資料彙整   /   作家  /  John  Barth  約翰.巴斯
John  Barth
資料提供者:Kate Liu/劉紀雯
關鍵字詞:Postmodern novel;postmodern theories

John Barth

 Major Work and Themes


 Major Themes and Characters

 Barth on Fiction and Reality

 Major Work and Themes

"Barth's novels come in pairs---or, as he would prefer to call them, "twins." Each pair of novels functions according to the same principle: the first "exhausts" a particular genre, the second transcends or "replenishes" it..."(Ziegler 17)
Each book offers positions that refute, or at least qualify, the positions offered in the work preceding; taken collectively, they achieve the effect of a constant grasping for meaning, on the one hand, balanced by the realization that all meaning is projected--invented, rather than discovered, and therefore relative and contingent--on the other. Yet B's dramatization of the desire to imagine alternative philosophical positions, which is really the desire to invent alternatives to "reality," affirms the value of such imaginings....In B's fictions the passionate desire to construct meaning--not meaning itself--assumes the status of a universal value. (Harris 7)
Significantly, all B's works end with the affirmation of the value of literary creation. This affirmation is necessary if the reader is to take the work seriously. Art obviuosly represents for the author an alternative to the possible despair over the meaninglessness of existence on one side, and to the passsive acceptance of the status quo on the other side.  .(Glaser-W 210)


Early Work The Floating Opera (1957) & The End of the Road (1958) --both existentialist and realist in content .
"...the self-questioning voice that, teasing at the very role of author, was to become an unmistakable literary trademark in his subsequent fictions" (Ziegler 12)

In his first two novels B directs his attention mainly to the ideas of Nihilism and Existentialism, and he describes through the protagonists Todd and Jacob that no pretensions or false roles can provide an escape from the fundamental meaninglessness of existence. Solely the work of art can perhaps posit meaning. ...(Glaser-W 207)


Second Pair It is with the writing of his novels of the early 1960s, The Sot-Weed Factor (1960) and Giles Goat-Boy (1966) that Barth...learns an understanding of his vocation: to draw from the ontological, perhaps metaphysical, rupture between art and life the energy for his own life and art by variously exploiting the impossibility of their reconciliation. (SW--dynamic picaresque, GGB--static allegory) [Bildungsroman] (Ziegler 12)
 [3rd and 4th novels] If [the heroes] possess at least some knowledge, they are unable to pass it on to their followers. This position induces them to choose the Tragic view of Life as a guideline for their existence. Barth interprets the Tragic View as an acceptance of the polarity and fragmentation of all worldly things and concerns as a universal condition, the human mind being in any case unable to grasp their underlying meaing if there is any. Every individual must estimate what acitons or occupations may perhaps contain a personal value for him and consequently must set priorities in his life according to these values. The kaleidoscopic impressions man gets from the make all his positions slippery and untenable, while laying open to him simultaneously the multifariousness of reality. ...p. 209 Although this outlook deprives man of any transcendental beliefs, it offers to him the possibility to function as the absolute ruler of his own privately created universe..(Glaser-W 208)


The Third Pair Lost in the Funhouse (1968) & Chimera (1972)--Kunstlerroman, the artist's self-reflexive version of the Bildungsroman.
Whereas in LF the character of the fledgling artist, Ambrose Mensch, had to give way to characters who, like Menelaus, are not artists, but become their own stories, in Ch Barth manages to reintegrate the person of the artist into the mainstream if not of life, then at least of literature, by having himself as an author meeting Scheherazade in the "Dunyazadiad" in a timeless realm of story telling.(Ziegler 14) 

The story "Echo"...appears asthe central tale of LF and is the turning-point of Barth's fiction., Up to this point the author had implicitly described his development and gradual transformation into an artist. Now the introduction of the character of Author with a capital A, whose role resembles that of the nymph Echo, left Barth himself free to return to life

In LF and Ch the author shows his profound interest in the role of the artist and the process of artistic creation. Therefore these works exemplify quite clearly the novelist's aesthetics and they prove that Barth enjoys literary experiments.  .(Glaser-W 211)


Fourth Pair  
The two novels that follow, Letters (1979) and Sabbatical: A Romance (1982), return toward realism--...(Ziegler 15)



