Posts tagged ‘Donald Barthelme’

April 7, 2014

Donald Barthelme’s Book Recommendations

by Biblioklept

barthelme_1a barthelme_2a barthelme_3a

Sure–okay, sure, you’ve seen this before (or maybe not), I know I have (I’ve even posted it before). But today is D. Barthelme’s birthday (he’s dead of course), and I’ve read or reread (or, more accurately read) most of his stuff (sans The King, which I’ve been saving) over the past year. Anyway, this here list comes via Kevin Moffett who got it off DB’s former student, Padgett Powell, when he (that is Moffett) was finishing up at my alma mater, the University of Gators (where Powell continues to teach today, having replaced Harry Crews, RIP). Anyway (again with that transition!), check out Moffett’s original share-piece at The Believer; he describes Gainesville’s Friends of the Library Sale, which was always fun. I got a copy of John Barth’s Chimera there (on the list, natch), among other books, but I didn’t get any Barthelme. I’ve read 31 of the 81 books on the list (this includes fantastically awarding myself the “Samuel Beckett entire” entry but hell man I think it’s been counted as one work here (at least by Moffett?), which maybe it should be but no I haven’t read all of Beckett but hell I’ve read a lot, if not enough, but anyway (again!)–31).

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March 30, 2014

Riff on Not Writing

by Edwin Turner

1. Let’s start with this: This is for me, this is not for you.

2. The above statement is not a very inviting invitation to the audience, is it? Sorry. Look. I have the Writer’s Block. The blockage. The being-stuckness. Etc.

3. Writer’s block, for me anyway, is not the inability to write. It’s more like some kind of inertia, some kind of anxiety, some little whisper of doom, hopelessness about the futility of shaping feelings into ideas and ideas into words. (That last phrase is, I believe, a paraphrase of Robert Frost’s definition of poetry).

4. Anyway, sometimes it’s best just to write—and write with the intention to make the writing public, to publish it (even on a blog!)—to put something (the publishing, that is) at stake.

5. (And so I’ve done this before).

6. I’ve read or audited nearly a dozen books this year that I’ve failed to write about on this site. Ostensibly, at some point, writing about books was like, the mission of Biblioklept, which maybe that mission has been swallowed  up by some other mission, some non-mission, some other goal or telos or whatever.

7. But you see there are some books I’ve read or audited that I really, really want to write about! (Sorry for this dithering but hey wait why am I apologizing I already said that this is for me this is not for you did I not?).

8. These books are:

Enormous Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley

Leaving the Sea by Ben Marcus

Every Day Is for the Thief by Teju Cole

Concrete by Thomas Bernhard

Middle C by William H. Gass

Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald

Goings in Thirteen Sittings by Gordon Lish

Not quite half a dozen books of poetry by Tom Clark

The majority of Donald Barthelme.

9. (I am also reading half a dozen books right now, even though I made a vow years ago not to do that).

10. A common theme to some of the books listed in point 8: The difficulty of words to mean, the toxic power of language, the breakdown of communication.

March 24, 2014

“On Angels” — Donald Barthelme

by Biblioklept

“On Angels”

by Donald Barthelme

The death of God left the angels in a strange position. They were overtaken suddenly by a fundamental question. One can attempt to imagine the moment. How did they look at the instant the question invaded them, flooding the angelic consciousness, taking hold with terrifying force? The question was,”What are angels?”

New to questioning, unaccustomed to terror, unskilled in aloneness, the angels (we assume) fell into despair.

The question of what angels “are” has a considerable history. Swedenborg, for example, talked to a great many angels and faithfully recorded what they told him. Angels look like human beings, Swedenborg says. “That angels are human forms, or men, has been seen by me a thousand times.” And again:”From all my experience, which is now of many years, I am able to state that angels are wholly men in form, having faces, eyes, ears, bodies, arms, hands, and feet…” But a man cannot see angels with his bodily eyes, only with the eyes of the spirit.

Swedenborg has a great deal more to say about angels, all of the highest interest: that no angel is ever permitted to stand behind another and look at the back of his head, for this would disturb the influx of good and truth from the Lord; that angels have the east, where the Lord is seen as a sun, always before their eyes; and that angels are clothed according to their intelligence. “Some of the most intelligent have garments that blaze as if with flame, others have garments that glisten as if with light; the less intelligent have garments that are glistening white or white without the effulgence; and the still less intelligent have garments of various colors. But the angels of the inmost heaven are not clothed.”

All of this (presumably) no longer obtains.

Gustav Davidson, in his useful Dictionary of Angels, has brought together much of what is known about them. Their names are called: the angel Elubatel, the angel Friagne, the angel Gaap, the angel Hatiphas (genius of finery), the angel Murmur (a fallen angel), the angel Mqttro, the angel Or, the angel Rash, the angel Sandalphon (taller than a five hundred years’ jouney on foot), the angel Smat. Davidson distinguishes categories: Angels of Quaking, who surround the heavenly throune, Masters of Howling and Lords of Shouting, whose work is praise; messengers, mediators, watchers, warners. Davidson’s Dictionary is a very large book; his bibliography lists more than eleven hundred items.

