Satire In The Fiction Of Donald Barthelme English Literature Essay

September 17, 2017 English Literature

Donald Barthelme ( April 7, 1931- July 23, 1989 ) was an American writer known for his playful, postmodernist manner of short fiction. Barthelme besides worked as a newspaper newsman for the Houston Post, pull offing editor of Location magazine, manager of the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, cofounder of Fiction, and a professor of assorted universities. He besides was one of the original laminitiss of The University of Houston Creative Writing Program.

Barthelme continued his success in the short narrative signifier with Indefinable Practices, Unnatural Acts ( 1968 ) . One widely anthologized narrative from this aggregation, “ The Balloon, ” appears to reflect on Barthelme ‘s ain purposes as an creative person. The storyteller of the narrative inflates a elephantine, irregular balloon over most of Manhattan, doing widely divergent reactions in the public. Children drama across its top, basking it rather literally on a surface degree ; grownups attempt to read intending into it, but are baffled by its ever-changing form ; the governments attempt to destruct it, but fail. Merely in the concluding paragraph does the reader learn that the storyteller has inflated the balloon for strictly personal grounds, and sees no intrinsic significance in the balloon itself, a metaphor for the formless, unsure nature of Barthelme ‘s fiction. Other noteworthy narratives from this aggregation include “ The Indian Uprising, ” a huffy montage of a Comanche onslaught on a modern metropolis, and “ Robert Kennedy Saved From Drowning, ” a series of sketchs demoing the troubles of genuinely cognizing a public figure ; the latter narrative appeared in print merely two months before the existent Kennedy ‘s 1968 blackwash.

Barthelme would travel on to compose over a hundred more short narratives, foremost collected in City Life ( 1970 ) , Sadness ( 1972 ) , Amateurs ( 1976 ) , Great Days ( 1979 ) , and Overnight to Many Distant Cities ( 1983 ) . Many of these narratives were subsequently reprinted and somewhat revised for the aggregations Sixty Stories ( 1981 ) , Forty Stories ( 1987 ) and, posthumously, Flying to America ( 2007 ) . Though chiefly known for these narratives, Barthelme besides produced four novels characterized by the same fragmental manner: Snow White ( 1967 ) , The Dead Father ( 1975 ) , Paradise ( 1986 ) , and The King ( 1990, posthumous ) .

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Barthelme ‘s short narratives are frequently exceptionally compact ( a signifier sometimes called “ short-short narrative, ” “ brassy fiction, ” or “ sudden fiction ” ) , frequently concentrating merely on incident instead than complete narrations. ( He did, nevertheless, compose some longer narratives with more traditional narrative discharge. ) At first, these narratives contained short epiphanic minutes. Subsequently in his calling, the narratives were non consciously philosophical or symbolic. His fiction had its supporters and disparagers, being hailed as deeply disciplined or derided as meaningless and academic postmodernism. Barthelme ‘s ideas and work were mostly the consequence of twentieth-century angst as he read extensively, for illustration in Pascal, Husserl, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Ionesco, Beckett, Sartre, and Camus.

Barthelme ‘s narratives typically avoid traditional secret plan constructions, trusting alternatively on a steady accretion of seemingly-unrelated item. By overthrowing the reader ‘s outlooks through changeless non sequiturs, Barthelme creates a hopelessly disconnected verbal montage reminiscent of such modernist plants as T. S. Eliot ‘s The Waste Land and James Joyce ‘s Ulysses, whose lingual experiments he frequently challenged. However, Barthelme ‘s cardinal incredulity and sarcasm distanced him from the modernists ‘ belief in the power of art to retrace society, taking most critics to category him as a postmodernist author. Literary critics have noted that Barthelme, like the Gallic poet Stephane Mallarme , whom he admired, dramas with the significances of words, trusting on poetic intuition to trip new connexions of thoughts buried in the looks and conventional responses. The critic George Wicks called Barthelme “ the prima American practician of surrealism today. . . whose fiction continues the probes of consciousness and experiments in look that began with Dada and surrealism a half century ago. ” Barthelme has been described in many other ways, such as in an article in Harper ‘s where Josephine Henden classified him as an angry sado-masochist.

