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Donald Barthelme, Jumping Around the Lion

Donald Barthelme admits that he has been influenced by film, when it comes to the writing and execution of his works. Some may call it a collage technique, but Barthelme likens it to creating “jump-cuts” within a written work-- similar to editing a video. In this episode, Barthelme reads from City Life, Paraguay, On Angles, The President, Indian Uprising, and Brain Damage. Along with Charles Ruas and Judith Sherman, he discusses his approaches to writing, influences, and inclination to write short stories.

While Barthelme has written numerous short stories, several novels, and even a children’s book, he admits that he holds poetry on a pedestal. In this interview, he part jokingly, modifies that he will transition to being a poet when he retires. In Barthelme’s opinion, poetry is the highest form of writing.

In addition to the poet John Ashbery, he deems Samuel Beckett to be one of the most ingenious writers of our time. Not wanting to be directly influenced by Beckett, Barthelme regards him as “a problem,” or the “lion in his path”. This isn’t to say that Barthelme doesn’t allow the writings of other authors to infiltrate his work.

On the contrary, the writer occasionally practices appropriation, or found text techniques. In several of his stories, with the help of footnotes, he uses directs quotes from other respected writers. Barthelme, Ruas, and Sherman also extend the concept of “borrowing” to objects and characters. They talk about a writer's use of real and fictitious elements in a literary context.

Donald Barthelme (1931-1989) was an original and experimental American writer best known for his essays and short fiction. He grew up in Texas, where he began his career as a journalist. After building several connections with the New York art world, he moved to NYC where he continued to write for numerous journals including: The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review, and The Atlantic Journal. He later returned to his native state, where he continued to work as an English professor. Historical allusions and political events are embedded within his work, as well as notes on his personal biography. Barthelme broke conventional story structures and pushed language to its very limit. Without great success, many have tried to categorize this reclusive writer. Some have called him an “anti-novelist”, others a “minimalist,” a “meta-fictionist,” an “absurdist,” and the “final post-Enlightenment writer."


Historic Audio from the Archives of Charles Ruas


An unparalleled collection of recovered and restored programs from the seventies produced by Charles Ruas, and featuring Allen Ginsberg, John Giorno, Anaïs Nin, William Boroughs, Buckminster Fuller, Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda, and Jorge Luis Borges, among numerous others.