The former angelic consciousness has been most beautifully described by Joseph Lyons (in a paper titles The Psychology of Angels published in 1957). Each angel, Lyons says, knows all that there is to know about himself and every ohter angel. “No angel could ever ask a question, because questioning proceeds out of situation of not knowing, and of being in some way aware of not knowing. An angel cannot be curious; he has nothing to be curious about. He cannot wonder. Knowing all that there is to know, the world of possible knowledge must appear to him as as ordered set of facts which is completely behind him, completely fixed and certain and within his grasp…”

But this, too, no longer obtains.

It is a curiosity of writing about angels that, very often, one turns outto be writing about men. The themes are twinned. Thus one finally learns that Lyons, for example, is really writing not about angels but about schizophrenics–thinking about men by invoking angels. And this holds true of much other writing on the subject– a point, we may assume, that was not lost on the angels when they began considering their new relation to the cosmos, when the analogues (is an angel more like a quetzal or more like a man? or more like music?) were being handed about.

We may frther assume that some attempt was made at self-definition by function. An angel is what he does. Thus it was necessary to investigate possible new roles (you are reminded that this is impure speculation). After the lamentation had gone on for hundreds and hundreds of whatever the angels use for time, an angel proposed that lamentation be the function of angels eternally, as adoration was formerly. The mode of lamentation would be silence, in contrast to the unceasing chanting of Glorias that had been their former employment. But it is not in the nature of angels to be silent.

A counterproposal was that the angels affirm chaos. There were to be five great proofs of the existence of chaos, of which the first was the abscence of God. The other four could surely be located. The work of definition and explication could, if done nicely enough, occupy the angels forever, as the contrary work has occupied human theologians. But there is not much enthusiasm for chaos among the angels.

The most serious because most radical proposal considered by the angels was refusal –that they would remove themselves from being, not be. The tremendous dignity that would accrue to the angels by this act was felt to be a manifestation of spiritual pride. Refusal was refused.

There were other suggestions, more subptle and complicated, less so, none overwhelmingly attractive.

I saw a famous angel on television; his garments glistened as if with light. He talked about the situation of angels now. Angels, he said are like men in some ways. The problem of adoration is felt to be central. He said that for a time the angels had tried adoring each other, as we do, but had found it, finally, “not enough.” He said they are continuing to search for a new principle.

March 6, 2014

“The King of Jazz” — Donald Barthelme

by Biblioklept

“The King of Jazz”


Donald Barthelme

Well, I’m the king of jazz now, thought Hokie Mokie to himself as he oiled the slide on his trombone. Hasn’t been a ‘bone man been king of jazz for many years. But now that Spicy MacLammermoor, the old king, is dead, I guess I’m it. Maybe I better play a few notes out of this window here, to reassure myself.

“Wow!” said somebody standing on the sidewalk. “Did you hear that?”

“I did,” said his companion.

“Can you distinguish our great homemade American jazz performers, each from the other?”

“Used to could.”

“Then who was that playing?”

“Sounds like Hokie Mokie to me. Those few but perfectly selected notes have the real epiphanic glow.”

“The what?”

“The real epiphanic glow, such as is obtained only by artists of the caliber of Hokie Mokie, who’s from Pass Christian, Mississippi. He’s the king of jazz, now that Spicy MacLammermoor is gone.”

Hokie Mokie put his trombone in its case and went to a gig. At the gig everyone fell back before him, bowing.

“Hi Bucky! Hit Zoot! Hi Freddie! Hi George! Hi Thad! Hi Roy! Hi Dexter! Hi Jo! Hi Willie! Hi Greens!”

“What we gonna play, Hokie? You the king of jazz now, you gotta decide.”

“How ’bout ‘Smoke’?”

“Wow!” everybody said. “Did you hear that? Hokie Mokie can just knock a fella out, just the way he pronounces a word. What an intonation on that boy! God Almighty!”

February 20, 2014

Double Donald Barthelme (Books Acquired, 2.13.2014)

by Biblioklept


Two remaining (late period) Donald Barthelme novels I haven’t read.

The King is a first edition paperback (with an author photo on the whole back cover—very odd) illustrated by the wonderful Barry Moser.


February 4, 2014

“The Policemen’s Ball” — Donald Barthelme

by Biblioklept

“The Policemen’s Ball”

by Donald Barthelme

Horace, a policeman, was making Rock Cornish Game Hens for a special supper. The Game Hens are frozen solid, Horace thought. He was wearing his blue uniform pants.

Inside the Game Hens were the giblets in a plastic bag. Using his needlenose pliers Horace extracted the frozen giblets from the interior of the birds. Tonight is the night of the Policemen’s Ball, Horace thought. We will dance the night away. But first, these Game Hens must go into a three-hundred-and-fifty-degree oven.

