John Barth and the Anxiety of Continuance

John Barth and the Anxiety of Continuance

Patricia Tobin

200 pages | 6 x 9
Ebook 2016 | ISBN 9781512808032 | Buy from De Gruyter $79.95 | €69.95 | £70.50
This book is available under special arrangement from our European publishing partner De Gruyter.
An Anniversary Collection volume

During the sixties and seventies, the fictional "reinventions" of john Barth, along with his misread and influential essay 'The Literature of Exhaustion," established the comic novelist as a leading practitioner and theorist of what was then coming to be called postmodern literature. In more recent years, however, Barth's reputation has been called into question within the ongoing critical debate over the criterion of "originality" and the status of literary repetition, imitation, and parody. In her spirited defense of Barth, Patricia Tobin employs Harold Bloom's theory of belatedness to confront and explode this issue.

For Bloom, the later the artist the greater the burden of the past against which he must rebel and the more hopeless his task. However, Tobin argues Barth revels in his belatedness and celebrates the opportunity to survey a rich literary past and to bring back to life its dead forms, genres, and styles by completing, fulfilling, and "exhausting" them. Not a retrospective and negative anxiety of influence, then, but a wholly prospective and positive anxiety of continuance has propelled Barth through a distinguished career.

Throughout, Tobin elaborates the conjunctions and disjunctions between Bloom and Barth with surprising results. Most notable, perhaps, is her examination of how Bloom's model of a "map of misreading" helps to elucidate, and even predict, the ways in which Barth sets each new novel in antithetical relation to the one before. Along the way, much is said about modernism and postmodernism, repetition and difference, and what it means poetically and willfully to intend a career. John Barth and the Anxiety of Continuance will be of interest to scholars of American fiction and critical theory.

Patricia Tobin was Professor of English at Rutgers University.

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