Donald Barthelme

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Donald Barthelme (April 7, 1931July 23, 1989) was an American author known for his postmodern short stories and novels.

See also:
Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts,
City Life,
The Dead Father,
Overnight to Many Distant Cities,
Not-Knowing: The Essays and Interviews of Donald Barthelme


  • LeDuff’s argument (in Shock Art #37) that an image, once floated on the international art-sea, is a fish that anyone may grab with impunity, and make it his own, would not persuade an oyster. Questions of primacy are not to be scumbled in this way, which, had he been writing from a European perspective, he would understand, and be ashamed. The brutality of the American rape of the world’s exhibition spaces and organs of art-information has distanciated his senses. The historical aspects have been adequately trodden by others, but there is one category yet to be entertained—that of the psychological. The fact that LeDuff is replicated in every museum, in every journal, that one cannot turn one’s gaze without bumping into this raw plethora, LeDuff, LeDuff, LeDuff (whereas poor Bruno, the true progenitor, is eating the tops of bunches of carrots)—what has this done to LeDuff himself? It has turned him into a dead artist, but the corpse yet bounces in its grave, calling attention toward itself in the most unseemly manner. But truth cannot be swallowed forever. When the real story of low optical stimulus is indited, Bruno will be rectified.
    • “Letters to the Editore”, Guilty Pleasures (1974).
  • I am never needlessly obscure—I am needfully obscure, when I am obscure.
    • as quoted by Tracy Daugherty in an interview, Splice Today, 2 Sept 2009.
  • It is not true that Kafka wanted Brod to burn his manuscripts after his death. Rather it is the case that Kafka was on fire to be published...rushed to the postbox day after day...ate with editors...intrigued for favorable the Writer’s Digest...consorted with critics...autographed napkins...made himself available to librarians...spoke on the radio...
    • praragraph deleted from “Kierkegaard Unfair to Schlegel”, in Tracy Daugherty’s Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme (2009), p. 335.

Come Back, Dr. Caligari (1964)[edit]

  • Oh, there is nothing better than intelligent conversation except thrashing about in bed with a naked girl and Egmont Light Italic.
    • "Florence Green is 81".
  • His examiner...said severely: "Baskerville, you blank round, discursiveness is not literature." "The aim of literature," Baskerville replied grandly, "is the creation of a strange object covered with fur which breaks your heart."
    • "Florence Green is 81".
  • "The distinction between children and adults, while probably useful for some purposes, is at bottom a specious one, I feel. There are only individual egos, crazy for love."
    • "Me and Miss Mandible".
  • [picket sign] COGITO ERGO NOTHING!....[casual passerby:] "Cogito ergo your ass"....
    • "Marie, Marie, Hold On Tight".
  • "It's true," Carl said, "with a kind of merde-y inner truth which shines forth as the objective correlative of what actually did happen, back home."
    • "Margins".
  • “What makes The Joker tick I wonder?” Fredric said. “I mean what are his real motivations?”
    “Consider him at any level of conduct,” Bruce said slowly, “in the home, on the street, in interpersonal relations, in jail—always there is an extraordinary contradiction. He is dirty and compulsively neat, aloof and desperately gregarious, enthusiastic and sullen, generous and stingy, a snappy dresser and a scarecrow, a gentleman and a boor, given to extremes of happiness and despair, singularly well able to apply himself and capable of frittering away a lifetime in trivial pursuits, decorous and unseemly, kind and cruel, tolerant yet open to the most outrageous varieties of bigotry, a great friend and an implacable enemy, a lover and abominator of women, sweet-spoken and foul-mouthed, a rake and a puritan, swelling with hubris and haunted by inferiority, outcast and social climber, felon and philanthropist, barbarian and patron of the arts, enamored of novelty and solidly conservative, philosopher and fool, Republican and Democrat, large of soul and unbearably petty, distant and brimming with friendly impulses, an inveterate liar and astonishingly strict with petty cash, adventurous and timid, imaginative and stolid, malignly destructive and a planter of trees on Arbor Day—I tell you frankly, the man is a mess.”
    “That’s extremely well said Bruce,” Fredric stated. “I think you’ve given a very thoughtful analysis.”
    “I was paraphrasing what Mark Schorer said about Sinclair Lewis,” Bruce replied.
    • “The Joker’s Greatest Triumph”.

