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Contemporary American Literature

Course 5_3
Year English minor
Spring Semester 2011
Pro!dr! "odica #ihaila

John Barth $1%30& '
& (orn in #aryland
- his iction set on the Eastern Shore o his nati)e state* irst three no)els $+he
,loating-. +he End o the "oad!! +he Sot&/eed ,actor 0 the same setting. strong
sense o place and ate 1hich is commonly ound in modern Southern iction'
- Influences* Luis 2orges 3 e4istentialism $Sartre. Camus* +he "e(el. +he #yth o
Sisyphus'3 claim to the modernist tradition that too5 root in the American South
through the no)els o ,aul5ner. +homas /ole 1ritten during the 20s and 30s!
1. The Floating Opera (1956) 6 the e4periences o a man recalled on the day in
1%37 1hen he de(ates suicide! 8eath p! 29%: ;(lac5 humour. <a==. parody o Camus.
2. The En of the !oa (195") 6 another nihilistic e4istential )ie1 o
e4perience set in a tra)estied con)entional lo)e triangle!
#. The $ot%&ee Factor (196') 0>run5 +a(acco Agent 6 more antastic and
unnier in its lusty parody o an 19
century picares?ue tale $satiri=es con)entional
historical iction'! 8e creates the lie and times o E(ene=er Coo5 $an English man to
)isit #aryland $author o the satirical poem +he Sot&/eed ,actor. pu(lished in
London in 1709' 0 a ictitious (iography. parody o history!!
(. )ost in the Fun *ouse+ Fiction for ,rint- Tape- )i.e /oice (196")0 1a2es
hi1 a leaer of 31erican post1oernis16 consists o 1@ pieces o iction related
in part (y their concern 1ith 1hat happens 1hen a 1riter 1rites $he ma5es himsel a
persona' and a reader reads $the artiicial nature o reading'
&strange parodic echoes o his southern heritage3 e4istential interests3 parody o
classical myths $(est in Chimera'3 employs the most complicated ramed stories
- e4! Lie&Story 0 sel&conscious and sel&reerential metaiction! #imesis is
replaced (y metaphor* the un&house 1ith its central mirror&ma=e plunges us into
the nature o iction and the human condition $see also metaphor o (oat&(uilding
in ,loating Apera'! 8is (est attempt to (lur the (oundaries (et1een art and lie.
imagination and reality. to e4plode realism!
&in part 3 he addresses the reader* Bthe readerC You dogged. uninsulta(le.
print&oriented (astard. itDs you E am addressing. 1ho else. rom inside this
monstruous ictionF
5. Once 4pon a Ti1e a Floating Opera (1995)% postmodernist re&1riting
6. 5o1ing $oon. 3 6arrati.e (2''1) G a consecrated 1riter and an aspiring
one! A replica o the Hames Adams ,loating +heater G a sho1(oat 1ith a (anner*
BComing SoonFC $See re)ie1 in I+2"'
7eneral characteristics of his 8or2 p. 1'5 (Bate) *
& more interested in ho1 a story is told than in the story itsel
& 1here Pynchon deludes the reader (y alse traits 2arth ta5es the audience into a
carni)al un&house ull o distorting mirrors
& realism is the enemy
& uses rele4i)e de)ises $all his (oo5s'
& li5e 2ello1* e4istential. themes o escape and 1ondering
The Floating Opera (1956) G irst no)el G 2arth* Bstudies in nihilismF. a nihilist
& the account o a man. +odd Andre1s. trying to esta(lish the e4planation o a day in
1%37. Hune 21 or 22. 1hen he decided to commit suicide and then changed his mind!
- he preser)es a certain amount o uncertainty in his account and does not commit
himsel to historical chronology! $postmodernist ontological uncertainty'
- postmodernist naming as story&telling $+odd' p!3
&8is idea* no e4planation can (e inal and conclusi)e $postmodernist anti&
essentialism' he ound this out 1hen he tried to e4plain the apparently ine4plica(le
act o his atherDs suicide in an En?uiry $details o his atherDs lie' metaiction
sel&rele4i)eness& +itle o his En?uiry* An Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding
the self-destruction of Thomas T Andrews, of Cambridge, Maryland, on Ground Hog
Day !"# $More %s&ecially into the Causes Thereof'
To (oth character and author demonstarting his reedom to arrange his o1n lie (y
the 1ay he 1rites a(out it $postmodernist* ludic character o art. constructedness. simulacra'!
& unusually a1are o the ar(itrariness o the iction&ma5ing process and the pro(lems that
(eset any narrati)e ordering or e4plorations o those 1a)es o accidents that ma5e up a personDs lie
& no (elie in <ustice. la1 0 a pure game
&8is attitude to his routine e4istence is cynical $a parody o purposeulness' !
Parody o e4istentialist iction $suicide'
Bnothing is intrinsically )alua(leF
& sel&consciousness a1are o the B1ardro(e o mas5sF people dra1 on or their
apparent emotions and reactions
& Andre1s a(le to mo)e and act at all (y adopting a series o mas5s! BEt is a matter
o attitudes. o stances&o mas5s. i you 1ish though the term has a pe<orati)eness that
E 1onDt acceptF
& he attains a complete autonomy o inner sel rom en)ironment. (eing immune to all
emotional stimuli $presence o mirrors ha(its o relection. )acates the sel.
multiple sel)es'
& imperect communication (et1een himsel and his ather in En?uiry!
&#imesis replaced (y metaphor* +he metaphor o (oat (uilding $his no)el
En?uiry 0 (oat (uilding'

sailing a1ay 0 image o his yearning the light as real ?uest $the American dream'
1ish to create oneDs o1n uni?ue orm or structure he ne)er inishes his (oat
8is preoccupation 1ith system&(uilding 1hich ser)es to e4clude him rom the
element in 1hich he should li)e $to reproduce e4istence in patterns o rational
,irst 2 (oo5s playulness $closer to <a== and to the (lac5 humor o the 50s!
+hey parodied the e4istential mo)ement $tendency o European 1riting at the end o
modernism' 2arthDs comic response to e4istentialistsD deense o suicide
En %nd of the (oad pushes SartreDs )ie1s o commitment and protean
reedom to sardonic e4tremes $8eath p! 300@'
Fa.orite 0 the practice o framing seemingly e4hausted literary modes
(y re1or5ing them rom dierent perspecti)es to rene1 them and thereore replenish
the literary tradition !
#a<or contri(ution to postmodernism his use o parody and rame3
parodic echoes o his Southern heritage
B B B B e4istential interests
o classical myths
' &#E+A,EC+EAI