Monday, September 26, 2011

Donald Barthelme "Snow White" (1965/67)

These are two wonderful passages (almost short stories in themselves) from a Barthelme book I recently finished reading.

" Paul sat in his baff, wondering what to do next. "Well, what shall I do next? What is the next thing demanded of me by history?" If you know who it is they are whispering around, then you usually don't like it. If Paul wants to become a monk, that's his affair entirely. Of course we had hoped that he would take up his sword as part of the President's war on poetry. The time is ripe for that. The root causes of poetry have been studied and studied. And now that we know that pockets of poetry still exist in our great country, especially in the large urban centers, we ought to be able to wash it out totally in one generation, if we put our backs into it. But we were prepared to hide our disappointment. The decision is Paul's, finally. "Are those broken veins in my left cheek, above the cheekbone there? No, thank God, they are only tiny whiskers not yet whisked away. Missed in yesterday's scrape, but vulnerable to the scrape of today." Besides, most people are not very well informed about the cloistered life. Certainly they can have light bulbs if they want them, and their rivers and mountains are not inferior to our own. "They make interesting jam," Hank said. "But it's his choice, in the final analysis. Anyhow we have his typewriter. That much of him is ours, now." People were caressing each other under Paul's window. "Why are all these people existing under my window? It is as if they were as palpable as me--as bloody, as firm, as well-read." Monkish business will carry him to town sometimes; perhaps we will be able to see him then. " 

Donald Barthelme, Snow White, Scribner Paperback Fiction: New York, 1965, 1967. p.61-62
" We were sitting at a sidewalk café talking about the old days. The days before. Then the proprietor came. He had a policeman with him. A policeman wearing a black leather blackjack and a book by Rafael Sabatini. "You are too far out on the sidewalk," the policeman said. "You must stay behind the potted plants. You must not be more than ten feet from the building line." We moved back behind the building line then. We could talk about the old days on either side of the potted plants, we decided. We were friendly and accommodating, as is our wont. But in moving the table we spilled the drinks. "There will be an additional charge for the stained tablecloth," the proprietor said. Then we poured the rest of the drinks over the rest of the tablecloth, until it was all the same color, rose-red. "Show us the stain," we said. "Where is the stain? Show us the stain and we will pay. And while you are looking for it, more drinks." We looked fondly back over the inches to where we had been. The policeman looked back over the inches with us. "I realize it was better there," the policeman said. "But the law is the law. You don't mind if I have just a taste of your stain?" The policeman wrung out our tablecover and tossed it off with a flourish of brass. "That's a good stain. And now, if you'll excuse me, I intuit a felony, over on Pleat Street." The policeman flew away to attend to his felony, the proprietor returned with more stain. "Who has wrinkled my tablecover?" We regarded the tablecover, a distressed area it was true. "Someone will pay for the ironing of that." Then we rose up and wrinkled the entire sidewalk café, with our bare hands. It was impossible to tell who was wrong, when we had finished."

Donald Barthelme, Snow White, Scribner Paperback Fiction: New York, 1965, 1967. p.178-179.

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