Novel of ideas Barth himself: 
"To the extent that [my novels] are novels of ideas--and that's a very limited extent--they are that because they dramatize alternatives to philosophical positions" (Alan Prince, "Interview"). 
Morrell 16
It should be emphasized here, however, that The End of the Road is Barth's only primary novel of ideas. The rest are similar to it inasmuch as parts of the action are based on philosophical debate.... [But they are more than that] 
Black humor Bruce Jay Friedman...[the] unifying principle is "Black Humor"

Rather than dramatizing the madness of contemporary society as the Black Humorists, Barth's aim has always been to "dramatize alternatives to philosophical positions," to imagine people with opposing philosophies and then to join them in battle. (Morrell 97-8)

"literature of the absurd" Barth admits that to the extent literature of the absurd "means a literary conceit that is, say, bizarre, grotesque in some way perhaps, nonrealistic or surrealistic, I suppose some of that could be said about SW," GGB, and parts of LF...

"To the extent that the term includes some kind of philosophical attitude that's one brand or another of nihilism, this is, in my case, truer of the earlier books which were, however, done in a manner of conventional realism, than of the later ones where it seems to me the nihilism is not too important in the story." (Morrell 98-9)

Existentialist Novel

The world of the existentialist novel, says Ihab Hassan, is largely devoid of "presuppositions" about "values, traditions, or beliefs." Thus, whatever values man creates, he does so in isolation, and starting from scratch."  (Noland 15-)
The existential novel, says Hassan, is neither "wholly tragic nor truly comic." It cannot achieve the finality and awareness of these forms because there is no finality or awareness in the world it records. ...The existential novelist, therefore, must present this world in a form which contains an awareness of relativity, a form which includes both terror and laughter. Such a form, Hassan observess, is typically ironic, which allows "the recognition not only of irreconcilible conflicts but actually of absurdity." (Noland 20)
What little movement there has been in my own philosophical premises or stances in the last 25 years, has been from that kind of naive Nihilism, Absurdism, to a perhaps equally naive, but nevertheless heartfelt Tragic View of Life, ...that is that there are finally just diffirent ways to live, but these differences are very important." (Glaser-W 5)

Angst, a feeling which originates from his total solitude when having to face nothingness. Whereas this existential Angst leads to despair in Nihilism, it is regarded in Existentialism as a means to reveal to the human the essence of being, identity, and freedom. In order to discover these phenomena, man must consciously take upon himself this existential Angst. 

Fabulation definition & examples
With the 1967 publication of The Fabulators by Robert Scholes, that focus [on themes] began to shift. British and American writers such as Barth, Scholes maintained, takes an especial delight in formal design for its own sake, an observation that almost singlehandedly redirected critical attention away from them[e] toward B's formal inventiveness. (Harris 4)
As Scholes explains the word, it signifies a narrative in which the author has had great joy arranging words, designing structures, developing ideas. Whether the ideas are optimistic, pessimistic, or whatever, makes no difference; the joy in developing them, a joy that very often displays itself as humor, is the same. (Morrel 99)

e.g. Floating Opera its complex form of interflowing subplots.

[the narrator's] love of implication, language, and design

The End of the Road not a full-blown fabulation because of its lack of elaborate design, it is almost one... Regardless of the [fabulative principles articulated by Horner], ER is more like a novel of ideas than a fabulation. 

[The others] have that extravagant artifice which The Road does not have and which makes the rest fabulations (Morrell 99-). 


The elaborate structures of Barth's fiction (except ER) tend to have an importance of their own also. 

FO--the interflow of plot is an image of the way life works

SW--the enormous plot complications that are tied neatly at the end are a representation of the distortion we normally mkae out of life...

GGB--wheels within wheels


The balance and order of these extravagant designs are soothing and resolving; they give a feeling of wholeness, a feeling that one is certain came to the man who arranged them, both the writers within the fictions and the writer of the fictions.

That is what fabulation is all about: a delight in putting together and balancing and implicating and designing. The process is at heart a rejection of life and the world in favor of the life and world of art...and the process is demontrated in the mov. of B's fiction away from the real world of FO and ER, through the fantastic world of SW and GGB to the universe of language in LF...
a dead end to abstract language. (ER--a dead end of realism)
a new direction--away from pessimism toward a full-hearted embracement of life, esp. love, and a reliance on writing not as an anodyne to painful living but as a metaphor the truth of which is taht the joy one can take in words is the same as the joy one can take in everything.  (Morrell 113)


 Major Themes and Characters
main characters
Early they are enamored of the world, happy, carefree, curious [e.g. Todd, Eben, the sperm]

But then something horrid destroys their joyful innocence--they let their curiosity get the better of them, they start thinking about things too much, and before long they are mixed up in such dizzying complexity that they come near to falling into what ...Ebenezer Cooke calls the pit.

