Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Readers of this story will likely feel that they are experiencing something of the “real Herakleitos.” That Herakleitos’s life is a subject for conjecture, eluding documentation, matters not; Davenport’s specificity in descriptions conjures the veritable. When Knaps first sees Herakleitos, the philosopher is “sprinkling crushed herbs into his wine, basil, tarragon and sage.” The story’s first three pages are crowded with sensuousness, from the fragrances mentioned to mouths “full of figs and spiced wine,” to the sounds of barbitos, lyre, and a “chittering of sticks” accompanying the dance, a wild kinetic performance by Tmolos, the slave. Davenport’s theme of knowing is played forte from the story’s opening sentences, where the sensations of a rooster responding to sunrise and remembering other sunrises are conveyed through bright omniscience: “When he closed his eyes he sometimes saw a mare nursing her foal under the yellow leaves of a gingko, and heard the tap tap of the horseskin drum.”

The author’s language is applied to the page as if it were paint. The words call attention to themselves as words, as sounds. Selena walks around with her sandals “slapping the stone floor.” Weather is frequently mentioned, the brightness of the sun on the sea. Sentences become paintings, imagistic and bright: “Herakleitos and Knaps stood in wild wheat above the olive groves, the royal blue of thistles beside the fluting of their cloaks.” Davenport registers his vision by driving the language into the realm of iconography, the characters appearing in a visual stateliness, like figures drawn in frozen movement on an urn or carved in stone. The sentence rhythms create this “felt sense” as well, adding a weightiness and gong-like resonance to the description of Artemis in the temple: “Her golden hands were open in solicitude and blessing. A citadel crowned her neatly bound hair.” The style makes the reader think about the artifice, which is the ordered language, at the same time as he is dazzled by the images—appropriate dilemma for someone reading a story about the man whose name is now trite with its association with the perception that everything perceived is something other than what it appears and is constantly moving even though standing still.

Herakleitos Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bawer, Bruce. “Guy Davenport: Fiction á la Fourier.” In Diminishing Fictions. St. Paul, Minn.: Graywolf Press, 1988.

Furlani, Andre. “Postmodern and After: Guy Davenport.” Contemporary Literature 43 (Winter, 2002): 709-735.

Kenner, Hugh. “A Geographer of the Imagination.” Harper’s 263 (August, 1981): 66-68.

Meanor, Patrick. “The Fourierist Parables of Guy Davenport.” In Postmodern Approaches to the Short Story, edited by Farhat Iftekharrudin and Joseph Boyden. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003.

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.

Sullivan, John Jeremiah. “Guy Davenport: The Art of Fiction CLXXIV.” Paris Review 163 (Fall, 2002): 43-87.

Vandiver, Elizabeth. “Fireflies in a Jar.” Parnassus: Poetry in Review 21 (Winter, 1995): 59-76.