Snow White (1967)[edit]

  • “Try to be a man about whom nothing is known,” our father said, when we were young. Our father said several other interesting things, but we have forgotten what they were. “Keep quiet,” he said. That we remember. He wished more quiet. One tends to want that, in a National Park. Our father was a man about whom nothing was known. Nothing is known about him still. He gave us the recipes. He was not very interesting. A tree is more interesting. A suitcase is more interesting. A canned good is more interesting. When we sing the father hymn, we notice that he was not very interesting. The words of the hymn notice it. It is explictly commented upon, in the text.
    • pp.18–19.
  • No man's plenum, Mr. Quistgaard, is impervious to the awl of God's will.
    • p. 45.
  • The new thing, a great banality in white, off-white and poor-white, leaned up against the wall. “Interesting,” we said. “It’s poor,” Snow White said. “Poor, poor.” “Yes,” Paul said,” one of my poorer things I think.” “Not so poor of course as yesterday’s, poorer on the other hand than some,” she said. “Yes,” Paul said, “it has some of the qualities of poorness.” “Especially poor in the lower left-hand corner,” she said. “Yes,” Paul said, “I would go so far as to hurl it into the marketplace.” “They’re getting poorer,” she said. “Poorer and poorer,” Paul said with satisfaction, “descending to unexplored depths of poorness where no human intelligence has ever been.” … “Sublimely poor,” she murmured. “Wallpaper,” he said.
    • p. 48.
  • “Sometimes I see signs on walls saying Kill the Rich,” Clem said. “And sometimes Kill the Rich has been crossed out and Harm the Rich written underneath. A clear gain for civilization I would say. And the one that says Jean-Paul Sartre Is a Fartre. Something going on there, you must admit. Dim flicker of something. ...”
    • p. 66.
  • 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.
    • p. 106.
  • "Take me home," Snow White said. "Take me home instantly. If there is anything worse than being home, it is being out."
    • p. 117.
  • “How old are you Hogo.” “Thirty-five Jane. A not unpleasant age to be.” “You don’t mind then. That you are not young.” “It has its buggy aspects as what does not?” “You don’t mind then that you are sagging in the direction of death.” “No, Jane.”
    • p. 128.
  • [Snow White talking to herself] “... No wonder we who are twenty-two don’t trust anybody over twelve. That is where you find people who know the score, under twelve. I think I will go out and speak to some eleven-year-olds, now, to refresh myself. Now or soon.”
    • p. 145.
  • “All right lad this is what we want with you. Your mission is this: to go out into the world and pull down all those election posters. Let’s get all those ugly faces off our streets and out of our elective offices. We are not going to vote any more, no matter how often they come around with their sound trucks and statesmanlike gestures. Pull down the sound trucks. Pull down the outstretched arms. To hell with the whole business. Voting has turned out to be a damned impertinence. They never do what we want them to do anyhow. And when they do what we want them to do, they don’t do it well. To hell with them. We are going to save up all our votes for the next twenty years and spend them all at one time. Maybe by that day there will be some Rabelaisian figure worth spending them on. ...”
    • p. 146.
    • p. 178.

Great Days (1979)[edit]

