Translation and Response between Maurice Blanchot and Lydia Davis

Jonathan Evans


When an author translates a text by another writer, this translation is one form of a response to that text. Other responses may appear in their own writings that are more inflected with their authorial persona. Lydia Davis translated six books by Maurice Blanchot, including fiction and theoretical writings. Blanchot’s concept of the récit privileges non-conventional forms of narrative and it can be considered to have influenced Davis, a view shared in critical writing about Davis. However, responses to his fiction can also be found in Davis’s work. This article reads Lydia Davis’s story “Story” as a response to Maurice Blanchot’s récit, La Folie du jour, translated by Davis as “The Madness of the Day”. Both texts develop a narrative that questions the possibility of arriving at a single story: Blanchot’s narrator cannot tell the story of how he came to have glass ground into his eyes, while Davis’s narrator must try to understand a contradictory story told to her by her lover. However, Davis responds to Blanchot by reversing the perspective in the story: where Blanchot’s narrator must and cannot create a story that explains his situation in a judicial/medical context, Davis’s narrator is struggling to understand her lover’s story which does not explain the situation that they find themselves in. Davis’s narrator is therefore motivated by an emotional need to find an acceptable story that is absent from Blanchot’s narrator. This difference in motivation is central to the difference between Davis’s and Blanchot’s approach, and complicates any reading of his influence on her because she responds to his text in her own.


Maurice Blanchot; Lydia Davis

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ISSN 1920-0323