thumbnail of Library of Congress lectures; John Barth, part one
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
National Educational radio presents another in a series of lectures recorded at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. under the auspices of the Gertrude Clark with all the poetry and literature found. Today the American novelist John bars is heard reading problem and commenting on his recent work. Here to introduce him is the Librarian of Congress Dr. Elder Quincy Mumford. Good evening ladies and gentleman. From that applause I don't think the foreman needs an introduction. But it is a great pleasure for me to welcome him this evening. This thing which young American novelist John Bard. Who read and comment on selections from his novels. For those of you who are not familiar with his biography. Mr. Byers was born in Cambridge Maryland. He received from John Hopkins University a B.A. Degree in 1951. And am a degree in 1052. From 1953 to 1965 he was a member of the English department at Pennsylvania State University. And has been a
professor of English at the State University of New York at Buffalo since 1965. His four published novels. Are the floating opera. Published in 1956. The end of the road 1958. The Sot weed factor. 1960 and revised edition 1967. And last year was Goat Boy. Or the revised neo soul of us. Gals Goat Boy I was one of the notable books of 1966 selected by the American Library Association's notable books Council. Richard W.. Nolan. Writing in the autumn 1966 issue of Wisconsin's that is in contemporary literature. Says. Bartz is surely one of the most interesting American novelist to appear in the last decade. He is original and independent. Bides is interested in
dramatizing ideas in character. And his most interesting and important achievement to date. Is the embodiment of philosophical ideas. In form both tragic and comic. It is a great pleasure me to introduce. Us to byes. And we look forward to hearing him with keen interest. It was to buy. It. With. You. Not simply to demonstrate that. Independence just spoken of I'm not going to give a reading of excerpts from my novels after all although I thought I would until a day or so ago. I have a programme of readings of excerpts from the books called the heroical. Curriculum.
That I've given a few times at university campuses here and there what it is is a series of little selections. From the four books ostensibly picked to demonstrate some of their common themes. For example that self-knowledge is generally bad news. I'm convinced that he is. Let them know that if you don't look out you may get pinched between two of a any two of the great axioms of western civilization for example Socrates is lesson that the unexamined life is not worth living. King Oedipus his lesson that the well examined life may be unlivable. But the real principle behind their selection I realize hasn't anything to do with that at all it's just that they read quite well out loud they were purple passages as a matter of fact and that they demonstrate hopefully that my fiction has been holding its own not getting worse at least over the years. If we can just accept that last is granted for the purposes of an hour what I'd like to do 90 something or skip that
demonstration and do something at least from the showbusiness point of view is a little more risky perhaps less interesting. I want to lay on you. A couple of little short pieces that I've been entertaining myself with since the Go board book was finished. There used to be called before the word lost its cachet experimental pieces. They haven't been published yet some of them won't ever be a few of them don't make a great deal of sense at least out of context some of them were written specifically for Tate. A medium that will be hard for publishers to deal with I suppose and would lose part of their point off the printed page at least one of them was written specifically for public readings like this one and no other media and this is a sort of medium in itself you know. But I didn't bring that when. I was. If a writer is not simply going to repeat himself he has to keep changing reinventing himself one good reason for writing long novels instead of short stories or at least you only have to
reinvent your identity once every four years or so instead of once every. Four weeks or so hopefully these changes or developments they may not make. Hopefully all these stages as they say in the lip biz are still pushing the same payload towards its orbit and hopefully to the Rands audience will stay within through those stretches of the journey that may remind one more of the troll bridges than the cabbage fields. I suspect Lisa there won't be very much cabbage in these pieces I've been doing lately. I don't think it's a good idea as a rule for any kind of artist to explain what he's up to even if he can the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges might marry inordinately puts this rather arrogant My God he says needn't stoop to theology. Was. A polite way of putting it a modern painter recently said birds don't need to study Ornithology I rather like that version of it.