  • —On the dedication page of the rebellion, we see the words “To Clementine”. A fine sentiment, miscellaneous organ music next, and, turning several pages, massed orange flags at the head of the column. This will not be easy, but neither will it be hard. Good will is everywhere, and the lighthearted song of the gondoliers is heard in the distance.
    —Yes, success is everything. Morally important as well as useful in a practical way.
    —What have the rebels captured thus far? One zoo, not our best zoo, and a cemetery. The rebels have entered the cages of the tamer animals and are playing with them, gently.
    —Things can get better, and in my opinion will.
    —Their Graves Registration procedures are scrupulous—accurate and fair.
    —There’s more to it than playing guitars and clapping along. Although that frequently gets people in the mood.
    —Their methods are direct, not subtle. Dissolution, leaching, sandblasting, cracking and melting of fireproof doors, condemnation, water damage, slide presentations, clamps and buckles.
    —And skepticism, although absolutely necessary, leads to not very much.
    • “The Crisis”, opening
  • The present goal of the individual in group enterprises is to avoid dominance; leadership is felt to be a character disorder.
    • “The Crisis”.
  • As a magician works with the unique compressibility of doves, finding some, losing others in the same silk foulard, so the rebels fold scratchy, relaxed meanings into their smallest actions.
    • “The Crisis”.
  • Self-criticism sessions were held, but these produced more criticism than could usefully be absorbed or accomodated.
    • “The Crisis”.
  • William I’m sorry I let my brother hoist you up the mast in that crappy jury-rigged bosun’s chair while everybody laughed! William I’m sorry I could build better fires than you could! I’m sorry my stack of Christmas cards was always bigger than yours! … William I’m sorry I invented bop jogging which you couldn’t do! I’m sorry I loved Antigua! I’m sorry my mind wandered when you talked about the army! I’m sorry I was superior in argument! I’m sorry you slit open my bicycle tires looking for incriminating letters that you didn’t find! You’ll never find them! … William! I’m sorry I looked at Sam but he was so handsome, so handsome, who could not! I’m sorry I slept with Sam! I’m sorry about the library books! I’m sorry about Pete! I’m sorry I never played the guitar you gave me! I’m sorry I married you and I’ll never so it again!
    • “The Apology”.
  • —What did you do today?
    —Went to the grocery store and Xeroxed a box of English muffins, two pounds of ground veal and an apple. In flagrant violation of the Copyright Act.
    —You had your nap, I remember that—
    —I had my nap.
    —Lunch, I remember that, there was lunch, slept with Susie after lunch, then your nap, woke up, right?, went Xeroxing, right?, read a book not a whole book but part of a book—
    —Talked to Happy on the telephone saw the seven o’clock news did not wash dishes want to clean up some of this mess?
    —If one does nothing but listen to the new music, everything else drifts, frays. Did Odysseus feel this way when he and Diomedes decided to steal Athene’s statue from the Trojans, so that they would become dejected and lose the war? I don’t think so, but who is to know what effect the new music of that remote time had on its hearers?
    —Or how it compares to the new music of this time?
    —One can only conjecture.
    • “The New Music”, opening
  • —Is it permitted to differ with Kierkegaard?
    —Not only permitted but necessary. If you love him.
    • “The Leap”.
  • —There’s a thing the children say.
    —What do the children say?
    —They say: Will you always love me?
    —Will you always remember me?
    —Will you remember me a year from now?
    —Yes, I will.
    —Will you remember me two years from now?
    —Yes, I will.
    —Will you remember me five years from now?
    —Yes, I will.
    —Knock, knock.
    —Who’s there?
    —You see?
    • “Great Days”, conclusion.

Sixty Stories (1981)[edit]

