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Postmodernism and the Glass Mountain

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In this study, The Glass Mountain, novel of American postmodern writer Donald Barthelme will be explained by analyzing with postmodern elements such as fragmentation, metafiction, pastiche and black humor in the story of the novel. Here, only techniques that will be realized including postmodern strategies will be analyzed. In this context, how the term postmodernism first emerged will be explained and elaborated, and then some of the outstanding features of Donald Barthelme’s above-mentioned chosen work will be examined to illustrate the claim. Postmodernism began in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Second World War led directly to the rise of postmodernist literature. In addition to the terrible violence Nazism, the atomic explosion has undermined traditional styles and values and has created spiritual crisis and suspicious mood after the Big War in the western world. Confusion has spread to America also; a new cultural trend especially in literature, postmodernism was born.

Donald Barthelme (1931-1989) is an American writer known for his entertaining, postmodernist, short fiction style.  Much of Barthelme’s success lies in his understanding and interest in the social realities of American culture. Barthelme treats issues and ideas such as the disintegration of American culture, alienation and the death of the past. Barthelme’s basic skepticism and irony distanced him from his belief in the power of modernists to regenerate the power of art, and many critics have classified him as a postmodernist writer. Barthelme wrote works such as The Dead Father (1975), Glass Mountain (1979), Paradise (1986) and The King (1990), including Snow White (1967), which were admired by postmodernist writers. He has published four novels and over a hundred short stories throughout his life. As an important writer, in experimental fiction, Barthelme has created unconventional, contemporary language and culture stories that bring together incompatible elements; Glass Mountain is one of them.

Glass Mountain is based on creating a parody. Ironical parody reflects the success of postmodernism. In Glass Mountain Barthelme uses postmodern skills. He criticizes postmodernism, strikes a powerful blow to interpret and govern the world through unitary logic and transcends modernism. Glass Mountain, which is the masterpiece of postmodern literature as an advocate of openness and diversity or as universal rules, advocating innovation and originality, covers almost all postmodern features. However, in this study we will consider especially features such as pastiche, fragmentation, black humor and metafiction. The Pastiche is “combining or joining multiple elements”. It can be seen as a representation of chaotic, “it can be interpretation to postmodernity situations and it can be an original narrative or a combination of more than one species to form pluralistic or pluralized aspects of postmodern society”.

The Glass Mountain is a typical work of pastiche in spite of its length. Barthelme breaks all the elements of time, space and language structure into pieces and breaks the conventional fiction rules and then glues them. In addition Barthelme pastes some symbolic famous lyrics; quotes of fictitious characters, technical terms and excerpts from tales, making references difficult. The pastiche of intrasentential elements, the pastiche of the sentence, as well as the common color terms in the 30th paragraph, for example: “The pavements were full of bright colored dog shits: okra, Mars yellow, sienna, viridian, ivory black, crazy rose.” Another example is the names of 19 knights. In paragraph 63 there are those who cannot climb the mountain. These fragments combine a discontinuous and concurrent story before each paragraph, such as deliberately marked numbers. With such various pastiches, Barthelme makes a powerful sense, ridiculing ridiculous western culture as well as traditional literary forms. In both forms and content, chaos is created that gives readers a whole new taste.

Fragmentation: The first impression of fragmentation in Glass Mountain is up to 100 long paragraphs, some is 6 or 7 sentences, and some are just as short as one word. Only combination of numbers takes place of the logical relationship between each sentence. By this way, the feeling of fragmentation becomes more intense by breaking down the consistency of the narrative. From paragraph 65 to paragraph 68 we can’t find anything logical. Barthelme builds up the impression of the readers with temporal skewness, changing the perspective of the narrative and the strange quotations of unknown origin and the feeling of a fragmented world by using the expectations of the readers from story. However, this is not only a fragmentation, as in the observations of postmodern editors, but the reflection of an irrational postmodern world. Another typical case is the frequent use of postmodern devices such as multiple repetitions, pastiche and collage; it reveals the fictional nature of this story. The stories of Barthelme generally avoid traditional plot structures based on a continuous accumulation. The seemingly disinterested detail, that is, the discontinuity in the narration, subverts the reader’s expectations.

