Read The Friday Book by John Barth Online


"Whether discussing modernism, postmodernism, semiotics, Homer, Cervantes, Borges, blue crabs or osprey nests, Barth demonstrates an enthusiasm for the life of the mind, a joy in thinking (and in expressing those thoughts) that becomes contagious... A reader leaves The Friday Book feeling intellectually fuller, verbally more adept, mentally stimulated, with algebra and fir"Whether discussing modernism, postmodernism, semiotics, Homer, Cervantes, Borges, blue crabs or osprey nests, Barth demonstrates an enthusiasm for the life of the mind, a joy in thinking (and in expressing those thoughts) that becomes contagious... A reader leaves The Friday Book feeling intellectually fuller, verbally more adept, mentally stimulated, with algebra and fire of his own."--Washington PostBarth's first work of nonfiction is what he calls "an arrangement of essays and occasional lectures, some previously published, most not, most on matters literary, some not, accumulated over thirty years or so of writing, teaching, and teaching writing." With the full measure of playfulness and erudition that he brings to his novels, Barth glances into his crystal ball to speculate on the future of literature and the literature of the future. He also looks back upon historical fiction and fictitious history and discusses prose, poetry, and all manner of letters: "Real letters, forged letters, doctored letters... and of course alphabetical letters, the atoms of which the universe of print is made.""The pieces brought together in The Friday Book reflect Mr. Barth's witty, playful, and engaging personality... They are lively, sometimes casual, and often whimsical--a delight to the reader, to whom Mr. Barth seems to be writing or speaking as a learned friend."--Kansas City Star"No less than Barth's fiction these pieces are performances, agile, dexterous, robust, offering the cerebral delights of playful lucidity."--Richmond News Leader...

Title : The Friday Book
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ISBN : 9780399129971
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 281 Pages
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The Friday Book Reviews

  • Gregsamsa
    2019-04-03 17:15

    Being a major meta-dude, Barth opens this collection of essays with a mini-piece on book titles, followed by one on book sub-titles, which is in turn followed by a short bit on introductions, by way of introduction. A surprising bit of trivia ends this introduction: he notes that collections such as this usually contain collected book reviews, but this one does not, because, he writes, vows to the muse, made long ago and reasonably well kept, prohibit among other things the giving or soliciting of advertising testimonials and the reviewing of books...Highly unusual. But Barth is like that. Unusual, but no iconoclast, bomb-thrower, or enfant terrible. He is unconventional but quite institutional, specifically re higher ed, where he has worked his whole adult life and where he has set much of his fiction. The first "proper" essay, written for one of those dorky assignments of the "Why I Write" variety by which periodicals hope to publish quick telling snapshots that reveal a writer to us, Barth sets about subverting with an intriguing reflection on language and being a twin. This reminded me of the strange case of Poto and Cabengo, two twin girls who, left alone for most of their early years, created their own private language, organically and independently, speaking it until the age of eight. Barth states that for twins language itself is almost already a second language to the primary communication with one's other half, for whom so much goes without saying: "Language is for getting to know you and getting to unknow you. We converse to convert, each the other, from an Other into an extension of ourself; and we converse conversely."Barth's discovery of literature was late and nonchronological, and it makes me wonder what it's like to delve into Faulkner before Austen, Joyce before Dickens, Kafka before Dostoyevsky. It's difficult for me to imagine mentally constructing a World of Literature without a skyline dominated by the 19th century novel, especially given how modernism and post-modernism are so often contextualized as rebellious or revolutionary, counter to that dominant form. How do those rebels look, I wonder, in a light unshadowed like that?It might be presumptuous to suggest that perhaps this is why Barth's attitude isn't contemptuous of convention--or of almost anything for that matter--but rather is generous and promiscuous, absent the pugilistic pose struck by so many experimentalists."For apprentices, all work is experimental, as in another sense it is even for seasoned professionals. In my own literary temperament, the mix of romantic and neoclassical is so mutable that I hold no particular brief either for or against programmatic experimentalism. Passion and virtuosity are what matter; where they are, they will shine through any aesthetics." (114)Also unlike many other writers with whom he is grouped, he does not bristle at the label "postmodernist." He takes it seriously and attempts a definition, after a few light objections to the way others have, especially as an unsubtle dismissal: "John Gardner goes even farther in his tract On Moral Fiction (1978), an exercise in literary kneecapping that lumps modernists and postmodernists together without distinction and consigns us all to Hell with the indiscriminate fervor characteristic of late converts to the right." [oooo burn--Gardner is the only writer to suffer such digs in this book] Barth describes it as a "literature of replenishment" in an essay so entitled, correcting the previous "literature of exhaustion." He does not assert that it is new, though, and elsewhere quotes from a translated Egyptian Epic's intro:"Would I had phrases that are not known, utterances that are strange, in new language that has not been used, free from repetition, not an utterance which men of old have spoken"That's dated around 2000 BCE.The two main motifs of this book are sailing and Scheherazade, two topics the return to which does not always seem voluntary on Barth's part. At the edges of these essays are the rocky shoals and shallows of the Chesapeake Bay area, scene and setting for the birth not only of storyteller and teacher Barth; he is also a mariner. Scheherazade's model of the frame-tale narrative structure as a way of seeing the mind's way of making sense of a busy day is demonstrated by Barth in a description of the practical necessities of sailing, tasks within tasks within tasks, beginning with a ship's underside needing a new coat: beginning at the bottom, upturned. Given how often sailing and Scheherazade came up I had started to wonder how he would bring the two together; it wasn't nearly as forced as I'd anticipated and came up unexpectedly in an address to a sci-fi conference in Boca Raton.The book ends with the most curiously obsessive piece in the collection, one in which intricate gestational and menstrual mathematics account for the magical number of 1001 Nights. Rather than summarizing such, I think I'll just leave it at that.

