Page 19


Barthelme’s response to McMurtry’s answer to Barthelme’s review of McMurtry’s Moving On Down the street at the service station, people of all races, creeds and colors were pointing at the sky and crying, “Houston smells like a crotch male or female?” I’m only doing this for my biographer. Boring you, I mean. You’re interested in Ben Barnes, I’m interested in my biographer. Leaving him a wide trail to follow. Making sure he doesn’t think for himself. Nothing protects against foolish biographers. No cocoon of literary sanctity for the tight-assed, superliterate, goodoldboy, nit-picking, Cain-branded rodeo fanatic. Why must Texas “develop a literature?” Does Minnesota have a literature? Oregon? A famous Oregonese? We have our own pro football teams and our own Astrodome. Why can’t we partake of everyone else’s literature? We might even learn to participate. THERE AREN’T any superliterates, yell, or if there are, they don’t control the means of production and exchange, so you shouldn’t worry. Some fools enjoy reading books, true; but they drink beer, too. And watch television. I know it’s probably Oedipal problems which drive me to ask, but, if one can’t write carefully, could one read carefully? Does one give a FIG? My review of Moving On, a masterpiece of restraint, appeared in the Observer Jan. 8. It will answer all objections to itself enumerated so far when it is read carefully. It will also tell you lies and give you sugar candy. “Long novels are sloppy to write.” Long novels “contain, of necessity, so many colorless, ordinary sentences.” No they aren’t, no they don’t. Tender Is the Night for example. Wrong, wrong, about hippies and pots. I listen to “hippies” at 9, 1, 5, and 9 and they never say hippies or pot. “Male or female?” they say. A hippie calls on the telephone: “Let’s go smoke some pot,” he says. “You’re not a hippie,” I say. “Right,” he says, “I’m Eric Sevareid. How did you know?” Some serious, weighty material: Points 7 and 16 contain each a flash of validity. For instance. It is correct that I should have quoted the ten things Patsy Carpenter was sick of instead of replacing them with dots. The surrounding matter is nonsense; I did not ask that the author “retreat from paiticularity,” only that he not give the mean annual rainfall in Portland at the appearance of an Oregonese. Communication If one “admires” the fish which I proposed and then goes on to think of “style” as decoration or fancy writing which he doesn’t quite grasp. “Style” is only a useful term when it is used to destroy the concept of “meaning” or “content.” In other words, every word, sentence, paragraph has style. Writing a word on a piece of paper is stylish. “Too much style clots up a novel and makes for a loss, rather than a gain, in vividness.” Style here conceptualized as toothpaste, or lemon-pepper marinade. There is no such thing as “too much style” every piece of writing has the same amount of style as every other. THE SEXUALITY of places seems to me to be a tired conceit. Awash in the fragrant tresses of beautiful undulating Beaumont, flaxen hair and flaming eyes, and the freshest mouth in town. Besides which, places have buildings, rocks, soil, foliage, public transport. They don’t have sex. I never said or implied that people who told me they liked Moving On were ” d ullards.” I said they made “self-deprecating statements” like “I’m a story r e ader.” If they make self-deprecating statements, they have to be at least reasonably intelligent, sophisticated. Fault me because I spent a column and a half trying to announce that any number can play and make reasonably sound judgments on whether “. . . her body was the color of a nicely turned French Fry” is an ugly turn of phrase. Fault me for saying that the words and the ways they are used have something to do with the quality of the story; fault me for having trouble following the “story” when the heroine gets to sleep “unscrewed.” My objections to Moving On highly refined and technical, my objections are that the novel is false, dull, and ugly. In attempting to explain the processes which produce the false-dull-ugly responses, fault me for being refined and technical. The objection is immediate, the objection’s explanation may be technical. Most explanations are. Forgive me if I don’t think the “long novel” \(a literary form whose economy interested me I would have written a short book.” If economy interested the author, Moving On would have been a short book. As it is, the book is five or six hundred pages too long. And finally \(seriousness becomes which one party has called awkward and the other thinks is ‘rhythmic’ is: Anything would be better than prolonged indefiniteness, it seemed to her. Recall that I didn’t comment on “prolonged indefiniteness.” I think justifying a sentence like that on the basis of “rhythm” is abuse of literary license and a pretty crude attempt to con the rodeo fanatic book reviewer. And which is it, is the book sloppy because it’s long or is it sloppy because it’s “rhythmic?” It seems that a writer who makes his syntax “obtrude” so his rhythm won’t is not delivering the full measure of his talent. SOME NITS are especially difficult to pick; you just get your fingers on the little brown bastards and bang! they’re gone. I mean, there was this nit about someone “poking” the child Davey with “one finger” which I was trying to pick. I thought I had gotten him, but here he’s back again. Substituting “a finger” is suggested. “A finger” would have been better, “his finger” better still and a fork would have been outtasite! Go back to the mean annual rainfall. This was one example of a kind of antisocial prose which occurs throughout Moving On, an example delivered in the context of a half dozen other illustrations. And one last note. Now having been smeared twice with the term “literary critic,” I should like to assure anyone who cares, that if I write pieces on books and publish them in The Texas Observer, I do it for the glory and the money, and I only want the money because the Holiday House, selling hamburgers, will accept nothing less. Very truly yours, Steve Barthelme. March 12, 1971 15