The History of Literature Podcast

180 Donald Barthelme

Donald Barthelme’s “The Balloon” (1966) is one of the strangest and most enduring short stories to come out of the second half of the twentieth century. Filled with Barthelme’s gift for observation and detail, his wild imagination, and his playful wit, “The Balloon” represents for many the work of a postmodern master at his postmodern peak. But who was Donald Barthelme? Why were “The Balloon” and his other stories so popular? And are these postmodern stories interesting merely as a reflection of their era, or do they still have meaning for us today? Mike Palindrome joins us for a discussion of Donald Barthelme and “The Balloon.”

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2 thoughts on “180 Donald Barthelme”

  1. I noticed the mention of Grace Paley five minutes after my mind was already composing this:
    Barthalme is to short precise surreal post-modernism
    Paley is to short precise hyper-realist post-modernism

    Also, I would suggest another way to look at stories like the balloon. Let me say in advance that much of this is obviously obvious. The balloon itself is an event. The event is a metaphor for something which even the narrator doesn’t understand. That is, the metaphor is not understood while the story is taking the place. The comments and opinions of every day people, of authorities, of the narrator their-self: are the judgements of different populations on this event/metaphor. This is why some of those reactions are pleasing and some are annoying.
    So there is a story, but the story is the evolution of one’s understanding of one’s own experience. So the seeming let down of an ending (of creating the balloon being simply a metaphor for lost love) is way over-simplified. It is a story of the lover trying to come to terms with what they and others thought about the stupid banal story of his love.

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