Twelve Stories

Guy Davenport, Author
Guy Davenport, Author Counterpoint LLC $18.95 (248p) ISBN 978-1-887178-44-0
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In ""Tatlin!,"" the first of these selected early stories, a Russian constructivist plans elaborate decoration for the tallest building in the world: ""A screen outside... showed films at night, a board of electric lights constantly changed pattern: now the hammer and sickle, now the ear of wheat, now the face of Marx, Lenin, Engels, Fourier, Tchernikovsky, Cezanne, Trotsky, Saint-Simon, Rousseau, Ruskin, Mayakovsky, Blanqui, Khlenbnikov, Raspail, Hegel, Tsiolkovsky, Stalin."" What encyclopedic company. And how utterly depressing to have them constantly in your face. Like that Red Square Tower of Babel, Davenport's stories glitter with names, but after a while one longs for the vulgar delights of plot, mystery, denouement. Originally a scholar of Ezra Pound, Davenport has revealed in his essays (Geography of the Imagination; Every Force Evolves a Form, etc.) a mind stuffed, like Pound's, with the furniture of history, literature and science--all jumbled, according to the best high-modernist taste, in artful, just barely discernible patterns. And in his quieter stories, like ""The Chair"" (in which Kafka snoops on the Rebbe of Belz at the Spa in Marienbad) or ""1830"" (in which the mysteriously Poe-like Edgar A. Perry pays a visit to an aristocratic St. Petersburg house), one gets a glimpse of the sly wit that enlivens Davenport's cranky scholarship. Unfortunately, his more ambitious pieces read like the notes of some prodigious, namedropping student in a slightly off-kilter class on the literature of modernism: impressive enough, but you wouldn't want to have to grade him. (Oct.)
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