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New Love

So I've been reading through this massive volume of American Literature, trying to find something for my Shujukudo (習熟度) kids to read in class, and I came across this excerpt from John Barth's Lost in the Funhouse: Fiction for Print, Tape, Live Voice (1968), called "Life-Story" and it's absolutely brilliant. He talks about these things that have always bothered me about writing, reality, writing in reality, and reality in writing:

The reader! You, dogged, uninsultable, print-oriented bastard, it's you I'm addressing, who else, from inside this monstrous fiction. You've read me this far, then? Even this far? For what discreditable motive? How is it you don't go to a movie, watch TV, stare at a wall, play tennis with a friend, make amorous advances to the person who comes to your mind when I speak of amorous advances? Can nothing surfeit, saturate you, turn you off? Where's your shame?

Isn't it beautiful?! And then he goes on to talk about the reality of fictitious characters who realize that they are fictitious and how they are chronologically affected by the pace of the reader. It's absolutely delicious!

But you needn't! He exclaimed to you. In vain. Had he petitioned you instead to read slowly the happy parts, what happy parts, swiftly in the painful no doubt you'd have done the contrary or cut him off entirely. But as he longs to die and can't without your help you force him on, force him on. Will you deny you've read this sentence? This? To get away with murder doesn't appeal to you, is that it? As if your hands weren't inky with other dyings! As if he'd know you'd killed him! Come on. He dares you.

In vain. You haven't: the burden of his knowledge. That he continues means that he continues, a fortiori you too. Suicide's impossible: he can't kill himself without your help. Those petitions aforementioned, even his silly plea for death--don't you think he understands their sophistry, having authored their like for the wretches he's authored? Read him fast or slow, intermittently, continuously, repeatedly, backward, not at all, he won't know it; he only guesses someone's reading or composing his sentences, such as this one, because he's reading or composing sentences such as this one; the net effect is that there's a net effect, of continuity and an apparent consistent flow of time, though his pages do seem to pass more swiftly as they near his end.

Barth is a delicious new genius for me to eat up. I am in love.

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September 2006
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