Snow White Swallows the Poisoned Apple — Paula Rego

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

“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].

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

“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.


In the rare-poison room (Donald Barthelme)

“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.


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

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.


Questions (Donald Barthelme’s Snow White)


Goya’s Parasol/Disney’s Snow White

the-parasol-1777 SnowWhite6

“The psychology of Snow White: What does she hope for?” (Donald Barthelme)

The psychology of Snow White: What does she hope for? “Someday my prince will come.” By this Snow White means that she lives her own being as incomplete, pending the arrival of one who will “complete” her. That is, she lives her own being as “not-with” (even though she is in some sense “with” the seven men, Bill, Kevin, Clem, Hubert, Henry, Edward and Dan). But the “not-with” is experienced as stronger, more real, at this particular instant in time, than the “being-with.” The incompleteness is an ache capable of subduing all other data presented by consciousness. I don’t go along with those theories of historical necessity, which suggest that her actions are dictated by “forces” outside of the individual. That doesn’t sound reasonable, in this case. Irruption of the magical in the life of Snow White: Snow White knows a singing bone. The singing bone has told her various stories which have left her troubled and confused: of a bear transformed into a king’s son, of an immense treasure at the bottom of a brook, of a crystal casket in which there is a cap that makes the wearer invisible. This must not continue. The behavior of the bone is unacceptable. The bone must be persuaded to confine itself to events and effects susceptible of confirmation by the instrumentarium of the physical sciences. Someone must reason with the bone.

From Donald Barthelme’s novel Snow White.

Wrinkle in the groin (David Barthelme)

Henry walked home with his suit in a plastic bag. He had been washing the buildings. But something was stirring in him, a wrinkle in the groin. He was carrying his bucket too, and his ropes. But the wrinkle in his groin was monstrous. “Now it is necessary to court her, and win her, and put on this clean suit, 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, and pay her a thousand dollars, all just to ease this wrinkle in the groin. It seems a high price.” Henry let his mind stray to his groin. Then he let his mind stray to her groin. Do girls have groins? The wrinkle was still there. “The remedy of Origen. That is still open to one. That door, at least, has not been shut.”

From Donald Barthelme’s novel Snow White.


Snow White’s Education (Donald Barthelme)

BEAVER COLLEGE is where she got her education. She studied Modern Woman, Her Privileges and Responsibilities: the nature and nurture of women and what they stand for, in evolution and in history, including householding, upbringing, peace-keeping, healing and devotion, and how these contribute to the rehumanizing of today’s world. Then she studied Classical Guitar I, utilizing the methods and techniques of Sor, Tarrega, Segovia, etc. Then she studied English Romantic Poets II: Shelley, Byron, Keats. Then she studied Theoretical Foundations of Psychology: mind, consciousness, unconscious mind, personality, the self, interpersonal relations, psychosexual norms, social games, groups, adjustment, conflict, authority, individuation, integration and mental health. Then she studied Oil Painting I bringing to the first class as instructed Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Viridian, Ivory Black, Raw Umber, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, White. Then she studied Personal Resources I and II: self-evaluation, developing the courage to respond to the environment, opening and using the mind, individual experience, training, the use of time, mature redefinition of goals, action projects. Then she studied Realism and Idealism in the Contemporary Italian Novel: Palazzeschi, Brancati, Bilenchi, Pratolini, Moravia, Pavese, Levi, Silone, Berto, Cassola, Ginzburg, Malaparte, Mapalarte, Calvino, Gadda, Bassani, Landolfi. Then she studied —

From Donald Barthelme’s novel Snow White.

Books I’ve been reading these past few weeks


I am reading too many books.

I am hoping to write about a few of these before the month is over, starting with Chrostowska’s Permission (my review is long overdue).

I’m about fifty pages shy of finishing Evan Dara’s The Lost Scrapbook; the book has been a revelation, one of those “How-the-hell-didn’t-I-know-about-this-already-?” deals. I’ll lazily compare it to Gaddis’s J R and DFW’s Infinite Jest.

I fell into rereading Snow White after working through several dozen of Barthelme’s short stories again. He’s probably the best.

Also the best is Tom Clark, whose poetry also falls into that “How-the-hell-didn’t-I-know-about-this-already-?” spectrum.

Quick thought on the beginning of Walser’s Jakob von Gunten: Seems part of a little mini-genre that includes Barthelme’s “Me and Miss Mandible” and Gombrowicz’s Ferdydurke.

Sorry for the lazy blogging. I will try to do better.


“There is a river of girls and women in our streets” (Donald Barthelme)

THERE is a river of girls and women in our streets. There are so many that the cars are forced to use the sidewalks. The women walk in the street proper, the part where, in other cities, trucks and bicycles are found. They stand in windows too unbuckling their shirts, so that we will not be displeased. I admire them for that. We have voted again and again, and I think they like that, that we vote so much. We voted to try the river in the next town. They have a girl-river there they don’t use much. We slipped into the felucca carrying our baggage in long canvas tubes tied, in the middle, with straps. The girls groaned under the additional weight. Then Hubert pushed off and Bill began to beat time for the rowers. We wondered if Snow White would be happy, alone there. But if she wasn’t, we couldn’t do anything about it. Men try to please their mistresses when they, men, are not busy in the countinghouse, or drinking healths, or having the blade of a new dagger chased with gold. In the village we walked around the well where the girls were dipping their trousers. The zippers were rusting. “Ha ha,” the girls said, “we could tear this down in a minute, this well.” It is difficult to defeat that notion, the one the village girls hold, that the boy who trembles by the wall, against the stones, will be Pope someday. He is not even hungry; his family is not even poor.

From Donald Barthelme’s novel Snow White.


“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” — Anne Sexton

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” by Anne Sexton

No matter what life you lead
the virgin is a lovely number:
cheeks as fragile as cigarette paper,
arms and legs made of Limoges,
lips like Vin Du Rhône,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes
open and shut.
Open to say,
Good Day Mama,
and shut for the thrust
of the unicorn.
She is unsoiled.
She is as white as a bonefish.

Once there was a lovely virgin
called Snow White.
Say she was thirteen.
Her stepmother,
a beauty in her own right,
though eaten, of course, by age,
would hear of no beauty surpassing her own.
Beauty is a simple passion,
but, oh my friends, in the end
you will dance the fire dance in iron shoes.
The stepmother had a mirror to which she referred-
something like the weather forecast-
a mirror that proclaimed
the one beauty of the land.
She would ask,
Looking glass upon the wall,
who is fairest of us all?
And the mirror would reply,
You are the fairest of us all.
Pride pumped in her like poison. Continue reading ““Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” — Anne Sexton”