Saturday 6 June 2020

John Barth Was Astonishingly Boring

John Domini does his best to reverse the reputational damage that John Barth, once a towering figure in postmodern American writing, has suffered:
For the better part of 40 years, applause for this author has gone largely unheard. In the Times Book Review, for instance, the novel [Angela] Carter so admired took a loud thwacking. Gore Vidal, both in print and on TV, insisted that Barth was “astonishingly boring.” Long and short, the man couldn’t catch a break. His work suffered worse than that of any writer who followed his lead. Unlike, say, Donald Barthelme, Barth became one of those “no one reads anymore.” First Raymond Carver made him look prissy, then David Foster Wallace rendered him unhip.

Now, the buffeting of cultural winds is always a risk. Arthur Miller, one of our greatest playwrights, saw all his later plays trashed—a damning indictment, according to Tony Kushner, of the critical establishment. To me the case of later Barth looks awfully similar.

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