Better. But since you're going to be hearing these pieces cold as we say and for the first time into the ear after all without being able to follow the printed text. I will say one or two things about them one interesting thing about tape as a medium by the way it seems to me is that it has obviously some of the advantages of the old oral tradition where literature starts the intimacy of alive or at least the living human voice and a kind of immediacy of storytelling that you can never quite get. Off the printed page on the other hand you can stop the tape back up cause if you like which you can do for example with the film Under ordinary circumstances or the theatre. But can do with the printed page I'm finally what Marshall McLuhan and his friends call a print oriented bastard. But what I do I am interested in the tape. Media Do these pieces all of them share some preoccupations with the novels anyhow they are serious I hope but they're not especially long faced. Certainly they're pessimistic I'm basically a pessimistic character but I hope they're entertaining too. In all of
them for better or worse the process of narration I'll talk like a professor for five minutes now the process of narration becomes the content in one of any number of ways or the form or the medium is given some kind of metaphorical value or dramatical relevance leaves the medium if you like is the message although that slogan makes me wince a little bit the media has always been the message obviously in old ways this perhaps in some new ways. None of these are new ideas second all of them explore one way or another certain kinds of inherent potential ambiguity as in language and in narrative point of view a kind of ambiguity that interests me a great deal the tension I think between. Say the author and his first person narrator is at least as interesting and dramatically viable as the tension for example between that part of a human being which is the author of a given text and the rest of the parts of that same human being which not only may not be the author of the text but may resist the author of the text. This is seems to be such a very lively and
interesting ambiguity is in narrative point of view inherently. And I've tried to do some things with those. And third one of the objectives of all the so-called experiments the most important one it seems to me is to try whether different kinds of artistic ultimate season cold or socks can't be turned somehow against themselves to do viable and valid new work. That's my one weighty statement for the evening because it seems to me that this kind of operation trying to turn dead ends into new avenues trying to escalate fatal contradictions into fruitful paradoxes for instance maybe in in this little small way representative of what after all is one of the large tasks perhaps of the latter decades of this bloody century. For civilized people I would say anything serious. Having said that for the sententious thing finally. If the pieces are to be successful from my personal point of view they have to be more than just turkey. If my writing were no more than a kind of intellectual funny games
that Time magazine for example makes it out in a friendly way to be I'd I'd turn in my union card and take up some other line of work. I guess that's why we object finally all of us nowadays to the term experimental It suggests cold exercises in technique and as we all know technique in writing is about the same value as technique in lovemaking. We could have said tennis but you know writers. Are supposed to talk about lovemaking we are like Meyer. We all admire or. Heartless Scioto it has its appeal and we owe it Myra kind of heartfelt ineptitude but we all really want both for ourselves and most directions as passionate virtuous of me and I would say. That if the experiments aren't also. If the experiments aren't also moving one way or another than their own successful experiments I'm going to read two of them at you tonight. A medium sized one live and then a short one on tape. This first one is called Title.
It speaks simultaneously of three things the narrator's difficulty with some lady friend of his has problems with the narrative that he's in the process of composing and the ultimate m situation that he feels literature to be him to. The questions raised whether one mightn't at least temporarily go on as we say in life in art in history by making the difficulty one subject the answer is equivocal. The manner of narration lets the story be understood as a monologue or a dialogue or both between the narrator and his companion or the author and his audience or both and with either party speaking most of the exchanges also in the monologue passages to perfect the confusion. The voice of the author of the story which the stories about it are up some sensors the reflections of the narrator usually by substituting grammatical and rhetorical or structural terms for the things they represent as with the title title a process that illustrates the theme sumps.
Some psychological friend of mine said that this is one of the manifestations of a certain form of FHA. I rather like that. They don't well the whole business sounds deadly but we'll see how it works. Title. Beginning. In the middle. Past the middle. Near three quarters done. Waiting for the end. Consider how dreadful so far passion lessness abstraction pro this and it will get worse. Can we possibly continue. Plotting theme. Notions vitiated by this hour of the world but has yet not successfully succeeded. Conflict. Complication no Clyne acts.
The worst is to come. Everything leads to nothing. Future Tense past tense present tense. Perfect. The final question is. Can nothing be made meaningful. Isn't that the final question. It's not the end is at hand. Literally as it were. I can't stand any more of this. I think she comes. Story of our life. This is the final test. Try to fill in the blank. Only hope is to fill in the blank. If they say what can't be faced or else fill in the blank. With words or more words. Otherwise I'll fill in the blank with this noun here in my propositional logic. Yes she already said that. And I think what now. Everything's been
said already over and over. I'm just sick of this as you are. There's nothing to say. Say nothing. What's new. Nothing. Conventional startling opener. Sorry if I'm interrupting the progress of literature she said in a tone that adjective clause suggesting good humored irony but in fact defensively and imperfectly masking a taunt. The conflict is established though as yet unclear in detail. Standard conflict. Let's get particulars. What do you want from me. What does the story be this time. Same old story. Just thought I'd see if you were still around. Before work. What. Quit right here. Too late. Can't we start over. What's past is past on the contrary what's forever past is eternally present. The future blank.
