In Which Emotional Math Remains Due For A Renaissance
Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at 11:45AM
Durga in BOOKS, dina barraclough, lydia davis

Raw Work


I showed you the lesson plan. Here it is without the Archimedes or the Joanna Russ. You rejected my idea of an emotional math, and you don't believe in similes. I don't know what your problem is with Joanna Russ – she could not be more ripe for a renaissance.

A short track, to simply take us through the first part of summer, before regret really begins to set in.

First week – The Classics

Herodotus (Tom Holland translation)
Gass, Omensetter's Luck
Lee, A Gesture Life
Acker, Blood and Guts in High School

Do you feel like maybe you should stop after the first week? You could, but you would be so sad, and your mouth would flap open a bit but no one would care what you said after that.

I can't waste my time with clever books or books that want to make me feel like I'm clever. I'm not going to pretend I respect anyone who takes this more seriously than I do. I wanted you to love all these novels. Some are stories grouped together, but who cares? There is no such thing as a novel, which reminds me that I forgot to put the David Markson on.

Are you afraid you are the type of person who threatens to quit but never does, while I am the type of person who never admits it but wants to give up the whole time? (Fear is week 3)

I broke in on something I should not have, is the feeling you get from the literature I require you to understand now and in what remains of the day. We are broadcasting on the fine, wet line. Understanding, a true cohesion that exceeds that of our parents and relatives, is expected in the near future. A license to meal.

Second week: So much water, so close to home

Macdonald, The Dalton Case
Anna Joy Springer, The Vicious Red Relic, Love
Kavan, Ice
Lispector, The Passion According to GH

It feels so much better to be dissociated from all this, floating through like an upper respiratory infection. I had an idea to do a section on medicine, but I don't want to remind those of you with illnesses of our essential frailty (Sebald). Instead it is better to believe something else the whole time, before realizing the truth at a convenient moment. Isn't this the basic outline of every story you have been told by me?

Why I keep saying the same thing about how you would probably come back to me given enough time, I don't know. A picture of you is worth something. All the writing was worth something, or this was more waste. Fantastic lead-in to our next group of texts. Cortazar is always just falling short in these things. I guess Hopscotch could be optional or we look at it in class.

Third week: Fear as contagion

Shepard, Beautiful Blood
Ozick, The Cannibal Galaxy
Egan, The Clockwork Rocket
Lydia Davis, Almost No Memory

Life in the upper atmosphere pleases me greatly. We fought a specific war, which had its meaning altered by the years. Whatever we bled for is all we remember. I would prefer to see you in your finest.

You have caught on to the half-step in this routine.

I am coming together like the first island you came to in a dessicated group. Marked back and forth among the California people, the permanent ones. Place wakes, and whatever I made from eggs and the rest of the meats and cheeses was more typical than not. How awful it is to have to focus intently on not being myself. Solve it all with science.

Final week:

Powys, Porius
Sam Beckett, Molloy
Novik, Uprooted
Baldwin, Go Tell It On The Mountain

I enjoy teaching the sort of writing I like to read, although I admit my tastes are not to everyone's. You will read the rest elsewhere, and someone will understand it/you far better than I do. You would have the worst time understanding us in this context, and I would never be proud of what I said to you.

I guess to see the filth you would have to know something about it first. Next semester you can count on a much grittier group. A literate poverty will radiate through every step, maybe a prison memoir will show them how it's done. Ask Joanna Russ.

There is a realistic, true-to-life aspect to any bout of reading. It has become so verbose, the world – a collection of so many words? This many? So many? All my favorites. (Sarraute, Elkin, Malamud). All my old places, that I walk by to remember. After this, think of the thick, penetrating style you will have developed. You will basically be Saul Bellow without any of the dysfunction at that point. It's only a patina.

Dina Barraclough is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Illinois.

lydia davis

Article originally appeared on This Recording (
See website for complete article licensing information.