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Chapter Fourteen:The sixties and seventies

I. Background: The 1960s were years of great cultural excitement and social pain. In
the fifties, the Beats had called for a revolution in consciousness. It began among
college students in the sixties. They were the Hippies . They looked for
new experiences through love, drugs and Oriental religions. Many people called it a
joyful second American Revolution. But this was also the decade when John F.
Kennedy, the young American President, was murdered and the country began a
long, hopeless war in Vietnam. By the middle of the sixties, the streets were filled
with angry young people demanding equal rights for blacks and an end to the
Vietnam War. By 1970, the national mood was very unhappy. The war was going
badly and Americans were losing their confidence.
Some writers of the sixties and seventies look deep into the nature of American
values in order to understand what is happening in their souls. In many ways, they
continue the psychological studies of the fifties.
II. The Turbulent But Creative 1960s: The alienation and stress underlying the
1950s found outward expression in the 1960s in the United States in the Civil Rights
Movement, feminism, antiwar protests, minority activism, and the arrival of a
counterculture whose effects are still being worked through American society.

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II. The Turbulent But Creative 1960s


Notable political and social works of the era include the speeches of civil rights
leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the early writings of feminist leader Betty
Friedan (The Feminine Mystique, 1963), and Norman Mailer's The Armies of the
Night (1968), about a 1967 antiwar march. The 1960s was marked by a blurring of
the line between fiction and fact, novels and reportage, which has carried through
the present day. Novelist Truman Capote -- who had dazzled readers as an enfant
terrible of the late 1940s and 1950s in such works as Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958) -stunned audiences with In Cold Blood (1966), a riveting analysis of a brutal mass
murder in the American heartland that read like a work of detective fiction. At the
same time, the "New Journalism" emerged -- volumes of nonfiction that combined
journalism with techniques of fiction, or that frequently played with the facts,
reshaping them to add to the drama and immediacy of the story being reported. Tom
Wolfes The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) celebrated the antics of novelist Ken
Keseys counterculture wanderlust and Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak
Catchers (1970) ridiculed many aspects of left-wing activism. Wolfe later wrote an
exuberant and insightful history of the initial phase of the U.S. space program, The
Right Stuff (1979), and a novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987), a panoramic
portrayal of American society in the 1980s.

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II. The Turbulent But Creative 1960s


As the 1960s evolved, literature flowed with the turbulence of the era. An ironic,
comic vision also came into view, reflected in the fabulism of several writers.
Examples include Ken Kesey's darkly comic One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
(1962), a novel about life in a mental hospital in which the wardens are
more disturbed than the inmates , and Richard Brautigan's whimsical
, fantastic Trout Fishing in America (1967). The comical and fantastic yielded
a new mode, half comic and half metaphysical, in Thomas Pynchon's paranoid
, brilliant V (1963) and The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), John Barth's Giles
Goat-Boy (1966), and the grotesque short stories of Donald Barthelme, whose first
collection, Come Back, Dr. Caligari, was published in 1964.
In a different direction, in drama, Edward Albee produced a series of nontraditional
psychological works -- Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), A Delicate Balance
(1966), and Seascape (1975) -- that reflected the authors own soul-searching and
his paradoxical approach.
At the same time, the decade saw the belated arrival of a literary talent in his forties
-- Walker Percy -- a physician by training and an exemplar of southern gentility
. In a series of novels, Percy used his native region as a tapestry on which
to play out intriguing psychological dramas. The Moviegoer (1962) and The
Last Gentleman (1966) were among his highly-praised books.

