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John Barth

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Title: John Barth  
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Subject: Postmodern literature, Giles Goat-Boy, The Literature of Exhaustion, The Sot-Weed Factor, Chimera (John Barth novel)
Collection: 1930 Births, 20Th-Century American Novelists, 21St-Century American Novelists, American Male Novelists, American Male Short Story Writers, American Short Story Writers, Boston University Faculty, Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, John Barth, Johns Hopkins University Alumni, Johns Hopkins University Faculty, Juilliard School Alumni, Living People, Members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, National Book Award Winners, Pen/Malamud Award Winners, Pennsylvania State University Faculty, People from Cambridge, Maryland, Postmodern Writers, University at Buffalo Faculty, Writers from Maryland
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John Barth

John Barth
Born (1930-05-27) May 27, 1930
Cambridge, Maryland, US
Occupation novelist, professor
Nationality American
Period 1956–present
Genre Postmodernism, Metafiction
Notable awards National Book Award
1973 Chimera

John Simmons Barth (;[1] born May 27, 1930) is an American novelist and short-story writer, known for the postmodernist and metafictional quality of his work.


  • Life 1
  • Literary work 2
  • Styles, approaches and artistic criteria 3
  • Essays 4
  • Awards 5
  • Selected works 6
    • Fiction 6.1
    • Nonfiction 6.2
  • Notes and references 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


John Barth, called "Jack", was born in Cambridge, Maryland. Barth has an older brother, Bill, and a twin sister, Jill. He briefly studied "Elementary Theory and Advanced Orchestration" at Juilliard[2] before attending Johns Hopkins University, from which he received a B.A. in 1951 and an M.A. in 1952 (for which he wrote a thesis novel, The Shirt of Nessus).

Barth was a professor at Lost in the Funhouse.[4]

He then taught at Boston University (visiting professor, 1972–73) and Johns Hopkins University (1973–95) before retiring in 1995.

Literary work

Barth began his career with The Floating Opera and The End of the Road, two short "realist"[5] novels that deal wittily with controversial topics, suicide and abortion respectively. They are straightforward realistic tales; as Barth later remarked, they "didn't know they were novels."

The Sot-Weed Factor (1960) was initially intended as the completing novel of a trilogy comprising his first two "realist" novels, but, as a consequence of Barth's maturation as a writer, it developed into a different project.[5] The novel is significant as it marked Barth's discovery of Postmodernism.[6]

Barth's next novel, Giles Goat-Boy (about 800 pages), 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 (1968) and the novella collection Chimera (1972) are even more metafictional than their two predecessors, foregrounding the writing process and presenting achievements such as a seven-deep nested quotation. Chimera shared the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.[7]

In the novel LETTERS (1979), Barth interacts with characters from his first six books.

His 1994 Once upon a Time: A Floating Opera, reuses stock characters, stock situations and formulas.[6]

Styles, approaches and artistic criteria

Barth's work is characterized by a historical awareness of literary tradition[8] and by the practice of rewriting typical of postmodernism. He said: "I don't know what my view of history is, but insofar as it involves some allowance for repetition and recurrence, reorchestration, and reprise [...] I would always want it to be more in the form of a thing circling out and out and becoming more inclusive each time."[9][10] In Barth's postmodern sensibility, parody is a central device.[11]

Around 1972, in an interview, Barth declared that "The process [of making a novel] is the content, more or less."[12][13]

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


While writing these books, Barth was also pondering and discussing the theoretical problems of fiction writing.

In 1967, he wrote a highly influential[14] and to some controversial[15] essay considered a manifesto of postmodernism, The Literature of Exhaustion (first printed in The Atlantic, 1967). It depicts literary realism as a "used-up" tradition; Barth's description of his own work, which many thought illustrated a core trait of postmodernism, is "novels which imitate the form of a novel, by an author who imitates the role of author".[16]

The essay was widely considered 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.


Selected works



Notes and references

  1. ^ "Barth". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ Townsend, Victoria. Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Spring 2005
  3. ^ "John Barth" FAQ,
  4. ^ Barth (1984) intro to The Literature of Exhaustion, in The Friday Book.
  5. ^ a b John Barth (1987) Foreword to Doubleday Anchor Edition of The Sot-Weed Factor
  6. ^ a b Clavier, Berndt (2007) John Barth and postmodernism: spatiality, travel, montage pp.165-7
  7. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 1973". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
    (With acceptance speech by Barth and two essays by Harold Augenbraum from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog. The essay nominally about Williams and Augustus includes Augenbraum's discussion of the split award.)
  8. ^ Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut
  9. ^ Elias, Amy J. (2001) Sublime desire: history and post-1960s fiction, p.224
  10. ^ Lampkin, Loretta M. and Barth, John An Interview with John Barth, in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Winter, 1988), pp. 485-497
  11. ^ Narcissistic narrative: the metafictional paradox By Linda Hutcheon pp.50-1
  12. ^ Tom Samet, "Larger Naturalism"The Modulated Vision: Lionel Trilling's , Critical Inquiry, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Spring, 1978), pp. 539-557.
    Quotation: novel is the process of its own making. "The process is the content, more or less," John Barth has recently declared,38 thus turning [Mark] Schorer's position on its head.
  13. ^ Peter S. Prescott, Anne Lake Prescott, , p.137Encounters with American culture, Volume 2. Google Books.
  14. ^ [1] Contemporary Literature 2000
  15. ^ [2]
  16. ^ p.72
  17. ^ "National Book Awards – 1956". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
  18. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2011-05-18. 
  19. ^ John Barth Wins Iranian Literary Prize, Powell's Books.
  20. ^ John Barth's statement to Iranian literary prize, Roozi Rozegari.

Further reading

  • Rovit, Earl, "The Novel as Parody: John Barth." Critique 6 (Fall 1963).
  • Weixlmann, Joseph (1976). John Barth: a descriptive primary and annotated secondary bibliography, including a descriptive catalog of manuscript holdings in United States libraries.  
  • Clavier, Berndt (2007). John Barth And Postmodernism: Spatiality, Travel, Montage.  
  • Fogel, Stanley;  
  • Vine, Richard Allan (1977). John Barth: an annotated bibliography. Scarecrow Press.  
  • Walkiewicz, E. P. (1986). John Barth. Twayne Publishers.  

External links

  • George Plimpton (Spring 1985). "John Barth, The Art of Fiction No. 86". Paris Review. 
  • John Barth Information Center
  • Scriptorium - John Barth
  • Reading John Barth: an essay by Charles Harris (from CONTEXT Quarterly at
  • North American Postmodern Fiction: John Barth
  • Barth audio goodies at the Lannan site
  • Barth on KCRW's radio program 'Bookworm' with Michael Silverblatt
  • click!, a short story by John Barth centered on hypertextuality
  • National Book Awards Acceptance Speech
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