All this is just filling in. Writing on. Still around in what sense among the Girondins. WHAT IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN. Did you think I meant to fill in the blank. Why should I. On the other hand why not. What makes you think I wouldn't fill in the blank instead. Some conversation this is. Do you want to go on or stay away end it right now. Suspense. I don't care for this either. It'll be over soon enough in any case. But it gets worse and worse. Whatever happens the ending will be deadly. At least let's have just one real conversation. Dialogue a monologue. Where he's been from the first Don't ask me. What is there to say at this late date. Let me think I'm trying to think. Same old story. Or. Or.
Silence. This isn't so bad. Silence. There are worse things. Name three. This that the other. Some choices. Who said there was a choice. Let's try again. That's what I've been doing I've been thinking while you've been playing. Story of our life. However this may be the final complication. The ending may be violent that's been said before who cares. Let the end be blank. Anything's better than this. It didn't used to be so bad. It used to be less difficult even enjoyable. For whom. Both of us to do what. Complicate the conflict. I am weary of
this. What then. To complete this sentence if I may bring up a similar subject that never used to be a problem now it's impossible we just can't manage it. You can't fill in the blank I can't fill in the blank. Or won't. Is this what we're going to talk about. Obscene verbal problem. It'll be our last conversation. Why talk at all. Are you paying attention. I dare you to quit now. Never dare a desperate person on with it calmly one sentence after another like a recidivist. Oh what. A common noun or another common noun. Hold tight. Or a chronic forger committed to the pen for life. Which is to say death. The point for pity's sake. Not yet. For Joan. Where more than half way through as I remarked at the outset youthful vigor innocent exposition positive rising action.
All that is behind us. How sophisticated we are today. I'll ignore her he vowed and went on in this deep human exhausted ultimate a.. Hour when every humane value has become untenable and not only love decency and gayety but even compassion and intelligibility are no more than one or two subjective complements to complete the sentence. This is a story. It's a story he replied equably. Or will be if the author can finish it without interruption I suppose you mean she broke in. I can't finish anything. That is my final word. Yet it's these interruptions that make it a story. Escalate the conflict further. Please let me start over. Once upon a time you were satisfied with incidental Felicity's and niceties of technique the unexpected image the refreshingly
accurate word choice the memorable simile of it yields deeper and subtler significance is upon reflection like a memorable simile. Somebody please stop me. Or arresting dialogue so to speak. For example. Why do you suppose it is she asked Long participial phrase of the breathless variety characteristic of dialogue attributions in 19th century fiction. That literate people such as we talk like characters in a story. Even supplying the dialogue tags she added with pride disgust. Don't put words in her mouth. The same old story an old fashioned one at that. Even if I should fill in the blank with my idle pen. Nothing new about that. To make a fact out of a savior at least it's good for
something. Every story is penned in red ink. To make a Figure out of a fact. This whole idea is insane. And might therefore be got away with. No turning back now we've gone too far. Everything's finished. Name eight. Story novel literature art humanism humanity the self it self. Wait the story is not finished and you and I Howard whispered Martha. Her sarcasm belied by hesitant alarm in her glance flickering as it were despite herself to the blank instrument in his hand. A light indeed. Put that thing away. And what does flickering modify. A person who can't verb adverb audit least to speak correctly.
A tense moment in the evolution of the story. Do you know declared the narrator one has no idea especially nowadays how close the end may be. Nor will one necessarily be aware of it when it occurs. Who can say how new this universe has come to mere cessation. Or take two people in a story of the sort it once was possible to tell. Love affairs literary genres third term an exemplary series fourth. Everything blossoms and decays does it not from the primitive in classical through the manner than by rote to the abstract stylised dehumanised unintelligible blank. And you and I Rosemary. EDWARD. Snapped. Patience. The narrator gathers that his audience no longer care issues him. And conversely. But little does he know of the common man concealed for months in her you name it under her eyelids shimmy.
