Not-Knowing: The Essays and Interviewsby Donald Barthelme
The wildly varied essays in Not-Knowing combine to form a posthumous manifesto of one of America’s masters of literary experiment. Here are Barthelme’s thoughts on writing (his own and others); his observations on art, architecture, film, and city life; interviews, including two previously unpublished; and meditations on everything from/i>… See more details below
The wildly varied essays in Not-Knowing combine to form a posthumous manifesto of one of America’s masters of literary experiment. Here are Barthelme’s thoughts on writing (his own and others); his observations on art, architecture, film, and city life; interviews, including two previously unpublished; and meditations on everything from Superman III to the art of rendering “Melancholy Baby” on jazz banjolele. This is a rich and eclectic selection of work by the man Robert Coover has called “one of the great citizens of contemporary world letters.”
"Barthelme Takes On Task of Almost Deciphering His Fiction" ran the New York Times headline when Barthelme delivered a lecture for New York University's Writer at Work series. That headline could equally well describe many of these abbreviated critical pieces and not wholly forthcoming interviews. The often-reprinted "Not-Knowing" (1982) is a spirited, idiosyncratic analysis of creativitythe search for an adequate rendering of the world's "messiness"as well as a playful, sometimes self-parodying literary performance piece. The essay contains a short "letter to a literary critic" expressing condolences on the demise of Postmodernism, which Barthelme recycled into an unsigned piece for his favorite publication, the New Yorker. Barthelme's many other pieces for the magazine waver lamely between its characteristic wryness and his own fabulist flair, though there is one happy, humorous piece that purports to answer a Writer's Digest questionnaire about his drinking habits. Barthelme also tried his hand at film criticism for the New Yorker in 1979, but his reviews of Truffaut, Herzog, and Bertolucci are surprisingly heavy going, as are his writings on abstract expressionists and contemporary architecture. Editor Herzinger (English/Univ. of Southern Mississippi) has also included a number of interviews with Barthelme, of widely varying quality. The longest interview, a radio serial chat from 197576, seems dated and pretentious (e.g.: "I would not say that Snow White predicts the Manson case"); the most stimulating is actually the transcript of a 1975 symposium with his peers William Gass, Grace Paley, and Walker Percy.
Though John Barth calls this a "booksworth of encores" in his introduction, many of the pieces seem to be merely magazine outtakes and literary b-sides.
- Counterpoint Press
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Meet the Author
The late Donald Barthelme was a longtime contributor to The New Yorker, winner of a National Book Award, a director of PEN and the Authors Guild, and a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. His sixteen books--including Snow White, The Dead Father, and City Life--substantially redefined American short fiction for our time.
About the Editor:
Kim Herzinger teaches at the University of Southern Mississippi. He is the author of books and articles on D.H. Lawrence, modern and contemporary literature, Sherlock Holmes, and baseball, and is now at work on a cultural biography of Donald Barthelme.
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