  • Mala
    2019-03-29 23:21

    "My aspiration was to become a giant truffle, or one of those stones I used to strike with my spade in my salad garden in the Alleghenies: stones that seem like nothing much until you set about to dig them and find that they go to the bottom of the world. Indeed, that they are the bottom of the world. Bedrock." – From the essay, The Tragic View of Recognition.Where do I begin! I feel like Ali Baba saying "Open sesame" & getting dazzled by the sparkling array of endless riches in the thieves' cave – there is only so much the eyes-brain can absorb at a time, still, Essential Reading for anyone who wishes to win those contentious Goodreads debates (!) that stretch the review threads into hundreds of comments – Barth Is Your Man. Mug up this book. The Friday BookBarth reserved his friday mornings to writing non-fiction in his pleasant red house off Chesapeake Bay. Though most of the pieces assembled here were written over a period of thirty years, the later ones were composed following this calm friday morning rhythm:"if I could revise it to my preferences, the pieces here collected would all have been written on Friday mornings on Langford Creek; then The Friday Book, itself conceived and executed over a year's Fridays, would be my Friday book indeed." – thus meeting the self-referential, self-reflexive, and self-demonstrative qualities – all the Barthian requirements of a "straight-forward" title!Say it straight. Get on with it.Barth's super brain is not so intimidating - his playfulness makes it extremely endearing & we go along wherever his erudition takes us. The fun nature of this collection is evident at the outset when Barth suggests the doing away with subtitiles, intro, epigraphs, & what have you & then himself provides all of these in such compelling writing you wouldn't want to miss a single word! (view spoiler)["The programmatically self-conscious gimmick of this book in its first edition, however, was to front-load it with semi-satirical "front matter" -- subtitles, sub-subtitles, commentaries on titling and subtitling, author's introduction and table of contents and epigraphs, all replete with footnotes -- in order to make and demonstrate some critical points about such festoonery." (hide spoiler)]And now I must get on with it.Books on Literary theories are usually so dry & academic in nature, ( [ I mean it here in terms of the writer's craft, their influences, their place in the various literary movements/schools]. Exception being Moore's novel books & some folks add the Eagleton books too) that unless it's absolutely essential (as students-teachers), people don't want to pick them up but this collection of essays & occasional lectures makes it look like the sexiest coolest thing ever - writing seen as an act of alternative (better) universe-building & writers as demiurges, Barth explaining Myth and Tragedy in terms of the Hero's journey - the bonus here & in most of the essays is the tying up of explication with details from his own books- The Sot Weed Factor, Giles Goat-Boy, Lost in the Funhouse, & so on.And we are just warming up!For a list of neat lists take a look at this!So we have here the super famous lecture/essay The Literature of Exhaustion which carries many of Barth's seminal literary ideas –"passionate virtuosity" & the need for writers to be technically up-to-date & be bold in terms of both ideas & their execution. Barth holds up Borges & Beckett as aspirational models for creative writers with Nabokov coming a close third.This essay is a must-read for all Borges fans as it focusses heavily on some of his celebrated stories. Moving ahead the essays The Spirit of Placeand The Literature of Replenishment, act as complementary pieces to this one.Barth's fondness for & extensive usage of the frame-tales format is well-known but sometimes our coming across certain books is just as serendipitous as our reading of them — as an undergraduate at the John Hopkins university, Barth paid off part of his tuition fees working as a book-filer in the Classics and Oriental sections of its immense library-he often came across Somadeva's huge ten volumes of The Ocean of Streams of Story/Katha Sarit Sagar, ( which were never requested for), despite his fascination, he was then daunted by the sheer size of it & ended up taking out Burton's The Thousand and One Nights, & the Pent- Hept- and Decamerons & while acknowledging the most complex of all frame-tales structure of Somadeva; his heart really beats for Scheherazade's artistry:' who (Barth)can wish nothing better than to spin like that vizier's excellent daughter, through what nights remain to him, tales within tales within tales, full-stored with "description and discourse and rare traits and anecdotes and moral instances and reminiscences. . . proverbs and parables, chronicles and pleasantries, quips and jests, stories and. . . dialogues and histories and elegies and other verses. . ." until he and his scribblings are fetched low by the Destroyer of Delights.'A charming feature of this book is the opening chapter Some Reasons Why I Tell the Stories I Tell the Way I Tell Them Rather Than Some Other Sort of Stories Some Other Way, which gives a sort of overview of the kind of person John Barth is - a small-town boy with realistic dreams, his life, influences, etc — in the light of which, the bravura pieces that follow one after another, help you truly appreciate his literary achievements. Here are the excellent ones that cover all the topics you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask your moma:The Literature of ExhaustionThe Literature of Replenshment: Postmodernist Fiction— acts as a corrective & a companion piece to the earlier The Literature of Exhaustion.How to Make a UniverseThe Spirit of PlaceThe Future of Literature and the Literature of the Future Algebra and FireHistorical Fiction, Fictitious History, and Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs, or, About Aboutness The Self in Fiction, or, "That ain't no matter. That Is nothing." Tales Within Tales Within Tales: This one got me all tangled up - need to re-read.The Prose and Poetry of It All, or, Dippy VersesDon't Count on It: You've to read it to grasp the crazy level of Barth's obsession with The Thousand and One Nights - really it's something!In his good-humoured, commonsensical persona, Barth is a lot like Steven Moore -- In his footnote to A Prayer for All, his frank address to his students in the creative writing programme might not endear him to everyone ( as the Gr reviews of this book show), but you got to applaud his forthrightness & the ability of being inspiring at the same time.