Donald Barthelme 1931–
American short story writer and novelist.
Barthelme explores the possibilities and restrictions of language and its uses. His surrealistic work lacks plot, characterization, and point of view as each has traditionally been used in fiction. By using familiar language in unfamiliar ways, Barthelme forces his readers to concentrate on his words as words and ultimately, to question their meaning.
Although often amusing, his satiric portraits of information-crazed individuals blurting words at each other are also unsettling. Barthelme shows us that as words lose their meaning, all forms of communication are subverted and knowledge of self, others, and the universe becomes impossible. His bleak prognosis for the future of language is subverted, however, by the distinction of his stories (many of them published in the New Yorker), his novels Snow White and The Dead Father, and his recent collection Sixty Stories. The quality of his own writing reaffirms the power of language.
(See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 13; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.; Something about the Author, Vol. 7; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 2; and Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1980.)