The great majority of his work was published in The New Yorker, and he began to print his narratives in aggregations get downing with Come Back, Dr. Caligari in 1964, Indefinable Practices, Unnatural Acts in 1968, and City Life in 1970. Time magazine named City Life one of the best books of the twelvemonth and described the aggregation as written with “ Kafka ‘s pureness of linguistic communication and some of Beckett ‘s inexorable wit. ” At times it seems that every narrative Barthelme published was alone, such is his formal originality: for illustration, a fresh handling of the parodic dramatic soliloquy in “ The School ” or a list of 100 numbered sentences and fragments in “ The Glass Mountain. ” The storyteller of one narrative provinces, “ Fragments are the lone signifiers I trust ” ( “ See the Moon? ” from Indefinable Practices: in fact, statement appears several times in that narrative ) , an facet of his composing which Joyce Carol Oates commented on in the New York Times Book Review essay of 1972 entitled “ Whose Side Are You On? “ : “ This from a author of arguable mastermind whose plants reflect what he himself must experience, in book after book, that his encephalon is all fragments. . . merely like everything else. ” Barthelme expressed great annoyance over the “ fragments ” quote being attributed so often to himself, instead than being understood as simply one statement by one storyteller in one narrative.


Guggenheim Fellowship, 1966

Time Magazine Best Books of the Year list, 1971, for City Life

National Book Award for kids ‘s literature, 1972, for The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine or the Hithering Thithering Djinn.

Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1972.

Jesse H Jones Award from Texas Institute of Letters, 1976, for The Dead Father

Nominated for National Book Critics Circle Award, PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, Los Angeles Times Book Prize, all for Sixty Stories, all in 1982.

Rea Award for the Short Story, 1988.

Statement of the Problem

Donald Barthelme is considered as one of the most apprehended and distinguished American postmodern authors. His composing characteristics multiplicity of schemes: he diversely produces fragments, duologues, antic narratives, montages, parodic fables, experiments in linguistic communication, review of the media of pop civilization and extended gags. Common to much of this potpourri of interventions is dry and satiric inclination which incurs about all of his short narratives and his novels every bit good.

In reading Barthelme`s fiction from the dry and satiric positions, these inquiries are raised to be answered:

How does irony alter its map from destructive to constructive?

What is the consequence of linguistic communication in parodying the universe and the fiction itself?

What is the difference between traditional manner of utilizing sarcasm and the postmodern one? And which 1 does Barthelme mention to in his narratives?

How does Barthelme face the societal worlds of his civilization? And what is the relation between author/ topic and society?

What is the destiny of “ persons ” ( topics ) in the visible radiation of sarcasm and sarcasm?

Does Barthelme seek to make a new universe by doing an option or he merely wants to do our penetrations new? And what is the map of the yesteryear in the wreck of the present?

What is the map of the yesteryear in the wreck of the present?

Answering the above asked inquiries will be supportive to the fact that the thought at the bosom of Barthelme`s fiction is irony and sarcasm. The topic of this survey is the manner he uses sarcasm as agencies of societal unfavorable judgment every bit good as a tool for making new fictional concepts. His sarcasm is absolute in a sense that the immediate object of sarcasm is undermined, and so its antonym is undermined as well-and in much of his work the thought of undermining is undermined every bit good.

Significance of the Problem

Barthelme could be considered as an satirist above all else. His sarcasm gives his composing its separating tone and voice ; it is his author- map. He uses sarcasm as a agency of bring outing the concealed worlds of mundane life. For him society has lost its traditional centres of authorization, the household and the church. Society has lost a sense of tradition, myth and ceremonial. Barthelme views them as declarative mood of the pettiness of modern-day life. With the past exerting no perceptible pull, modern adult male lives in the confusion, uncertainness and freedom of the present.

Barthelme`s usage of sarcasm is of extreme importance. In his early plants, the intent of sarcasm is toward devastation ; whereas in his later plants, sarcasm bases for building. By and large, his plants reveal a gradual displacement from the strictly negative and destructive toward the positive and originative.

Here, stands two separate plants that are dissimilar in intent and tone. His early work, “ Snow White ” , is considered as his major work. In this novel, he uses sarcasm in a manner to destruct the universe in which Snow White leaves in. it is the consciousness of itself and its ain restrictions. Snow White destroys the universe and at the same clip destroys itself. It is written in a self-parodic manner which satirizes itself every bit good as the universe.

On the other manus, stands his ulterior work “ Come Back, Dr. Caligari ” which uses sarcasm as a manner to satirise the universe in order to build a new world. Although, both utilizations of sarcasm are satiric in tone, but his ulterior plants are mild and temperate in tone and intent.