(view spoiler)[Not economic recession, not declining literacy, failing bookstores, the usurpation of the kingdom of narrative by movies and television -- nothing quenches the American thirst for courses in creative writing. In day school, night school, high school, college, graduate school, correspondence school, summer school, prison school; in writers' colonies and conferences and camps and cruises, it is scribble scribble scribble scribble scribble scribble scribble. (hide spoiler)]Compare Barth's Intelligent Despisal – An Address to the Graduating Class of Western Maryland College, JUNE 1973, to DFW's commencement speech This is Water – & you'll get an idea what Barth is about! Really, it's a must-read & remains as topical as ever.My copy is the 1997 revised edition which has the added benefits of Barth's postface, introductions & footnotes to the essays, updating, evaluating, agreeing/disagreeing with his earlier positions, etc.Within its barely three hundred pages, this book is densely saturated with a life-time of rich impressions, deep learning, and precious insights.I'm usually cagey about the book blurbs; taking them with not just a pinch, rather a bagful of salt but the Washington Post observation just nailed it:"Whether discussing modernism, postmodernism, semiotics, Homer, Cervantes, Borges, blue crabs or osprey nests, Barth demonstrates an enthusiasm for the life of the mind, a joy in thinking (and in expressing those thoughts) that becomes contagious. . . A reader leaves The Friday Book feeling intellectually fuller, verbally more adept, mentally stimulated, with algebra and fire of his own." I feel brainy already even if this review doesn't show it :p(view spoiler)[ Barth is addictive & if I start quoting him, there won't be any end to it!Here are a few choice morsels :The first one goes out to NR for turning me on to Barth:“If I believed my writing were no more than the formal fun-and-games that Time magazine makes it out to be, I'd take up some other line of work. The subject of literature, says Aristotle, is "human life, its happiness and its misery." I agree with Aristotle. That's why we object to the word experimental. It suggests cold exercises in technique, and technique in art, we all know, has the same importance as technique in love: Heartless skill has its appeal; so does heartfelt ineptitude; but what we want is passionate virtuosity. If these pieces aren't also moving, then the experiment is unsuccessful, and their author is lost in the funhouse indeed.”“I have a program of readings from my novels that I've given here and there on university campuses in the last year. It's called "The Heroical Curriculum"; what it consists of is a series of excerpts from The Floating Opera, The End of the Road, The Sot-Weed Factor, and Giles Goat-Boy, selected ostensibly to illustrate some of their common themes -- that self-knowledge is generally bad news, for example; or that if you don't look out, you may get pinched between two of the great axioms of Western civilization: Socrates's lesson that the unexamined life is not worth living, and Sophocles's lesson that the well-examined life may turn out to be unlivable. But the real motivating principle behind the selections was that they all read well out loud and lead one to suppose that my fiction has been getting better over the years”"Once upon a time, in myth, twins signified whatever dualisms a culture entertained: mortal/immortal, good/evil, creation/destruction, what had they. In western literature since the Romantic period, twins (and doubles, shadows, mirrors) usually signify the "divided self," our secret sharer or inner adversary -- even the schizophrenia some neo-Freudians maintain lies near the dark heart of writing. Aristophanes, in Plato's Symposium, declares we are all of us twins, indeed a kind of Siamese twins, who have lost and who seek eternally our missing half. The loss accounts for alienation, our felt distance from man and god; the search accounts for both erotic love and the mystic's goal of divine atonement.""Muse, spare me (at the desk, I mean) from social-historical responsibility, and in the last analysis from every other kind as well, except artistic. Your teller of stories will likely be responsive to his time; he needn't be responsible to it.""The talk was delivered in Washington U's Graham Chapel, which is also by way of being Bill Gass's classroom. So popular a teacher is he, I was told, it is the only hall on campus commodious enough to seat all the students who sign up for his courses.""The novelist J. P. Donleavy has defined fiction-writing as "the fine art of turning one's worst experiences into money." But whether or not one anguishes all the way to the bank, or anguishes at all (or gets to the bank at all), the vocation of writing seriously involves the continuous and deep examination of one's own experience of life and the world, and of the language and literary conventions we use to register that experience and make it meaningful. Any authority I have to speak here comes from that "professional" examination, as the word authority itself comes from author.""I wouldn't be permitted to make a commencement speech like this in Poland or Cuba,Algeria or Turkey, much of Latin America, most of Africa, all of Russia or China, or North or South Vietnam, for example. In North America and Western Europe (excluding Portugal, Spain, and Greece these days) I'm permitted to make it -- just as I'm permitted to practice my two professions -- because the interests and institutions I'm criticizing, who run these countries and govern so many aspects of our lives for their profit, are too secure in their power to take much notice of such criticism. I prefer that condition to being silenced, as a man might prefer impotency to actual emasculation, and I am impatient with radicals who equate the two. But it's irritating to be expected to be grateful for having been tolerated because rendered powerless."“Reading is as private as thinking or dreaming, exactly; one imagines that it will be valued (and permitted) as long as private thinking and dreaming are valued and permitted”“Written literature, most especially prose fiction, is ineluctably anesthetic because it is essentially semiotic. It transpires in the mind. It can't deal directly with qualities, sensations, emotions, actions, things; it can't even deal directly, as theater can, with imitations of actions and emotions. It can deal only with their signs, their names: pain, blue, courage, Venezuela, walking around, once upon a time. Writers who are also philosophers, like William H. Gass, have explored the metaphysical implications of this state of affairs.”“As long as the private, verbal registration of experience has a future -- and, just as important, the registration of verbal experience, the experience of language, which can take us beyond the possibilities of reality -- literature has a future.”“What's more (to move from Plato to Schopenhauer), fiction-making is a two-way street: If the world is our idea, we are the world's idea, too. It is not speaking mystically to say that our dreams dream us; that our fictions construct us, at least as sub-contractors. I hear Madame Bovary replying, "Monsieur Flaubert, c'est moi." Even Borges admits that he doesn't know which Borges invented which -- and, as Huck Finn says, that ain't no matter.” (hide spoiler)]

