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“Sentences and Thought Processes in Lydia Davis's Short Stories” - Eileen John (University of Warwick)

Eileen John
115 Peabody
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Co-sponsored with the Department of English, The Georgia Review, and the Willson Center for Humanities & Arts

How does the sentence, a linguistic structure with a kind of grammatical completeness, hold our attention? I focus here on a function of sentences that is highlighted in some of Lydia Davis’ work, using the sentence to represent a process of thinking: evoking the occurrence and path of thinking, not just offering thought content. Note that when reading sentences that evoke thought processes, this probably captures something rather loosely related to or idealizing about actual thinking (perhaps what we think thinking is). I will consider some of Davis’ ambitious uses of sentences to evoke thought processes, especially her way of showing tension or conflict or anxiety in a thinker within a single sentence. These sentences are sometimes philosophical in their concerns. What does the perspicuous-to-obsessive extremity of these sentences have to do with philosophical thinking? I will consider Davis’ sentences as combining qualities in philosophically interesting ways: clarity, uncertainty, reasoning, desire, abstraction, feeling, self-consciousness, and self-doubt.   

Eileen John is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick, currently visiting at Auburn University as the Breeden Eminent Visiting Scholar. Her research is in aesthetics and philosophy of literature, with particular interests in the ethical and philosophical possibilities of art and literature. Her publications include work on authors such as J.M. Coetzee, Emily Dickinson, Jenny Erpenbeck, Toni Morrison, and Grace Paley. She co-edited Blackwell’s Philosophy of Literature anthology and is co-director of the Centre for Research in Philosophy, Literature and the Arts at Warwick. 

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