Horace shined his black dress shoes. Would Margot “put out” tonight? On this night of nights? Well, if she didn’t– Horace regarded the necks of the birds which had been torn asunder by the pliers. No, he reflected, that is not a proper thought. Because I am a member of the force. I must try to keep my hatred under control. I must try to be an example for the rest of the people. Because if they can’t trust us. . .the blue men. . .

In the dark, outside the Policemen’s Ball, the horrors waited for Horace and Margot.

Margot was alone. Her roommates were in Provincetown for the weekend. She put pearl-colored lacquer on her nails to match the pearl of her new-bought gown. Police colonels and generals will be there, she thought. The Pendragon of the Police himself. Whirling past the dais, I will glance upward. The pearl of my eyes meeting the steel gray of high rank.

Margot got into a cab and went over to Horace’s place. The cabdriver was thinking: A nice-looking piece. I could love her.

Horace removed the birds from the oven. He slipped little gold frills, which has been included in the package, over the ends of the drumsticks. Then he uncorked the wine, thinking: This is a town without pity, this town. For those whose voices lack the crack of authority. Luckily the uniform. . . Why won’t she surrender her person? Does she think she can resist the force? The force of the force?

“These birds are delicious.”

Driving Horace and Margot smoothly to the Armory, the new cabdriver thought about basketball.

Why do they always applaud the man who makes the shot?

Why don’t they applaud the ball?

It’s the ball that actually goes into the net.

The man doesn’t go into the net.

Never have I seen a man going into the net.

Twenty thousand policemen of all grades attended the annual fete. The scene was Camelot, with gay colors and burgees. The interior of the Armory had been roofed with lavish tenting. Police colonels and generals looked down on the dark uniforms, white gloves, silvery ball gowns.


“Horace, not now. This scene is so brilliant. I want to remember it.”

Horace thought: It? Not me?

The Pendragon spoke. “I ask you to be reasonable with the citizens. They pay our salaries after all. I know they are difficult sometimes, obtuse sometimes, even criminal sometimes, as we often run across in our line of work. But I ask you despite all to be reasonable. I know it is hard. I know it is not easy. I know that for instance when you see a big car, a ’70 Biscayne hardtop, cutting around a corner at a pretty fair clip, with three in the front and three in the back, and they are all mixed up, ages and sexes and colors, your natural impulse is to– I know your first thought is, All those people! Together! And your second thought is, Force! But I must ask you in the name of force itself to be restrained. For force, that great principle, is most honored in the breach and the observance. And that is where you men are, in the breach. You are fine men, the finest. You are Americans. So for the sake of America, be careful. Be reasonable. Be slow. In the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Ghost. And now I would like to introduce Vercingetorix, leader of the firemen, who brings us a few words of congratulation from that fine body of men.”

Waves of applause for the Pendragon filled the tented area.

“He is a handsome older man,” Margot said.

“He was born in a Western state and advanced to his present position through raw merit,” Horace told her.

The government of Czechoslovakia sent observers to the Policemen’s Ball. “Our police are not enough happy,” Colonel-General Cepicky explained. “We seek ways to improve them. This is a way. It may not be the best of all possible ways, but. . . Also I like to drink the official whiskey! It makes me gay!”

A bartender thought: Who is that yellow-haired girl in the pearl costume? She is stacked.

The mood of the Ball changed. The dancing was more serious now. Margot’s eyes sparkled from the jorums of champagne she had drunk. She felt Horace’s delicately Game Hen-flavored breath on her cheek. I will give him what he wants, she decided. Tonight. His heroism deserves it. He stands between us and them. He represents what is best in society: decency, order, safety, strength, sirens, smoke. No, he does not represent smoke. Great billowing oily black clouds. That Vercingetorix has a noble look. With whom is Vercingetorix dancing, at present?

The horrors waited outside patiently. Even policemen, the horrors thought. We get even policemen, in the end.

In Horace’s apartment, a gold frill was placed on a pearl toe.

The horrors had moved outside Horace’s apartment. Not even policemen and their ladies are safe, the horrors thought. No one is safe. Safety does not exist. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

January 30, 2014

“The Captured Woman” — Donald Barthelme

by Biblioklept

“The Captured Woman” by Donald Barthelme

The captured woman asks if I will take her picture.

I shoot four rolls of 35 mm. and then go off very happily to the darkroom. . .

I bring back the contacts and we go over them together. She circles half a dozen with a grease pencil — pictures of herself staring. She does not circle pictures of herself smiling, although there are several very good ones. When I bring her back prints (still wet) she says they are not big enough.

“Not big enough?”

“Can you make enlargements?”

“How big?”

“How big can you make them?”

“The largest paper I have is twenty-four by thirty-six.”


The very large prints are hung around her room with pushpins.

“Make more.”

“For what?”

“I want them in the other rooms too.”

“The staring ones?”

“Whichever ones you wish.”

I make more prints using the smiling negatives. (I also shoot another half dozen rolls.)

