Lydia Davis on Language and Literature

A prolific translator, author, and former professor of creative writing, Lydia Davis’s motivation for her life’s work is jarringly simple: she just loves language. She loves short, sparkling sentences. She loves that in English we have Anglo-Saxon words like “underground” or Latinate alternatives like “subterranean.” She loves reading books in foreign languages, discovering not only their content but a different culture and a different history at the same time. Despite describing her creative process as “chaotic” and herself as “not ambitious,” she is among America’s best-known short story writers and a celebrated essayist.

Lydia joined Tyler to discuss how the form of short stories shapes their content, how to persuade an ant to leave your house, the difference between poetry and very short stories, Proust’s underrated sense of humor, why she likes Proust despite being averse to long books, the appeal of Josep Pla’s The Gray Notebook, why Proust is funnier in French or German than in English, the hidden wit of Franz Kafka, the economics of poorly translated film subtitles, her love of Velázquez and early Flemish landscape paintings, how Bach and Schubert captured her early imagination, why she doesn’t like the Harry Potter novels—but appreciates their effects on young readers, whether she’ll ever publish her diaries, how her work has evolved over time, how to spot talent in a young writer, her method (or lack thereof) for teaching writing, what she learned about words that begin with “wr,” how her translations of Proust and Flaubert differ from others, what she’s most interested in translating now, what we can expect from her next, and more.

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Read a full transcript enhanced with helpful links, or watch the full video.

Recorded February 3rd, 2022

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