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Donald Barthelme, The Collective Shrug

During the final radio interview segment with Charles Ruas and Judy Sherman, Donald Barthelme reads from his first book, Snow White. He also reads passages from his short stories: A Shower of Gold and The Big Broadcast of 1938; both of which were published in his book, Come Back Dr. Caligari.

Barthelme discusses his disdain for incorporating too many references to cultural events into his works. He feels as though his first book contained far too many of them. Ruas makes the connection that the author’s modern adaptation of the classic tale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, can be likened to the surge in collectives during the 1960s. Indeed, the modern femme lives with a group of men, all of whom narrate her story, in turn. Barthelme elaborates on this observation by explaining his decision to create a “we” based narrator and the effects that such an approach can have upon a reader.

They also talk about Barthelme’s unique use of language and how Snow White was a vehicle for linguistic experimentation. The writer admits to Sartre’s influence on him, in terms of writing style. He talks about how parody can be used to infuse a philosophic text in a nonchalant manner; thereby creating a satire in ways that would otherwise be unexpected.

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.