Soon the house is full of her portraits, she is everywhere.

(Read the rest).

January 10, 2014

“The main difficulty with the book business” (Donald Barthelme)

by Biblioklept

The main difficulty with the book business is that a book is two kinds of objects. You have, on the one hand, a thing that a reasonable and prudent man might decide is a book. You have on the other hand an object which looks very much like a book, feels very much like a book, but is in actuality a bucket of peanut butter covered with a thin layer of chocolate sauce. These things are sold in the same way. The latter seems to sell better, for some mysterious reason, than the former. A good example of this that I ran into recently is a book called The First Time, which apparently has to do with accounts of initial sexual experiences of either eminent or reasonably well-known people. This, I would say, is a bucket of peanut butter. Actually, they missed. They should have done a book called The Last Time, which would not only be funnier but more poignant. The idea is copyrighted, by the way. Take notes.

From remarks Donald Barthelme delivered at a 1975 conference at the Library of Congress. Published in Tracy Daugherty’s book Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme.

January 9, 2014

“An archeological slice. Not much glitter.” (Donald Barthelme)

by Biblioklept


Which reminds me: Some of your detractors say that you’re merely fashionable.


Well, the mere has always been a useful category.


That you’re a jackdaw, and your principle of selection is whatever glitters most.


I weep and tear my hair. And disagree.


Let’s look at a specific jackdaw’s nest, the barricade in “The Indian Uprising.”


I don’t see anything particularly fashionable. The table made from a hollow-core door may be a 1960s reference but aren’t people still making them?


But your barricade is not intended as straightforward realism; these things are artifacts of a certain culture.


An archeological slice. Not much glitter.


Won’t it require scholarly annotation in the future?


I’d say no. If you read The Swiss Family Robinson and you’re reading about what they unpack from the pinnace as they shuttle from ship to shore you don’t need any footnotes, even though there may be four hundred pounds of tallow in the cargo. You have a vague recollection that it’s used to make candles.

Actually I think the jackdaw business is a function of appearing in the New Yorker with some frequency. People read the fiction with after images of Rolls Royces and Rolexes still sizzling in their eyes. Rare is the reviewer who can resist mentioning the magazine’s ads when talking about the fiction. One is gilded by association.


Suppose we turn things around. Suppose I say that when I read that story I’m not at all concerned about whether people made tables from hollow-core doors in the 1960s. Rather, I’m interested in the speaker, who in the metaphorical context of the story is besieged by Comanches.


Is besieged by very much more than Comanches, but also by Comanches. He’s not meant to be a walking-around person so much as a target, a butt. The arrows of the Comanches but also sensory insult, political insult, there are references to the war there, to race, to torture, jingoism . . . But none of the references in the story were picked at random, and none are used simply as decor. If they seem random it’s probably because the range of reference is rather wide for a short piece—you have Patton and Frank Wedekind and the seventh cavalry coexisting on the same plane—but the crowding is part of the design, is the design.

From Donald Barthelme’s The Paris Review interview.

January 3, 2014

We found it! (Donald Barthelme)

by Biblioklept


December 26, 2013

Reading, rereading, trying to read

by Biblioklept


December 22, 2013

“Patricide: Patricide is a bad idea” (Donald Barthelme)

by Biblioklept

Patricide: Patricide is a bad idea, first because it is contrary to law and custom and second because it proves, beyond a doubt, that the father’s every fluted accusation against you was correct: you are a thoroughly bad individual, a patricide! — member of a class of persons universally ill-regarded. It is all right to feel this hot emotion, but not to act upon it. And it is not necessary. It is not necessary to slay your father, time will slay him, that is a virtual certainty. Your true task lies elsewhere. Your true task, as a son, is to reproduce every one of the enormities touched upon in this manual, but in attenuated form. You must become your father, but a paler, weaker version of him. The enormities go with the job, but close study will allow you to perform the job less well than it has previously been done, thus moving toward a golden age of decency, quiet, and calmed fevers. Your contribution will not be a small one, but “small” is one of the concepts that you should shoot for. If your father was a captain in Battery D, then content yourself with a corporalship in the same battery. Do not attend the annual reunions. Do not drink beer or sing songs at the reunions. Begin by whispering, in front of a mirror, for thirty minutes a day. Then tie your hands behind your back for thirty minutes a day, or get someone else to do this for you. Then, choose one of your most deeply held beliefs, such as the belief that your honors and awards have something to do with you, and abjure it. Friends will help you abjure it, and can be telephoned if you begin to backslide. You see the pattern, put it into practice. Fatherhood can be, if not conquered, at least “turned down” in this generation — by the combined efforts of all of us together.

From Donald Barthelme’s novel The Dead Father.

