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Davenport, Guy

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1927-2005) US academic, translator, poet and short-story author, active from around 1960, and as an author of fiction from around 1970; long a teacher at the University of Kentucky, known for his translations from the Greek, his poetry, his literary essays, collected primarily in The Geography of the Imagination (coll 1981) and Every Force Evolves a Form (coll 1987). He is perhaps best known, however, for the Fabulations assembled in Tatlin!: Six Stories (coll 1974), Da Vinci's Bicycle: Ten Stories (coll 1979), Trois Caprices (coll 1981 chap), Eclogues: Eight Stories (coll 1981), Apples and Pears (coll 1984), The Jules Verne Steam Balloon: Nine Stories (coll 1987), The Drummer of the Eleventh North Devonshire Fusiliers (coll 1990), A Table of Green Fields: Ten Stories (coll 1993) and The Cardiff Team: Ten Stories (coll 1997). Individual stories published as chapbooks [see Checklist below] also appear in these collections. Belinda's World Tour (1991 chap) is a children's fantasy. Twelve Stories (coll 1997) and the Death of Picasso: New and Selected Writing (coll 2003) are convenient compilations; like other Modernists in America – another example being Robert Coover – Davenport's work has tended to appear in small editions, which soon become hard to find.

Although J G Ballard and others had insinuated a fascination with French Surrealism into their New-Wave tales, Davenport's own (literally) collaged and hallucinated conflations of data and Sehnsucht mediate neatly between the solitary despair of the 1960s work of Ballard and others, and the more broadly socialized and nostalgic vision of sf writers like Howard Waldrop. Examples of his most intriguing work, all from Tatlin! (coll 1974), include "Tatlin!", where the phrase "Every force evolves a form" represents Davenport's sense of the future-thrusting nature of his titular subject's Constructivism (see also Filippo Marinetti); "The Aeroplanes at Brescia", whose oneiric Franz Kafka half-visualizes Pax Aeronautica that the historical Tatlin also longed for; and the novel-length meditation on Samuel Butler, "The Dawn in Erewhon", on the part of the philosopher Adriaan van Hovendaal (an apparent stand-in for Ludwig Wittgenstein), and whose journal is also reproduced in the novel-length title story contained in Apples and Pears (coll 1984).

Tales variously assembled elsewhere include "Au Tombeau de Charles Fourier" (Winter 1975 Georgia Review); "The Richard Nixon Freischütz Rag" (Spring 1975 Hawaii Review) and "Christ Preaching at the Henley Regatta" (June 1979 North American Review). Davenport's work can be seen as an important adumbration of the sudden late 1980s growth in Alternate-History tales which plunder the twentieth century and earlier for Icons and protagonists and for moments of haunting significance. He has been influenced by genre writers of the fantastic, and has influenced them and others in turn; but Davenport's work as a whole, in its intricate communion with dismembered connectivities out of the centuries just gone, is perhaps closest, in its high American sensibility, to the work of his near contemporary, the poet James Merrill. [JC]

Guy Mattison Davenport

born Anderson, South Carolina: 23 November 1927

died Lexington, Kentucky: 4 January 2005


nonfiction (highly selected)


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