NOT-KNOWING by Donald Barthelme

NOT-KNOWING

The Essays and Interviews of Donald Barthelme

KIRKUS REVIEW

 What Thomas Pynchon called ``Barthelmismo'' is somewhat lacking in the second posthumous collection edited by Herzinger of Barthelme's miscellaneous writings, which here includes film and book reviews, art catalog essays, and New Yorker pieces. ``Barthelme Takes On Task of Almost Deciphering His Fiction'' ran the New York Times headline when Barthelme delivered a lecture for New York University's Writer at Work series. That headline could equally well describe many of these abbreviated critical pieces and not wholly forthcoming interviews. The often-reprinted ``Not-Knowing'' (1982) is a spirited, idiosyncratic analysis of creativity--the search for an adequate rendering of the world's ``messiness''--as well as a playful, sometimes self-parodying literary performance piece. The essay contains a short ``letter to a literary critic'' expressing condolences on the demise of Postmodernism, which Barthelme recycled into an unsigned piece for his favorite publication, the New Yorker. Barthelme's many other pieces for the magazine waver lamely between its characteristic wryness and his own fabulist flair, though there is one happy, humorous piece that purports to answer a Writer's Digest questionnaire about his drinking habits. Barthelme also tried his hand at film criticism for the New Yorker in 1979, but his reviews of Truffaut, Herzog, and Bertolucci are surprisingly heavy going, as are his writings on abstract expressionists and contemporary architecture. Editor Herzinger (English/Univ. of Southern Mississippi) has also included a number of interviews with Barthelme, of widely varying quality. The longest interview, a radio serial chat from 197576, seems dated and pretentious (e.g.: ``I would not say that Snow White predicts the Manson case''); the most stimulating is actually the transcript of a 1975 symposium with his peers William Gass, Grace Paley, and Walker Percy. Though John Barth calls this a ``booksworth of encores'' in his introduction, many of the pieces seem to be merely magazine outtakes and literary b-sides.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-40983-1
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1997




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