  • Nathan
    2019-04-04 00:17

    This is where it all started, almost. Where it started was Further Fridays but only because it fell into my lap first. With Barth the plethora and the cornucopia of postmodern fiction opened like a cliche’d flower opening. Gass and Gaddis just for beginners. So but this time around, the second through The Friday Book for me, was due to an itch ... and a lack of an index to this collection of essays and etc’s. I wanted to locate the location where I first ran across the name Christine Brooke-Rose ; and thumbing through this book for that purpose I saw names and names and names and many a title roll off the page back into my lap and I could not resist revisiting its pages one at a time. Report :: Amalgamemnon is not in here. But lots of other stuff is.Before we get to the main event, here are a few essays required reading even for the non-Barthian ::“The Literature of Exhaustion”“The Ocean of Story”“The Future of Literature and the Literature of the Future”“Blue Crabs, or, About Aboutness”“The Literature of Replenishment”“The Self in Fiction, or, ‘That ain’t no matter. That Is Nothing.’”“Tales Within Tales Within Tales”“The Prose and Poetry of It All, or, Dippy Verses”To the Lists.....from “The Title of This Book”The Canterbury TalesThe TrialThe IdiotMoby-DickThe Anatomy of MelancholyThe Friday BookThe FrogsThe BirdsDon QuixoteTom JonesCatch-22The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnSteal This BookThe Sun Also RisesThe Winter of Our DiscontentTender Is the NightHow Green Was My ValleyWinter BloodNot as a StrangerThe Executioner’s SongWar and PeacePride and PrejudiceSense and SensibilityThe Beautiful and DamnedThe Naked and the DeadThe Agony and the EcstasyBy Love PossessedToo Late the PhalaropeAfter Many a Summer Dies the SwanThe BibleFilmPlayThe Greatest Story Ever ToldThe Great American NovelDecameronHeptameronPentameronThe Ocean of StoryPanchatantraVetalapanchavimsataBook of the DeadGuinness Book of World RecordsKitab Alf Laylah Wah LaylahBook of the Thousand Nights and a NightThe Marvels and Wonders of the Thousand Nights and a NightThe Stories of the Thousand Nights and a NightThe Book of the Book of the Book of the Thousand Nights and a NightThe Title of This BookBook-Titles Should Be StraightforwardIliadfrom “How to Make a Universe”Thomas MannRichard WagnerRobert FrostFrançois RabelaisMarcel ProustHonoré de BalzacLewis CarrollEzra PoundWallace StevensSt PaulSophoclesSocratesShakespearePlatoLeslie FiedlerFranz KafkaOrtega y GassetLucretiusDostoevskyRobert Louis StevensonStendhalHenry FieldingJane AustenCharles DickensGustave FlaubertJames JoyceAristotleLeibnitzKenneth BurkeTrollopeConradDon QuixoteSancho PanzaOedipusGoetheHamletTurgenevSchopenhauerPaul ValérySartreLeonardo da VinciKierkegaardFaulknerJohn DeweyHoraceHuckleberry FinnAlan WattsSuzukifrom “The Ocean of Story”“The road to India is a long road, but it is the only way to India.”The Thousand and One NightsKatha Sarit Sagara, or, The Ocean of Streams of StoryLa Vida Es SueñoThe PanchatantraPent- Hept- and DecameronsLusiadEugene OneginJerusalem DeliveredVetalapanchavimsatiSiddhi-KurThe Seven SagesKalilah and DimnahSyntipas the PhilosopherThe Fables of BidpaiSindibad’s ParablesDolopathosDirectorium Vitae HumanaeDiscorsi degli AnimaliDoni’s NovelleWestward for SmeltsTroilus and CriseydeKathapithaBrihat KathaOdysseyKatantraLa BohèmeIliadSamavidhana Brahmanafrom “The Literature of Replenishment: Postmodernist Fiction”William GassJohn Hawkesmyself[the trick for the following, whether they pre- post- or modernist be]Donald BarthelmeRobert CooverStanley ElkinThomas PynchonKurt Vonnegut, Jr.Saul BellowNorman MailerSamuel BeckettJorge