This is a slip. The point is the same. And she fetches it out nightly as I dream I think. That's no slip. And she regards it inside as a quantum grimly where each night it may be. Is this supposed to be amusing. The world might end before this sentence or merely someone's life. And or someone else's. I speak metaphorically is the sentence ended there in nearly. No telling how long a sentence will be until one reaches the stop. It sounds as if somebody intends to fill in the blank. What is all this nonsense about. It may not be nonsense. Anyhow it will presently be over as the narrator was saying things have been cut put for some time and while we may be pardoned our great reluctance to acknowledge it the fact
is that the bloody century for example is nearing the three quarter mark and the characters in this little tale for example are similarly past their prime as is the drama about played out. Then Goddammit let's ring the curtain. Wait wait. We're left with the following three possibilities at least in theory. Horse shit. Hold on to yourself it's too soon to fill in the blank. I hope this will be a short story. Shorter than it seems. It seems endless. Be thankful it's not a novel. The novel is predicate adjective. As is the innocent anecdote of bygone days when life made a degree of sense and subject joined to complement by copula. No longer are these things the case as you have doubtless remarked. There was I believe some mention of possibilities three in number.
The first is rejuvenation. Having become an exhausted parody of itself perhaps a form of what. Of anything may rise Neo primitively from its own ashes. A tiresome prospect. The second more appealing I'm sure but scarcely likely at this advance a date is that more a bund what have you's will be supplanted by vigorous new. The demise of the novel In short story he went on to declare need be the end of narrative art nor need the dissolution of a used up blank fill in the blank. The end of one road might be the beginning of another. Much good that will do me. And you may not find the revolution as bloodless as you think either. Shall we try it. Never dare a person who is fed up to the ears. The final possibility is a temporary expedient to be sure the self-styled narrator of this so-called story went on to admit ignoring the hostile impatiens of his audience.
But what is not in every sentence completed is a step closer to the end. That is to say every day again the day gone. A matter of viewpoint I suppose there on I am whether anyone's paying attention or not. The final possibility is to turn ultimately exhaustion paralyzing self-consciousness and the adjective weight of accumulated history. Go on go on. To turn ultimately against itself to make something new and valid the essence where love would be the impossibility of making something new. What an Aussie ating notion and praying How does it bear upon the analogy uppermost in everyone's mind. We've gotten this far haven't we. Look how far we've come together. Can't we keep on to the end. I think not. Even another sentence is too many. Only if one believes the end to be a long way off. Actually it might come at any moment. I'm surprised it hasn't before now.
Nothing does when it's expected to. Be silence. There's a fourth possibility I suppose. So I don't see. General anaesthesia self extinction. Silence. Historicity and self awareness either sever a good while Any luck to go and even greatly to be prized are always fatal to innocence and spontaneity. Perhaps adj. period. Whether in a people an art a love affair or a fourth term aged not impossibly to make the third less than ultimate. In the name of suffering humanity cease this harangue. It's over. And the story. Is there a plot here. What's all this leading up to. No climax. There is the story. Finished. Not quite story of our lives. The last word in
fiction. In fact. I chose the first person narrative viewpoint in order to reflect interest on the peculiarities of the techniques such as the normally unbearable self-consciousness the abstraction in the blank. To the nature and situation of the narrator and his companion despite the obvious possibility that the narrator and his companion might be mistaken for the narrator and his companion. Occupational hazard. The technique is advanced as you say but the situation of the characters is conventionally dramatic. That being the case may one of them or one who may be mistaken for one of them make a long speech in the old fashioned manner charged with obsolete emotion. Of course. I begin calmly though my voice may rise as I go along. Sometimes it seems as if things could instantly be altogether different and more admirable. The times be damned one still wants a man vigorous confident bold resourceful a. an adjective. One still wants a
woman spirited spacious of heart loyal gentle a. a. That man and that woman are as possible as the ones in this miserable story and a good deal realer. It's as if they live in some room of our house that we can't find the door to though it's so close we can hear echoes of their voices. Experience has made them wise instead of bitter. Knowledge has mellowed instead of souring them in their 40s and 50s even in their 60s they're gayer and stronger than more authentic than they were in their 20s. But the 20 year olds they have only affectionate sympathy.
Library of Congress lectures
John Barth, part one
Producing Organization
National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-ks6j553m).
Episode Description
This program, the first of two parts, features novelist John Barth.
Series Description
A series of lectures given at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producer: Library of Congress
Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Speaker: Barth, John, 1930-
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-Sp.2-6 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:27:53
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Library of Congress lectures; John Barth, part one,” 1967-10-24, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 8, 2023,
MLA: “Library of Congress lectures; John Barth, part one.” 1967-10-24. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 8, 2023. <>.
APA: Library of Congress lectures; John Barth, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from