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Re: [johnbarth] His Bobness, or Barth at Budokan

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  • John Shelby
    It s been a while since I ve been through Tidewater Tales, so I may be way off, but as I was reading these last few posts, I was put in mind of Peter
    Message 1 of 21 , Dec 27, 2008
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      It's been a while since I've been through Tidewater Tales, so I may be way off, but as I was reading these last few posts, I was put in mind of Peter Sagamore.  To the extent (if any) that he represents Barth, his struggle against the logical consequences of Less Is More kind of mirrors what Kris said: <<that he has dried up as an artist and is running around in narrower and narrower circles.>>
       
      Perhaps Barth has trapped himself.  I have found much of the 21st-century work (since Coming Soon!!!--[oh, how those exclamation points truly resonated with my excitement that a new Barth novel was being published; alas, how little the novel resonated with me!]) to be nearly unreadable. When I look back on what I've read of this period, all I remember is the catch-phrase quality of so much of it.  Barth's turn of phrase is a big part of the pleasure.  But once the phrase has been turned, so to speak, to keep doing it again and again is, well, redundant.  It just becomes cute, there's no fresh insight.
       
       
      I've been thinking that it would be nice to be reminded of how it all developed.  To that end, here's my grand proposal for the group read:  What about going back to the beginning, more than 50 years now, and group-read the whole oeuvre?  Let's start with The Floating Opera and read everything up through The Development or, more likely, whatever the next one is by the time we get that far!!!
       
      People would drop in and out of the read as we go through a book they don't want to do, but then the next book will come along.
       
      In fact, maybe we should try to make this a permanent feature of the group.  We can always be doing a group read.  When we finish the latest one, we'll go back to The Floating Opera and start it around again!
       
       
      By the way, I, too, am a big Dylan fan.  But when there is so much material out there, it's not all going to be gold.  I was also reinvigorated by the release of, especially the first, Bootleg Series.
       
       
       
      John

    • Елена Тарнаруцкая
      Hi I m so glad the group has woken up! ... I agree with John on read JB from the beginning as it would help see what he calls *reprise* and which is probably
      Message 2 of 21 , Dec 28, 2008
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        Hi I'm so glad the group has woken up!
        I agree with John on read JB from the beginning as it would help see what he calls reprise and which is probably important in his following books. Elena

      • kris_majer
        ... I guess that the artist exhausting and then replenishing himself by some kind of self-reflexive trick or other has been one of JB s grand themes in and out
        Message 3 of 21 , Dec 28, 2008
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          John wrote:

          > It's been a while since I've been through Tidewater Tales, so I may
          > be way off, but as I was reading these last few posts, I was put in
          > mind of Peter Sagamore. 

          I guess that the artist exhausting and then replenishing himself by
          some kind of self-reflexive trick or other has been one of JB's grand
          themes in and out of his fiction, and it was all right as long as it
          lasted, I'd say - as long as the work in question was living proof of
          the energy that has been restored. To my mind (and a few others' here,
          it seems) the replenishment has simply fallen off as part of the
          equation, although the works still claim that it's there...

          > Barth's turn of phrase is a big part of the pleasure.  But once the
          > phrase has been turned, so to speak, to keep doing it again and
          > again is, well, redundant.  It just becomes cute, there's no fresh >
          insight.

          I honestly couldn't agree more, unfortunately.

          > To that end, here's my grand proposal for the group read:  What
          > about going back to the beginning, more than 50 years now, and
          > group-read the whole oeuvre? 

          Wow! This is a grand proposal indeed, and exciting. I know some of you
          dislike the early stuff, but I've always been fond of Opera, as well
          as The End of the Road (possibly because it was the first JB book I
          read). That sentiment gone, I might enjoy them less now, but I haven't
          looked into them for ten years. Frankly, as long as the pace is
          leisurely, and I can squeeze a JB novel in between books I read with
          my students and things I read on my own for academic purposes, I'd be
          all for it. I've always thought it would be a nice idea to read all of
          his output straight through. Of course, what such a big project needs
          is at least five-ten people who'd be its backbone and oversee it
          somehow (set the dates, do the hosting, etc), and I could perhaps do
          some of it for some of the books, but not permanently... Let's see
          what people say to this.

          > In fact, maybe we should try to make this a permanent feature of
          > the group.  We can always be doing a group read. 

