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Call for papers for the International conference “Lydia Davis, Writing, Reading and Translation”, organized by the Institute of Modern Languages Research (School of Advanced Study, University of London). Keynote speakers: Emily Eells (University of Paris 10-Nanterre), Jonathan Evans (University of Portsmouth).


13-14 May 2020, Institute of Modern Languages Research, Senate House.


‘To read is to translate, and to translate is to write, to write to read, to read to write’.[1] If, in the short text from which these words are extracted Lydia Davis intends to play with rational thinking, the associations she makes between writing, reading and translation are nonetheless highly relevant when approaching her own work.

Winner of several literary prizes, including the Man Booker International in 2013, Lydia Davis is today recognized as one of the most innovative New York writers of the last few decades. Specializing in flash fiction, the writing of very short stories with no more than a few sentences, Davis has mastered a literary genre that originates in ancient fables and parables but that is also very popular in American literature.[2] Her tales[3] originate in what Emily Eells calls ‘intertextes’,[4] the writer starting by playing with language, from some words overheard or a striking sentence she read. From this, Davis develops highly original and singular stories – or, perhaps, better to speak of snapshots, depictions, or sketches.

Reflections of the ever-changing modern society we live in, Davis’ experiments in form allow her to question the way people perceive and interpret each other’s words and actions. Davis is especially interested in the difficulties men and women encounter in understanding one another, and in the way gender clichés and prejudices lead to such misunderstanding.

An abiding interest in intercultural exchanges and problems of communication partly explains Davis’ enduring dedication to translation.[5] Translator of some of the most prominent French writers of the 20th century – Marcel Proust, Gustave Flaubert, Pierre Jean Jouve, Maurice Blanchot and Michel Leiris – Davis’ own approach to literary writing is heavily rooted in the practice of careful reading and translation. Indeed, the way Davis deals with situations and narrative processes appears to be directly influenced by her engagement as a translator of these French writers. Her interest in feminism has also led her to translate Françoise Giroud’s biography, Marie Curie: A Life, a work which inspired her story ‘Marie Curie, So Honorable Woman’.[6] And, more recently, at the dawn of the 21st century, she offered two remarkable translations of Proust’s Swann’s Way and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary to the American market – which is unsurprising given that many of her own short stories sound as ironical as both of these writers, in particular the way she deals with situations and narrative processes.

Reading literature and reading the world (where ‘reading’ can be understood as ‘interpreting’ or ‘translating’), writing and translation are contiguous and intersecting in Davis’ approach to literature.

The aim of this conference is to explore Davis’ strong interest in intercultural exchange, the problems of communication and translation – and the creative dynamics they initiate and sustain.

Papers could address the following (non-exhaustive) list of topics:

  • Lydia Davis’ short stories and flash fiction
  • The short story, fable and parable
  • The short story as American literary genre
  • The End of the story: Lydia Davis and the novel
  • Spoken language and creativity
  • Alternative storytelling: snapshots, depictions, sketches
  • Lydia Davis, between writing and translation
  • Modern society and communication
  • American society and consumerism
  • A New York worldview?
  • Gender and male-female interaction
  • Feminism
  • Lydia Davis and politics
  • Autofiction
  • Lydia Davis and French literature (Leiris, Flaubert, Proust, Beckett)


Send title and abstract (300 words) for a 20-minute paper, and short bio (100 words) in English or in French, to by 15 December, 2019.

Organisers: Prof Jean-Michel Gouvard, Université de Bordeaux Montaigne (France) and Dr Joseph Ford, Institute of Modern Languages Research (UK).

Bilingual conference, English and French.

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