  • Do they lie? Fervently. Do they steal? Only silver and gold. Do they remember? I am in constant touch. Hardly a day passes. The children. Some can’t spell, still. Took a walk in the light-manufacturing district, where everything’s been converted. Lots of little shops, wine bars. Saw some strange things. Saw a group of square steel plates arranged on a floor. Very interesting. Saw a Man Mountain Dean dressed in heavenly blue. Wild, chewing children. They were small. Petite. Out of scale. They came and went. Doors banging. They were of different sexes but wore similar clothes. Wandered away, then they wandered back. They’re vague, you know, they tell you things in a vague way. Asked me to leave, said they’d had enough. Enough what? I asked. Enough of my lip, they said. Although the truth was that I had visited upon them only the palest of apothegms—the one about the salt losing its savor, the one about the fowls of the air.
    • “Aria”.
  • Went for a walk, whistling. Saw a throne in a window. I said: What chair is this? Is it the one great Ferdinand sat in, when he sent the ships to find the Indies? The seat is frayed. Hardly a day passes without an announcement of some kind of marriage, a pregnancy, a cancer, a rebirth. Sometimes they drift in from the Yukon and other far places, come in and sit down at the kitchen table, want a glass of milk and a peanut-butter-and-jelly, I oblige, for old times’ sake. Sent me the schedule for the Little League soccer teams, they’re all named after cars, the Mustangs vs. the Mavericks, the Chargers vs. the Impalas. Something funny about that. My son. Slept with What’s-Her-Name, they said, while she was asleep, I don’t think that’s fair. Prone and helpless in the glare of the headlights. They went away, then they came back, at Christmas and Eastertide, had quite a full table, maybe a dozen in all including all the they’d picked up on their travels....
    • “Aria”.
  • Snatch them baldheaded, slap their teeth out. Little starved faces four feet from the screen, you’d speak to them in a loud, commanding voice, get not even a twitch. Use of the preemptive splint, not everyone knows about it. The world reminds us of its power, again and again and again. Going along minding your own business, and suddenly an act of God, right there in front of you. Great falls of snow and bursting birds. Getting guilty, letting it all slide. Sown here and there like little...petunias, one planted in Old Lyme, one in Fairbanks, one in Tempe. Alleged that he slept with her while she was asleep, I can see it, under certain circumstances. You may wink, but not at another person. You may wink only at pigeons. You may pound in your tent pegs, pitch your tent, gather wood for the fire, form the hush puppies. They seek to return? Back to the nest? The warm arms? The ineffable smells? Not on your tintype. Well, I think that’s a little harsh. Think that’s a little harsh do you? Yes, harsh. Harsh. Well that’s a sketch, that is, that’s a tin-plated sketch— They write and telephone. Short of cash? Give us a call, all inquiries handled with the utmost confidentiality. They call constantly, they’re calling still, saying williwaw, williwaw
    • “Aria”.
  • Naked girls with the heads of Marx and Malraux prone and helpless in the glare of the headlights, tried to give them a little joie de vivre but maybe it didn’t take, their constant bickering and smallness, it’s like a stroke of lightning, the world reminds you of its power, tracheotomies right and left, I am spinning, my pretty child, don’t scratch, pick up your feet, the long nights, spent most of my time listening, this is a test of the system, this is only a test.
    • “Aria”, conclusion.
  • "Is that true," I asked, "that song?"
    "It is a metaphor," said Mrs. Davis, "it has metaphorical truth."
    "And the end of the mechanical age," I said, "is that a metaphor?"
    "The end of the mechanical age," said Mrs. Davis, "is in my judgment an actuality straining to become a metaphor. One must wish it luck, I suppose. One must cheer it on. Intellectual rigor demands that we give these damned metaphors every chance, even if they are inimical to personal well-being and comfort. We have a duty to understand everything, whether we like it or not–a duty I would scant if I could." At that moment the water jumped into the boat and sank us.
    • "At The End Of The Mechanical Age".
  • The center will not hold if it has been spot-welded by an operator whose deepest concern is not with the weld but with his lottery ticket.
    • "At The End Of The Mechanical Age".
  • "Will you be wanting to contest the divorce?" I asked Mrs. Davis.
    "I should think not," she said calmly, "although I suppose on of us should, for the fun of the thing. An uncontested divorce always seems to me contrary to the spirit of divorce."
    • "At The End Of The Mechanical Age".
  • Where is my daddy? asked the emerald. My da?
    Moll dropped a glass, which shattered.
    Your father.
    Yes, said the emerald, amn’t I supposed to have one?
    He’s not here.
    Noticed that, said the emerald.
    I’m never sure what you know and what you don’t know.
    I ask in true perplexity.
    He was Deus Lunus. The moon god. Sometimes thought of as the man in the moon.
    Bosh! said the emerald. I don’t believe it.
    Do you believe I’m your mother?
    I do.
    Do you believe you’re an emerald?
    I am an emerald.
    Used to be, said Moll, women wouldn’t drink from a glass into which the moon had shone. For fear of getting knocked up.
    Surely this is a superstition?
    Hoo, hoo, said Moll. I like superstition.
    I thought the moon was female.
    Don’t be culture-bound. It’s been female in some cultures at some times, and in others, not.
    What did it feel like? The experience.
    Not a proper subject for discussion with a child.
    The emerald sulking. Green looks here and there.
    Well it wasn’t the worst. Wasn’t the worst. I had an orgasm that lasted three hours. I judge that not the worst.
    • “The Emerald”.