Barthelme`s usage of sarcasm in “ Snow White ” retracts-that is, destroys-everything. It retracts the yesteryear and the present, it retracts traditional and daring attacks to art ; it retracts the fairy narrative universe and the universe which replaced it. It retracts by cut downing everything to mere linguistic communication, and eventually it retracts abjuration itself. His sarcasm is a negative, subjective freedom, and it destroys by striping the object of its world. His sarcasm destroys the universe and at the same clip destroys his ain fiction, excessively. It destroys linguistic communication, and while his fiction is made of this linguistic communication, it destroys his fiction, excessively.

Much of Barthelme`s success resides in his apprehension of and involvement in the societal worlds of American civilization. He is a great chaser of his state ‘s civilization with all its inside informations and restrictions. He treats topics and thoughts as the decomposition of American civilization, disaffection and the decease of the yesteryear. The societal fact which Barthelme confront, is a society whose sense of yesteryear has been so diluted that it exerts no influence. There is merely the present, and the present is so nonmeaningful and aimless which exerts no enthusiasm for adult male to populate in, therefore this is the purpose of the writer, like Barthelme, to picture these restrictions through sarcasm and societal sarcasm.

The satirist is chiefly concerned with his ain attitude toward the universe instead than with the universe itself ; it might even look of a extremist satirist like Barthelme that his attitude toward the universe has replaced the universe as his capable affair. But in a really existent sense, this is a contradiction in footings, since that subject-matter is itself an attitude toward the universe, is taken as a response to the universe. To read any of Barthelme`s narratives is to acknowledge at one time that here are the societal worlds of 1960`s and 1970`s, and that these narratives are shaped by these worlds.

Boundary lines

Although Donald Barthelme is one of the major figures in postmodern fiction, there have non been deservedly adequate researches on his fiction. This survey concentrates on the usage of sarcasm and societal sarcasm in his plant every bit good as its significance in his fiction.

In order to understand his authorship, it is necessary to acquire familiar with the importance of postmodern sarcasm and the impact of vanguard in his authorship. In this respect, Kierkegaard ‘s theory of sarcasm and other theoreticians, such as Shlegel and Douglas Muecke will be used to lucubrate the definition and the importance of sarcasm in his fiction.

“ Come Back, Dr. Caligari ” , “ Indefinable Practices, Unnatural Acts ” , “ City Life ” , “ Sadness ” and the fresh “ Snow White ” are the volumes which fundamentally deal with the same construct under treatment. However, due to being bound to the limited span of clip and infinite, merely some of the narratives from these series will be discussed and the fresh “ Snow White ” will be discussed in item.

The narratives which I want to cover in my thesis are: “ Margins ” , “ A Shower of Gold ” , “ Me and Miss Mandible ” , “ For I ‘m the Boy ” , “ The Balloon ” , “ Game ” , “ Robert Kennedy Saved from Submerging ” , “ The Dolt ” , “ The Indian Uprising ” , “ Positions of my Father Weeping ” , “ On Angels ” , “ Kierkegaard Unfair to Shlegel ” , “ The King of Jazz ” , “ The Death of Edward Lear ” , “ Sentence ” and “ City Life ” .

Method and Design

This research constitutes of five chapters from which three entirely cover wit the construct of sarcasm and sarcasm. The 2nd chapter is entitled “ Kierkegaard Unfair to Shlegel: Towards a Theory of Postmodern Irony ” . This chapter consists chiefly the construct of sarcasm from some theoreticians ‘ premises. Of most importance is Kierkegaard ‘s premise: that ; yes, the universe is imperfect ; yes, all intelligent work forces wish the universe were better than it is. But the lone moral manner for a adult male to cover with this state of affairs is an effort to accommodate his vision with actuality. Kierkegaard says that sarcasm is destructive. He believes that sarcasm destroys by striping an object of its world. From his point of view, sarcasm is non directed against a given object, but against a whole of being.

Douglas Muecke has someway the same premises refering sarcasm. First, he differentiates what we province as “ verbal ” and “ situational ” sarcasm. For him, verbal sarcasm occurs when one says something, merely to intend its antonym, or at least something rather different from what is evident. His 2nd manner of sarcasm, “ situational ” , is a sort of sarcasm in which there is no satirist, but there is ever both a victim and an perceiver. This is a sort of dramatic sarcasm in Grecian calamity. Then he widens his range to include “ general sarcasm ” . It is a sort of sarcasm which confronts adult male when he is sing subjects like, decease, the hereafter, free will, objectiveness and subjectiveness.

