Commonplace Book · Here, Read

Donald Barthelme on “the ugly sentence”…

“What I like about ‘Paraguay’ [from the collection, City Life] is the misuse of language and the tone. Mixing bits of this and that from various areas of life to make something that did not exist before is an oddly hopeful endeavor. The sentence ‘Electrolytic jelly exhibiting a capture ratio far in excess of standard is used to fix the animals in place’ made me very happy — perhaps in excess of its merit. But there is in the world such a thing as electrolytic jelly; the ‘capture ratio’ comes from the jargon of sound technology; and the animals themselves are a salad of the real and the invented. The flat, almost ‘dead’ tone paradoxically makes possible an almost lyricism. I think my Paraguay is an almost-beautiful place…. Every writer in the country can write a beautiful sentence, or a hundred. What I am interested in is the ugly sentence that is also somehow beautiful. I agree that this is a highly specialized enterprise, akin to the manufacture of merkins, say — but it’s what I do. Probably I have missed the point of the literature business entirely. But ‘Paraguay’ is for me a hint of what I would like to do, if I could do it.”

—Donald Barthelme (1931 – 1989), introduction to “Paraguay,” Writer’s Choice (New York: D. McKay Co., 1974) (via)

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