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THE 1970s AND 1980s: NEW DIRECTIONS :


By the mid-1970s, an era of consolidation began. The Vietnam conflict was
over, followed soon afterward by U.S.s recognition of the People's Republic of
China and America's Bicentennial celebration. Soon the 1980s -- the
"Me Decade" -- ensued, in which individuals tended to focus more on more personal
concerns than on larger social issues.
In literature, old currents remained, but the force behind pure experimentation
dwindled. New novelists like John Gardner, John Irving (The World According to
Garp, 1978), Paul Theroux (The Mosquito Coast, 1982), William Kennedy
(Ironweed, 1983), and Alice Walker (The Color Purple, 1982) surfaced with
stylistically brilliant novels to portray moving human dramas. Concern with setting,
character, and themes associated with realism returned. Realism, abandoned by
experimental writers in the 1960s, also crept back, often mingled with bold original
elements a daring structure like a novel within a novel, as in John Gardner's October
Light (1976) or black American dialect as in Alice Walker's The Color Purple.
Minority literature began to flourish. Drama shifted from realism to more cinematic,
kinetic techniques. At the same time, however, the "Me Decade" was reflected in
such brash new talents as Jay McInerny (Bright Lights, Big City, 1984), Bret Easton
Ellis (Less Than Zero, 1985), and Tama Janowitz (Slaves of New York, 1986).

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Major Writers and Literary Works

John Updike

John Updike, like Cheever, is also regarded as a writer of manners


with his suburban settings, domestic themes, reflections of ennui
and wistfulness , and, particularly, his fictional locales on
the eastern seaboard, in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Updike is
best known for his four Rabbit books, depictions of the life of a man
-- Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom -- through the ebbs and flows of his
existence across four decades of American social and political
history.
Rabbit, Run (1960) is a mirror of the 1950s, with Angstrom an
aimless, disaffected young husband. Rabbit Redux
(1971) -- spotlighting the counterculture of the 1960s -- finds
Angstrom still without a clear goal or purpose or viable escape
route from mundaneness . In Rabbit Is Rich (1981),
Harry has become prosperous through an inheritance against the
landscape of the wealthy self-centeredness of the 1970s, as the
Vietnam era wanes . The final volume, Rabbit at Rest
(1990), glimpses Angstrom's reconciliation with life, and
inadvertent death, against the backdrop of the 1980s.

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John Updike
Among Updike's other novels are The Centaur (1963), Couples (1968), and Bech: A
Book (1970). He possesses the most brilliant style of any writer today, and his short
stories offer scintillating examples of its range and inventiveness. Collections include
The Same Door (1959), The Music School (1966), Museums and Women (1972), Too
Far To Go (1979), and Problems (1979). He has also written several volumes of
poetry and essays.
Rabbit is a man who has, until the beginning of the book, played by society's rules;
he takes it on faith that if he's a good person, life will be good to him too. Upon
realizing that this is not the case, he leaves his dead-end job and his wife, who he's no
longer interested in, and goes to live with another woman. It's difficult to decide
whether to sympathize with Rabbit or not; on one hand he's trapped in a life he
doesn't want and didn't really choose, and on the other hand he's being selfish and
stupid, abandoning his pregnant wife at the first hint of difficulty. Rabbit's aesthetic is
different from that of the people around him; he has a lot of trouble communicating,
and as a result he's often misunderstood, and is constantly frustrated by the actions
and expectations of others. Rabbit, Run asks a lot of hard questions about the
responsibility of individuals to society, and about growing up in America.

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Joseph Heller
Joseph Heller was born on May 1, 1923. He grew up in Brooklyn, New
York, and from an early age, aspired to be a writer. During World War
II, he served in the U.S. Air Force as a bombardier in Italy
and flew sixty missions. These experiences later became the basis for
his first novel, Catch-22.
He was discharged in 1945 and pursued English at New York University.
Afterwards, Heller earned his M.A. at Columbia University in 1949 and then studied
at the University of Oxford as a Fulbright Scholar for the next two years. He became
a professor of English at Pennsylvania State University (1950-1952) and instructed
the feminist playwright Wendy Wasserstein. His later jobs included working as an
advertising copywriter for Time (1952-1956) and Look (1956-1958) as well as a
promotion manager for McCall's (1958-1961).
In 1961, Heller published his first novel Catch-22, which tells the story of Captain
Joseph Yossarian and his attempt to avoid serving in World War II by
feigning insanity . However, Yossarian is thwarted
by the doctor's argument that if he were truly mad then he would endanger
his life and seek to fight more missions.

