Sunday, 31 May 2009

Donald Barthelme

The Donald Barthelme retrospective in McSweeney's 24 is a valuable read. It's kind of cringy, as is the nature of these things, but for me it's also school. Stuck out here in the darklands, thousands of miles and even more dollars away from the nearest American MFA, I take me insights where I can get them. Not only did I get a clear view of Barthelme and his work, I got a lot of good writers talking about the process of learning and the things that they took away. My ideas book hasn't been so busy for some time.

Barthelme strikes me as very Beckett - kind of Beckett lite - Samuel cushioned from the cold glass screen by the air bag of irony. My problem with Beckett is the old Catholic thing. After years of the state religion, followed by a massive de-programming session in the form of philosophy courses, I find the old war with god a bore. That chestnut, 'where's the meaning?' can easily be answered by taking a good look at the qualities of any chestnut. But Barthelme's sentences are stunning and his jumpy laughter is infectious. I'm glad to see there's tons of it available online. It's kind of like discovering who Beethoven is, after all this time.

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