Forty Stories (1987)[edit]

  • My wife wants a dog. She already has a baby. The baby’s almost two. My wife says that the baby wants the dog.
    My wife has been wanting a dog for a long time. I have had to be the one to tell her that she couldn’t have one. But now the baby wants a dog, my wife says. This may be true. The baby is very close to my wife. They go around together all the time, clutching each other tightly. I ask the baby, who is a girl, “Whose girl are you? Are you Daddy’s girl?” The baby says, “Momma,” and she doesn’t just say it once, she says it repeatedly, “Momma momma momma.” I don’t see why I should buy a hundred-dollar dog for that damn baby.
    • “Chablis”, opening
  • I didn’t go to church because I was a black sheep. There were five children in my family and the males rotated the position of black sheep among us, the oldest one being the black sheep for a while while he was in his DWI period or whatever and then getting grayer as he maybe got a job or was in the service and then finally becoming a white sheep when he got married and had a grandchild. My sister was never a black sheep because she was a girl.
    • “Chablis”.
  • The actors feel that the music played before the curtain rises will put the audience in the wrong mood. The playwright suggests that the (purposefully lugubrious) music be played at twice-speed. This peps it up somewhat while retaining its essentially dark and gloomy character. The actors listen carefully, and are pleased.
    • “Opening", opening
  • People always like to hear that they’re under stress, makes them feel better. You can imagine what they’d feel if they were told they weren’t under stress.
    • “Jaws”

The King (1990)[edit]

  • “True dragons are Danish and speak Danish, a tongue that the Danes themselves describe as less a language than a throat disease. To attract a dragon, one chains a naked maiden to a rock. The maiden must be chained to the rock in such a way that every part of her is visible to the dragon. Many famous paintings demonstrate the technique; Ingres’s Angelica Saved by Ruggiero is an example. After the dragon has inspected your maiden to its heart’s content, you issue one of the conventional formal challenges, in Danish—’Jeg udfordre dig til ridderlig camp’ is the way one usually puts it—and then the fight begins.”
    • p. 39.
  • “I smell fennel,” Launcelot said. “That reminds me, I should tell you I have discovered a specific for maims. You take salt, good-quality river mud, and bee urine, and slather it on the maim and hold it there for two days. Works like a charm. Gathering the bee urine is a bit of a bore.”
    • p. 94.
  • “Shouldness is being flouted here,” said Launcelot. “Shouldness is perhaps self-explanatory, but I have never seen it adequately dealt with, either in print or in the lecture hall. When that huntress got me in the bum with an arrow, it was an offense to shouldness. It shouldn’t have gone that way. I told the story to Sir Roger, and now he never tires of telling it, tells it to everyone who comes down the pike. That a knight of the Round Table could be pierced in that way by a female has a significance quite apart from the ludicrous. It’s in the realm of those things which should not happen—a category which holds much philosophical interest, as anyone who has ever looked into anomaletics will recognize. The insult to my dignity was not nearly so grave as the insult to shouldness.”
    • p. 106.