Luis BorgesVladimir NabokovRaymond QueneauNathalie SarrauteMichel ButorAlain Robbe-GrilletRobert PingetClaude SimonClaude MauriacJohn FowlesJulio CortázarMichelangelo AntonioniFederico FelliniJean-Luc GodardAlain ResnaisGabriel Garcia Márquez [exemplary]Italo Calvino [exemplary]T. S. EliotWilliam FaulknerAndré GideJames JoyceFranz KafkaThomas MannRobert MusilEzra PoundMarcel ProustGertrude SteinMiguel de UnamunoVirginia WoolfAlfred JarryGustave FlaubertCharles BaudelaireStéphane MallaméE. T. A. HoffmannLaurence SterneMiguel de CervantesJohn CheeverWallace StegnerWilliam StyronJohn UpdikeJoyce Carol OatesJohn GardnerJonathan SwiftAlexander PopeVerdiTennysonTolstoyStravinskyEliotJoyceDickensTwainHugoDostoevskyTolstoyHomerAeschylusBertolt BrechtEvgeny ZamyatinJames MichenerIrving WallaceGore Vidal“Would I had phrases that are not known, utterances that are strange, in new language that has not been used, free from repetition, not an utterance that has grown stale, which men of old have spoken.” -- Khakheperresenb, Egypt 2000BC.from “The Self in Fiction, or, ‘That ain’t no matter. That Is nothing.’”Mark TwainHuck FinnKurt VonnegutPhilip RothJohn UpdikeBernard MalamudBorges’s BorgesNabokov’s Van Veenthe restJoyce’s DedalusMann’s Kröger and AschenbachProust’s MarcelKafka’s Samsa [and our Gregsamsa]FlaubertHenry JamesRoland BarthesMister Charles DickensGoethe/WertherFielding’s Tom JonesSmollett’s Roderick RandomLaurence Sterne’s Tristram ShandyDon QuixoteAlcofribas Nasier’s Gargantua and pantagruelDante/DanteHomer/DemodocusThe “I” of the scribe KhakheperresenbMadame Bovery, c’est moi.Monsieur Flaubert, c’est moi.In other word’s, DFW’s convolutions about self-consciousness came waaay late.from “Tales Within Tales Within Tales”in place of a list :: “Derjenige, der den Mann, der den Pfahl, der auf der Brücke, der auf dem Weg, der nach Worms führt, liegt, steht, umgeworfen hat, anzeigt, bekommt eine Belohnung.” -- Todorovfrom “The Prose and Poetry of It All, or, Dippy Verses”first, in recognition of Friend Jeff Bursey reminding me whence comes the definition of The Novel, Randall Jarrell’s quip ;; “a prose narrative fiction of a certain length that has something wrong with it.” Here is what is wrong with that definition ::Flaubert’s Madame BovaryCapote’s and Mailer’s ‘nonfiction novels’Alex Haley’s whatyoucallit novel RootsDino Buzzati’s comic-strip novel of the late 1960’sMarc Saporta’s unbound, unpaginated, randomly package novel-in-a-boxNikos Kazantzakis’s long verse-novel, The Odyssey: a modern sequelThe latest pornographic photonovel from Hamburg, Paris, or RomeMarcel Proust’s zillion-word roman fleuveRobert Coover’s very short new novel Spanking the MaidAnd this is a good place to add the following footnote, from Further Fridays :: [re :: Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy] Not a novel? Sure it is, in this metabolic mode: a novel in which characteristics take the place of characters. Instead of Musil’s Man Without Qualities, Burton gives us the adventures of a Quality without particular embodiment. But the thing must be read properly, including every one of the Author’s Notes -- many per page, all in Latin, an effect the more piquant if, like me, you have but small Latin -- plus the appended glossary and the whole Nabokovian index, from ABBEYS, subversion of the, to YOUTH, impossible not to love in. Friedrich von Schlegel’s generous conception of der Roman (see the Friday-pieces on Postmodernism, Chaos Theory, and the Romantic Arabesque, farther on in this volume) would readily accommodate Burton’s Anatomy.On with the Fridays..... And long live that dead and long=dying thing : THE NOVEL! And its godparent, FICTION!!

