Phenomenological reading of Donald Barthelme

It was interesting to read Donald Barthelme‘s essay, ‘Basil from Her Garden’ and the critical response from Alan Wilde, ‘Barthelme His Garden’.  These two texts are taken from Facing Texts: Encounters between Contemporary Writers and Critics, published by Duke University Press, 1988, edited by Heide Ziegler.  The Barthelme text is in the Questions & Answers  (Q & A) format.

In his interpretation of Barthelme’s story, ‘Basil from Her Garden’, Alan Wilde takes an aesthetic and phenomenological stance towards the origin of the story’s artistic nature. Barthelme’s own words initially help Wilde interpret the work as the author intended. He then goes beyond the original authorial intention by explaining that Barthelme’s work is dealing with ordinary things, like adultery, women, dreams and doubts… Unfortunately, there aren’t any solutions or resolutions for transcendence of the ordinary.

At the heart of the creative process’ origin is a specific genesis, called the Not-Knowing (Barthelme). Every creative activity stems from this. Barthelme’s work is linked to poststructuralist phenomenology, in which Art and words are parts of the relationship between the world and the mind of the artist/author. This is developed further in the ‘Melancholy Baby’ anecdote (Wilde), in which the audience is the world and the player the one who communicates with the world through variations on the same theme song. The story in itself also deals with things of day-to-day life and this impacts on our consciousness and Q wants to transcend the ordinary, yearning for more.

Highlighted aspects in Wilde’s essay include the narrative format of the dialogue between Q and A and the changing nature of their original rhetorical role. The assertive Q’s Shakespearian soliloquies indicate doubts and from these, his original assertiveness has changed into a weaker questioning model by which A establishes itself as the most dominant of the two.  Wilde’s anecdote about the ‘banjulele player’ strangely echoes the first topic of A’s dream about music but contrary to creating a link between the world (as the audience) and the artist, A (as part of the audience) declines giving some attention to his father. The roles are reversed in the ‘banjulele player’ anecdote as A is the player in need of a connection with the world, through the medium of music and variations of ‘Melancholy Baby’. The connection between the world and people goes both ways and cannot be broken.

Is the story implying that everyone cannot be satisfied with the ordinary? I suppose the story has opened more questions than it answered, which is what Alan Wilde was coming to in his essay.

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