December 19, 2013

“To find a lost father” (Donald Barthelme)

by Biblioklept

To find a lost father: The first problem in finding a lost father is to lose him, decisively. Often he will wander away from home and lose himself. Often he will remain at home but still be “lost” in every true sense, locked away in an upper room, or in a workshop, or in the contemplation of beauty, or in the contemplation of a secret life. He may, every evening, pick up his gold-headed cane, wrap himself in his cloak, and depart, leaving behind, on the coffee table, a sealed laundry bag in which there is an address at which he may be reached, in case of war. War, as is well known, is a place at which many fathers are lost, sometimes temporarily, sometimes forever. Fathers are frequently lost on expeditions of various kinds (the journey to the interior). The five best places to seek this kind of lost father are Nepal, Rupert’s Land, Mount Elbrus, Paris, and the agora. The five kinds of vegetation in which fathers most often lose themselves are needle-leaved forest, broad-leaved forest mainly evergreen, broad-leaved forest mainly deciduous, mixed needle-leaved and broad-leaved forest, and tundra. The five kinds of things fathers were wearing when last seen are caftans, bush jackets, parkas, Confederate gray, and ordinary business suits. Armed with these clues then, you may place an advertisement in the newspaper: Lost, in Paris, on or about February 24, a broad-leaf-loving father, 6’ 2”, wearing a blue caftan, may be armed and dangerous, we don’t know, answers to the name Old Hickory. Reward. Having completed this futile exercise, you are then free to think about what is really important. Do you really want to find this father? What if, when you find him, he speaks to you in the same tone he used before he lost himself? Will he again place nails in your mother, in her elbows and back of the knee? Remember the javelin. Have you any reason to believe that it will not, once again, flash through the seven-o’clock-in-the-evening air? What we are attempting to determine is simple: Under what conditions do you wish to live? Yes, he “nervously twiddles the stem of his wineglass.” Do you wish to watch him do so on into the last quarter of the present century? I don’t think so. Let him take those mannerisms, and what they portend, to Borneo, they will be new to Borneo. Perhaps in Borneo he will also nervously twiddle the stem of, etc., but he will not be brave enough to manufacture, there the explosion of which this is a sign. Throwing the roast through the mirror. Thrusting a belch big as an opened umbrella into the middle of something someone else is trying to say. Beating you, either with a wet, knotted rawhide, or with an ordinary belt. Ignore that empty chair at the head of the table. Give thanks.

From Donald Barthelme’s novel The Dead Father.

December 14, 2013

“First he slew a snowshoe rabbit cleaving it in twain with a single blow and then he slew a spiny anteater” (Donald Barthelme)

by Biblioklept

They found the Dead Father standing in a wood, slaying. First he slew a snowshoe rabbit cleaving it in twain with a single blow and then he slew a spiny anteater and then he slew two rusty numbats and then whirling the great blade round and round his head he slew a wallaby and a lemur and a trio of ouakaris and a spider monkey and a common squid. Then moving up and down the green path in his rage he dispatched a macaque and a gibbon and fourscore innocent chinchillas who had been standing idly by watching the great slaughter. Then he rested standing with the point of his sword stuck in the earth and his two hands folded upon the hilt. Then he again as if taken by a fit set about the bloody work slaying a prairie dog and a beaver and a gopher and a dingo and a honey badger and an otter and a house cat and a tapir and a piglet. Then his anger grew and he called for a brand of even greater weight and length which was brought him by a metaphorically present gillie and seizing it with his two fine-formed and noble hands he raised it above his head, and every living thing within his reach trembled and every dead thing within his reach remembered how it got that way, and the very trees of the wood did seem to shrink and step away. Then the Dead Father slew a warthog and a spotted fawn and a trusting sheep and a young goat and a marmoset and two greyhounds and a draghound. Then, kicking viciously with his noble and shapely foot at the piles of the slain, raw and sticky corpses drenching the earth in blood on every side, he cleared a path to a group of staring pelicans slicing the soft white thin necks of them from the bodies in the wink of an eye. Then he slew a cassowary and a flamingo and a grebe and a heron and a bittern and a pair of ducks and a shouting peacock and a dancing crane and a bustard and a lily-trotter and, wiping the sacred sweat from his brow with one ermine-trimmed sleeve, slew a wood pigeon and a cockatoo and a tawny owl and a snowy owl and a magpie and three jackdaws and a crow and a jay and a dove. Then he called for wine. A silver flagon was brought him and he downed the whole of it in one draught looking the while out of the corner of his ruby eye at a small iguana melted in terror against the limb of a tree. Then he tossed the silver flagon into the arms of a supposititious cupbearer sousing the cupbearer’s hypothetical white tunic with the red of the (possible) wine and split the iguana into two halves with the point of his sword as easily as one skilled in the mystery fillets a fish. Then the Dead Father resumed his sword work in earnest slaying diverse small animals of every kind, so that the heaps mounted steaming to the right and to the left of him with each passionate step. A toad escaped.

From Donald Barthelme’s novel The Dead Father.