  • Jonathan
    2019-04-14 19:11

    There is something about his voice which is just impossible not to warm to - it is so kindly somehow. These are funny, fascinating, engaging pieces - they will bring new authors to your attention (if NR has not done so already!) and get you excited and enthusiastic about the possiblities of the written word. Lovely stuff, well worth tracking down. Reminds me I need to get round to reading more of this fellow's fiction....

  • Ian
    2019-03-24 23:08

    Defining PostmodernismJohn Barth was there the whole time Postmodernism was happening. However, I’m not sure whether he's the best person to attempt a definition of the term.Sometimes, the best people to document history are not those who participated in the events, but those who came afterwards, and can look at the events from different and multiple perspectives.Frankly, I expected more of Barth, one of my favourite authors. He is/was both a story-teller and a teacher of story-telling.However, I wonder now whether it was unfair to expect more of him (i.e., more than expecting him to tell his own stories). Barth is the first to admit that his talent is for the writing rather than the critical analysis of his own or others' work:"Writing well, reading or discussing well, are separate talents... There is simply no correlation either way between the two (or among the three) competencies."The Postmodernist ProgramUltimately, Barth's real skill is to define precisely what he was trying to do (perpetuating the traditions of story-telling, frame-stories and his adoration of Scheherazade) and, in the absence of an adequate definition of Postmodernism, to describe what he felt other writers should be trying to do.Thus, he doesn’t really come up with a definition, but a program:“In my view, the proper program for postmodernism is neither a mere extension of the modernist program..., nor a mere intensification of certain aspects of modernism, nor on the contrary a wholesale subversion or repudiation of either modernism or what I'm calling premodernism: 'traditional' bourgeois realism.“My ideal postmodernist author neither merely repudiates nor merely imitates either his twentieth-century modernist parents or his nineteenth-century premodernist grandparents...Barth is really striving for the personal freedom of the author:"...we may regard ourselves as being not irrevocably cut off from the nineteenth century and its predecessors by the accomplishment of our artistic parents and grandparents in the twentieth, but rather as free to come to new terms with both realism and antirealism, linearity and non-linearity, continuity and discontinuity. If the term "postmodern" describes anything worthwhile, it describes this freedom, successfully exercised."To this I'd add the view that artistic movements become sterile when they become prescriptive and programmatic.Passionate VirtuosityBarth also emphasises certain basic skills. His is not solely an ideological agenda:“I was on the whole more impressed by the jugglers and acrobats at Baltimore's old Hippodrome, where I used to go every time they changed shows: not artists, perhaps, but genuine virtuosi, doing things that anyone can dream up and discuss but almost no one can do...“ other words, [an artist] endowed with uncommon talent, who has moreover developed and disciplined that endowment into virtuosity...So, what is this virtuosity applied to?“The subject of literature, says Aristotle, is 'human life, its happiness and its misery.' I agree with Aristotle. That's why we object to the word experimental. It suggests cold exercises in technique, and technique in art, we all know, has the same importance as technique in love: Heartless skill has its appeal; so does heartfelt ineptitude; but what we want is passionate virtuosity.”Algebra and FireBarth drew enormous inspiration from Jorge Luis Borges and his distinction between algebra and fire:"Let Algebra stand for technique, or the technical and formal aspects of a work of literature; let Fire stand for the writer's passions, the things he or she is trying to get eloquently said. The simple burden of my sermon is that good literature, for example, involves and requires both the algebra and the fire; in short, passionate virtuosity. If we talk mainly about the algebra, that is because algebra lends itself to discussion. The fire has to speak for itself."Technique is not all, nor is a rejection of all previous techniques. The author can pick and choose the strings for their bow:"At heart I'm an arranger still, whose chiefest literary pleasure is to take a received melody - an old narrative poem, a classical myth, a shopworn literary convention, a shard of my experience, a New York Times Book Review series - and, improvising like a jazzman within its constraints, reorchestrate it to present purpose."Besides, what Barth objected to most was the prosaic, especially if it was "dull and tedious writing" (a criticism I'd level at many humourless mega-novels). He was trying to entertain his readers. He was determined to enjoy himself in his works as well:"They're meant to be serious enough to be taken seriously, but they're not long-faced. They're pessimistic, but I hope they're entertaining. In all of them, for better or worse, the process of narration becomes the content of the narrative, to some degree and in various ways; or the form or medium has metaphorical value and dramatical relevance. The medium really is part of the message."The Death of the NovelBarth was writing at a time when authors and critics were prophesying the death of the novel.However, once he had discovered the fiction of Borges, he was much more optimistic about its future. The perceived problems actually illuminated the solutions or the way out. He wanted to explore whether:"different kinds of artistical felt ultimacies and cul-de-sacs can be employed against themselves to do valid new work: whether disabling contradictions, for example, can be escalated or exacerbated into enabling paradoxes. "Ultimately, to the extent that we were ever concerned that the novel might be dead, it’s partly because of Barth’s own passionate virtuosity that it is still alive, even if it owes considerably less to his literary criticism.Barth, Fiedler and GassTwo people inhabit this collection of essays, like ghosts or phantasms: Leslie Fiedler and William H. Gass.