Monday, March 23, 2009

Metafiction and the Death of the Author in Barth's "Lost in the Funhouse"

So, because we have so many presentations this Wednesday, I'm going to keep this part short.
I, too, will be talking about Barthes' "Death of the Author", and metafiction (self-referentialism, talking about fiction in fiction, etc), but (hopefully) in a different way...

A few things you should think about before or after reading the story:
1) Is Barth emphasizing the death of the author by explicitly writing himself into his own story? If he isn't explicitly a part of his story, would we lose the author altogether? We, as the readers, are constantly reminded of how fully in control of the story and plot the author is. Does this, in turn, imply that there is no meaning in the text past what Barth points out?
2) Is there a purpose to the story itself or is Barth just playing with the reader?
3) Can we call this the 'death of the reader'?

These are some preliminary thoughts/questions. Barth seems to be both mocking and using postmodern self-referentialism to emphasize his point.

A quote from the story to leave you with. To emphasize the teasing of the author:
“For all a person knows the first time through, the end could be just around any corner; perhaps, not impossibly it’s been within reach any number of times. On the other hand he may be scarcely past the start, with everything yet to get through, an intolerable idea.” (92)

I love you all,
(and I hope this helps)


  1. John Barth’s story, “Lost in the Funhouse” tells a story of a family going on vacation, but the story is continuously (and sometimes aggravatingly) interrupted by the author himself, jumping in to talk about literary technique and style; imposing his knowledge, as the author, on the reader. The story is explicitly using metafiction, in that the author becomes an implicit part of the story, and this use of the self-conscious discusses forms of writing within writing. The self-reflexivity of this story serves as a constant reminder to the reader that the author is in full charge, and therefore what the author says becomes the central meaning to the text.
    Throughout the story, Barth directs the reader to his intent in using a metaphor, foreshadowing, and talks about the act of writing as he is writing. To what purpose does this serve? Metafiction, it would seem, can be used for so many different ends. Coover uses it in “The Babysitter” to allow the reader to interpret what he wants from the text. He provides the plots, characters and setting, and leaves it up to the reader to interpret and fit together the pieces in order to gain any understanding or coherence from the story. With Barth, it seems to be exactly the opposite. He uses self-reflection to point the reader towards his intended meaning, so much that the reader can no longer function without the author telling him what to think.
    I wonder, then, if Barth is rejecting Barthe’s “Death of the Author” in order to immortalize himself as the author. It’s like he’s pointing fun at the reader, saying ‘Ha! You have nothing but what I tell you.’ Instead, we, as the readers, are left at the end of the story only feeling confused, wondering why Barth even bothered. The story itself is innately boring. Though satirical and compelling at times, it seems to offer little meaning to the reader beyond the given interpretations of the author.
    The ending leaves the reader with more questions than answers and its inconclusiveness seems to come as a mocking to the reader. Perhaps Barth is saying that the author is not dead, reminding us that we, as readers, are nothing without the author’s intent. The author has full control. It is a drastic measure to take, but in light of all that is on the brink of being ‘lost’ through postmodernism, it seems to be a postmodern rejection to the decentralization of postmodernism.
    “So far there’s been no real dialogue, very little sensory detail, and nothing in the way of a theme. And a long time has gone by already without anything happening; it makes a person wonder. We haven’t even reached Ocean City yet: we will never get out of the funhouse” (77).

    A further question: Is Barth questioning his authority as author, or imposing his authority, letting the reader know that now it is up to him what happens in the plot?

  2. Paper # 10
    Upon first reading Lost in the Funhouse I was annoyed. I thought to myself if Barth wanted to fill me in on his grammatical and plot uses, why can’t he just use a forward. Or footnotes. Something that I can ignore while I’m reading the story. His constant interruptions take away from the overall story because it weakens the ability of the narrator to construct a ‘proper’ story. The self conscious moments in the story point to the existence of an author and take away from the actual intrigue of the tale. But then the narrator, being an author knows what he is doing, as he so often reminds us. So why so he doing it?
    I felt that Barth was just screaming out, remember me. I am why you are reading this story. What I chose to tell you and how I chose to write it determines how you the reader looks at the story. I, the author decide when to use italics; it takes skill to put together a story with a plot line, foreshadowing, a climax and an ending. He is begging the reader to take note of his authorial intent. He does not want to be forgotten. He even pays tribute to other authors before him, saying, I have not forgot those who came before me, who shaped me, you should do the same, not forget me.
    How is the reader meant to fit into this piece of work? Are we meant to choose more of the story as we are playfully reminded and prodded by the author that we are reading and therefore engaging in a text or are we the readers meant to sit back and realize that we are being told this narrative and have no role to play in deciding all the characters outcome ? Who has the ultimate power over the narrative: the author or the reader?