September Author of the Month: Donald Barthelme

Donald Barthelme looking like he'll talk down to you for not knowing as much as he does, but he thinks he's making a joke and wants you to call his bluff. So, looking like a professor.

Donald Barthelme looking like he'll talk down to you for not knowing as much as he does, but he thinks he's making a joke and wants you to call his bluff. So, looking like a professor.

If you both read in English and read the titles to articles, then you have probably put together that Lodestone’s blog will feature an author throughout the month, and that that author in September is Donald Barthelme. Well done.

And so I announce that Lodestone’s blog will be doing an “X-of-the-month” during every month that I or another editor feel like doing it! There will be other authors-of-the-month and poets-of-the-month, as well as time-periods-of-the-month and genres-of-the-month and literary-movements-of-the-month and any month-able type of theme- or idea-of-the-month out there that we feel like investigating or hyphenating (and if you have an idea for such a topic and it is a good idea, drop us a line in the comments below). 

Throughout all of the months, though, we want to focus on reading as writers. Since the best writers are thirsty readers, this will certainly involve plenty literary criticism and interpretation — reading as readers — but with an emphasis on craft, on figuring out how an author achieved certain effects, and how we as writers can practice and inherit those techniques. 

We will be shameless imitators looking with gratitude on those writers who came before us and on those peers who write around us. These will be a kind of master class. Except neither I nor any other staff member will be critiquing your work, because you need to learn to self-soothe and to throw yourself into the underworld of writing/critique forums. 

Now if we are looking for a master-class experience, Barthelme is an excellent place to start, because Barthelme is a kind of postmodernist. Postmodernism is a less-than-helpful term in literary taxonomy, especially in relation to Barthelme, who perhaps never really found a home amongst other authors. He is known as a wit with a kind of double-minded attitude: as a man he seems incredibly serious, and yet his stories don’t often seem to take themselves seriously. When I read his Paris Review interview, I immediately feel small in light of the memory and knowledge that Barthelme exhibits. And yet, if you’ve read The School (I’ve posted it several times in August, and I warned you, I Warned You!, that it would come back), you see a writer whose strength is that he can direct an absurd and lighthearted irony at death, a most serious subject, with the literary equivalent of a grin and a shrug. 

I could be totally wrong about Barthelme. The only work of his that I’ve read has been The School, and I’ve supplemented with his Paris Review interview and David Gates’ introduction to Sixty Stories (purchase here). Gates, especially, indicates that Barthelme spent his writing career looking for a "new" way of writing, trying on many different hats — perhaps a different hat in each story — but never quite finding the one that fits. We shall be more explicit, however: we will imitate and we will steal boldly and honestly, thanking authors for the good tools they give us and the techniques they teach us. 

It’s very possible we are jumping into a body of work that could be incredibly boring or difficult to read, but I’m excited to do it, if only to learn that some postmodernists actually are as hopeless as some of my friends say they are. My instinct, however, is that Barthelme is going to prove to be a unique voice with a masterful hand, and that we will find plenty to emulate and imitate as we read more of his work. 

Here is a quick syllabus. I will be reviewing and choosing works from a small collection of short stories and novels, which you can find for sale through Amazon by clicking on the links below:
  

 

3. The Dead Father

(MAYBE - if there's time and it pleases me or someone else wants to write about it)

 

 

I will start with The School, so just read it already at NPR.org

Thank you for joining us today. I'm looking forward to starting September with you, Stoners!

 

 

 

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