The Teachings of Don. B: Satires, Parodies, Fables, Illustrated Stories, and Plays of Donald Barthelme (1992)[edit]

  • “How does one conquer fear, Don B.?”
    “One takes a frog and sews it to one’s shoe,” he said.
    “The left or the right?”
    Don B. gave me a pitying look.
    “Well, you’d look mighty funny going down the street with only one frog sewed to your shoes, wouldn’t you?" he said. “One frog on each shoe.”
    • “The Teachings of Don B.: A Yankee Way of Knowledge”, pp. 7–8.
  • My deranged mother has written another book. This one is called The Bough and is even worse that the others. I refer not to its quality—it exhibits the usual “coruscating wit” and “penetrating social observation”—but to the extent to which it utilizes, as a kind of mulch pile, the lives of her children.
    • “The Author”, opening; p. 45.
  • When I was hired they showed me my desk, an old beat-up scarred wooden desk, and they told me that it had been O. Henry’s desk when O. Henry worked for the paper, as he had at one time. And I readily believed it. I could see the place where O. Henry had savagely stabbed the desk with his pen in pursuit of a slimy adjective just out of reach, and a kind of bashed-in-looking place where O. Henry had beaten his poor genius head on the desk in frustration over not being able to capture the noun leaping like a fawn just out of reach... So I sat down at the desk and I too began to chase those devils, the dancy nouns and come-hither adjectives, what joy.
    • “Return”, p. 55.
  • “These games are marvelous,” Amanda said. “I like them especially because they are so meaningless and boring, and trivial. These qualities, once regarded as less than desirable, are now everywhere enthroned as the key elements in our psychological lives, as reflected in the art of the period as well as—”
    • “Games Are the Enemies of Beauty, Truth, and Sleep, Amanda Said”, p. 77.
  • “The Continental Congress resolved that your famous plainneff and modefty would be ill ferved were it known that a houfe for your horfe was paid for from the public purfe.”
    • “An Hesitation on the Bank of the Delaware”, p. 80.
  • We had a conversation the other day with Ming the Merciless, one of the preeminent villains of modern times, whose half-century-long struggle with his opposite number, Flash Gordon, has helped generations of Americans conceptualize the fearsome enchantments of space. We caught up with the veteran malefactor at the Volney, where he greeted us in a turquise-and-gold dressing gown, a black skullcap setting off his striking yellowish pallor. We immediately put our foot in it by addressing him as ”Mr. Ming”
    “I don’t want to be stuffy,” he said pleasantly, “but that’s Emperor Ming, if you don’t mind. ...”
    • “Ming”, p. 93, opening
  • “Being merciless, while not exactly easy, is finally a job like any other. It’s theater. It’s got nothing to do with my private life. Still, sometimes when I used to yell at my kids, I wondered if I was maybe...putting a little too much into it. They’re grown now, so the question is moot. They seem OK. Roderick is at Harvard and Betsy is married and has a couple of kids of her own.”
    • “Ming”, p. 94.
  • Who among us is not thinking about divorce, except for a few tiny-minded stick-in-the-muds who don’t count?
    • “Heliotrope”, p. 106.
  • The ultimate meaning of the angry young man is not known. What is known is the shape of his greatest fear—that all of his efforts, from learning to speak to learning to write, to write well, to write badly, to write angrily, from learning to despise to learning to abominate, to abominate well, to abominate badly, to abominate abominably, to rant, to fulminate, to shout down the sea, to age, to age graefully, to age awkwardly, to age at all, to think, to regret, to list himself in the newspapers under “Lost and Found”, might culminate precisely in this: a roaring, raging, crazy mad passionate bibliography.
    • “The Angry Young Man”, p. 111.
  • People who had, in the past, suffered from technophobia suffered even more. Others took other positions. Things were not so bad. Things could be worse. Worse things could be imagined. Worse things had been endured and triumphed over, in the past. This was not the worst. The worst was yet to come.
    • “A Nation of Wheels”, p. 131.
  • Poignance is all.
    • “Wasteland! (Mr. Lionel Bart’s Notes in Exegesis of His Latest Musical Project)”, p. 206.
  • A t that moment, a Colonel of Sanitation came striding by, in his green uniform. “You there!” he cried. “Ho, dragon, stop and patter for a bit. Quickly, quickly—haven’t got all day! There are Mr. Goodbar wrappers in the streets still, after all my efforts, and the efforts of my men, day in day out—people, people, if we could just do something about the people, then perhaps an end to the endlessness. One could go home of a Friday night, and wipe the brow, and doff the uniform, and thank God for a day well squandered. But you—you have a strange aspect. What kind of a thing are you? Are you disposable? Biodegradable? Ordinary citizen out for a stroll? Looking for work? Member of a conspiracy? Vegetable? Mineral? Two-valued? Hostile to the national interest of the Department of Sanitation? Thrill-crazed kid? Objet d’art? Circus in town?”
    • “The Dragon”, p. 216.
  • MAGGIE: Did you have a good time?
    HILDA: The affair ran the usual course. Fever, boredom, trapped.
    MAGGIE: Hot, rinse, spin dry.
    • “The Conservatory” [play], p. 292.
  • HENRY: Now it is necessary to court her, and win her, and put on this clean dressing gown, and cut my various nails, and drink something that will kill the millions of germs in my mouth, and say something flattering, and be witty and bonny, and hale and kinky, all just to ease this wrinkle in the groin. It seems a high price.
    • “Snow White” [play], p. 309.
  • BILL: … We are what we have been told about ourselves. We are the sum of the messages we have received. The true messages. The false messages.
    • “Snow White” [play], p. 324.

