Category Archives: authors

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under authors

Reception theory

Wolfgang Iser is the main focus in this context, with discussions and comparisons with other essayists (contemporaries and second-generations), like Gabrielle Schwab and Hans Robert Jauss.

If we understand that books and the act of reading are based on a contemporary relationship between readers and the text, then we agree that they interact with each other in a reader-response way.  In the 1960s and 1970s, Wolfgang Iser developped the theory that the text does not simply exist in itself, but exists in a shifting relationship (see above).  There is no fixed interpretation but our own as readers, based on our education, experience and history (Jauss) – thus, the book and our personal interpretation participate in the construction of our selves.

Three groups of thinkers evolved from the reader-response theory:

  1. individualists
  2. experimenters (psychology) – Winicott, Bollas
  3. uniformists – Iser, Jauss, Gabrielle Schwab (2nd generation)

Iser‘s tools for modelling the relationship are:

  • the implied reader
  • the interpretation of blanks and vacancies
  • the affirmative negation (the ‘self’)

I found that Rob Pope’s book, ‘The English Studies Book’ has explained things very simply, in a way that makes it understandable.  The theory is further expanded in Iser‘s own book, ‘How To Do Theory’.

Leave a comment

Filed under authors

Authors to work on

Joseph Boyden Three Day Road

Marina Carr By the Bog of Cats

Joan Didion The Last Thing He Wanted

Louise Erdrich Love Medicine

John Hawkes The Cannibal

Colum McCann Fishing the Sloe-Black River

John McGahern Amongst Women

Tennessee Williams A Streetcar Named Desire

Of course, there are also translations to work on and research methods to apply.  The research should end with a 90-pages long mémoire, not counting the bibliography and further documents.  But I am pleased to see that the MLA standards are to be applied here.

Leave a comment

Filed under authors