes the preceding text insofar as it suggests that whatever happened in that text wouldn’t happen. Very few things in texts would happen. On the other hand many things that probably wouldn’t happen do happen or, at the very least, have some of the qualities of things that might happen, or occur, or simply appear in the mind. ‘Things that seem to happen’ is a useful category (not that it should be appended to anything) because it leaves certain valuable tensions intact.

Can’t and Won’t by Lydia Davis (Penguin, 2014)

I like this story. It’s pretty clear that it’s a dream but nothing is gained by telling us this.

This is How

I really like this image. But the text I wrote for it, just after Christmas 2019, was not of a sufficiently high standard to warrant publication, so I have pulled it. It featured an attempt to integrate Santa’s reindeer, namely Prancer, Dancer, Dasher, Vixen, Donner and Blitzen with notions of aerial threat and wars past and present, thereby insistently ironising the Santa material. The text was mawkish, heavy handed and melodramatic. It had no place here.



I saw Danny

I saw Danny coming back from his work which was in a morgue across the river. He said that at work a body had come in and it was unmarked, no marks of any sort. Marks is better, obvs, he said. Doesn’t take so much time. With no marks, clearly, you have to go right in and not come out until you know. So they went in and the body had no heart. It hadn’t been excised. There just wasn’t one. The various tubes that you’d expect were there but they just ran into each other cleanly without the heart in the way so to speak.

Danny was a mortuary assistant so he didn’t actually get to go in he had to prep the body for the medical examiner who went in and straightaway called the forensic science technician which you had to do if anything weird or foul play came up.

It was a total puzzle, Danny said. Basically impossible. It made me wonder if the body had its shoes and socks on. I wondered this because if the body had been placed in the park or wherever by people from out of space based on copying what they could see from afar then they might think that shoes and socks were part of the body. How would they know they were clothes? There’s no reason they would have that concept.

They would work down the leg using their long-distance viewing technologies and they would come to this what we call woollen sock but they, of course, would not have this in their repertoire of what they know so they would assume that the red band is continuous with all of the flesh of the body, much as we regard the stripes on a creature in our world.

They would see the what we call hairiness above the red band and assume that these fibres abruptly became denser at the red band area and that they were simply another aspect of the structures and colouration of the lower limb and pedal area. Were they to dissect this part of a leg – they had, of course, no means of doing so – then they would expect to find that the denser red fibres extruded from the interior of the leg as did the sparser what we call hairs that covered much of the upper limb.

So if they wanted to learn more about what we call the shoe and they saw as a thickening of the limbs at their extremity they would take the out of space equivalent of a knife perhaps like a ray or something and cut around the top of the shoe into what we call the ankle area. The shoe would still not come off so they would cut right through to the other side.

This would show them that actually the ankle etc is a complicated piece of our body but they would not be put off making a copy for whatever purposes. I use that phrase ‘for whatever purposes’ because their thinking from another galaxy would be as strange to us as our bodies to them.

Anyway I said to Danny that obviously the body would not have a heart if this was its provenance. What we should worry about is eventually they will learn the idea of clothes, that you take off and beneath these clothes is what we call our bodies and in them are hearts and so forth.

In Arms

When you have been breastfed by Brad Pitt you quickly come to realise that life will not be all hard or all soft. As in all things, a middle path. The third way, as it is had. Some say “Hey, that whole Brad Pitt thing – I was so surprised!’ Others, equally, go, “Surely, isn’t that fucked?” Well, perhaps there are stranger things. Who are we? Going with the soft: he is reassuring; you get some of his qualities; it’s an ice-breaker (later). The hard can be “I suppose you think you’re quite something well let me tell you mister I don’t care if Novak Djokovic makes your sandwiches to me you are a stain on some fabric.” You think of his eyes and hair, that rubbed off on you, how he was unwavering and unconditional and unjudgmental and uncomplaining and unperturbed and unpatronising and undemanding and unswerving

You Got This

A Preface to You Got This

The phrase ‘You Got This’ can be stressed in several ways, including ‘You Got This’ and ‘You Got This‘. In the first case it may be used when, as the meme-collecting website Saying Images enquires, ‘(have you) Got some friends going through a rough time or know people who need an extra push? Reminding them of how strong and capable they really are can help them get over their current situation.’

Often Ryan Gosling will say this to you while in his vest (or sleeveless undershirt).

The second inflection of the phrase, ‘You Got This‘, carries the suggestion that you should stop complaining because you got this and it’s all you’re going to get.

It’s the second meaning that is examined below. It may well be that the slogan on the girl’s T shirt in Holloway Road alludes to the first meaning. I can’t tell.

You Got This – Part I

Ayoung girl walking along the Holloway Road with her mother is wearing a T shirt that carries the slogan ‘You Got This’. The slogan cancels all the other T shirts that bore a long-established complaint about the meanness of those who only handed over a lousy T shirt despite their return from an exotic location. If certain laws of physics and human biology were slightly modified then the manufacture of the ‘You Got This’ line would precipitate the instant discontinuance of all the T shirt lines that bore the initial complaint, in all its variations, globally. Although there is no suggestion in the slogan that You Getting This is in any way a satisfactory outcome for you, it does feel like the dialogue is over. You wanted something that you deserved? Now you’ve got it.

For a workaday encounter in the Holloway Road to effect such a comprehensive transformation, the fundaments of spacetime would have to be radically reconstituted, alongside a complementary remodelling of the human sensorium – a set of conditions in which it becomes possible for all the world’s phenomena to be experienced by everybody all of the time, in real time. In such conditions the open-ended complaint borne on the T shirts of hundreds of thousands of people would be resolved as soon as the first You Got This hit the street. In their multitudes wearers would turn to each other, not without a degree of weary resignation, and say ‘Right. We should move on now.’ Garment manufacturers would, of course, resist this shift but the Lousy T Shirt wearers would say to them ‘Hey! It’s over. We never got anything better than the lousy T shirt of yesteryear but we know, as you do, that a person in the world has received a riposte. One that is both credible and concrete. And this neutralises the whole scene.’ End of story.

You Got This – Part II

The whimsy apparent in Part I is all very well but it elides the cry for help that the original T shirt plaint articulates. The person who is, by implication, accused of failing to supply a pleasing gift or, at the very least, a T shirt that is not lousy, may be a parent, another family member, a spouse, a lover, a friend. These individuals, constituting the support team of the plaintiff and, by extension, representing, in this case, all human beings in the world, clearly, in the view of the plaintiff, do not love the latter enough. That this insufficiency could be assuaged by a more substantial gift or one that was not picked up at the airport does suggest that while the plaintiff seems to be generally relaxed about the translation from love to love token it may be the case that what they really want is the unalloyed love that everyone deserves. The T shirt is what they will settle for because you can’t always get what you want, especially if the want is profound, unwavering and painful to the point where it seems unreasonable, unwieldy, poignant, an ineffable yearning that may never go away until it is satisfied, which it never will be.