December 12, 2013

“Here is the riddle, and it is a son-of-a-bitch” (Donald Barthelme)

by Biblioklept

Here is the riddle said the Great Father Serpent with a great flourishing of his two-tipped tongue, and it is a son-of-a-bitch I will tell you that, the most arcane item in the arcana, you will never guess it in a hundred thousand human years some of which I point out have already been used up by you in useless living and breathing but have a go, have a go, do: What do you really feel? Like murderinging, I answered, because that is what I had read on the underside of the tin, the wording murderinging inscribed in a fine thin cursive. Why bless my soul, said the Great Father Serpent, he’s got it, and the two ruffians blinked at me in stunned wonder and I myself wondered, and marveled, but what I was wondering and marveling at was the closeness with which what I had answered accorded with my feelings, my lost feelings that I had never found before. I suppose, the Father Serpent said, that the boon you wish granted is the ability to carry out this foulness? Of course, I said, what else? Granted then, he said, but may I remind you that having the power is often enough. You don’t have to actually do it. For the soul’s ease. I thanked the Great Father Serpent; he bowed most cordially; my companions returned me to the city. I was abroad in the city with murderinging in mind — the dream of a stutterer.

That is a tall tale, said the Dead Father. I don’t believe it ever happened.

No tale ever happened in the way we tell it, said Thomas, but the moral is always correct.

What is the moral?

Murderinging, Thomas said.

From Donald Barthelme’s novel The Dead Father.


December 7, 2013

A Rather Interesting Tale (From Barthelme’s The Dead Father)

by Biblioklept

It is rather an interesting tale, said the Dead Father, which I shall now tell. I had been fetched by the look of a certain maiden, a raven-haired maiden —He looked at Julie, whose hand strayed to her dark dark hair.

A raven-haired maiden of great beauty. Her name was Tulla. I sent her many presents. Little machines, mostly, a machine for stamping her name on strips of plastic, a machine for extracting staples from documents, a machine for shortening her fingernails, a machine for removing wrinkles from fabric with the aid of steam. Well, she accepted the presents, no difficulty there, but me she spurned. Now as you might imagine I am not fond of being spurned. I am not used to it. In my domains it does not happen but as ill luck would have it she lived just over the county line. Spurned is not a thing I like to be. In fact I have a positive disinclination for it. So I turned myself into a haircut —A haircutter? asked Julie. A haircut, said the Dead Father. I turned myself into a haircut and positioned myself upon the head of a member of my retinue, quite a handsome young man, younger than I, younger than I and stupider, that goes without saying, still not without a certain rude charm, bald as a bladder of lard, though, and as a consequence somewhat diffident in the presence of ladies. Using the long flowing sideburns as one would use one’s knees in guiding a horse —The horseman is still following us, Thomas noted. I wonder why.

— I sent him cantering off in the direction of the delectable Tulla, the Dead Father went on. So superior was the haircut, that is to say, me, joined together with his bumbly youngness, for which I do not blame him, that she succumbed immediately. Picture it. The first night. The touch nonesuch. At the crux I turned myself back into myself (vanishing the varlet) and we two she and I looked at each other and were content. We spent many nights together all roaratorious and filled with furious joy. I fathered upon her in those nights the poker chip, the cash register, the juice extractor, the kazoo, the rubber pretzel, the cuckoo clock, the key chain, the dime bank, the pantograph, the bubble pipe, the punching bag both light and heavy, the inkblot, the nose drop, the midget Bible, the slot-machine slug, and many other useful and humane cultural artifacts, as well as some thousands of children of the ordinary sort. I fathered as well upon her various institutions useful and humane such as the credit union, the dog pound, and parapsychology. I fathered as well various realms and territories all superior in terrain, climatology, laws and customs to this one. I overdid it but I was madly, madly in love, that is all I can say in my own defense. It was a very creative period but my darling, having mothered all this abundance uncomplainingly and without reproach, at last died of it. In my arms of course. Her last words were “enough is enough, Pappy.” I was inconsolable and, driven as if by a demon, descended into the underworld seeking to reclaim her.

I found her there, said the Dead Father, after many adventures too boring to recount. I found her there but she refused to return with me because she had already tasted the food-of-hell and grown fond of it, it’s addicting. She was watched over by eight thunders who hovered over her and brought her every eve ever more hellish delicacies, and watched over furthermore by the ugly-men-of-hell who attacked me with dreampuffs and lyreballs and sought to drive me off. But I removed my garments and threw them at the ugly-men-of-hell, garment by garment, and as each garment touched even ever-so-slightly an ugly-man-of-hell he shriveled into a gasp of steam. There was no way I could stay, there was nothing to stay for; she was theirs.

