From Library Journal
In his early essay "After Joyce" (1964), the first title in this nonfiction omnibus, Barthelme, America's preeminent postmodern practitioner, made a strong argument for the literary work "as an object in the world rather than a commentary upon the world." The writer, "betrayed by outmoded forms," may find in play "one of the great possibilities of art." A whole generation of writers obliged, among them Gass, Elkin, Hawkes, Coover, Gaddis, and Pynchon. In one of his last essays, "Not-Knowing" (published not long before his death in 1989, at age 58), Barthelme, having shaken off that "rhetoric of the time," admits that much of contemporary criticism robs the work of its mystery, which indeed "exists." These two essays, offered back to back, buoy this collection, which includes later interviews that demonstrate for writing students his methods, influences, etc. Much of Barthelme's New Yorker commentary (on art, politics, living in Greenwich Village) seems dated now. Important for literature collections and writing programs.?Amy Boaz, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"Art is not difficult because it wishes to be difficult, but because it wishes to be art," wrote Barthelme in the title essay of this collection. That essay, a meditation on art as a necessary process of "not knowing," could be called a full-fledged aesthetic, a major statement, or perhaps even a synopsis of Barthelme's writing process and hopes for his art. But one could just as easily say that it is simply Barthelme playfully pondering and calling into question how we see the world. By exploring and incorporating the details of daily life and news, Barthelme produced innovative essays, hilarious commentaries on society, and astute reviews of art, literature, and film. Not-Knowing
is a posthumous gift, and Kim Herzinger, who studied and carefully flushed out these writings from many sources, has given the reader a chance to "hear" Barthelme through interview and discussion-panel form. While this collection provides an opportunity to read Barthelme's previously unpublished work, it also encourages new generations of writers and readers to encounter Barthelme's wit, originality, sensitivity, and skill for the first time. His diversity of subject matter and oddities of expression and the marvelous spin he put on ordinary life all add to the overall impression that Barthelme's death left a wide gap in our contemporary writing, one that is not likely to be filled anytime soon. Janet St. John