*In retrospect, I probably first learned of Barth’s fiction in 1981, when I read a number of Fiedler’s collections of essays that had been published a decade earlier.Barth describes him as “my friend and colleague the erudite, unpredictable, iconoclastic, large-spirited troublemaker Leslie Fiedler, from whose outrageous statements I have seldom failed to learn.”I was familiar with Fiedler’s writing from his contributions to “Partisan Review”. However, he was more of a radical nonconformist than the usual contributors to that magazine. The nearest analogy I can think of, but in a musical context, is that he was literature’s Lester Bangs, only a better thinker and writer.Fiedler wrote a very positive review of Barth’s “The Sot-weed Factor” (“John Barth: An Eccentric Genius”) that was published in January, 1961.However, Fiedler was also one of the first literary critics I can recall using the word “Postmodernism” - in his 1970 essay, “Cross the Border – Close the Gap”:“We are living, have been living for two decades - and have become acutely conscious of the fact since 1955 - through the death throes of Modernism and the birth pangs of Post-Modernism. The kind of literature which had arrogated to itself the name Modern (with the presumption that it represented the ultimate advance in sensibility and form, that beyond it newness was not possible), and whose moment of triumph lasted from a point just before World War I until one just after World War II is dead, i.e., belongs to history not actuality. In the field of the novel, this means that the age of Proust, Mann, and Joyce is over; just as in verse that of T.S. Eliot, Paul Valéry, Montale and Seferis is done with.”Barth is equally complimentary of “my friend William H. Gass - a professional philosopher as well as a professional storyteller,” notwithstanding that the only fiction Gass had written during the timeframe of this collection (1960 to 1984) and then up to 1995 was one novel, one book of short stories and a novella. Still, they seemed to share at least some intellectual affinity about what the novel should be doing, if not necessarily the role of story-telling, character or plot. No doubt the relationship was cemented when the two of them (with John Hawkes and their wives) did a lecture tour to the University of Tubingen in 1979. Barth and Gass Bag their PeersFiedler was a great promoter of the avant garde, the experimentalist and the non-conformist. However, he was also an astute critic of the novelists who preceded the generation of writers he was promoting.Thus, his criticism is equally worth reading, whether he was writing about John Barth, John Hawkes, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Norman Mailer or John Updike.Barth and Gass, on the other hand, despite Barth's own openness to traditional or pre-Modernist techniques, were participants in a battle for the attention of publishers and readers (not to mention comfortably tenured academic positions). No matter what the author embraces or imitates from the past, at times it still seems necessary that they must repudiate the most recent movement before them.One thing that spoils this collection is the snarkiness of comments about peers like Mailer (whose stylistic innovation Barth is reluctant to acknowledge, while he makes silly subjective comments about the titles of his novels), Updike, Bellow (“programmatically traditional writers like Styron, Updike, and Bellow”), even Roland Barthes (“French hyperbole”).On the other hand, Barth is ever alert to promote the like-minded when they agree with him, such as Gass and John Hawkes. Perhaps, though, we need to recognise that, in the generational wars between writers (or among writer-academics), our mythic heroes are human after all. As Barth says of Scheherazade, you're only as good as your next story; night by night, it's publish or perish. In the case of academia and public opinion, at least, you're threatened both by those who came before you and those who would come after you. Quite apart from this reservation, readers will probably learn more about Postmodernism by reading Barth's fiction in all its liberated glory than his more prescriptive and programmatic non-fiction. In the end, to paraphrase Barth, fiction is something that most authors do better than discuss.POST(MODERN)SCRIPT:The Capriciousness and Ephemerality of Distinctions* After writing my original review, I remembered another one of the connections between Barth, Fiedler and Gass:Harold Augenbraum [currently Executive Director of the National Book Foundation] writes:"I would love to have been a fly on the wall of the 1973 [National Book Award] Fiction panel discussions. "The judges seem to have fallen into two camps: what you might call “post-modern” (Fiedler, Gass), and traditional (Connell, Percy, Yardley). "And so they split the award between John Barth’s Chimera and John Williams’ Augustus, two novels as different in style as they could be, despite the link between the former imagining the inner lives of mythical characters and the latter the inner lives of historical people from the ancient world."

