January Reading:

Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme

Donald Barthelme is generally viewed as the most under read and underrated author of the 20th century.
Postmodernist, deconstructionist, and absurdist: Barthelme parceled, cut, and altered language into literary collages. Influenced by modernist painting, he was director of the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum for a time.

I was wrong, Peterson thought, the world is absurd. The absurdity is punishing me for not believing in it. I affirm the absurdity. On the other hand, absurdity is itself absurd.

Barthelme was ‘overwhelmed’ by Samuel Beckett. He believed that the way for a writer to emulate another writer is to write in opposition to them. Thus, Barthelme writes in opposition to Beckett, who in turn writes in opposition to Joyce. Besides Beckett: Camus, Kafka, Faulkner, Stein, one can feel the ghostly touches in Barthelme’s writing.

Similarly Shotwell pretends to watch my .45 but he is really watching my hand resting idly atop my attache case, my hand resting idly atop my attache case, my hand. My hand resting idly atop my attache case.

Barthelme experiments with language, some stories descending (ascending?) into technobabble and jargon, juxtapositions, and repetitive listing. But it is not just a word salad. There is thoughtfulness for the craft here. Writer T.C. Boyle called it ‘postmodernist hijinks.’

The Achievements of Capitalism:
(a) The curtain wall
(b) Artificial rain
(c) Rockefeller Center
(d) Casals
(e) Mystification

“Capitalism sure is sunny!” cried the unemployed Laredo toolmaker, as I was out walking, in the streets of Laredo. “None of that noxious Central European miserabilism for us!”

Barthelme once said that painters “had to go out and reinvent painting because of the invention of photography and I think films have done something of the sort for us [i.e. writers].”

They can pick up a Baby Ruth wrapper on the street, glue it to the canvas (in the right place, of course, there’s that), and lo! people crowd about and cry, ‘A real Baby Ruth wrapper, by God, what could be realer than that!’ Fantastic metaphysical advantage.

Donald Barthelme died in 1989.

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