Flying to America: 45 More Stories (2007)[edit]

  • I keep wondering if, say, there is intelligent life on other planets, the scientists argue that something like two percent of the other planets have the conditions, the physical conditions, to support life in the way it happened here, did Christ visit each and every planet, go through the same routine, the Agony in the Garden, the Crucifixion, and so on...
    • “Basil From Her Garden”.
  • I obey the Commandments, the sensible ones. Where they don’t know what they’re talking about I ignore them. I keep thinking about the story of the two old women in church listening to the priest discoursing on the dynamics of the married state. At the end of the sermon one turns to the other and says, “I wish I knew as little about it as he does.”
    • “Basil From Her Garden”.
  • Instant gratification is not as good as that gratification which comes dripping slow, over the sere seasons.
    • “The Bed”.
  • As Jules Renard said, no matter how much care an author takes to write as few books as possible, there will be people who haven’t heard of some of them.
    • “You Are Cordially Invited”

Quotes about Barthelme[edit]

  • One of the U.S.'s most stylish and original satirists. He translates the chipped teacups, navel lint, prattle and random states of life into even rows of words that twitter, bong, flash, and glow...
    • Time, blurbed on the back cover of the paperback of The Dead Father (1976).
  • “How come you write the way you do?” an apprentice writer in my Johns Hopkins workshop once disingenuously asked Donald Barthelme, who was visiting. Without missing a beat, Donald replied, “Because Samuel Beckett was already writing the way he does.”
    Asked another, likewise disingenuosly, “How can we become better writers than we are?”
    “For starters," DB advised, “read through the whole history of philosophy, from the pre-Socratics up through last semester. That might help.”
    “But Coach Barth has already advised us to read all of literature, from Gilgamesh up through last semester....”
    “That, too,” Donald affirmed, and turned on that shrewd Amish-farmer-from-West-Eleventh-Street twinkle of his. “You’re probably wasting time on things like eating and sleeping. Cease that, and read all of philosophy and all of literature. Also art. Plus politics and a few other things. The history of everything.”
    • John Barth, introduction to Not-Knowing: The Essays and Interviews (1997), p. xi.
  • Barthelme isn’t easy, and he frequently fails, but he’s written some of the best stories of the last twenty years.
    • Walter Clemons reviewing Sixty Stories, “Barthelme the Scrivener”, Newsweek, 12 Oct 1981, p. 100.
  • In The New York Times Book Review, John Romano recalled “the excitement caused among readers” at the appearance of Don’s first stories in the 1960s. “There just weren’t then, as there aren’t now, very many stories published that you wanted to call your friends up and read aloud from; and Barthelme gave us more than a few.”
    • Tracy Daugherty, Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme (2009), p. 441.
  • "The Balloon" is a Donald Barthelme story. … In a 1996 Salon interview, David [Foster Wallace] told Laura Miller it was "the first story I ever read that made me want to be a writer."
    • David Lipsky, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace (2010), p. 313.
  • There are people on my block who are writers I'm very fond of, and I'm very close to, friends like Barthelme and Sales and people like that.
  • Barthelme is neither tall nor short, neither fat nor thin. He shields his blue eyes behind rimless glasses. He has red hair and a beard and dresses conservatively. He lives quietly in a floor-through walk-up on West 11th Street with his third wife, a Danish girl named Birgit, and his 4-year-old daughter, for whom he has made a most interesting pull-toy out of found objects. He is handy with carpenter’s tools. His manuscripts arrive at The New Yorker very neatly typed. He works in the morning and is often seen walking around the Village of an afternoon. His social life has been described as “incredibly commonplace”. ...He is known to grow quite restless confronted by the quiet of a country weekend. He is likely to become “aggressively silent” at large gatherings of literary people, but he is also a talkative and loyal intimate.
    • Richard Schickel, “Freaked Out on Barthelme”, The New York Times Magazine, 16 August 1970.
  • Donald Barthelme has accomplished the work that the New Journalists are not competent to do. In a single story he is able to include more of the taste of the times than there is in the collected works of Wolfe, Breslin, Talese & Co. The difference lies in Barthelme’s ability to compress, almost to transistorize the world, and then make his miniatures real again by virtue of his talent for language.
    • Earl Shorris, “Donald Barthelme’s Illustrated Wordy-Gurdy”, Harper’s, January 1973, p. 92.

