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06 December 2010

What did everyone think? I wished very much for an Annotated Lost in the Funhouse version as this book was enormously dense. I have a ton to do this week but would still like to find the time to reread with a dictionary and mythological reference in hand, at minimum.

My favorite quote from the Hungerford lecture:

Self-alienation, in Barth's work, is the product of desire. Desire, love: that's the moment when you're supposed to be perfectly present. And what happens to Ambrose? That's the moment when he is perfectly, distressingly alienated from himself. And, it's the moment when language comes in and is the product of that alienation, or perhaps when language comes in and causes that alienation.
posted by bearwife 06 December | 11:47
I made it through the first half - the last story I read was the titular one. I stuck with it mostly because it was published the year I was born, so it was a good window into what was cutting edge then. I appreciated it as an artifact and a game changer, but I found it too dated to really get into.

So I can participate in the discussion for once, but that was my overall impression.
posted by rainbaby 06 December | 12:07
What seemed dated, rainbaby? The attitude toward women?
posted by bearwife 06 December | 15:18
Oh, no.

The stylistic departures, the playing with mediums. Some designated pieces to be read on tape, for example. The content, the coming of age, the identity stuff was all there and well told. It was just that whatever innovative leaps he made, well, were made over 40 years ago, and so took me out of the storytelling, noticing the devices. Which I think he wanted them to be noticed, which is fine. And probably groundbreaking at the time. I'm just used to it now.

It seemed a big point that forms and norms were being tinkered with, yes? That's why it's being taught? I enjoyed the character creations.

My academic career involved tons of thinking about communication and what is language in its different forms and how can it be used and played with, so I'm jaded.

I hope I didn't kill the discussion. What did you take away? The quote you shared is appropriate and a good description, but people have been doing this/thinking about this since. Lots. I sort of assumed he was in the first wave of this mirror on the reader fiction, and that's why he was part of the curriculum.
posted by rainbaby 06 December | 15:57
I felt like I missed a lot of word play and literary reference . . . the book was nearly as dense as Lolita with them, I think, but I didn't have the assistance of a devoted annotator. So one thing I took away was some frustration with myself and a wish for a better key to a very interesting book.

Emotionally, I felt touched by what I thought was Barth's repeated exploration of why he as a writer apparently felt that words and language created distance between the writer and the rest of the world. I think that was a personal exploration for him . . . he clearly felt plenty of sexual connection with women, but not much personal connection. In fact words and communication seemed to separate him from any experience of love and intimate bond. I also thought he expressing a larger divide between writers and experiencers/the world.

There is some connection between what frustrated me and what touched me about this book. There is something poignant about the frustrated desire to understand and hence to connect with someone else, and the barriers that our inability to comprehend create.

As for the form stuff, you are right, that is dated. But the essential question of how to connect and whether words do that or interfere/obstruct is still very topical, I think.
posted by bearwife 06 December | 16:16
So, I'm writing this first without reading your other comments. (yet! Will read, once I've clicked "post")

I'm up to the middle of the eponymous story I guess (not quite half-way through?), and I don't think I'll continue. I was first put off by the authorial notes in the beginning, then really liked the first story, then sort of didn't like much afterward, at least up 'til now, which I think is where I'll stop.

I quite dislike giving up on books, and I don't know if my problem here is more about me, or about Barth. I read his "The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor" many years ago, and really liked it, and was looking forward to this one. Yet, after the first story, I've had to slog my way through to keep reading.

But I'm giving up. I'm just not in the mood. I'm not in the mood right now for his kind of play as exhibited here, and I'm not in the mood for such a male-centric (? or what to call it? Barth-centric? I'm not sure?) collection.

I'm not talking about the first story. I'm talking about Andrea and her breast feeding played for   e x t e n d e d   naughty leers and chuckles, and Peggy Robbins, the nurse trainee, her shame in the jungle, and Thalia, and now Magda, and I just don't have the heart to continue. I've tried to be less a product of my time, but I'm also a product of his time, being older than most of you, and feel I have a right to jump ship on some self-indulgent blindered shit like this, even if from someone who is a respected practitioner.

I've done my time reading all the great (white male) authors from the Western (white male) Canon, and feel I have enough under my belt to not read some of what has been included at this point, in favor of things that don't make me heave. Or at least make me heave a little less.

Which makes me sound terribly radical, I'm sure, but really, really isn't. I don't read works because their authors are male or female, or differently gendered, or whatever; I read for the bliss. Yes, I tend to be more careful to be on the lookout for books by women/PoC/other-Others realizing they aren't often going to get the same promotional push and respect as the lads (for a tiny, tiny, example, Flannery O'Conner, Harper Lee, to name just two authors I've been attracted to re-reading lately, having become [once again] sort of beguiled by the whole Southern Gothic idea — would they have been accorded the opportunity for fair evaluation if their books had been written by Mary O'Conner or Nelle Lee, their real names? Oh, I think not. Moral: try to give your kids a variety of names to work with; the more androgynous middle names, the better! Give the kids a chance!). It horrifies me to imagine what we've missed.

Anyway, here's where I left off:

Once three years previously the young people aforementioned played Niggers and Masters in the backyard; when it was Ambrose's turn to be Master and theirs to be Niggers Peter had to go serve his evening papers; Ambrose was afraid to punish Magda alone, but she led him to the whitewashed Torture Chamber between the woodshed and the privy in the Slaves Quarters; there she knelt seating among bamboo rakes and dusty Mason jars, pleadingly embraced his knees, and while bees droned in the lattice as if on an ordinary summer afternoon purchased clemency at a surprising price set by herself.

Yes, insult meet injury. Niggers and Masters; if there were something in here, in all that I've read so far, that created even a clue of being ironic in more than an entirely narcissistic way here, I missed it. Oh, and back to Magda: all this after describing her peeling a banana with her teeth and other stuff that makes me feel greasily queasy reading from a grown man about a 14-year-old girl (especially when it's in complete opposition to her briefly limned persona), even when I try really hard to place it in the context of a 15-year-old boy speaking. If he were doing his job well, I ponder, wouldn't that middle-aged authorial voice recede at the proper moments so I wouldn't have to put the book aside for fear of hurling it and since it's an E-reader, that would be a considerable expense to me away?

Okay. That may not be fair, but it was the latest in assaults on my fairly strong hide with this book, and I'm not so much disgusted as tired. I'm not saying the guy's not some sort of genius or great author, but he's not someone I feel like reading now. Aside from the first story, everything has grated on me, like eating otherwise decent food with sand in it. You can taste the flavor, it's still nutritious, yet it remains almost unbearable.

If I were hungry enough, I'd finish it. But I have a ton of other books to read, and I have to give up on this one now because I'm really feeling pissed off, and not in the way the author intended. Not in the splendid way he hoped to be disliked.
posted by taz 11 December | 08:07
I am officially On Vacation with my beloved Bear but just dropped in briefly via Droid to read taz's comment -- which I just loved. Still chuckling here. Yes, Barth is a Great White Chauvinist Pig, isn't he? Maybe I especially liked taz's rip because I too have been around quite awhile.

I did like this book but think I liked taz's critique even more.
posted by bearwife 11 December | 08:41
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