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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Amateurs (1976) by Donald Barthelme


Book Review
Amateurs (1976)
 by Donald Barthelme

  Amateurs is maybe one of five books I've read as part of the 1001 Books project that doesn't have it's own Wikipedia page.  I'd wager there aren't more than 10 books on the entire list that don't have their own page.  I get it though, I have no idea what to say about Amateurs besides:

1.  It is a book of short stories by Donald Barthelme, many of which were published in prestigious mass-market literary magazines.
2.  The pocket paper back edition I read has a quote from Time magazine calling him a genius.
3.   Not a single one of the stories made any sense.  

   Barthelme is closer to surrealism and dadism then he is to post-modernism.  It just so happens that he was writing at the dawn of the post modern era in literature, so the tack stuck.   But really he is just updating the cultural reference points for a set of narrative strategies (or anti-strategies) that were close to half a century old by 1976.   Really, what we call post-modern in literature is a simply reaction to the realist novel, and realism as a literary ideology.   That attack against realism in literature, which we call post-modernism, is part of a larger cultural attack against reason and the enlightenment which was spear headed by French and German philosophers before and after World War II.

  At the same time, many writers on the experimental fringes of fiction were deeply influenced by the heavy logic of other philosophers like Wittgenstein and Alfred Whitehead, a movement separate from the critique of the enlightenment sponsored by the left leaning theorists in Europe.  In his fiction, Barthelme seems to embrace both the process oriented, Wittgenstein/Whitehead influenced practice of spinning out every logical iteration of a sentence or phrase- something clearly visible in the earliest prose fiction of Beckett as well as the surrealist/dadaist practices of the Europeans.

 So, I suppose, if you were reading this book in 1976, and you were aware of various nascent philosophical post-modernism in France, you would find Barthelme novel, but that is no excuse for hailing the man as a genius, let alone including three of his books in the first edition of the 1001 Books list.

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