Authors: Guy Davenport

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American short-story writer, poet, and critic

Author Works

Short Fiction:

Tatlin!, 1974

Da Vinci’s Bicycle: Ten Stories, 1979

Eclogues: Eight Stories, 1981

Apples and Pears, and Other Stories, 1984

The Jules Verne Steam Balloon, 1987

The Drummer of the Eleventh North Devonshire Fusiliers, 1990

A Table of Green Fields: Ten Stories, 1993

The Cardiff Team: Ten Stories, 1996

Twelve Stories, 1997

Poetry:

Flowers and Leaves, 1966

Thasos and Ohio: Poems and Translations, 1986

Nonfiction:

Pennant Key-Indexed Study Guide to Homer’s “Iliad,” 1967

Pennant Key-Indexed Study Guide to Homer’s “Odyssey,” 1967

The Geography of the Imagination, 1981

Every Force Evolves a Form, 1987

A Balthus Notebook, 1989

Charles Burchfield’s Seasons, 1994

The Hunter Gracchus, and Other Papers on Literature and Art, 1996

The Geography of the Imagination: Forty Essays, 1997

Objects on a Table: Harmonious Disarray in Art and Literature, 1998

Translations:

Poems and Fragments, 1965 (of Sappho)

Herakleitos and Diogenes, 1979

Archilochos, Sappho, Alkman: Three Lyric Poets of the Late Greek Bronze Age, 1980

Anakreon, 1991

Seven Greeks, 1995

The Logia of Yeshua: The Sayings of Jesus, 1996 (with Benjamin Urrutia)

Edited Texts:

The Intelligence of Louis Agassiz: A Specimen Book of Scientific Writings, 1963

Selected Stories, 1993 (of O. Henry)

Biography

Guy Mattison Davenport, Jr., is accomplished as a short-story writer, essayist, and translator and is successful and appreciated as a critic, lecturer, editor, poet, and scholar. He also qualifies as an illustrator and draftsman and has written libretti. He was born to Guy Mattison Davenport, an express agent, and his wife, Marie Fant Davenport. As a youth, he was studious and interested in classical literature. After completing a B.A. at Duke University in 1948, he was a Rhodes Scholar and earned a B.Litt. at the University of Oxford in 1950; he then served in the U.S. Army for two years, after which he taught English at Washington University in St. Louis. He received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1961 and began a long teaching career at the University of Kentucky in 1963.{$I[AN]9810001304}{$I[A]Davenport, Guy}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Davenport, Guy}{$I[tim]1927;Davenport, Guy}

That Davenport has never owned or driven an automobile suggests his independence from prevailing norms–a quality that is evident in his writing as well. His most significant contribution to the arts is assuredly his short fiction. Despite the variegated nature of Davenport’s fiction, his stories share certain common features: They are experimental, modernist, and learned. Davenport’s stories dispense with much of the machinery of the traditional short story; often as not, the reader cannot initially discern who the speaker is, and there is little in the sense of action, character, or development that can be read as plot. A typical Davenport story might juxtapose narratives set in different centuries, with no explicit connection, asking the reader to intuit the relation between them. Such devices clearly identify Davenport as a modernist. At the same time, he fills his works with allusions–particularly classical ones–from history, religion, art, and science, such that his scholarship is a bedrock of the fiction. Some reviewers have found fault with the conspicuous erudition of Davenport’s stories, but this conclusion is presumptuous and lazy, for the very learnedness of his stories provides the foundation that sustains them.

Davenport himself has described his stories as “assemblages.” What he means by this term, adapted from modern art, is readily apparent: He assembles into a coherent whole a combination of story, essay, anecdote, and lecture (but mostly “story,” though there are no plots); he assembles a number of characters from various backgrounds, eras, and professions; and he assembles various comments about life, morality, and human nature. Virtually any of Davenport’s stories can be used to demonstrate these assertions. In “The Richard Nixon Freischutz Rag,” Nixon visits China and converses with Mao Tse-tung; Leonardo da Vinci is seen working in his shop; finally, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas make social comments while visiting Assisi. In “The Wooden Tower of Archytas,” Archytas makes and flies a wooden dove powered by steam; in the same story, Native Americans in a South Carolina slave dormitory sing for the soul of a dove.

Without question, Davenport’s essays are more accessible than his stories. To begin with, he does focus on a single point, demonstrating it in a forthright manner, becoming a first-quality essayist in the traditional sense of that word. Like his fiction, his essays are always learned and filled with allusions from history, science, and the arts; yet it is possible to determine his point quickly. He successfully blends personal anecdote, historical events, social commentary, and artistic criticism in a highly distinctive manner. One of his best-known essays is “Making It Uglier to the Airport,” the opening of which illustrates his characteristic tone. This essay is typical of both his stories and essays. In it, Davenport proceeds to support his assertions that the buildings of the United States are ugly, with specifics from Chicago, New York, and eventually his own Lexington, Kentucky, making a very persuasive case. The essay is sprinkled with information from and about the writings of Michelangelo; Ada Louise Huxtable, a journalist who writes about architecture; Manfredo a Tafuri, an architect and writer; and Daniel Defoe–all within the first two pages. Davenport then shifts to a personal anecdote about being denied a passport at the Lexington post office because he does not have a driver’s license; next he shows how everything he has said applies to some dozen or so cities across the nation. By the time the reader reaches the conclusion, there is no escape from his claim that “the automobile and airplane have made us nomads again.”

