Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Remembering Donald Barthelme

Many years ago, I fell head over heels enraptured with the rambling and absurd writings of  Donald Barthelme. Here is an extract from one of his final short stories. For more information, start here:http://www.themodernword.com/scriptorium/barthelme.html. After that, you are on your own!

 Self-regard is rooted in breakfast. When you have had it, then lunch seems to follow naturally, as if you owned not only the fruits but the means of production in a large, faux-naïf country. This is doubted only by eccentrics, and on the present occasion their views need not be taken into account. That country in which you are loved for yourself is expanding now with the further developement of books, a new kind capable of satisfying the tactile wishes even of old people. Our engineers are at a loss to understand what their engineers have done. Still, insofar as they are trying to sketch future trends, even the most rigid empiricists among them are obliged to make projections, and then plans. Such is the impact of technology upon the fabric of inherited social institutions that breakfast is almost forgotten, in some countries; they paint pictures instead. I read Dampfboot's novel although he had nothing to say. It wasn't rave, that volume; we regretted that. And it was hard to read, dry, breadlike pages that turned, and then fell, like a car burned by rioters and resting, wrong side up, at the edge of the picture plane with its tires smoking. Fragments kept flying off the screen into the audience, fragments of rain and ethics. Hubert wanted to go back to the dog races. But we made him read his part, the outer part where the author is praised and the price quoted. We like books that have a lot of dreck in them, matter which presents itself as not wholly relevant (or indeed, at all relevant) but which, carefully attended to, can supply a kind of "sense" of what is going on. This "sense" is not to be obtained by reading between the lines (for there is nothing there, in those white spaces) but by reading the lines themselves -- looking at them and so arriving at a feeling not of satisfaction exactly, that is too much to expect, but of having read them, of having "completed" them. "Please don't talk," Snow White said. "Say nothing. We can begin now. Take off the pajamas." Snow White took of her pajamas. Henry took off his pajamas. Kevin took off his pajamas. Hubert took off his pajamas. Clem took off his pajamas. Dan took off his pajamas. Edward took off his pajamas. Bill refused to take off his pajamas. "Take off your pajamas Bill," Snow White said. Everyone looked at Bill's pajamas. "No, I won't," Bill said. "I will not take off my pajamas." "Take off your pajamas Bill," everyone said. "No. I will not." Everyone looked again at Bill's pajamas. Bill's pajamas filled the room, in a sense. Those yellow crêpe-paper pajamas. (from the 1970s)

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