          This, in fact, sounds like an ideal JB group activity, but may be more
          than a little tricky. Would we also print all of his work on a
          gigantic roller towel? :)

          > By the way, I, too, am a big Dylan fan. But when there is so much
          > material out there, it's not all going to be gold. 

          Yup, which is why I sometimes wish they'd hold back a bit, sit on the
          material longer and release something better instead...

          Best,

          K
        • kris_majer
          ... I m glad! ... My problem is that I m stuck with the familiarity, while the satisfaction almost never arrives... ... I might have exaggerated for the sake
          Message 4 of 21 , Dec 28, 2008
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            Blair wrote:

            > I too will stick up for The Development.

            I'm glad!

            > I just don't get the same sort of excitement from reading
            > Barth that I used to. I do still get a lot of pleasure from his work,
            > though. It's familiar, yet satisfying.

            My problem is that I'm stuck with the familiarity, while the
            satisfaction almost never arrives...

            > I didn't read all of the
            > characters in The Development as being the same; I thought there were
            > some interesting variations between them, even if most of them are
            > drawn from a similar grouping, as is inevitable when you're writing
            > about the sort of retirement community that he is.

            I might have exaggerated for the sake of the argument, but I had a
            feeling that they spoke in the same voice (which, as we know, is the
            criticism that one of the faux editors of the New Syllabus makes...
            which makes the whole issue slippery). Also, many characters I felt
            were very sketchily drawn, which made telling them apart such a
            difficulty in "Progressive Dinner". And I didn't think they were
            'flat-for-the-sake-of-flat' characters, nor did JB seem to tamper with
            characterization conventions much; they seemed sloppily made and
            unremarkable.

            > My favourite story
            > in the collection is actually 'Toga Party', the ending of which
            > genuinely shocked me.

            I enjoyed parts of that one, thanks for reminding me. Isn't the ending
            shocking, though, partly because the Feltons don't seem to 'be the
            types' and because the urgency of their problem is not really
            communicated until the very end? But yes, Toga Party I'd say was my
            second favorite after Bard Award.

            > I've enjoyed the last few efforts from our man. In fact, the last one
            > I didn't really like at all was his last novel, Coming Soon!!! I've
            > liked what he's done with his shorter works in his later life, after
            > so many years writing lengthy novels.

            Thanks, Blair, for bringing some balance to the discussion. I remember
            liking CS!!! when it came out, but at the time I was still at a stage
            when I'd swallow pretty much anything by JB. Haven't read it since
            then, but from what I remember of it it'd probably fall in with the
            efforts I don't enjoy much.

            Me, I'm still waiting for a lengthy novel in which gated Old Fart
            communities are only marginal. ;)

            K
          • Glenn Gamblin
            Message 5 of 21 , Dec 28, 2008
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              John Shelby wrote:
              >
              >
              >
              >
              > I've been thinking that it would be nice to be reminded of how it all
              > developed. To that end, here's my grand proposal for the group read:
              > What about going back to the beginning, more than 50 years now, and
              > group-read the whole oeuvre? Let's start with The Floating Opera and
              > read everything up through The Development or, more likely, whatever
              > the next one is by the time we get that far!!!
              >
              > People would drop in and out of the read as we go through a book they
              > don't want to do, but then the next book will come along.
              > John
              >
              > .
              > Seconded!!
              >
            • william.street42
              I certainly enjoyed The Development, and I had read most of the stories preiously, when they were published in various literary magazines. The way in which the
              Message 6 of 21 , Jan 9, 2009
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                I certainly enjoyed The Development, and I had read most of the stories
                preiously, when they were published in various literary magazines.
                The way in which the stories formed a coherent whole--something more
                than simply a story collection--something which I had anticpated as I
                read the individual stories over tha past few years-was excellent. I
                am not a fan of the idea that there are "two Barths"--one who wrote The
                Sot Weed Factor and Giles Goat Boy, and a different one who worte
                Coming Soon!. Rather, I think that there is one John Barth, who
                changed and developed over the years, in a way that self-conciously
                remained aware of his earlier manifestations. His entire body of work,
                taken as a whole, is quite fascinating. I stayed up most of a night
                reading The Development, and it made me want to reread my Barth
                favorites: Tidewater Tales and Somebody the Sailor. I shall probably
                get to them in May.
                Bill
              • Josiah Miller
                William, I do believe you are right in saying:  I am not a fan of the idea that there are two Barths --one who wrote The Sot Weed Factor and Giles Goat Boy,
                Message 7 of 21 , Jan 9, 2009
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                  William,
                  I do believe you are right in saying:  "I am not a fan of the idea that there are "two Barths"--one who wrote The Sot Weed Factor and Giles Goat Boy, and a different one who worte
                  Coming Soon!. Rather, I think that there is one John Barth, who changed and developed over the years, in a way that self-conciously remained aware of his earlier manifestations."
                   