Davenport’s career is not characterized by progression, growth, and development in the sense that these terms would be applied to most authors. He was forty-three years old before he published his first story, and his maturity as a scholar and writer was already established in other ways. He has produced translations, essays, stories, and some poetry in a prolific way throughout his adult life. There is no change in the substance of his work, thinking, and productivity; rather, there is to be found only elaboration upon ideas formed from the outset. In the course of exploring those insights, Davenport has produced one of the most significant bodies of work in contemporary American literature.

BibliographyArias-Misson, Alain. “Erotic Ear, Amoral Eye.” Chicago Review 35 (Spring, 1986): 66-71. Arias-Misson proposes that Apples and Pears constitutes Davenport’s mythmaking as an alternative to the demythologizing that most contemporary fiction exemplifies. He genuinely wants his storytelling to aspire to the condition of myth and, as such, revivify the reader’s sense of the world as a physically satisfying place.Bawer, Bruce. “The Stories of Guy Davenport’s Fiction à la Fourier.” The New Criterion 3 (December, 1984): 8-14. One of the most intelligent and perceptive analyses of Davenport’s work. Bawer labels Davenport a foursquare modernist and a devout Poundian. He admires greatly his enormously esoteric imagination but is worried about where the affectionate stops and the merely sexual begins. He praises Davenport for reminding readers of their humanity and the importance of affection.Blake, Nancy. “’An Exact Precession’: Leonardo, Gertrude, and Guy Davenport’s Da Vinci’s Bicycle.” In Critical Angles: European Views of Contemporary Literature, edited by Marc Chénetier. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986. Blake suggests that Davenport can be best understood if one views his work as rendering homage to his predecessors and, thus, renewing their vital force and the reader’s.Crane, Joan St. C. Guy Davenport: A Descriptive Bibliography 1947-1995. Haverford, Pa.: Green Shade, 1996. A good source for the student of Davenport.Davenport, Guy. Fifty Drawings. New York: Dim Gray Bar Press, 1996. A collection of the writer’s drawings.Furlani, Andre. “When Novelists Become Cubists: The Prose Ideograms of Guy Davenport.” Style 36 (Spring, 2002): 111-132. Explores the influences upon Davenport of poet Ezra Pound, Vorticist artist Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, utopianist Charles Fourier, and the Aurignacian cave paintings at Lescaux.Jarman, Mark. “The Hunter Davenport.” Hudson Review 50, no. 2 (Summer, 1997): 333. Discusses Davenport’s adherence to modernist techniques despite his postmodernist mileau. He focuses on nineteenth and twentieth century subjects, drawing comparisons between past events and present occurrences.Jarman, Mark. The Hunter Gracchus: And Other Papers on Literature and Art. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1996. This collection of essays written by Davenport during the 1980’s and 1990’s on a variety of literary and cultural subjects reflects the extensive reading and erudition so evident in his short fiction.Klinkowitz, Jerome. Review of Apple and Pears and Other Stories. The Review of Contemporary Fiction (Spring, 1986): 216-218. Klinkowitz proposes Apples and Pears as not only Davenport’s strongest work but also the work in which he pulls all his influences together, from Wallace Stevens’s necessary fictions to Pound’s reverence of the archaic. He has kept philosophy, sexuality, and history in an ideal balance. A genuinely helpful and intelligent essay.Madden, David W. “Stories Told in Collage.” San Francisco Chronicle, January 9, 1994, p. 4. A review of Davenport’s collection of stories A Table of Green Fields by a well-known short-story writer, critic, and novelist; claims that the stories recall Ernest Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson but have most in common with Raymond Carver; argues that many of the stories are difficult postmodern experiments in themes of the illusion of time and the relationship between artists and their models.Olsen, Lance. “A Guidebook to the Last Modernist: Davenport on Davenport and Da Vinci’s Bicycle.” Journal of Narrative Technique 16 (Spring, 1986): 148-161. The single most brilliant and insightful essay written on Davenport, even though it covers only Da Vinci’s Bicycle. Olsen traces the origin of Davenport’s modernism in the “renaissance of the archaic” and places him alongside classic modernists such as Joyce, T. S. Eliot, and Pound. Davenport is the last modernist because he still believes in the omnipotence of language and its ability to humanize an increasingly dehumanizing world.
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