Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

Intertextuality and Collage in Barthelme's Short Fiction

Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

Intertextuality and Collage in Barthelme's Short Fiction

Article excerpt

Donald Barthelme belongs to the category of disruptive, innovative American writers who have not only abandoned the mimetic narrative modes, but have also engaged in formal experiments that have revitalized the short story genre. In "The State of the Short Story", Susan Mernit1 lists Barthelme as one of the writers who helped to define the modern short story and suggests that he promoted the popular revival of the genre. In the same vein, Charles May2 has placed Barthelme among the most influential postmodernist short story writers who focus attention on the fiction-making process. His short fictions are also acclaimed for promoting new and inventive approaches and for addressing the problems of the postmodern age. As Miriam Clark aptly remarks, his short fiction, distinguished by its "depthlessness, incoherence and ephemerality", falls under the category of the postmodern because it calls into question "metanarratives of self-knowledge and insight".3 Moreover, Barthelme's stories display all the characteristics that Lauro Zavala4 has attributed to the postmodern short story: they are not only rhizomatic, intertextual and anti-mimetic, but also seem to be under construction, such that their different components can be assembled and reassembled ad infinitum. Furthermore, Barthelme's original experiments with narrative structure seem to corroborate Noel Harold Kaylor's opinion that "the innovations through which postmodernism finally gained its success in the United States were in form and structure rather than content and in the postmodernist's inventive alternative to realist representation of the 'world outside the work'".5

Although Barthelme also produced longer fiction, he has been particularly praised for his short stories, which can be described as original collages that explore the textures of postmodern experience. His sense of cultural fragmentation made him resort to the short story genre as the best means of conveying the incoherence of a kaleidoscopic reality. For this reason, his short fiction is representative of the postmodern crisis of perception, the waning of subjectivity, and the shallowness and unreality of postmodern ordinary experience. Furthermore, Barthelme's short fiction is marked by a creative interest in exploring the possibilities of fiction beyond its own limitations. Disenchantment with conventional narrative forms led him to explore new techniques in order to deconstruct traditional forms of representation; and in challenging the ordinary practices of meaning production, Barthelme's fiction points to the essence of the postmodern mode. He experiments with narrative form in such a way as to emphasize the supremacy of form over content and to make it the very subject of his fiction.

Barthelme resorts to collage and intertextuality as powerful techniques that enable him to insist on the story as artifice and also to privilege the artistic process at the expense of the finished work. Carl Malmgren cleverly draws attention to the relationship collage established between the artwork and reality when he points out that collage not only challenges mimetic aesthetics, but also represents an arbitrary, open system with crumbling boundaries.6 This description of collage is linked to Graham Allen's ideas about intertextuality. This critic claims that postmodern fiction resorts to intertextual practices in order to highlight and control the tension between fiction and reality.7 It seems obvious that Barthelme uses both techniques in an attempt to emphasize the notion of literary texts as constructed artifacts pointing to the dynamics of artistic creation. Thus, he conceives his short stories as complex intertextual spaces where collage and intertextuality work on the metafictional paradox between the construction of a fictional reality and the laying bare ofthat illusion.

Barthelme has published about eight collections of short stories. This article focuses on several works excerpted from Sixty Stories? …

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