                  John Barth, as I believe all great writers should be taken as a whole.  If you look at the scope of his work, I don't believe you'll really find a breaking point in his writing career.  I think you'll find a definite progression - just like someone's experiences and maturity through life - there is definitely in aspect of progression and maturity in his work.  You'll find this in writers like Thomas Pynchon as well.  Against the Day and Mason and Dixon were definitely older and more mature than Gravity's Rainbow and Col49.  I believe John Barth is absolutely aware of the directions his writing has taken.  He knows The End of the Road, Giles Goat Boy, The Letters, Chimera, Tidewater Tales, Where Three Roads Meet and now The Development.   There is definitely a considerable difference from one work to the next.  The Development is a pinpoint in the John Barth timeline, by this I mean that by reading the Development you can see what concerns and is most important to John Barth at the time of his writing.  This novel is definitely an older novel.  It should not be read by any means like you would read Giles Goat Boy or Sot Weed, but it should not be read like you would read Coming Soon or Where Three Roads Meet either.  This is completely new and fresh and I think he has very fresh ideas and a fresh way of writing, while keeping the "Barthness" about the work.  It is shown in - I believe its the Bard Award - the narrator's interactions with his student and with his wife and I feel this shows where Barth is now as a writer.  Not saying that he's ever had relations with a student or anything (that is not up to me to speculate or look at as an autobiographical aspect), but as a writer in one generation looking at writers in the next generation. 
                   
                  Josiah
                  --- On Fri, 1/9/09, william.street42 <william.street@...> wrote:
                  From: william.street42 <william.street@...>
                  Subject: [johnbarth] The Development
                  To: johnbarth@yahoogroups.com
                  Date: Friday, January 9, 2009, 8:49 AM

                  I certainly enjoyed The Development, and I had read most of the stories
                  preiously, when they were published in various literary magazines.
                  The way in which the stories formed a coherent whole--something more
                  than simply a story collection-- something which I had anticpated as I
                  read the individual stories over tha past few years-was excellent. I
                  am not a fan of the idea that there are "two Barths"--one who wrote The
                  Sot Weed Factor and Giles Goat Boy, and a different one who worte
                  Coming Soon!. Rather, I think that there is one John Barth, who
                  changed and developed over the years, in a way that self-conciously
                  remained aware of his earlier manifestations. His entire body of work,
                  taken as a whole, is quite fascinating. I stayed up most of a night
                  reading The Development, and it made me want to reread my Barth
                  favorites: Tidewater Tales and Somebody the Sailor. I shall probably
                  get to them in May.
                  Bill


                • Mark Brawner
                  On Fri, Jan 9, 2009 at 5:49 AM, william.street42 ... I also had read two or three of them before (from Subtropics and another organ that escapes me). Oh, and
                  Message 8 of 21 , Jan 14, 2009
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                    On Fri, Jan 9, 2009 at 5:49 AM, william.street42
                    <william.street@...> wrote:
                    >
                    > I certainly enjoyed The Development, and I had read most of the stories
                    > preiously, when they were published in various literary magazines.

                    I also had read two or three of them before (from Subtropics and
                    another organ that escapes me). Oh, and also Toga Part in Best
                    American Short Stories 2007. But I was distracted at the time and
                    have enjoyed settling down with the volume proper. I've going pretty
                    slowly and haltingly because my reading time is so limited recently,
                    but I'm through the first three and am enjoying myself.

                    > The way in which the stories formed a coherent whole--something more
                    > than simply a story collection--something which I had anticpated as I
                    > read the individual stories over tha past few years-was excellent.

                    I've already got a whiff of this as I proceed, and look forward to
                    seeing how the effect further strikes me as I read through to the end.
                  • Mark Brawner
                    ... I cried a little.
                    Message 9 of 21 , Jan 14, 2009
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                      On Sat, Dec 27, 2008 at 4:03 PM, Blair Mahoney <b1b2@...> wrote:
                      >My favourite story in the collection is actually 'Toga Party', the ending of which
                      > genuinely shocked me.

                      I cried a little.
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