Re: LETTERS as a whole
- Re letters to selves
I agree with agrimorfee's thoughts on this, and I also think that at the same time it might simply be realistic. The classic conception of letter writing, one person sitting down with pen and paper to communicate a thought or thoughts to another person over a distance, is long gone by the time of LETTERS, and even more so now. These reasons that agrimorfee lists are really the only reasons why we write letters like the ones in LETTERS at this point in time.
This narcissism assumes the common real-life author, John Barth. I agree that LETTERS can be read as self-congratulatory, but it could also be read as an attempt to give the characters and the stories lives of their own, apart from the person of the author. If you enjoy LETTERS because of the recapitulation of the earlier novels, hopefully that is because you love the characters and the stories and what they tell you, not because you love John Barth (of course, we confuse these two things all the time: "I love Don Delillo" doesn't (usually) mean you are actually in love with good old Don). I guess either extreme interpretation is possible, and I don't think any middle ground is really possible, especially given Barth's insertion of his own name and the character of the Author.
Ag has pointed out the narcissism of the
characters' letters to self, but there is Big Scale
Narcissism going on here, too! "I celebrate my work, and
sing my work" says Barth here. It is self-praise of the
highest order, rewriting the sentences, recreating the
heroes, and then re-reing everything some more. I'm not
concerned with all that on aesthetic grounds, because it all
works (well, almost all).... but should one do that? Is it
(Does anyone have any other examples of novels which recapitulate all of the author's previous works like this one does?)
I agree that they are entertaining, and I like them. And one of the cool things about a list like this is that we can play these games together, and help each other piece together the text (I'd like to get to this eventually with LETTERS). But I guess I don't think of it as intellectual play, since it just takes work to figure these things out. It isn't a creative process. That doesn't seem particularly intellectual to me. This is probably just a semantics thing. And I also think that a novel doesn't need a "grand moral", but I also don't want to assume that Barth doesn't have one just because he has these games on the surface.
Personally I loved the structure of the work as a whole, the unfolding and
refolding of the whole damn thing, but I guess I am just impressed and
entertained by intellectual play. I don't think novels need a grand moral
or such to be wonderful works (that's me on the Gass side of the