Barthelme creates a desperately shattered oral collage. Glass Mountain is no exception. Throughout the story, climbing was intertwined with the pieces of the tale. In a widely repeated comment, Barthelme says; “Parts are the only forms I trust”. His pieces and collages are both linguistic (e.g. social-science jargon) and visual (“little picture”). In Black Humor, it is common for postmodernists to treat serious issues in a fun and humorous way, that is, irony, volatility and behavior. Black humor is seen as a dominant attitude that penetrates the postmodern literature; by this way postmodernism can be better expressed or interpreted. At Glass Mountain, there is a tearful, violent, bloody irony, volatility and black humor, and the postmodern world appears in front of readers. For example, in paragraph 10, it is nothing but “gathered at the bottom of the mountain to give my testimony”, “courage”, “Ass”, “Stupid bitch”, “better than a hit in the groin”.

“Better than a dime in the eye with a sharp stick” (ibid), “Better wet fish than a pin on the belly” (ibid), “A better stone than a stone in intelligence”,“Can’t he make a leap now when he falls?”and “the fart-faced fool“(ibid). Exaggeration like these words indicates that the reader is indifferent and incomplete.The textual arrangement of The Glass Mountain, the 100 paragraphs which of each sentence as an independent and deliberately numbered, are exactly examples. Obviously Barthelme plays on such words with innovative creation. For example, in paragraph 30 “The pavements were full of dogs. Bright colors: mustard, umber, Mars yellow, sienna, viridian, ivory black, rose madder.” (Barthelme, 1978, s.89) In the story, deciphering from the superficial part in three aspects deeper than values and contents, or moral ideals and ultimately the language itselfshows that postmodern world meaningless in the end. And in real all is for nothing.

Metafiction, Barthelme’s metaphyses can be perceived as stories in the first sight. Non-complex aesthetic objects. The narrator of The Glass Mountain tries to climb a large glass mountain, the “pure golden fortress” and the “symbol of the enchanted hoping to reach the beautiful” (180). Climbing a glass tree in the middle of a big city, such an object with a pure golden fortress in the peak is not real. Reality is defined as questioning or an object of art. The role of the author is not to represent reality, but to create it. For this reason, Barthelme’s metaphyses should not be seen as a simple story ratio. The contradiction between “the glass” and “the mountain” in the title is very clear. This “mountain” is a natural thing, and “glass” is man-made or artificial. The extraordinary combination of two different things answers the following questions by the author: Does the natural mountain look like glass?Is there a glass mountain? How does it look? From the beginning of the story, the reader is tried to convince. The destruction of this truth is probably the center of this story.

Similarly, this feature is found in most of Barthelme’s constructs. It is clear from his above account that Barthelme wants to relate the truth to fiction. The reason for this is that one is climbing a mountain, but it is clear that for one, someone has been ridiculed for climbing the mountain. It is not an illusion that the glass mountain exists on the thirteenth street and the eighth street. The ‘glass mountain’ doesn’t really exist, so how does he climb to something that is not? The constructions of Barthelme reflect a situation that exists in society and in many of them, with a discontinuous structure of meaning and fiction that we can say is uncertain and fragmented. In the discussion above, Barthelme’s fiction in this context is “The Glass Mountain”.

In conclusion, this article states that Donald Barthelme’s work, which is the father of postmodern literature in The Glass Mountain, is typical of postmodernism. Considered one of the most admired and distinguished writers of American postmodernists, Barthelme depicts a peculiar postmodern world in The Glass Mountain, which clearly reveals the ugliness of postmodern life and human nature. Most postmodernists reflect the view that the world is not the ultimate goal and is ridiculous. Barthelme, ironically, shows modern western as irregular society in all aspects, with techniques such as bravery, parody, fragmentation, pastiche, repetition, irony, black humor and metafiction in both forms and content. By doing this, it gives readers the opportunity to understand the meaning of reality. Known for his novels as the best surrealist and postmodern short fiction, Barthelme’s “The Glass Mountain”, along with its fragmentation, reflects the social disorder of the modern world.

Works Cited

  1. Barthelme, D. (2003). Sixty Stories, David Gates. Bertens, H. (2001). Literary Theory: The Basics. New York.
  2. In The Fiction Of Donald Barthelme English Literature Essay.’ UKEssays.com. 11 2013. All Answers Ltd. 01 2019
  3. Yu, Jianhua. (2012). Dictionary of American Literature – Authors and Works. Shanghai: Press of Fudan University
  4. https://www.ukessays.com/essays/english-literature/satire-in-the-fiction-of-donald- . barthelme-english-literature-essay.
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