Monday, April 19, 2010

Donald Barthelme's reading list

Donald Barthelme (1931-1989) is known as the "father of flash fiction" because his stories typically avoid traditional plot structures, relying instead on a steady acculumation of seemingly-unrelated detail. By subverting the reader's expectations through constant non sequiturs, Barthelme creates a hopelessly fragmented verbal collage reminiscent of such modernist works as T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land and James Joyce's Ulysses, whose linguistic experiments he often challenged.

Certain parallels have also been drawn between Barthelme and Franz Kafka. However, Barthelme's fundamental skepticism and irony distanced him from the modernists' belief in the power of art to reconstruct society, leading most critics to class him as a postmodernist writer.

Literary critics have noted that Barthelme, like the French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, whom he admired, plays with the meanings of words, relying on poetic intuition to spark new connections of ideas buried in the expressions and conventional responses.

The critic George Wicks called Barthelme "the leading American practitioner of surrealism today . . . whose fiction continues the investigations of consciousness and experiments in expression that began with Dada and surrealism a half century ago." On the other hand, he has been described by Josephine Henden (Harper's) as an "angry sado-masochist."

Read him (or read about him), and decide for yourself.


andy koopmans said...

Man, I have a lot of reading to do!

Gary Lain said...

Do people still read Barthelme?

He's great in small doses, I've always thought.

I borrowed the title of his "Overnight to Distant Cities" for one of my first posts here; that has to be one of my favorite book titles.