Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Characterized by a surreal surface that combines in varying degrees elements of the fantastic, incongruous, absurd, and clichéd, this story owes much to writers, such as the great nineteenth century Continental novelists Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoevski, and Charles Dickens, and the great modernists, such as Franz Kafka, Vladimir Nabokov, James Joyce, and Jorge Luis Borges, whose novelistic dreamscapes provide a suprarational way of knowing that is distinctly different from a “realistic” view of the everyday world as apprehended through the senses. In Barthelme’s story, as in others characteristic of the postmodernist mode, the ordinary or existential gives way to the fabulous; fact and fiction, as ordinarily conceived, are blended, and the story draws attention to itself not only as artifact but also as an epistemological act, a valid way of knowing. For Barthelme, as for other postmodernists, fiction is not mimetic, not an imitation of life. Rather, fiction is an act of creation, a shaping and a forming of reality that defines self. One is, according to Barthelme, what one makes. One defines oneself in one’s art. Thus, changes in aesthetic structures can lead to changes in the world around the artist.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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