"About Donald Barthelme: Some Nearly Personal Notes" (1990), Grace Paley[edit]

  • Don's imagination had spent some time living alongside the arts of painting, architecture, philosophy, music. Then he added a journalistic interest in the day-I mean the immediate morning-to-night American day. His language, invented along a syntactical line between Texas and New York. The fact is, he could have been only clever, and he was clever, but his intelligence ran harder and deeper than his wit. He was in his life and work a citizen. That means he paid attention to and argued the life of his street, his city (New York or Houston), his country. He never played a game of literary personalities. If he organized an event, a reading-as he did, for instance, at the 1986 PEN Conference, he stood back, had others present their work. He wasn't the least bit modest, he was anxious, he was courteous. He was always worried in the very act of hilarious opposition. There was sadness in our lightest conversations, across that literature of his. We laugh, but the poem in the prose is dark.
  • If you were a female person, it's perfectly true that he'd often meet you with a sort of attentive bossiness, which is the Southern male's ingrained behavior with women. It was really an awful pain in the neck. A regional problem and serious.
  • He was, according to students, an extraordinary teacher, rigorous, picky, not mean-but a teaser. Sometimes. "What did he really mean by that?" a student whispered to me once when I visited his class. "You can write anything you want but you may not mention the weather," he told his classes at City College in New York and at the University of Houston. The weather, the very geography of platitude. Still, he knew about those easy clichés. He knew their ancient usefulness and perseverance. He grabbed them, gave them a good half turn to laugh a social truth into a sentence-he was certainly a sentence maker.
  • He was my neighbor and a true friend. This kind of friend. One day in 1973 he crossed the street to talk to me on my stoop. "Grace," he said, "you now have enough stories for a book." (My last book had been published in 1959.) "Are you sure? I kind of doubt it," I said. "No, you do-go on upstairs and see what you can find in your files-I know I'm right." I spent a week or so extracting stories from folders. He looked at my list at dinner at his house. "You're missing at least two more," he said. "You've got to find them now. I'll wait here." Many others have stories about that kindness to colleagues. We had a sad political parting, which lasted about a year after the 1986 New York International PEN Conference. He considered his position long-term, overriding that year's key speaker. He thought me disloyal and was angry. I was never angry at him, partly because political opposition is more natural to me, but mostly because I never didn't love his fine tragic heart and brilliant work. He smoked and drank in the manner of American writers (his only untransformed cliché) and died of the cancerous sorrow of these addictions. His very breath which made those perfect sentences tormented then broken.

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