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Joseph Heller
On the other hand, if he were sane , then he would be capable to following
orders to fight more missions. Thus the phrase "catch-22" came to mean "a
proviso that trips one up , , no matter
which way one turns." The novel was an immediate success, despite a very acrid
review by the New Yorker, and a popular movie was produced in 1970.
Despite the immense initial success of Catch-22 and its cult
like following, Heller was never a literary star nor a prolific
writer. His next work, a play titled We Bombed New Haven (1968),
had many of the same themes as Catch-22 but failed on Broadway.
His subsequent novels were also not very successful. Something
Happened (1974) describes the life of a fast-track corporate executive
and his fears and dreams.
Tan Bueno Como Oro, or Good as Gold, (1979) recounts the life of a middle-aged
English professor Dr. Bruce Gold and his encounter with White House politics. It
satirizes the leading politicians such as Henry Kissinger and delves into the Jewish
experience in contemporary America. God Knows (1984) is a hilarious , ribald
modern account of King David's life in the Old Testament and serves as an
allegory for a Jewish person's life in the real, often antagonistic world.

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Joseph Heller
In 1986, Heller developed the neurological disease, Guillain-Barre syndrome
. After his recovery, he wrote with Speed Vogel, No Laughing Matter, an
optimistic autobiography account about his personal battle against this illness.
Another novel Picture This (1988) describes painting of a bust of the philosopher
Aristotle by the artist Rembrandt. As Rembrandt does so, the bust comes to life, and
this episode initiates a highly creative work recounting the past 2,500 years of
Western civilization. His last novel, Closing Time (1994), was a sequel to Catch-22
and updates the lives of its former characters. However, it was nowhere near as
successful as its contemporary. His final book, Now and Then: From Coney Island to
Here (1998) is a touching memoir recalling his boyhood experiences growing up on
Coney Island during the 1920's and 1930's. He died in his home on December 12,
1999 of a heart attack. Heller is survived by his wife Valerie.
As a member of the Beat Generation and the post-World War II era, Heller developed
a very satirical approach towards institutions, particularly the national government
and the military. He had a deep cynicism of war, which was
best exemplified by the "black humor" of Catch-22, and explored the JewishAmerican experience in the postwar era in an often hostile world.

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Black humor
In literature, drama, and film, grotesque or morbid humor used to
express the absurdity , insensitivity, paradox, and cruelty of the modern
world. Ordinary characters or situations are usually exaggerated far beyond the
limits of normal satire or irony. Black humor uses devices often associated with
tragedy and is sometimes equated with tragic farce. For example, Stanley
Kubricks film Dr. Strangelove; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love
the Bomb (1963) is a terrifying comic treatment of the circumstances
surrounding the dropping of an atom bomb, while Jules Feiffers comedy Little
Murders (1965) is a delineation of the horrors of modern urban life,
focusing particularly on random assassinations . The novels of such writers
as Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, Joseph Heller, and Philip Roth
contain elements of black humor.

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Background Information
The main character is Yossarian, who suffers from a severe fear of death. He and
his comrades are in the Air Force. All of the men are in the 256th squadron (2 to the
fighting 8th power, of you want to use it in a poem). This novel takes place during
World War II. Yossarian's main antagonist is Colonel Cathcart, whose goal in life is
to become a general. Yossarian wants to stop flying missions so he does not get
killed, yet Cathcart's aim is to continue raising the number of required missions in
order to impress his superiors. He uses Catch-22's unfair illogical rules to keep the
men flying. This creates a constant conflict between Yossarian and Colonel
Cathcart.
Orr manages to escape the horror of the war through careful planning. Each mission
he goes on is a practice in the art of crashing and survival in the sea. He makes sure
he is able to inflate rafts, get food, and maneuver properly using a tiny spoon. These
plans come in use when one mission he crashes but does not return. It is only then
does Yossarian realize Orr's genius. All of this planning was used to help Orr sail
off to freedom in Sweden, away from the death and destruction of World War II.