Then to purify myself, said the Dead Father, of the impurities which had seeped into me in the underworld I dived headfirst into the underground river Jelly, I washed my left eye therein and fathered the deity Poolus who governs the progress of the ricochet or what bounces off what and to what effect, and washed my right eye and fathered the deity Ripple who has the governing of the happening of side effects/unpredictable. Then I washed my nose and fathered the deity Gorno who keeps tombs warm inside and the deity Libet who does not know what to do and is thus an inspiration to us all. I was then beset by eight hundred myriads of sorrows and sorrowing away when a worm wriggled up to me as I sat hair-tearing and suggested a game of pool. A way, he said, to forget. We had, I said, no pool table. Well, he said, are you not the Dead Father? I then proceeded to father the Pool Table of Ballambangjang, fashioning the green cloth of it from the contents of an alfalfa field nearby and the legs of it from telephone poles nearby and the dark pockets of it from the mouths of the leftover ugly-men-of-hell whom I bade stand with their mouths open at the appropriate points —”

What was the worm’s name? Thomas asked.

I forget, said the Dead Father. Then, just as we were chalking our cues, the worm and I, Evil himself appeared, he-of-thegreater-magic, terrible in aspect, I don’t want to talk about it, let me say only that I realized instantly that I was on the wrong side of the Styx. However I was not lacking in wit, even in this extremity. Uncoiling my penis, then in the dejected state, I made a long cast across the river, sixty-five meters I would say, where it snagged most conveniently in the cleft of a rock on the farther shore. Thereupon I hauled myself hand-over-hand ‘midst excruciating pain as you can imagine through the raging torrent to the other bank. And with a hurrah! over my shoulder, to show my enemies that I was yet alive and kicking, I was off like a flash into the trees.

From Donald Barthelme’s novel The Dead Father.

December 5, 2013

“Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby” — Donald Barthelme

by Biblioklept

“Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby” by Donald Barthelme

Some of us had been threatening our friend Colby for a long time, because of the way he had been behaving. And now he’d gone too far, so we decided to hang him. Colby argued that just because he had gone too far (he did not deny that he had gone too far) did not mean that he should be subjected to hanging. Going too far, he said, was something everybody did sometimes. We didn’t pay much attention to this argument. We asked him what sort of music he would like played at the hanging. He said he’d think about it but it would take him a while to decide. I pointed out that we’d have to know soon, because Howard, who is a conductor, would have to hire and rehearse the musicians and he couldn’t begin until he knew what the music was going to be. Colby said he’d always been fond of Ives’s Fourth Symphony. Howard said that this was a “delaying tactic” and that everybody knew that the Ives was almost impossible to perform and would involve weeks of rehearsal, and that the size of the orchestra and chorus would put us way over the music budget. “Be reasonable,” he said to Colby. Colby said he’d try to think of something a little less exacting.

Hugh was worried about the wording of the invitations. What if one of them fell into the hands of the authorities? Hanging Colby was doubtless against the law, and if the authorities learned in advance what the plan was they would very likely come in and try to mess everything up. I said that although hanging Colby was almost certainly against the law, we had a perfect moralright to do so because he was our friend, belonged to us in various important senses, and he had after all gone too far. We agreed that the invitations would be worded in such a way that the person invited could not know for sure what he was being invited to. We decided to refer to the event as “An Event Involving Mr. Colby Williams.” A handsome script was selected from a catalogue and we picked a cream-colored paper. Magnus said he’d see to having the invitations printed, and wondered whether we should serve drinks. Colby said he thought drinks would be nice but was worried about the expense. We told him kindly that the expense didn’t matter, that we were after all his dear friends and if a group of his dear friends couldn’t get together and do the thing with a little bit of eclat, why, what was the world coming to? Colbv asked if he would be able to have drinks, too, before the event. We said,”Certainly.”

The next item of business was the gibbet. None of us knew too much about gibbet design, but Tomas, who is an architect, said he’d look it up in old books and draw the plans. The important thing, as far as he recollected, was that the trapdoor function perfectly. He said that just roughly, counting labor and materials, it shouldn’t run us more than four hundred dollars. “Good God !” Howard said. He said what was Tomas figuring on, rosewood? No, just a good grade of pine, Tomas said. Victor asked if unpainted pine wouldn’t look kind of “raw,” and Tomas replied that he thought it could be stained a dark walnut without too much trouble.

[Read the rest of "Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby" here].

