Read Donald Barthelme’s uncollected short story “The Ontological Basis of Two”

Donald Barthelme published a short story called “The Ontological Basis of Two” under the pseudonym “Michael Houston” in the June, 1963 issue of Cavalier, a “men’s” magazine. In her biography Donald Barthelme: The Genesis of a Cool Sound, Barthelme’s ex-wife Helen Moore Barthelme writes,

…Don had with him the June issue of Cavalier. In it was a story he had written the previous December and submitted to Playboy. But “killing my hopes of a warm winter,” the story was turned down. He then submitted it under a pseudonym to a Playboy-styled magazine, Cavalier…

The story was “The Ontological Basis of Two,” and it appeared under the name of Michael Houston, a pseudonym he had used for Forum. A parody of B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two, it is an ironical tale of a girl–Peridot Concord– “who was raised in a glass box by a Harvard Professor.” He says of Peridot that because she inhabited the box until her fourth year, she “is as healthy and natural as a shrub.” Although she is free of the inhibitions of appearing nude that beset the narrator and everyone else, four years in the box have also left her “lacking in basic carnality.

The story remains uncollected, but you can read “The Ontological Basis of Two” online thanks to Jessamyn West’s fantastic Barthelme page.

Here’s the opening paragraph of the story: