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John Barth

Born May 27, 1930 (1930-05-27) (age 79)
Cambridge, Maryland
Occupation Novelist, professor
Nationality American
Writing period 1930–present
Genres Postmodernism, Metafiction

John Simmons Barth (born May 27, 1930) is an American novelist and short-story writer, known for the postmodernist and metafictive quality of his work.

John Barth was born in Cambridge, Maryland, and briefly studied "Elementary Theory and Advanced Orchestration" at Juilliard before attending Johns Hopkins University, receiving a B.A. in 1951 and an M.A. in 1952 (for which he wrote a thesis novel, The Shirt of Nessus).

He was a professor at Penn State University (1953–1965), SUNY Buffalo (1965–1973), Boston University (visiting professor, 1972–1973), and Johns Hopkins University (1973–1995) before he retired in 1995.

Contents

Literary work

Barth began his career with The Floating Opera and The End of the Road, two short novels that deal wittily with controversial topics, suicide and abortion respectively. They are straightforward tales; as Barth later remarked, he "didn't know they were novels."

The Sot-Weed Factor, Barth's next novel, is an 800-page satirical epic of the colonization of Maryland based on the life of an actual poet, Ebenezer Cooke, who wrote a poem of the same title. The Sot-Weed Factor is what Northrop Frye called an anatomy — a large, loosely structured work, with digressions, distractions, stories within stories, and lists (such as a lengthy exchange of insulting terms by two prostitutes). The fictional Ebenezer Cooke (repeatedly described as "poet and virgin") is a Candide-like innocent who sets out to write a heroic epic, becomes disillusioned and ends up writing a biting satire.

Barth's next novel, Giles Goat-Boy, of comparable size, is a speculative fiction based on the conceit of the university as universe. A boy raised as a goat discovers his humanity and becomes a savior in a story presented as a computer tape given to Barth, who denies that it is his work. In the course of the novel Giles carries out all the tasks prescribed by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Barth kept a list of the tasks taped to his wall while he was writing the book.

The short story collection Lost in the Funhouse and the novella collection Chimera, the latter for which Barth received the National Book Award, are even more metafictional than their two predecessors, foregrounding the writing process and presenting achievements such as a seven-deep nested quotation. In LETTERS Barth and the characters of his first six books interact.

While writing these books, Barth was also pondering and discussing the theoretical problems of fiction writing, most notably in an essay, "The Literature of Exhaustion" (first printed in The Atlantic, 1967), that was widely considered to be a statement of "the death of the novel" (compare with Roland Barthes's "The Death of the Author"). Barth has since insisted that he was merely making clear that a particular stage in history was passing, and pointing to possible directions from there. He later (1980) wrote a follow-up essay, "The Literature of Replenishment", to clarify the point.

Barth's fiction continues to maintain a precarious balance between postmodern self-consciousness and wordplay on the one hand, and the sympathetic characterisation and "page-turning" plotting commonly associated with more traditional genres and subgenres of classic and contemporary storytelling.

Awards

Selected works

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Fiction

Nonfiction

  • The Friday Book (1984)
  • Further Fridays (1995)

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

John Simmons Barth (born May 27, 1930) is an American novelist and short-story writer, known for the postmodernist and metafictive quality of his work.

Contents

Sourced

  • One of the things I miss about teaching is that students would tell me what I ought to read. One of my students, back in the 1960s, put me onto [Jorge Luis] Borges, and I remember another mentioning Flann O'Brien's At Swim Two-Birds in the same way.
    • Boston Sunday Globe, C7 (2 Nov 2008)

Lost In the Funhouse (1968)

  • The nightsea journey may be absurd, but here we swim, will-we nill-we, against the flood, onward and upward, toward a shore that may not exist and couldn't be reached if it did.
    • Night-sea Journey

Sabbatical: A Romance (1982)

  • Marylin Marsh, who had about it with Spain, declared to him [the old Spanish man] [...] But it redounds to your national credit, the then Missus Turner went on in effect - she'd been reading up on reciprocal atrocities in the Guerra Civil - that the sunny Spanish could never be guilty of an Auschwitz, for example. In the first place, your ovens would have died, like our kitchen stove, instead of your Jews, whom you'd got rid of anyhow in the sunny Fifteenth century, no? And in the second place the whole idea of extermination camps would've been too impersonal for your exquisite Moorish tastes. Much more agradable to push folks off a cliff one at a time into a gorgeous Mediterranean sunset, as you did near Malaga - three hundred, was it, or three thousand? Or to rape and then kill a convent-full of nuns in the manner of the saint of their choice - was that Barcelona or Valencia? ( p. 37 )

External links

Wikipedia
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