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Lessons, Morals, and Applications


From the themes of confusion and greed, as well as the men's experiences with the
idea of catch-22, it is quite plain to see that men with power will keep power, and
those without power suffer the consequences. As a familiar quote says, "Absolute
power corrupts absolutely." Yossarian learns the hard way that men with power
have a tendency to abuse their authority.
He did find, though, that if one believes in something hard enough and works
diligently towards a goal, the goal will at one point be accomplished, or at least a
portion of the goal will become true. Yossarian wants to be grounded, yet every
time he requests to be, his attempt is denied. In the end, Yossarian actually defies
the laws of military life and escapes. Yossarian learns that even thought Catch-22
does not exist, it actually does because everyone believes it does. It is here that the
theme of reality plays a role, because although Catch-22 may not exist in physical
reality, it does in the minds of all the characters, making it a real part of their lives.
Guilt is a visible theme in Heller's novel, but the reader finds that guilt is not always
needed. For example, Yossarian could not have helped Snowden in his hour of
need, but he felt guilty because he did not save his life. It is only human nature to
feel guilt when one takes the blame for an incident, even if it was not his fault.
Human emotion is a strong feeling that can plague one person for years after an
incident.

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Themes
Pity - The reader has pity for each soldier every time he is afraid to go on a
mission.
Reality- Each soldier has to face the fact that there is a chance that he may never
come down from a mission alive.
Hope- Orr has a constant hope of crashing successfully and escaping to Sweden.
Sanity --Yossarian claims that he is the only sane one in the squadron
and everyone else is crazy.
Friendship- -Yossarian's bonds with the other men are important.
Confusion-- A great deal of confusion is caused by the use of the term Catch-22.
Greed-- The Machiavellian philosophy of Cathcart
and Milo demonstrates this theme.
Guilt-- The death of Snowden plagues Yossarian throughout the war.

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Kurt Vonnegut
Prophetically, one of this century's great American pacifists
was born on Armistice Day . Born on November 11,
1922, in Indianapolis, Vonnegut was born into a well-to-do family
that was hit very hard by the Depression. Vonnegut went to public
high school, unlike his two older siblings, and there gained early
writing experience writing for the high school's daily paper. He
enrolled at Cornell University in 1940, and, under pressure from his
father and older brother, studied chemistry and biology.
He had little real love for the subjects, and his performance was poor. He did, however,
enjoy a position working for the Cornell Daily Sun. In 1942, Vonnegut left Cornell; at
the time, the university was preparing to ask him to leave due to poor academic
performance. He enrolled at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now CarnegieMellon) in 1943. He studied there only briefly before enlisting in the army. His mother
killed herself in May of 1944. On December 14, 1944, Vonnegut was captured in the
Battle of the Bulge. He was held as a POW prisoner of war in Dresden, a
beautiful German city with no major industries or military presence. The bombing of
Dresden was unexpected. Vonnegut and the other POWs were some of the only
survivors. They waited out the bombing in a meat cellar deep under the slaughterhouse.

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Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut was repatriated in May of 1945. He returned to the
U.S. and married Jane Marie Cox. He studied anthropology at the
University of Chicago, but the department unanimously rejected
his M.A. thesis. (Under the rules of the university, a high-quality
piece of writing could be substituted for a dissertation. Twenty
years later, Vonnegut showed the department Cat's Cradle, and he
finally got his degree in 1971.) Vonnegut worked various jobs
during his time at the University of Chicago and throughout the
1950 saw the publication
fifties. of Vonnegut's first short story, "Report on the Barnhouse
Effect." Vonnegut has expressed some dissatisfaction with his short stories, saying that
he mostly wrote them for money while working on his novels, which are more
important to him. But some of his stories are accomplished works; many readers have
their first exposure to Vonnegut through these stories, which combine in condensed
form Vonnegut's trademark humor, fantasy, and social commentary. The fifties saw the
publication of dozens of Vonnegut's short stories and two novels.
During the sixties, Vonnegut published a collection of short stories and four more
novels, including his sixth and greatest novel, Slaughterhouse Five. He has continued
to write prolifically; his most recent novel in 1997's Timequake .