Todd--broods about his heart disease until he decides to kill himself.

Jake--about the lack of reasons for action--paralyzed

Eben--about the too-many reasons for action--paralyzed

Giles--about the meaning of life until he twice destroys the university with his counsel, is constricted by paradox and his mind almost cracked

the sperm--about the meaning of his journey  (Morrell 101-)

main characters' dilemma Barth summed up his protagonists' dilemma this way: An imaginative enough temperament, given a liberal enough education, may find itself bound between two great premises of Western civilization: the lesson of Socrates, that the unexamined life isn't worth living, and the lesson of King Oedipus, that the well-examined life may turn out to be unlivable. (Morrell 102-03)
main characters' masks/roles
So when B's protagonists examine their lives and their world until everything becomes intolerably complex and overpowering, they escape by shifting their characters and distorting their situation, by putting on masks to face what they are up against.
e.g. Todd-- a rake, saint, cynic, and relativist.
Horner--a nihilist, an "owl, peacock, chameleon, donkey, and popinjay"
Eben--a gentleman, poet, and virgin
Giles--a student, hero, and Grand Tutor

The trouble is that the protagonists are not always able to come up with viable roles to play...--crisis

(Morrell 103-04)
main characters' crisis (1) [Todd's] main crisis occurs when the mask of cynicism no longer hides his mind from his heart, and he is never all right again until he assumes the new mask of relativist.

Horner--keeps in motion by practicing a variety of roles...then he nearly immobilizes himself because, as the Doctor points out, he gives himself the "wrong part" to play, that of penitent instead of villain....[his new role] autobiographer.

Eben--adheres too much to his role of moral innocent, and the crisis comes when he realizes how much harm he has done himself and others by persisting in that role.---the role of penitent. 

(Morrell 104-05)
main characters' crisis (2) Giles--finds himself to be the wrong kind of Tutor.

Storytells in LF--the crisis in their lives a continuing one--what and how to keep writing--since to stop would mean getting lost, pining away, or killing themselves in the funhouse of the world.

(Morrell 104-05)
(v.s. cosmopsis)
Each book brings its hero in contact with a mythotherapist par excellence: Captain Adam, the Doctor, Henry Burlingame, Harold Bray, Proteus, each so equipped with multi-personalities that none is ever caught with a mask down. They are what H. Burlingame describes himself: Cosmopholites, Creation, Cosmic Lovers...

Their Cosmophilism is at one end of a spectrum, the opposite of which is Cosmopsis; both are based on a knowledge of the world's complexity, but mobility is the nature of the first and paralysis of the second...In between, each protagonist vacillates, now paralyzed, now relatively fluid.

(Morrell 106)
mythopoeic vision(1)  The central idea of the mythic, as Joseph Campbell and others have demonstrated, is cosmic harmony, unity in multeity, and this idea recurs implicitly or explicitly in each book.

Barth's first two protagonists, terrified by the unity they glimpse, retreat behind a shield of words.

SW--Henry Burlingame deliberately seeks cosmic harmony,

GGB--George, transcending categories, achieves it.

The problem of the mythopoeic writer is how to translate mythic intimations, which are finally ineffable, into words capable of evoking that which may not be articulated. Barth's next two books, LF and Ch, address this difficulty, the former focusing primarily on the relationship between sex, language, and myth; the latter, by far the most "socially conscious" of Barth's first six books, showing how myth may inform life as well as art.
(Harris 7)

  Letters, ..., completes this return to the world while affirming that it is a worded world after all. Language, properly employed, is the mythic though perhaps not mysitc ligature connecting man, time, and world in a dynamic unity.
(Harris 7)