  • Ben Winch
    2019-04-15 22:04

    Drole. Luxuriant. Self-indulgent. 4 or 5 substantial essays padded with 1-, 2- and 3-page transcripts of speeches, often repetitive, often regarding topics which Barth admits hold little interest for him, and which he justifies (in 1-, 2- and 3-page even more drole, luxuriant, self-indulgent introductions) on the grounds of his taste for travel to and from the events at which he delivers said speeches, especially when it’s paid for by arts councils and universities. There’s a few insights here, no doubt, and sure, Barth’s good-natured; it’s hard not to like him. But much of this is straight-up self-promotion, spoken in a tone that discourages me from delving further into his several-thousand page ouvre. He says it himself early on: he became a lecturer so he could write “left-handed” in between shifts at the university. This here, for the most part―necessarily, since for the most part its shape is dictated by his audiences and his patrons (ie: a discussion on the new American novel here, one on the self in postmodernism there)―is strictly left-handed. Clever (in the manner of witty before-dinner conversation) it may be; pertinent, revolutionary or mind-expanding (to this reviewer) it is not. A relic. Strictly for the fans.

  • Thomas Baughman
    2019-04-02 00:31

    An old book ,really, but some of the essays in this book are the best simple explanations of Postmodern literature that i've ever read. Barth was laying out his case for the Postmodern in terms a layman could understnd.

  • Anthony Crupi
    2019-03-27 16:27

    Fun Friday Book drinking game: Every time Barth bangs on about Scheherazade, take a sip of the beverage of your choice that is off-limits to pregnant women and those operating heavy machinery. Oops—now you're dead! No more books for you.

  • Dan
    2019-04-05 00:33

    Some of Barth’s non-fictional essays and addresses, in many of which he discusses his approach to writing fiction. Includes the important essays “The Literature of Exhaustion” and “The Literature of Replenishment.”

  • Larry K
    2019-04-03 20:09

    The essays are interesting and at times insightful, but he makes writing seem like a herculean task. Therefore, if your interested in writing (and encouraging words from a great writer) this book will be kind of depressing.

  • Bill
    2019-04-10 18:29

    Barth's first collection of his non-fiction essays. He has much to say of the literary trends of that day.

  • Jason Jordan
    2019-04-13 22:09

    The essays that I'm interested in are really good, but there are several that don't interest me whatsoever. Worth the read, though.