Back in the late 1960's and up through the 1980's, it would have been hard to pick up an issue of the New Yorker that did not contain work or at least...moreBack in the late 1960's and up through the 1980's, it would have been hard to pick up an issue of the New Yorker that did not contain work or at least a mention of Donald Barthelme. One of the great experimental writers of his day, he also managed to breach through and gain a level of mainstream popularity. Now readers can finally get a thorough look at his often guarded life with Tracy Daugherty's thoughtful and beautifully written biography Hiding Man.
Son of a successful architect, Barthelme grew up in Houston, TX on the fringes of the mainstream literary and artistic world. While there he fell in love with adventure tales like Sabatini's Captain Blood and humor by writers like James Thurber and SJ Perelman. His father pushed him into the more esoteric influences of Surrrealism, Rabelais and others. After a stint in college----Barthelme never actually graduated----he worked for art galleries and as a newspaper man before following his ambitions in his early twenties to become part of the New York writing scene.
What follows after this intro to Barthelme's life is a grand tour of his work and how his life intersected with it. The main trouble with trying to read Barthelme today is that his work---especially his late 60's and early 70's writings----is very much of the time and understanding it today can be difficult. Daughtery carefully lays out the influences----both literary and worldly----making this a must-read volume for anyone who has troubles understanding why we still need to read Barthelme. Daugherty admits early on to his personal history with DB----he was a student of his and seemed to stay in good touch with him afterward----but Daugherty still manages to develop a fairly balanced book by including positive and negative views on DB's life and work.
Hiding Man extends well beyond DB's own writing. DB not only published some innovative fiction but also managed to exercise a profound influence on literature in general through his involvement with P.E.N., various awards committees and teaching. In one way or another he was an influence on Grace Paley, Thomas Pynchon, Vikram Chandra, Philip Lopate, and many many more.
I first discovered Barthelme reading the anthology After Yesterday's Crash; although Barthelme doesn't have any work in the book, he's referred to several times in Larry McCaffery's introduction. From there I picked up used copies of his collections The Teachings of Don B and City Life as well as Snow White, his first and still probably best known novel. Full of lists, Q & A's, strange bits of dialogue and collages that really pushed against the walls of what fiction can be, I loved his work at first. But by the time I got to Snow White I found the ideas behind these tricks and techniques at their best dated and at their worst empty. It's the later sections of Hiding Man that detail Barthelme's writing career and his desire to not just be an iconoclast but also a great writer that I found more interesting. His work becomes more personal with novels like The Dead Father and more outspoken politically with short story collections like Overnight to Many Distant Cities. I'm very curious to give some of these other ideas a try now.
Well written and thoughtful, I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in postmodern fiction, literary history or even someone just looking for a unique biography.
A fun, if somewhat dated, novel by one of the more popular experimental fiction authors of the 60's and 70's. Barthelme uses the tale of Snow White---...moreA fun, if somewhat dated, novel by one of the more popular experimental fiction authors of the 60's and 70's. Barthelme uses the tale of Snow White----both the Disney version and the original fairy tale----as a prop for his textual and philosophical experiments. Although I like his short fiction better, this is a still a strong and fairly important novel of its day.(less)
An interesting concept---dig up old forms and styles of literature and see what current writers can do with them. Unfortunately by and large the conce...moreAn interesting concept---dig up old forms and styles of literature and see what current writers can do with them. Unfortunately by and large the concepts were better than the actual output. In general the poetry came off stronger; maybe this is because poets are used to working under odd constraints, or because they didn't have to carry on the gimmick for quite as long. The strongest narrative pieces to me were Mary Miller's "A Dialogue Between Two Maids in the Twenty-First Century, One of Whom is Skeezy", Douglas Coupland's "Survivor" and Shelley Jackson's "Consuetudinary of the Word Church, or The Church of the Dead Letter" because they used the old forms to tell a new---and good---story with a contemporary spin instead of just imitating the old format. (less)
Quite an amazing anthology here. The book takes writings from four poets/writers tied to the Dada movements and looks at them through the lens of suic...moreQuite an amazing anthology here. The book takes writings from four poets/writers tied to the Dada movements and looks at them through the lens of suicide. They discuss suicide in ways normal to the bizarre, where the act of suicide is a form of poetry and theatre in it's own right. Unlike so many other anthologies of Dada writings, this one really holds together as a whole, largely because of the theme. Each set of writings is introduced by an essay that is scholarly in quality but still quite readable and relatively jargon-free. These essay really help set the stage for each writer, giving important pieces of their lives and relating them to the work that follows. I got this through the interlibrary loan service at my library, but I enjoyed it so much I think I'll try to find a copy for my own shelves. Still provocative and edgy today, this one is a must read for anyone with an interest in experimental or transgressive literature.(less)
Roughly ten years ago, a little book by Chris Ware called Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth brough me back to comics after a nearly ten year h...moreRoughly ten years ago, a little book by Chris Ware called Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth brough me back to comics after a nearly ten year hiatus. It took some bold choices both in story and art, and really stretched the boundaries of comics. Now Dash Shaw's Bodyworld has done it for me again, taking those next steps into the future of comics.
Now that I've tossed out the hyperbole, let me explain. Set in year 2060, the US underwent a 2nd civil war that's never really explained. The main story focuses on "Professor" Panther, a man whose sole job is to seek out, try and record the results for newly discovered psychotropic substances. One of these substances is an oddly shaped plant that suddenly appears in the woods behind a private high school in Boney Borough, Va. There's some high school drama as a backdrop, adding some odd, very Charles Burns-ish layers to the story. Turns out that when this new plant is smoked by two people near each other their minds develop telepathy between each other. Not in a Professor Xavier mind-reading kind of telepathy but a merging and mixing of the two minds. The drug only exacerbates everyone's problems and issues, creating choas in the little community. Visually, it's stunning. Shaw mixes ink, paint and digital effects to create an odd, slightly disturbing look, especially when he goes very abstract to represent the drug-induced states.
Don't get me wrong---this is far from a perfect book. Many readers will be put off by the disjointed narrative, the heavy drug use and rampant sex. Some will look at the art and see it as sloppy. The influences on it---Charles Burns, Gary Panter, PK Dick, Philip Jose Farmer, Terence McKenna----weigh very heavily at times. But if you're in the right mindset Shaw has created a fantastic, trippy ride to enjoy here and I really look forward to his future as a cartoonist and storyteller.