Tuesday 23 April 2024

The Genius by Donald Barthelme

Monet's water lilies.

Here is another decent short-story by Donald Barthelme. Enjoyable for the most part but nothing spectacular; nor does it leave much of an impression. Once again, certain pieces from his early repertoire reveal flashes of what might be deemed as 'genius,' (sorry, I couldn't resist), yet they tend to fall slightly short of expectations, especially when compared to his later, more polished literary output. 

"Genius" is an effective satire of intellectual superiority and celebrity status but ultimately, doesn't really add up to much. The fragmented anecdotes of the protagonist's life are amusing and often quite funny. For example, when an interviewer asks him what the most important tool is for a genius, he responds nonchalantly: "rubber cement." An unexpected answer but there's also some truth to it and that's what makes it funny. Furthermore, the tangents and rambling philosophical discourse is pure Barthelme. There is one section where the genius pontificates at length about the shape of art, creativity, Monet's water lilies and seahorses. It comes across like the ramblings of a raving lunatic but it is this madness is engendered by the oppressive forces of contemporary society. For the genius and many other artists in Barthelme's work, creativity is an act of resistance. Through the use of satire and irony, it helps to shape a new reality. 

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