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Background on Slaughterhouse Five


Published in 1969, Slaughterhouse Five is a novel written in
troubled times about troubled times. As the novel was being
finished in 1968, America saw the assassinations of Martin Luther
King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. In the South, Blacks and their
supporters were struggling to overturn centuries of racial inequality
under the law. At times, the struggle became violent. American
values were being convulsed by the coming-of-age of the baby
boomers. Never before had young people felt so certain in their
rebellion against their parents and their parents' values.
The United States was involved in a costly and unpopular war in Vietnam. 1968 saw
the psychologically devastating Tet Offensive, in which the Viet Cong
launched a massive offensive against American and South Vietnamese positions all
throughout South Vietnam. Although the Viet Cong took heavy casualties, the
offensive was the true turning point of the war. To the South Vietnamese people, the
offensive proved that the Americans could not protect them. To the American
people, the offensive showed that the war in Vietnam would be far more costly than
the politicians in Washington had promised. The country that had defeated the Axis
powers just over two decades ago was now involved in a morally dubious
and costly war in a Third World country.

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Slaughterhouse Five
In the U.S. opposition to the war grew, but in Vietnam the killing continued. The
Americans would eventually suffer fifty thousand dead, but the Vietnamese would pay
a much heavier price. Millions of Vietnamese died, many of them from heavy bombing.
The U.S. dropped more explosive power onto Vietnam than all of the world's powers
had dropped in all of World War II put together, including the two atomic bombs and
the bombing of Dresden and Tokyo. Vonnegut's novel about the bombing of Dresden
was written while American policy makers and pilots were implementing one of the
most brutal bombing campaigns in history.
Although Vonnegut despairs of being able to stop war Slaughterhouse Five is an
earnest anti-war novel. Vonnegut's own war experiences turned him into a pacifist. Like
his protagonist, Vonnegut was present at Dresden as a POW when American bombers
wiped the city off the face of the earth. The bombing, which took place on February 13,
1945, was the most terrible massacre in European history. Over 130,000 people died,
putting the death toll above the 84,000 people who died in the Tokyo bombing and the
71,000 people who died in Hiroshima. In Europe's long and often bloody history, never
have so many people been killed so quickly. The novel is disjointed and
unconventional. Its structure reflects this important idea: there is nothing you can say to
adequately explain a massacre. Part of Vonnegut's project was to write an antidote to
the war narratives that made war look like an adventure worth having.

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Major Themes
Time and memory: The science fiction elements of the novel include time travel.
Billy leaps in time, experience his life's events out of order and repeatedly. He learns
on the alien world of Trafalmadore that all time happens simultaneously; thus, no one
really dies. But this permanence has its dark side: brutal acts also live on forever.
Memory is one of the novel's important themes; because of their memories, Vonnegut
and Billy cannot move past the Dresden massacre. Billy leaps back in time to Dresden
again and again, but at critical points we see Dresden simply because Billy relives it
in his memory.
Narrative versus non-narrative and anti-narrative: This is a broad theme that
encompasses many important ideas. Vonnegut is interested in protecting his
novel from becoming a conventional war narrative, the kind of conventional narrative
that makes war look like something exciting or fun. Throughout the book, we see
narratives of this kind in history texts and the minds of characters. But this novel is
more interested in non-narrative, like the nonsense question asked by birds at the
novel's end, or anti-narrative, like the out-of-order leaping through the many parts of
Billy's life. Vonnegut does not write about heroes. Billy Pilgrim is more like a victim.

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Major Themes
The relationship between people and the forces that act on them: This theme is
closely connected to the idea of narrative. Vonnegut's characters have almost no agency.
They are driven by forces that are simply too huge for any one man to make much of a
difference. Vonnegut drives home this point by introducing us to the Trafalmadorians
and their concept of time, in which all events are fated and impossible to change.
Acceptance: One of the book's most famous lines is "So it goes," repeated whenever a
character dies. Billy Pilgrim is deeply passive, accepting everything that befalls him. It
makes him able to forgive anyone for anything, and he never seems to become angry.
But this acceptance has it problems. When Billy drives through a black ghetto
and ignores the suffering he sees there, we see the problem
with complete acceptance. Vonnegut values the forgiveness and peace that come with
acceptance, but his novel could not be an "anti-war book" if it called on readers to
completely accept their world.
Human dignity: In Vonnegut's view, war is not heroic or glamorous. It is messy, often
disgusting, and it robs men of their dignity. The problem of dignity comes up again and
again in the novel, as we see how easily human dignity can be denied by others. But
Vonnegut also questions some conceptions of dignity; he sees that they have a place in
creating conventional war narratives that make war look heroic.

