Donald Barthelme: Mr. Garbage

J.W. McCormack at The Baffler:

BIOGRAPHY AT ITS BEST may only manage to capture the fanny packs and Groucho glasses of an author’s inner world, but sometimes there comes a telling quirk that gives the game away. To wit: a habit peculiar to Donald Barthelme—the legendary square-bearded author of nine short story collections in his lifetime that defined cutting-edge postmodernism for three decades—who, feeling himself flagging after long faculty meetings at the University of Houston, where he taught from 1979 until his early death at the age of fifty-eight in 1989, would lift his wrist to his nostrils and give his cuffs a good quaff, literally sniffing himself awake. Reading through the 145 Barthelme pieces that make up the Library of America’s new Collected Stories, one thing becomes clear: here is a man who knew his own odor. An olfactory Amadeus, as it were, whose works are instantly recognizable not only for their compressed brilliance, offhand erudition, and homegrown internal logic, but for their distinctive scent.

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