Donald Barthelme and the Death of Fiction

The attached article changed my life. I wrote it in April-May 1969 as the final paper in a graduate course on recent American literature taught by Benjamin DeMott at Yale. DeMott had mentioned Barthelme among a group a writers we weren't reading in the course but who deserved our attention. DeMott gave me an A- on the paper, adding in a note to the other teachers in American Studies that the minus was entirely deserved.

In December 1970, when the American Studies Program at the University of Texas at Austin recruited me and asked for a talk, I offered them this paper, knowing it was in much better shape than the dissertation I'd begun on documentary in the 1930s. Bill Goetzmann, the Director of American Studies, accepted a talk on Barthelme, a Texas writer, because he judged it would draw a bigger audience. "You said it would take an hour," he told me after the talk. "I thought that was too long. But it was too short!" The paper got me the job I enjoyed for the rest of my teaching career.

In the summer of 1972 or 1973, I gave a copy of the article to my friend Jane Kramer, Barthelme's fellow
New Yorker writer, and I assume she did as she said she would and passed it on to him. His fiction after this time largely drops the theme I spotlight here--and is, I find, less interesting than the fiction I discuss.

In 1975 I revised the article slightly, and my friend Jack Salzman put it in the first issue of his annual magazine,
Prospects (I:369-86). In 1992, Richard F. Patteson, put the article, probably again minimally revised, in his Critical Essays on Donald Barthelme (G.K. Hall & Co. pp. 70-84). It is the Prospects version I reprint here:

No comments: