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Barth, John

John Barth (bärth), 1930–, American writer, b. Cambridge, Md. He attended Johns Hopkins (B.A. 1951, M.A. 1952), and, beginning in 1973, taught writing at its graduate school for nearly 20 years. Barth's postmodern novels—experimental, comic, self-referential, and often sprawling—reflect his anger and despair at a world he finds ludicrous and meaningless. While his early books were extravagantly praised, many critics have viewed his later work as verbose and bordering on incomprehensibility. Barth has a particular gift for parody. One of his best-known novels, The Sot-Weed Factor (1960), is set in 17th-century Maryland and deftly satirizes historical novels. His other fiction includes The Floating Opera (1956), The End of the Road (1958), Giles Goat-Boy (1966), Chimera (1972), Letters (1979), Sabbatical (1982), Once upon a Time (1994), Coming Soon!!! (2001), the stories and commentary of The Book of Ten Nights and a Night (2004), the novellas of Where Three Roads Meet (2005), and the end-of-life stories of The Development (2008).

See studies by C. B. Harris (1983) and E. P. Walkiewicz (1986).

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Barth, John (Simmons)

BARTH, John (Simmons)

Nationality: American. Born: Cambridge, Maryland, 27 May 1930. Education: The Juilliard School of Music, New York; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, A.B. 1951, M.A. 1952. Family: Married 1) Ann Strickland in 1950 (divorced 1969), one daughter and two sons; 2) Shelly Rosenberg in 1970. Career: Junior instructor in English, Johns Hopkins University, 1951-53; instructor, 1953-56, assistant professor, 1957-60, and associate professor of English, 1960-65, Pennsylvania State University, University Park; professor of English, 1965-71, and Butler Professor, 1971-73, State University of New York, Buffalo; Centennial Professor of English and Creative Writing, Johns Hopkins University, 1973-91, professor emeritus, 1991. Awards: Brandeis University Creative Arts award, 1965; Rockefeller grant, 1965; American Academy grant, 1966; National Book award, 1973. Litt. D.: University of Maryland, College Park, 1969; F. Scott Fitzgerald Award, 1997; PEN/Malamud Award, 1998; Lannan Literary Awards lifetime achievement award, 1998. Member: American Academy, 1977, and American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1977. Agent: Wylie Aitken and Stone, 250 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10107. Address: c/o Writing Seminars, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 21218, U.S.A.

Publications

Novels

The Floating Opera. New York, Appleton Century Crofts, 1956; revised edition, New York, Doubleday, 1967; London, Secker and Warburg, 1968.

The End of the Road. New York, Doubleday, 1958; London, Secker and Warburg, 1962; revised edition, Doubleday, 1967.

The Sot-Weed Factor. New York, Doubleday, 1960; London, Secker and Warburg, 1961; revised edition, Doubleday, 1967.

Giles Goat-Boy; or, The Revised New Syllabus. New York, Doubleday, 1966; London, Secker and Warburg, 1967.

Letters. New York, Putnam, 1979; London, Secker and Warburg, 1980.

Sabbatical: A Romance. New York, Putnam, and London, Secker andWarburg, 1982.

The Tidewater Tales: A Novel. New York, Putnam, 1987; London, Methuen, 1988.

The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor. Boston, Little Brown, 1991.

Once Upon a Time: A Floating Opera. Boston, Little Brown, 1994.

Short Stories

Lost in the Funhouse: Fiction for Print, Tape, Live Voice. New York, Doubleday, 1968; London, Secker and Warburg, 1969.

Chimera. New York, Random House, 1972; London, Deutsch, 1974.

Todd Andrews to the Author. Northridge, California, Lord John Press, 1979.

On with the Story: Stories. Boston, Little, Brown, 1996.

Other

The Literature of Exhaustion, and The Literature of Replenishment (essays). Northridge, California, Lord John Press, 1982.

The Friday Book: Essays and Other Nonfiction. New York, Putnam, 1984.

Don't Count on It: A Note on the Number of the 1001 Nights. Northridge, California, Lord John Press, 1984.

Further Fridays: Essays, Lectures, and Other Nonfiction, 1984-1994. Boston, Little Brown, 1995.

Contributor, Innovations: An Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Fiction, edited by Robert L. McLaughlin. Normal, Illinois, Dalkey Archive Press, 1998.

Introduction, Not-Knowing: The Essays and Interviews of Donald Barthelme by Kim Herzinger. New York, Random House, 1997.

*

Bibliography:

John Barth: A Descriptive Primary and Annotated Secondary Bibliography by Josephy Weixlmann, New York, Garland, 1976; John Barth: An Annotated Bibliography by Richard Allan Vine, Metuchen, New Jersey, Scarecrow Press, 1977; John Barth, Jerzy Kosinski, and Thomas Pynchon: A Reference Guide by Thomas P. Walsh and Cameron Northouse, Boston, Hall, 1977.

Manuscript Collection:

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Critical Studies:

John Barth by Gerhard Joseph, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1970; John Barth: The Comic Sublimity of Paradox by Jac Tharpe, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1974; The Literature of Exhaustion: Borges, Nabokov, and Barth by John O. Stark, Durham, North Carolina, Duke University Press, 1974; John Barth: An Introduction by David Morrell, University Park, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976; Critical Essays on John Barth edited by Joseph J. Waldmeir, Boston, Hall, 1980; Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of John Barth by Charles B. Harris, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1983; John Barth by Heide Ziegler, London, Methuen, 1987; Understanding John Barth by Stan Fogel and Gordon Slethaug, Columbia, University of South Carolina Press, 1990; A Reader's Guide to John Barth by Zack Bowen, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1994; John Barth and the Anxiety of Continuance by Patricia Tobin. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992; Death in the Funhouse: John Barth and the Poststructuralist Aesthetics by Alan Lindsay, New York, P. Lang, 1995; Transcending Space: Architectural Places in Works by Henry David Thoreau, E.E. Cummings, and John Barth by Taimi Olsen, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Bucknell University Press, 2000.

* * *

John Barth is often called one of the most important American novelists of the twentieth century. He combines the kind of experimentation associated with postmodernist writing with a mastery of the skills demanded of the traditional novelist. A progression toward postmodernism may be traced in his works from the more traditional treatments of his earlier booksThe Floating Opera, The End of the Road, and The Sot-Weed Factor to the wild experimentation that characterizes such works as Giles Goat-Boy, Chimera, Letters, and especially Lost in the Funhouse. In Sabbatical, he returns to the more traditional kind of narrative, with the added postmodernist twist that the novel itself is supposed to be the work produced by the two central characters in it. In The Tidewater Tales, too, the novel is supposed to be the work of one of the central characters. In fact, The Tidewater Tales combines many of the elements of postmodern fiction, including an awareness of itself as fiction, with the strong story line associated with more traditional novels. Barth's works after Tidewater Tales The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor and Once Upon a Time also involve many elements of postmodernist fiction, especially Once Upon a Time, in which the narrator constantly reminds the reader that the work is a piece of fiction.

Although Barth denies that he engages in experimentation for its own sake, the stories in Lost in the Funhouse give that appearance. Subtitled Fiction for Print, Tape, Live Voice, the work marks Barth's embrace of the world of the postmodern in which fiction and reality, and fictitious characters and the authors that produce them, become indistinguishable and in which consistent suspension of disbelief becomes almost impossible. Barth's insistence that some of the stories in this "series," as he calls it, were not composed "expressly for print" and thus "make no sense unless heard in live or recorded voices" is questionable, since they are in print and presumably the author did compose them in written form. Nonetheless, they show Barth's versatility with various fictional forms. Still, even if Barth really intended a story like "Echo," the eighth in the series, only for live or recorded voice, it is difficult to determine whether it is profound or merely full of gimmickry.

Barth calls Letters "an old time epistolary novel," yet it is anything but old-fashioned. In this monumental work, the author himself becomes a fictitious character with whom his "fictitious drolls and dreamers," many of whom are drawn from Barth's earlier works, correspond concerning their often funny yet sometimes horrifying problems. The letters they exchange gradually reveal the convoluted plot that involves abduction, possible incest, and suicide. That postmodernism may have reached a dead end in this book is something Barth himself seems to have recognized with his return to a more traditional form in Sabbatical, a novel with an easily summarizable plot involving clearly defined characters. The Tidewater Tales, too, has a very strong story line, yet like Letters, it has some characters familiar from other works by Barth, including the "real" authors of Sabbatical. It also includes a thinly disguised version of Barth himself, called Djean, familiar from Chimera, as well as many characters from other pieces of literature, including Ulysses and Nausicaa (also known as the Dmitrikakises), Don Quixote (called Donald Quicksoat), and Scheherazade, who is more closely modeled on the Scheherazade of Barth's Chimera than on the heroine of the Arabian Nights.

Along with Barth's movement from modernism to postmodernism may be traced a movement from what he calls "the literature of exhaustion" to what he calls "the literature of replenishment." The antiheroes of his earlier worksTodd Andrews, Jake Horner, and Ebenezer Cookegive way to the genuinely heroic protagonist of Giles Goat-Boy, a book of epic dimensions containing a central figure and plot modeled largely on myths of various heroes, both pagan and Christian. This work may prove to be one of the most important pieces of literature of the twentieth century. The central character, Giles himself, may be lacking a human father (quite probably he was fathered by the computer that controls the world of the novel). As the book unfolds, he proceeds without hesitation to fulfill his typically heroic destiny to " Pass All Fail All. " Whatever victories he achieves are, of course, ambiguous, and his existence is left in doubt.

The part of the book involving the actual narrative of events in the life of George Giles is entitled " R. N. S. The Revised New Syllabus of George Giles OUR GRAND TUTOR Being the Autobiographical and Hortatory Tapes Read Out at New Tammany College to His Son Giles (,) Stoker By the West Campus Automatic Computer and by Him Prepared for the Furtherment of the Gilesian Curriculum." It contains a kind of comic, cosmic new testament, a collection of sacred-profane writings designed to guide future students in the university world in which the body of the novel is set. Narrating the life and adventures of George Giles, the goat-boy of the title, it recounts his intellectual, political, and sexual exploits. The introductory material to the "Revised New Syllabus," consisting of a "Publisher's Disclaimer," with notes from Editors A through D and written by "The Editor-in-Chief"; the "Cover-Letter to the Editors and Publisher," written by "This regenerate Seeker after Answers, J. B."; the "Posttape" as well as the "Postscript to the Posttape," again written by J. B.; and the "Footnote to the Postscript," written by "Ed.," are all part of this fiction.

From the paralysis of a Jacob Horner in The End of the Road to the action of a Giles is a long stride. Horner is paralyzed, he claims, because he suffers from "cosmopsis," "the cosmic view" in which "one is frozen like the bullfrog when the hunter's light strikes him full in the eyes, only with cosmopsis there is no hunter, and no quick hand to terminate the momentthere's only the light." An infinite number of possibilities leads to a paralyzing inability to choose any one. The same kind of cosmic view, however, causes no problem for George Giles, who, when unable to choose between existing possibilities, unhesitatingly creates his own, as he does when he first leaves the barn to seek his destiny in the outside world. Heroically, George realizes that he "had invented myself as I'd elected my name," and he accepts responsibility not only for himself but also for his world.

In Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales, Barth draws heavily on the folklore of the Chesapeake Bay and the CIA. In the former, he writes of the end of a year-long sailing voyage taken by Fenwick, an ex-CIA agent, and Susan, a college professor, in order to decide what they will do with their lives. Their problem's resolution seems trite and unconvincing, but their path toward that resolution is interesting. Like Chimera, Sabbatical is a twentieth-century fairy tale, ending with the statement that the two central characters "lived/Happily after, to the end/Of Fenwick and Susie. *" The rhyme is completed in the footnote: "*Susan./Fenn." Obviously, in this work too it is often difficult to distinguish gimmickry and profundity. Sentimentality also pervades The Tidewater Tales, essentially the story of the ending of Peter Sagamore's writing block, as he and his pregnant wife travel the Chesapeake Bay on their sailboat named Story.

The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor is set partially and Once Upon a Time is set mostly on the Chesapeake Bay. Both are pieces of fantasy, the former loosely structured on the seven voyages of Sinbad the Sailor as told by Scheherazade in 1001 Arabian Nights. Both are also structured, Barth claims in Once Upon a Time, on the hero quest, which he calls the Ur-myth. In fact, in Once Upon a Time, the narrator, who may also be the author, says that all of his works since The Sot-Weed Factor are variations on the Ur-myth, even though he claims not to have known about the myth when he wrote The Sot-Weed Factor.

Both The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor and Once Upon a Time draw largely on the author's life, so much so that the latter repeats many things from the former. The latter pretends to be autobiography masquerading as fiction, but it may be fiction masquerading as autobiography. At any rate, it recounts what its narrator claims both is and is not Barth's early life, his education, his two marriages, his teaching career, and the writing of his books and stories.

Barth then is one of the most important figures in twentieth-century American literature. He has consistently been at the forefront of literary experimentation, consequently producing works occasionally uneven and, as a result of his particular type of experimentation, occasionally too self-consciously witty. Still, he has produced some works that are now ranked and probably will continue to be ranked among the best of this century.

Richard Tuerk

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Barth, John Simmons

Barth, John Simmons (1930– ) US writer and founder of post-modern literary pastiche. His best known novels include The End of the Road (1958), The Sot-Weed Factor (1960), and Giles Goat-Boy (1966). In 1973 he won the US National Book Award for three novellas, collectively entitled Chimera (1972). Later works include Sabbatical (1982), The Tidewater Tales (1987) and The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (1991).

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Barth, John (Simmons)

BARTH, John (Simmons)

Nationality: American. Born: Cambridge, Maryland, 27 May 1930. Education: The Juilliard School of Music, New York; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, A.B. 1951, M.A. 1952. Family: Married 1) Anne Strickland in 1950 (divorced 1969), one daughter and two sons, 2) Shelly Rosenberg in 1970. Career: Junior instructor in English, Johns Hopkins University, 1951-53; instructor 1953-56, assistant professor, 1957-60, and associate professor of English, 1960-65, Pennsylvania State University, University Park; professor of English, 1965-71, and Butler Professor, 1971-73, State University of New York, Buffalo; Centennial Professor of English and creative writing, Johns Hopkins University, from 1973, later emeritus. Awards: Recipient; Brandeis University Creative Arts award, 1965; Rockefeller grant, 1965; American Academy grant, 1966; National Book award, 1973; F. Scott Fitzgerald award, 1997. Litt.D.: University of Maryland, College Park, 1969; Pennsylvania State University, 1996. Member: American Academy, 1974; American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1974.

Publications

Short Stories

Lost in the Funhouse: Fiction for Print, Tape, Live Voice. 1968. Chimera. 1972.

Todd Andrews to the Author. 1979.

On With the Story. 1996.

Novels

The Floating Opera. 1956; revised edition, 1967.

The End of the Road. 1958; revised edition, 1967.

The Sot-Weed Factor. 1960; revised edition, 1967.

Giles Goat-Boy; or, the Revised New Syllabus. 1966. Letters. 1979.

Sabbatical: A Romance. 1982.

The Tidewater Tales: A Novel. 1987.

The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor. 1991.

Once Upon a Time. 1994.

Other

The Literature of Exhaustion, and The Literature of Replenishment(essays). 1982.

The Friday Book: Essays and Other Nonfiction. 1984.

Don't Count on It: A Note on the Number of the 1001 Nights. 1984.

Further Fridays. 1995 .

*

Bibliography:

Barth: A Descriptive Primary and Annotated Secondary Bibliography by Josephy Weixlmann, 1976; Barth: An Annotated Bibliography by Richard Allan Vine, 1977; Barth, Jerzy Kosinski, and Thomas Pynchon: A Reference Guide by Thomas P. Walsh and Cameron Northouse, 1977.

Critical Studies:

Barth by Gerhard Joseph, 1970; Barth: The Comic Sublimity of Paradox by Jac Tharpe, 1974; The Literature of Exhaustion: Borges, Nabokov, and Barth by John O. Stark, 1974; Barth: An Introduction by David Morrell, 1976; Critical Essays on Barth edited by Joseph J. Waldmeir, 1980; Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of Barth by Charles B. Harris, 1983; Barth by Heide Ziegler, 1987; Understanding Barth by Stan Fogel and Gordon Slethaug, 1990; "Technology and the Body: Postmodernism and the Voices of John Barth" by Hartwig Isernhagen, in Technology and the American Imagination, An Ongoing Challenge edited by Francesca Bisutti De Riz and Rosella Mamoli Zorzi, 1994; "John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor as a Prototype of Historiographic Metafiction" by Heinz Joachim Mullenbrock, in Historiographic Metafiction in Modern American and Canadian Literature edited by Bernd Engler and Kurt Muller, 1994; "Before the Law, after the Judgment: Schizophrenia in John Barth's The Floating Opera" by Theron Britt, in Cohesion and Dissent in America edited by Carol Colatrella and Joseph Alkana, 1994; "The Metamorphosis of the Classics: John Barth, Philip Roth, and the European Tradition" by Clayton Koelb, in Traditions, Voices, and Dreams: The American Novel since the 1960s edited by Melvin Friedman and Ben Siegel, 1995.

* * *

While John Barth's literary reputation rests largely upon his work as a novelist, he is most readily introduced to new readers through the short stories in Lost in the Funhouse and the three linked novellas of Chimera. Coming as the two collections did at the end of the 1960s and the start of the 1970s, Barth's experimental fictions "for print, tape, live voice" captured a spirit of mold-breaking, convention-assaulting formal innovation that both sealed off one period of literary history and opened the door to a whole series of others. As much for their exemplary as for their intrinsic merit, both the title story and "Life-Story" in Lost in the Funhouse are among the most frequently anthologized stories from this period in American fiction.

Barth's short stories crystallize on the interface between modernism and decadence. They occupy a moment in literary history when a certain hip awareness of the medium in which one creates threatens to turn opaque, obscuring the work's ostensible subject. His stories may usefully be compared to such postmodernist architectural pranks as the Pompidou Center in Paris, an edifice turned inside out, with all its normally hidden pipes and conduits on display.

"Without discarding what he'd already written he began his story afresh in a somewhat different manner." So begins "Life-Story," Barth's footnote-laden account of a writer grappling with the crushing weight of literary history as he endeavors to write something fresh and true. Writers, readers, and texts tend to be at the center of Barth's fiction; they remind us insistently that they have been written, confront us pointedly with the experience of our own reading, and refuse obstinately to pretend to be anything other than an artifice concocted from words. Yet Barth manages, with surprising success, to be both funny and touching even as he betrays the illusions of his fiction, largely because the writer's and reader's plight (if not that of the characters) is seen itself to be both funny and touching indeed.

Barth manages to turn even self-mockery inside out, and so mocks it: "If I'm going to be a fictional character G declared to himself I want to be in a rousing good yarn as they say, not some piece of avant-garde preciousness" ("Life-Story"). Where characters once clashed in believable settings, now genres do battle in the ruins of rejected and worn-out traditions. The resultant exercises in wit and literary play are not for all readers' tastes, clearly, but to those of "writerly" inclination, Barth's reflexive pastiches and tours de force offer durable delights.

Formal experimentation is pushed to unprecedented extremes in some of these pieces. The first story in Lost in the Funhouse, "Frame-Tale," is a single line of print that runs up the right margin of one page and down the left margin on the other side of the sheet. The reader is instructed to cut it out of the book (!) and tape its ends together with a twist so as to form what topologists call a Möbius strip. If the instructions are followed correctly, the strip reads: "Once upon a time, there was a story that began, Once upon a time, there was a story …, " etc. Barth thus celebrates the ultimate triumph of form over content: perfect symmetry, no plot, and words used to create an analog to video feedback, such as results when a camera is aimed at its own monitor. A similar fascination with the possibilities of substituting the frame for the canvas itself animates "Menelaiad," a Homer-inspired concatenation of nesting narrators whose coinciding interquotations produce such eye-boggling (but ultimately scrutable) lines as "'(") ("(("What?"))') (")"'

A fundamental preoccupation with originality runs through Barth's fictions, even as some of them dare to retell familiar classical stories, such as "Dunyazadiad" (told by Scheherazade's sister), "Perseid," and "Bellerophoniad," the three related novellas of Chimera. The author reminds us repeatedly of the paradox that nothing is so old as the urge to be new. He responds to the challenge by seeking out fiction's own origins—the Homeric retellings, the myths reskewed, the Arabian Nights re-imagined from the distaff side—and making the improbability of improving on them the comic dilemma of his own storytelling heroes and heroines.

Barth's short fiction marks an end to innocence in the willing suspension of the reader's disbelief and the arrival of literary criticism as a mode of fiction itself. In a central passage of "Life-Story" the narrator observes:

inasmuch as the old analogy between Author and God, novel and world, can no longer be employed unless deliberately and as a false analogy, certain things follow: 1) fiction must acknowledge its fictitiousness and metaphoric invalidity or 2) choose to ignore the question and deny its relevance or 3) establish some other, acceptable relation between itself, its author, its reader.

Barth's short fiction playfully and comically explores a variety of those "other, acceptable relations" and does so in full view of the reader—frequently by inserting a version of the reader into the experiment itself. The ludic (or game-playing) stories that result thus embrace esthetic virtues over mimetic ones.

—Brian Stonehill

See the essay on "Lost in the Funhouse."

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Barth, John (Simmons)

BARTH, John (Simmons)

BARTH, John (Simmons). American, b. 1930. Genres: Novels, Essays. Career: Pennsylvania State University, instructor to associate professor, 1953-65; State University of New York, Buffalo, professor, 1965-73. Johns Hopkins University, junior instructor, 1951-53, Alumni Centennial Professor of English, 1973-90, professor emeritus, 1990-. Publications: The Floating Opera, 1956, 1967; The End of the Road, 1958, 1967; The Sot-Weed Factor, 1960, 1967; Giles Goat-Boy: or The Revised New Syllabus, 1966; Lost in the Funhouse: Fiction for Print, Tape, Live Voice, 1968; Chimera, 1972 (National Book Award); Letters, 1979; Sabbatical: A Romance, 1982; The Literature of Exhaustion, 1982; The Friday Book, 1984; Don't Count on It, 1984; The Tidewater Tales: A Novel, 1987; The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, 1991; Once upon Time: A Floating Opera, 1994; Further Fridays, 1995; On with the Story, 1996; Coming Soon!!!, 2001; The Book of Ten Nights and a Night: Eleven Stories, 2004. Address: c/o Writing Seminars, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218, U.S.A.

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Barth, John Simmons

BARTH, John Simmons

(b. 27 May 1930 in Cambridge, Maryland), fiction writer whose novels are both complex human tales and investigations into the nature of fiction.

The son of John Jacob Barth and Georgia Simmons, Barth was born in the Maryland Tidelands area that has been the scene of most of his fiction. He had an older brother and a twin sister, and indeed, twins became a theme in his writing.

After graduating from high school, Barth went to study music at Julliard High School in New York City, where he soon realized that he did not have the ability to become a professional musician. He returned to Maryland and attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, attaining an A.B. in 1951 and an M.A. in 1952. On 11 January 1950 he married Anne Strickland, with whom he had two sons and a daughter. He remained at Johns Hopkins as a junior instructor until 1953, then moved to Pennsylvania State University, where he moved up the academic ladder to the rank of associate professor. In 1965 he went to the State University of New York at Buffalo as a full professor.

His first two novels, both brief, amusing, nihilistic tales, were published in the1950s: The Floating Opera in 1956 and End of the Road in 1958. (A revised edition of the latter, published in 1967, was called The End of the Road.) These did not prepare the reader for his next work, in 1960.

The Sot-Weed Factor (its title is an archaic term for a tobacco merchant) is an 800-page mock epic, mostly set in late-seventeenth-century Maryland. Its protagonist, Ebenezer Cooke (based on a historical figure of that name), is described throughout as "poet and virgin." In the former role, Cooke sets out to write an epic Marylandiad, about the newly discovered land; in the latter, he sets out as an innocent, like Voltaire's Candide, and encounters even more sex, violence, and disillusionment than his predecessor. Cooke is guided by the utterly corrupt Henry Burlingame, a trickster who impersonates many other people during the book, and thus sets a theme of the untrustworthiness of all information, from texts to the evidence of the senses. The Sot-Weed Factor has stories within stories, including the epic Cooke is writing and the remarkably obscene alleged diary of Captain John Smith. The doubt cast upon all these sources leaves the reader with little or no certainty about anything that has happened.

Barth's next novel, Giles Goat-Boy; Or, the Revised New Syllabus (1966), managed to be even stranger than its predecessor. With some simplification, it may be described as an allegorical gospel about a half-man half-goat who discovers his humanity and becomes a savior in a university that represents the universe. Barth, who denied that the book was his own work, presented it as a computer tape given to him, but the book includes an (alleged) note from the publisher to the effect that Barth really did write it. In the course of his quest, Giles must fulfill all of the traditional hero roles. (In fact, Barth has admitted that he referred to Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces to ensure that he included all the stages.) Eventually, Giles has to find three separate answers to the central riddle of life. The book also includes parodic references to the Bible (both testaments) and many ancient myths, as well as a full-length play, Taliped Decanus, which is Oedipus Rex translated to the university setting. At the end, the reader is left even more uncertain than in The Sot-Weed Factor as to what is true in the context of the book.

Having seemingly exhausted the possibilities of the long novel, Barth turned to short stories, publishing the collection Lost in the Funhouse in 1968. These stories likewise turned away from traditional narrative. The book largely focuses on Ambrose, a writer, beginning with "Night-Sea Journey," the saga of the sperm that will unite with an egg to become him. In the title story Ambrose finds the experience of being in the funhouse so daunting that he decides to become an artist, one who creates funhouses for others, and the author demonstrates his ability to create such complex wonders. One tour de force, "Menelaid," includes seven levels of quotation (quotes within quotes), yet remains clear.

Another important Barth work of the 1960s was an essay, "The Literature of Exhaustion" (first printed in the Atlantic, 1967). The essay was widely considered to be a statement of "the death of the novel": the belief that it no longer was possible to write meaningful novels. Barth has insisted that he was merely making clear that a particular stage in history was passing, and pointing to possible directions from there. He later wrote a follow-up essay, "The Literature of Replenishment" (1979), to clarify the point.

At the end of the decade Barth went through personal changes. He and his wife divorced in 1969, and the following year, on 27 December 1970, he married Shelly Rosenberg. In 1973 he returned to Johns Hopkins as a professor. He has written eight more books of fiction, including the remarkable Letters (1979), in which he brings back the central characters from his six previous books.

Barth is often considered one of the patron saints of post-modernism because of the way his fiction calls its own existence into question, leaving the work not a self-contained whole with its own internally consistent truth, but an entity in multiple dialog with the author, the reader, and the rest of literature—perhaps the rest of the universe. The multiple frauds and impostures in The Sot-Weed Factor and the complex apparatus surrounding the central tale in Giles Goat-Boy admirably serve this purpose. Barth should not, however, be seen as merely the constructor of funhouses, complex but ultimately lifeless. He is a writer of wit and grace, and his self-referential structures are inhabited by living beings.

Barth's manuscripts are kept in the Library of Congress and the libraries of Pennsylvania State and Johns Hopkins Universities. He discusses his life in The Friday Book (1984), particularly in the essay "Some Reasons Why I Tell the Stories I Tell the Way I Tell Them Rather than Some Other Stories Some Other Way." There is no full biography of Barth. Important studies of his life and writing include David Morrell, John Barth: An Introduction (1976); Max F. Schulz, The Muses of John Barth: Tradition and Metafiction from Lost in the Funhouse to The Tidewater Tales (1990); and Alan Lindsay, Death in the Funhouse: John Barth and Poststructural Aesthetics (1995).

Arthur D. Hlavaty

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