Monday, November 2, 2009

The Emerald – Donald Barthelme

Donald Barthelme April 7, 1931 – July 23, 1989

I wrote rather recently about Barthelme and the struggles I had with him as an author...I guess I should say with his particular story that was contained in BASS 1979.

Coming across “The Emerald” as the first story within this edition of the BASS, I figured it was a sign that I needed to give him a second chance. I’ll admit that I wasn’t looking forward to reading this selection, and about ½ through the reading, I became quite discouraged and upset either with myself or with Barthelme.

It wasn’t until I finished the entire story that I realized the importance of this man. Yes, this story is only the second story of his that I have read, but this story, the form that it is in, not necessarily the message it conveys, (if one is conveyed at all) is what I found to be important here.

And, I’m not even sure if the word “form” is the correct word to use when I refer to how this story is presented.

What I am attempting to say, is that it is important to ingest a little poison from time to time. In literature, and in life.

The poison you take, either willingly or by mistake will make you sick for a moment but ultimately it will render your organism stronger once you have broken through to the “other side” and find yourself “normal”. But, your position of “normal” has been reset. You will never again be what you were before you took that poison – you are forever changed – a change that my not be at first apparent, but may emerge later in life.

When I spoke of transcending the mind in my previous posts, I had no idea that this particular story would align itself with my idea of transcendence.

I would venture to say that this particular story, at least for me, is about as close as you could get to a literary psychedelic trip. Again, I should qualify this statement and say that this thought is from my perspective

– now –

which of course will be changed forever – and I may, very will ingest, some more poison in the future that will set me back to thinking about what I think to be a transcending event.

I am not concerned with the actual message Barthelme is trying to relate to the reader. I just am taking in the free structure, the nonsense, the diction, the choice of it flows together, and then dis-joints.

I’m glad that I had the chance to take this little hit of literary acid. It opened my eyes and mind to a new frontier in writing – I don’t feel that I had recognized that I had confined myself in a cage of what I thought the short story should be structured as. I need to remember that the form is quite nebulous...and I need to explore and attempt to understand all the shapes, dimensions and forms that it can be delivered.

-Sidenote- but is it really nebulous? Is there a predefined structure to the short? Who sets the rules? Why must they be followed?

As much as I like to think that I am open minded, and as much as I train myself to look at every situation from the opposite side or at least from another angle, I am a little upset with myself that I failed to see that the position of this story was strategically placed in order to set the reader up for the following shorts in the volume.

Elkin has opened the door for me (or the reader) to walk down a path of literature that I may not have recognized in previous readings of short stories. More specifically, stories from my time – the early 2000’s- through today.

The funny thing is, he is opening this door in the past (1980) and I have been stuck in the future. (Present day)

So it has taken a dead author, acting as an editor, to introduce me to another dead author, to educate me in the expansiveness of writing – 29 years in the past.



Score 8 out of 10.

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