Friday, August 25, 2006

lydia davis on learning to read

I found this old interview with one of my favorite writers Lydia Davis in the Bomb Magazine archives. I've been interested in literary insights into childhood lately. Walter Benjamin's object related ruminations. Hidden meanings in things, everything is pattern based. Lydia loved the words "look" and "see." Unlocking the pattern of language is something that is supposed to click all at once (with exposure and practice). One day it makes sense and you know how to read.

Francine Prose: Do you remember learning to read?

LYDIA DAVIS Yes, and my memories of the Dick and Jane books are very happy memories. I loved learning the words "look" and "see": "Run, Jane, run. See Jane run." It was so clear and easy and unconfusing and neat. Actually I spent my second grade year in Austria. I had one year of learning to read in English and then I learned to read in German. I still have the German textbooks in which the letters got smaller and smaller as the pages progressed through the book.

fp How sadistic!
LD That’s right, very sadistic.

fp Do you think about the rhythms of Dick and Jane?
LD I always liked clarity and simplicity and balance. All rhythms can be seductive. I was attuned to the music of language as well as the music of music. Learning another language when I was seven probably made me hyperconscious of language; also the German language in the classroom was a wall of incomprehensibility around me. Gradually the words began to have meaning. But first I heard the language as rhythm.

fp So do you write for rhythm now?
LD Yes, it’s always rhythm. I always hear it in my head.

p And languages?
LD I was very good at languages. I loved Latin. Latin actually made more sense than French, probably because of the math element again.

fp I loved Latin, although I hated math. That the two things were related never occurred to me. I loved Latin because of how logical it was, like solving a crossword puzzle. There was an answer, and you got it.

LD When you’re solving the problem of the Latin sentence, there are two things going on: the pleasure of solving the puzzle, but also the emotional satisfaction of finding out what this mysterious thing is. Then there’s another pleasure—the pleasure of putting it into English words. I like English best. People assume because I translate French I’m a Francophile, but the fact is I don’t like French as much as I like English.

fp What is it about English?
LD The plainness. I love the Anglo-Saxon words as opposed to the Latinate. Bread, milk, love, war, peace, cow, dog. The English word "and" seems much more solid, like an apple. Maybe it has to do with those early Dick and Jane books again. Words beginning with "a", "and" and "apple" are somehow healthy. The Spanish "y" is just preposterous. It’s weird and strange. (laughter)

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