Innovative American novelist John Barth dies

 April 4, 2024

American author John Barth, known for pushing the boundaries of narrative fiction with his experimental style, has died. He was 93.

His death was confirmed by his alma mater Johns Hopkins University, where he taught English literature and writing.

With his darkly comic, self-aware narrative voice, Barth was one of the leading writers of postmodernist literature in the 1960s.

His novel The Sot-Weed Factor and short-story collection Lost In The Funhouse are considered classics of the genre.

Experimental novelist

In 1967, Barth published an influential, bombshell essay, "The Literature of Exhaustion," in which he declared realism a "used up" tradition.

His fictional output reflected his commitment to literary innovation.

He began his writing career with two well-received realistic novels, The Floating Opera and The End of the Road, before branching out with The Sot-Weed Factor, a dark satire based in colonial Maryland that toys with the digressive style of 18th century picaresque novels.

Barth's 1966 novel Giles Goat-Boy, which has a part goat hero, was a surprise best-seller.

In 1968, Barth published a collection of self-referential short stories, Lost In The Funhouse, that is seen as a prime example of metafiction. The book was praised by none other than Vladimir Nabokov, a literary master known for his iconoclastic views on classic authors.

In 1973, Barth won a National Book Award for Chimera, a series of interrelated novels based on classical myth. His 1979 epistolary novel Letters consists of letters between characters from his other books and Barth himself.

Praise for polarizing author

While praised by many for his innovative approach to writing, Barth's hermetic style was dismissed by others as tedious, gimmicky, and inaccessible. Writer Gore Vidal said his books were written "to be taught, not to be read."

Barth spent much of his life in academia, teaching literature and writing at Penn State University, SUNY Buffalo, Boston University and Johns Hopkins. Many of his stories take place in coastal Maryland, where he was born.

Author Joyce Carol Oates paid tribute to Barth in a post on X, calling him "genuinely funny" and a "devoted" teacher.

Barth initially studied music at Julliard before changing careers. He once compared his writing to the work of an arranger.

"My imagination is most at ease with an old literary convention like the epistolary novel, or a classical myth — received melody lines, so to speak, which I then reorchestrate to my purpose," he told the Paris Review in 1985.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
© 2015 - 2024 Conservative Institute. All Rights Reserved.