 Barth on Fiction and Reality
American novelists 
of the absurd
American novelists of the absurd...while they sometimes exagerate "reality," sledom feel the need to distort it beyond recognition. In fact, they usually don't imitate "life" at all, but other novels, other forms, other styles. ..."make the artifice part of your point" (Barth qut in Harris)
"If you are a novelist of a certain type of temperament, then what you really want to do is re-invent the world... God wasn't too bad a novel, except he was a Realist...This implulse to imagine alternatives to the world can become a driving impulse for writers. I confess that it is for me. So that really what you want to do is re-invent philosophy and the rest--make up your own whole history of the world." (Barth qut in Morrell 36)
from his novels
1. "`"`"`"Speak!" Menelaus cried to Helen on the bridal bed,' I reminded Helen in her Trojan bedroom," I confessed to Eidothea on the beach,' I declared to Proteus in the cavemouth," I vouchsafed to Helen on the ship," I told Peisistratus at least in my Spartan hall," I say to whoever and where- I am.  And Helen answered:
   "`"`"`"Love!"`"`"`"  ("Menelaiad," Lost in the Funhouse, p. 150)

2. [This book] is a floating opera, friend, fraught with curiosities, melodrama, spectacle, instruction, and entertainment, but it floats willy-nilly on the tide of my vagrant prose: you'll catch sight of it, lose it, spy it again...
(Floating Opera, p. 6)

3. ...this account [What I Did Until the Doctor Came] became the basis of a slight novel called The End of the Road (1958), which ten years later inspired a film, same title, as false to the novel as was the novel to your Account and your Account to the actual Horner-Morgan-Morgan triangle as it might have been observed from either other vertex. (LETTER, p. 19) 

on self-conscious novel
1. "[one way to come to terms with the difference between art and life] is to define fiction as a kind of true representation of the distortion we all make of life.  In other words, it's a representation of a distortion; not a representation of life....Art is artifice, after all."

2.  If you happen to be Vladimir Nabokov, you might address that felt ultimacy by writing Pale Fire.... If you were Borges you might write Labyrinths: fictions by a learned librarian in the form of footnotes, as he describes them, to imaginary or hypothetical books.  And I'll add that if you were the author of this paper, you'd have written something like SWF or GGB: novels which imitate the form of the Novel, by an author who imitates the role of Author.  The imitation...is something new and may be quite serious and passionate despite its farcical aspect. ("Literature of Exhaustion," p. 72.) 

3. With varying results, they [the critics on postmodernism] maintain, postmodernist writers write a fiction that is more and more about itself and its process, less and less about objective reality and life in the world.  ...
In my view, the proper program for postmodernism is neither a mere extension of the modernist program as described above, nor a mere intensification of certain aspect of modernism, nor on the contrary a wholesale subversion or repudiation of either modernism or what I's calling premodernism: "tradional" bourgeois realism. ... 
A worthy program for postmodernist fiction, I believe, is the synthesis or transcension of these antitheses ("Lit. of Replenishment" 200-203).

From his novels
4.  Oh God comma I abhor self-consciousness.  ("Title," Lost in the Funhouse, p. 110.) 

5. Another story about a writer writing a story!  Another regressus in infinitum!  Who doesn't prefer art that at least overly imitates something other than its own processes?  That doesn't continually proclaim "Don't forget I'm an aftifice!"?  That takes for granted its mimetic nature instead of asserting it in order (not so slyly after all) to deny it, or vice-versa?  ("Life Story," Lost in the Funhouse, p. 114)

1. [Man] is by mindless lust engendered and by mindless wrench expelled, from the Eden of the womb to the motley, mindless world.  He is Chance's fool, the toy of aimless Nature...
Here we sit upon a blind rock hurtling through a vacuum, racing to the grave.  'Tis our fate to search,...,and do we seek our soul, what we find is a peice of that same black cosmos whence we sprang and through which we fall: the infinite wind of space...One must needs make and seize his soul, and then cleave fast to't, or go babbling in the corner...One must assert, assert, assert, or go screaming mad" (SWF, pp. 372, 373)
2. [Burlingame], "I am Suitor of Totality, Embracer of Contradictories, Husband to all Creation, the Cosmic Lover!" (SWF, 536) 

3. My heart, reader! My heart! You must comprehend quickly, if you are to comprehend at all, that those masks were not assumed to hide my face, but to hide my heart from my mind, and my mind from my heart.  Understand it now, because I may not live to end the chapter!  (FO, p. 219)

American Dream
1. There is a freedom there [Maryland] that's both a blessing and a curse.  ... 'Tis philosophic liberty I speak of, that comes from want of history.  It makes every man an orphan like myself, that freedom, and can as well demoralize as elevate.  ( The Sot-Weed Factors, p. 181)
2. ...the crime of innocence,...There's the true Original Sin our sould are born in: not that Adam learned, but that he had to learn--in short, that he was innocent." (SWF, p.801)



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