beyond the pale - Donald Barthelme

Submitted by Susan Miller on Mon, 12/21/2009 - 08:31.

In the wake of last night's little squabble here on realneo, a friend emailed me with a link to the origin of the phrase "beyond the pale". S/he said that though it was the phrase that came to mind while reading through, she had never looked up the origin. I had looked this up, "beyond the pale", because I was a tireless researcher, learner when I was an artistic director, and one of the works we did - a duet, used this text. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed rehearsing, this work which had even more Barthelme text and a gorgeous tender love duet between the two women. It was like being dressed entirely in silk velvet on a cool day. Ouch, I miss that career some days. Anyway, enjoy this little excerpt...I contend that, spammers aside, probably everyone here at realneo is beyond the pale - me, too.

"Henrietta said: once I was a young girl, very much like any other young girl, interested in the same things, I was exemplary. I was told what I was. that is to say a young girl, and I knew what I was because I had been told and because there were other young girls all around me who had been told the same things and knew the same things, and looking at them and hearing again in my head, the things I had been told, I knew what a young girl was, we had all been told the same things. I had not been told, for example, that some wine was piss and some not and I had not been told . . . other things. Still I had been told a great many things all very useful, but I had not been told that I was going to die in any way that would allow me to realize that I really was going to die and that it would be all over, then, and that this was all there was and that I had damned well better make the most of it. That I discovered for myself and covered with shame and shit as I was I made the most of it. I had not been told how to make the most of it, but I figured it out. Then I moved through a period of depression, the depression engendered by the realization that I had placed myself beyond the pale, there I was, beyond the pale. Then I discovered that there were other people beyond the pale with me, that there were quite as many people on the wrong side of the pale as there were on the right side of the pale and that the people on the wrong side of the pale were as complex as the people on the right side of the pale, as unhappy, as subject to time, as subject to death. So what the fuck? I said to myself in the colorful language I had learned on the wrong side of the pale. By this time I was no longer a young girl. I was mature."

Donald Barthelme from Henrietta and Alexandra in Overnight to Many Distant Cities (ISBN 0-399-12868-9)

I posted another wonderful Barthelme quote from the same book a while back. You can find it here.

The New Yorker has a podcast of Barthelme's story I Bought a Little City read by and discussed by Donald Antrim. More about Barthelme can be found here at Today in Literature.

Cleveland Public Library owns one copy of Overnight to Many Distant Cities.

Invictus and Memory

  Mansfield Frazier has a great column this week--

Thank you, too, Susan for sharing your reflections on the meaning of life beyond the pale.