John Barth, innovative postmodernist novelist, dies at 93 : NPR

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — John Barth, the erudite and playful author whose dark and complicated novels revolved around literary art and launched countless debates about the art of fiction, died Tuesday. He was 93 years old.

Johns Hopkins University, where Barth was professor emeritus of English and creative writing, confirmed his death in a statement.

Along with William Gass, Stanley Elkin, and other peers, Barth was part of a wave of writers in the 1960s who challenged norms of language and plot. The author of 20 books, including “Giles Goat-Boy” and “The Sot-Weed Factor,” Barth was an academic writing professor who advocated postmodernism in literature, arguing that old forms were exhausted and new approaches were needed. required.

Barth’s passion for literary theory and his innovative but complicated novels made him a writer. Barth said he felt like Scheherazade in “The Arabian Nights,” desperately trying to survive by creating literature.

He created a best-seller in 1966 with “Giles Goat-Boy,” which transformed a college campus into a microcosm of a world threatened by the Cold War and made the hero a part-goat character.

The following year, he wrote a postmodern manifesto, “The Literature of Exhaustion,” which asserted that the traditional novel suffered from an “exhaustion of certain forms.” The influential Atlantic Monthly essay describes the postmodern writer as someone who “finds himself confronted with an intellectual impasse and uses it against himself to accomplish a new human work.”

He made it clear in another essay 13 years later, “The Literature of Reenactment,” that he didn’t mean the novel was dead — it just badly needed a new approach.

“I like to remind erroneous readers of my previous essay that written literature is in fact about 4,500 years old (give or take a few centuries depending on how one defines literature), but that we have no way of whether 4,500 years constitutes senility, maturity, youth, or mere childhood,” Barth wrote.

Barth frequently explored the relationship between storyteller and audience in parodies and satires. He said he was inspired by “The Arabian Nights,” which he discovered while working at the Classical Library at Johns Hopkins University.

“It is a quixotic act to hope, at this late hour in the century, to write literary material and deal with declining readership and a publishing world where businesses are owned by other businesses,” said Barth to the Associated Press in 1991.

Barth studied jazz at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, but discovered he did not have a great talent for music and so turned to creative writing, a craft he taught at Penn State University, SUNY Buffalo, Boston University, and Johns Hopkins. .

Her first novel, “The Floating Opera,” was nominated for a National Book Award. He was nominated again for a 1968 short story collection, “Lost in the Funhouse,” and won in 1973 for “Chimera,” three short novels focused on myth.

His breakthrough work was 1960’s “The Sot-Weed Factor,” a parody of historical fiction with a multitude of twists and saucy diversions. The sprawling, picaresque story uses 18th-century literary conventions to tell the adventures of Ebenezer Cooke, who takes over a tobacco farm in Maryland.

Barth was born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and installed many of his works there. His 1982 “Sabbatical: A Romance” and his 1987 “The Tidewater Tales” feature couples sailing on the Chesapeake Bay.

Barth also challenged literary conventions in his 1979 epistolary novel “Letters,” into which characters from his first six novels wrote themselves, and he also inserted himself as a character.

“My ideal postmodernist author does not simply repudiate or imitate either his 20th-century modernist parents or his 19th-century pre-modernist grandparents. He has the first half of our century under his belt, but not on his back .”

Barth continued to write into the 21st century.

In 2008, he published “The Development,” a collection of short stories about retirees living in a gated community. “Final Fridays,” published in 2012, was his third collection of nonfiction essays.


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