November 30, 2013

The Trial of Bill the Dwarf | From Donald Barthelme’s Snow White

by Biblioklept

“BILL will you begin. By telling the court in your own words how you first conceived and then supported this chimera, the illusion of your potential greatness. By means of which you have managed to assume the leadership and retain it, despite tons of evidence of total incompetence, the most recent instance being your hurlment of two six-packs of Miller High Life, in a brown-paper bag, through the windscreen of a blue Volkswagen operated by I. Fondue and H. Maeght. Two utter and absolute strangers, so far as we know.” “Strangers to you perhaps. But not to me.” “Well strangers is not the immediate question. Will you respond to the immediate question. How did you first conceive and then sustain —” “The conception I have explained more or less. I wanted to make, of my life, a powerful statement etc. etc. How this wrinkle was first planted in my sensorium I know not. But I can tell you how it is sustained.” “How.” “I tell myself things.” “What.” “Bill you are the greatest. Bill you did that very nicely. Bill there is something about you. Bill you have style. Bill you are macho.” “But despite this blizzard of self-gratulation —” “A fear remained.” “A fear of?” “The black horse.” “Who is this black horse.” “I have not yet met it. It was described to me.” “By?” “Fondue and Maeght.” “Those two who were at the controls of the Volkswagen when you hurled the brown-paper bag.” “That is correct.” “You cherished then for these two, Fondue and Maeght, a hate.” “More of a miff, your worship.” “Of what standing, in the time dimension, is this miff?” “Matter of let’s see sixteen years I would say.” “The miff had its genesis in mentionment to you by them of the great black horse.” “That is correct.” “How old were you exactly. At that time.” “Twelve years.” “Something said to you about a horse sixteen years ago triggered, then, the hurlment.” “That is correct.” “Let us make sure we understand the circumstances of the hurlment. Can you disbosom yourself very briefly of the event as seen from your point of view.” “It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” “What is your authority.” “The cathouse clock.” “Proceed.” “I was on my way from the coin-operated laundry to the Door Store.” “With what in view.” “I had in mind the purchasement of a slab of massif oak, 48” by 60”, and a set of carved Byzantine legs, for the construction of a cocktail table, to support cocktails.” “Could you rubric, scout-mysteries.” “No. It was in the nature of a threat, a punishment. I had infracted a rule.” “What rule?” “A rule of thumb having to do with pots. You were supposed to scour the pots with mud, to clean them. I used Ajax.” “That was a scoutmystery, how to scour a pot with mud?” “Indeed.” “The infraction was then, resistance to scoutmysteries?” “Stated in the most general terms, that would be it.” “And what was the response of Fondue and Maeght.” “They told me that there was a great black horse, and that it had in mind, eating me.” “They did?” “It would come by night, they said. I lay awake waiting.” “Did it present itself? The horse?” “No. But I awaited it. I await it still.” “One more question: is it true that you allowed the fires under the vats to go out, on the night of January sixteenth, while pursuing this private vendetta?” “It is true.” “Vatricide. That crime of crimes. Well it doesn’t look good for you, Bill. It doesn’t look at all good for you.”

From Donald Barthelme’s Snow White. One of the funniest passages I’ve read in ages.


November 25, 2013

In the rare-poison room (Donald Barthelme)

by Biblioklept

“NOW I have been left sucking the mop again,” Jane blurted out in the rare-poison room of her mother’s magnificent duplex apartment on a tree-lined street in a desirable location. “I have been left sucking the mop in a big way. Hogo de Bergerac no longer holds me in the highest esteem. His highest esteem has shifted to another, and now he holds her in it, and I am alone with my malice at last. Face to face with it. For the first time in my history, I have no lover to temper my malice with healing balsam-scented older love. Now there is nothing but malice.” Jane regarded the floor-to-ceiling Early American spice racks with their neatly labeled jars of various sorts of bane including dayshade, scumlock, hyoscine, azote, hurtwort and milkleg. “Now I must witch someone, for that is my role, and to flee one’s role, as Gimbal tells us, is in the final analysis bootless. But the question is, what form shall my malice take, on this occasion? This braw February day? Something in the area of interpersonal relations would be interesting. Whose interpersonal relations shall I poison, with the tasteful savagery of my abundant imagination and talent for concoction? I think I will go around to Snow White’s house, where she cohabits with the seven men in a mocksome travesty of approved behavior, and see what is stirring there. If something is stirring, perhaps I can arrange a sleep for it — in the corner of a churchyard, for example.”

From Donald Barthelme’s novel Snow White.


November 23, 2013

“Another orange juice, with a little vodka in it this time” (Donald Barthelme)

by Biblioklept

SNOW WHITE had another glass of healthy orange juice. “From now on I deny myself to them. These delights. I maintain an esthetic distance. No more do I trip girlishly to their bed in the night, or after lunch, or in the misty mid-morning. Not that I ever did. It was always my whim which governed those gregarious encounters summed up so well by Livy in the phrase, vae victis. I congratulate myself on that score at least. And no more will I chop their onions, boil their fettucini, or marinate their flank steak. No more will I trudge about the house pursuing stain. No more will I fold their lingerie in neat bundles and stuff it away in the highboy. I am not even going to speak to them, now, except through third parties, or if I have something special to announce — a new nuance of my mood, a new vagary, a new extravagant caprice. I don’t know what such a policy will win me. I am not even sure I wish to implement it. It seems small and mean-spirited. I have conflicting ideas. But the main theme that runs through my brain is that what is, is insufficient. Where did that sulky notion come from? From the rental library, doubtless. Perhaps the seven men should have left me in the forest. To perish there, when all the roots and berries and rabbits and robins had been exhausted. If I had perished then, I would not be thinking now. It is true that there is a future in which I shall inevitably perish. There is that. Thinking terminates. One shall not always be leaning on one’s elbow in the bed at a quarter to four in the morning, wondering if the Japanese are happier than their piglike Western contemporaries. Another orange juice, with a little vodka in it this time.”

From Donald Barthelme’s novel Snow White.



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