Chapter three is entitled “ Snow White ; the Irony of Destructivity and Negativity ” . This chapter contains within itself the negative function of sarcasm in destructing the society and the work of art. Here, Barthelme`s sarcasms and sarcasms are considered to be rough and terrible. His purpose is to destabilise the universe around him and he besides attempts to destabilise the work of art itself. Snow White does non hold a secret plan in any realistic sense, but there is a narrative of kinds, which serves as a model for Barthelme`s satiric commentary. It is stated in this chapter that “ Snow White ” is a book about linguistic communication. It is non entirely about linguistic communication, but it puts linguistic communication to more varied and complex utilizations. Therefore, his attitude toward the manner linguistic communication is used and abused is itself an attitude toward life, toward civilization.

Chapter four is entitled “ Later Stories, the Irony of Construction ” . This chapter shows a displacement in Barthelme`s plants, from earlier to later narratives. Whereas in “ Snow White ” , he uses sarcasm as a manner to destruct the universe around him, but in ulterior narratives, he does non seek to retrace the universe ; alternatively, he tries to make a purer version of what is destroyed. In Snow White ‘s pureness of intent, the satiric tone ne’er hesitations ; in the ulterior work, the subtle and varied tones ensuing from unusual combinations of elements function to make fictional concepts which allow us to see world from different, multiple, frequently eccentric positions. Sometimes this position is itself satiric, but frequently, it is a position entertained merely for the interest of its unfamiliarity or newness.

The difference between Barthelme`s old work and some of the narratives discussed in this chapter is exactly that in these ulterior narratives he treats a figure of topics which touch him personally. The topic is itself of import, is treated with a certain regard. And it hence provides greater opposition to irony. Often the satirist himself becomes emotionally vulnerable, something which adds a new dimension to many of these narratives.

Unlike Snow White, which we can feel at one time is satiric from the beginning, many of the ulterior narratives do non uncover their purpose until the terminal ; we must set together all of the pieces of the mystifier and analyze the whole image. Even so, the finished image frequently seems, in an challenging manner, clear, but it still is out of focal point. What is clear is that the elusive methods of these ulterior narratives are declarative of Barthelme`s turning concern for his trade. He is still the societal ironist he was in Caligari and Snow White, but he has combined the ironist ‘s inherent aptitude to destruct with the creative person ‘s demand to make.

Reappraisal of Literature

Barbara Louis Roe in her thesis called “ The Short Works of Donald Barthelme ” , talks about the usage of lampoon in Barthelme`s fiction. She believes that Barthelme had two chief grounds for utilizing lampoon in his fiction. One of them was a generic alteration in fiction and the other 1 was to contrive new constructions which were suitably implicative of modern-day impressions of non-linear clip and multiple positions of infinite. Harmonizing to her, Barthelme`s imaginative fictions are, unlike the lampoons, non about the universe ; they are of the universe. Character, secret plan and point of position are fragmented to propose multiple possibilities for their Reconstruction.

Mark Caughlin in his thesis “ Irony is Wishing Thingss ; Donald Barthelme`s postmodern poetics ” argues that Barthelme must foremost and first be understood as an satirist, and in order to contextualize his work, he has formulated a theory of postmodern sarcasm that borrows more from the doctrine of Shlegel and Husserl than from traditional literary theory. He besides contends that Barthelme employs linguistic communication as an object, and that from the daring and pop art traditions, every bit good as from the late modernism, Barthelme has learned to show linguistic communication as manifestation instead than as significance.

Charles Cullum in his thesis “ Freedom and Identity: the Comedy of Donald Barthelme ” , considers several dogmas, which are in fact types of values. He believes that there are positive values in Barthelme`s fiction. By making this, he separates himself from the bulk of Barthelme critics, who allow Barthelme`s sarcasm to dominate any avowal of value in his work.

Harmonizing to Cullum, the first of these dogmas as the Heideggerian impression of credence of being as it is. This dogma of credence, accepts non merely the pleasant facet of life, but besides the unpleasant.

The 2nd dogma underlying Barthelme`s jubilation of human freedom and difference, is that adult male ‘s traditional cause for sorrow, his mortality, or temporalty, is, in fact, the really land of his freedom.

The 3rd dogma is that action, instead than passiveness, is indispensable to life.

The 4th dogma underlying Barthelme`s jubilation of freedom and individuality is that human life offers, for all practical intents, a field of infinite possibility. Actual restrictions on human life, such as the many obvious physical restrictions, are, like temporalty, simply the land or context of that field of possibility and, in fact, make possibility possible.

The fifth and highly of import dogma is that imaginativeness and memory drama critical functions in human life. Cullum believes that, through the imaginativeness, one can, in Barthelme`s assumed universe, deflect the ego into another.



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