Postmodernism in The Balloon by Donald Barthelme
Donald Barthelme's The Balloon is one of the representatives of the postmodernism movement in the short story genre, and here is why:
Postmodernism is a movement that first started in architecture and then in literature. According to postmodernists, the only reality is the representation itself. Donald Barthelme once said, "Art is not difficult because it wishes to be difficult, but because it wishes to be art." which explains postmodern literature well. This essay will discuss how "The Balloon" by Donald Barthelme is a postmodern text.
According to postmodernists, the way we see things has already been shaped by many other texts, views, and representations. They say that it is impossible to have unmediated access to reality. They also aim to confront the readers with the fact that we are not dealing with reality but the representation itself. Postmodernists draw attention to the fact that what they are writing is fiction %100. They combine high and popular art and believe in "bad taste" mixtures of qualities. Postmodernist texts emphasize the loss of the distinction between what is real and what is imagined. Moreover, in postmodernist texts, the author is no longer considered the originator of an idea. The readers' role is what matters when it comes to producing meaning. The postmodern stories of Barthelme are built on a slow accumulation of seemingly unrelated detail. His stories do not have traditional plots. In his stories, he creates a fragmented collage.
In the first paragraphs of "The Balloon," it can be gathered that the balloon's origins are not known. There is no clear beginning and end. The idea of inflating a balloon that covers forty-five blocks itself shows that this is metafiction. The first paragraph ends with a sentence, "That was the situation, then." (Barthelme, 1968)The second paragraph begins with a sentence that corrects it. The narrator comments on its narration, and this shows that the words used are chosen and put together. The second paragraph continues with how the balloon is just existing there without a reason or a resolution. It can be said that the balloon itself is a representation of postmodern art because it is not showy and high-class. It has a formless structure.
The story continues with the reactions of people. However, although the story has a first-person narration, the writing style does not impose these reactions on the reader. The narrator and the narration style allow for making assumptions and creating alternative meanings regarding the balloon for the citizens and the readers. Postmodern art forms encourage the meaning production of the reader. In the third paragraph, where the word "the meaning" is in quotation parts, it can be understood that there is no one meaning but meaning. Additionally, if the narrator explains the meaning, then people cannot make assumptions and produce meaning.
In the sixth paragraph, one man said, "The big balloon sullied the otherwise clear and radiant Manhattan sky." (Barthelme, 1968). The man makes a comparison between the reality of the balloon and the reality of the sky. Later on, the word "sky" is in quotation marks to problematize which one can be said that the balloon is not as real as the sky underneath. It questions if we have direct access to the sky. In the last sentence of the sixth paragraph, the narrator mentions "original perception." The notion of originality is highly problematic because, according to postmodernists, the way we see things are shaped by other things, so the meaning of "sky" was never pure. Moreover, the balloon changes the meaning of the sky. Now that the sky is less visible, people begin to understand how important the sky is or how accustomed they are to seeing the sky one day. In that perspective, the balloon contributes to the meaning of the sky.
The beginning of the ninth paragraph is different when it comes to the writing style. When stating divided critical opinions, the author chose to write them out of order. This extraordinary style draws attention to the fact that they are different, varied words and opinions of various people. It looks like a collage that is constructed by cutting and pasting randomly.
In the eleventh paragraph, the narrator talks about how the balloon has no pattern and constantly changing. It says that the balloon's fluxations brought pleasure to the monotonous lives of the people. (Barthelme, 1968) Before postmodernism, there was modernism which cared about functionality and organization more than playfulness. However, postmodernism is fun and more relaxed. In the story, the balloon challenges the notion of functionality and introduces playfulness. It changes the organization of space.
In the last paragraph, the readers finally learn the reason why the balloon was inflated. The reason why it was given in the last paragraph is to make readers produce their meanings. The narrator, who is the inflator, has no authority over the meanings assigned to the balloon. This ending is the narrator's version, and it has no superiority, which is important in postmodernism. This technique is known as the "death of the author."
All in all, "The Balloon" was a postmodernist text in every way. It has an unusual plot. It challenges the concepts of reality and representation. Everything about the story is left to the imagination and perspective of the reader until the last part. It has a different narration style which allows readers to produce meanings. It ends with the removal of the balloon, which makes everything go back to how they were.