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John Barth
John Barth (b. 1930) was born in Cambridge, Maryland, on the
Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Music was Barth's first
vocation. He was a student of orchestration for a year at the
Juilliard School before he enrolled as journalism major on a
scholarship at John Hopkins University. Barth's early fiction is
conventional in form and language, but The Sot-Weed Factor
(1960) and Giles Goat-Boy (1966) are very long, experimental
comic novels, indebted to the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges
and Vladimir Nabokov . Reviewers
praised both of these novels for their display of erudition
and bawdy wit. Other publications
include The Literature of Exhaustion (1982), Barth's analysis
of postmodernist literary aesthetics, and the novels Tidewater
Tales (1987) and Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (1991).
Barth's first book of short stories, Lost in the Funhouse (1968),
was subtitled Fiction for Print, Tape, Live Voice.

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John Barth
It was influenced by his friendships with the philosopher
Marshall McLuhan and the literary critic Leslie Fiedler. Barth's
experimental pieces suggest that he is selfconsciously
concerned with what happens when a writer writes, and what
happens when a reader reads"the metaphysical plight of
imagination engaging with imagination," as dramatized in the
title story from his second collection, On with the Story (1996).
John Barth clearly belongs to the small number of American authors who carry their
experiments to the limits of fiction, the edge of silence. A master of contradictions,
an intimate of the void, Barth knows how to turn the crisis of language and form to
his own advantage. In a signal essay, The Literature of Exhaustion, he says of the
new writer: His artistic victoryis that he confronts an intellectual dead end and
employs it against itself to accomplish new human work. Older writers, such as
Borges, Beckett, or Nabokov, strike us as virtuosos of exhaustion and others
younger still than Barth---say Thomas Pynchon or Donald Barthelmecarry the
tradition forward.

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The Literature of Exhaustion


In 1967, John Barth published a controversial essay in The Atlantic which amounts to a
manifesto of postmodernism. The essay was called "The Literature of Exhaustion" and
in it Barth proposed that the conventional modes of literary representation had been
"used up," their possibilities consumed through over use. In the sixties, as today, the
great preponderance of literature belongs, technically speaking, to the nineteenth
century; the formal advances of modernism are all too often ignored.
Barth's essay has been vilified as an over hasty death notice for literature, one that
seemed hypocritical from a man who is, after all, a novelist, but this is to miss its point.
"The Literature of Exhaustion" is principally concerned with the ways art has been kept
alive in the age of "final solutions" and "felt ultimacies," from the death of God to the
death of the auhtor. Barth holds up the figure of Jorge Luis Borges as an exemplar of an
artist who "doesn't merely exemplify an ultimacy; he employs it" (31). Barth, like many
postmodernists, is particularly enamoured of a Borges' story entitled, "Pierre Menard,
Author of the Quixote," in which a turn-of-the-century French Symbolist produces, not
copies or imitates, but actually composes several chapters of Cervante's novel. Borges
thus broaches issues as diverse as the death of the author, intellectual property rights,
and the historical specificity of aesthetic and cognitive modes.

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John Barth
What impresses Barth is that Borges thus (re)uses Cervantes' novel in order to produce
a "remarkable and original work of literature, the theme of which is the difficulty,
perhaps the unnecessity, of writing original works of literature. His artistic victory, if
you like, is that he confronts an intellectual dead end and employs it against itself to
accomplish new human work" (31).
Novels and Short Story Collections
The Floating Opera (1956)
The End of the Road (1958)
Letters(1979)
Sabbatical (1982)
The Tidewater Tales (1987)
Once Upon a Time (1994)
On With the Story (1996)
Coming Soon (2001)

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The Floating Opera


Synopsis: Barth's first novel, after two unfinished failures that
he describes elsewhere in his nonfiction. Opera, while a tidy
little exercise in experimental '60s nihilism, would probably not
have launched a successful career were it not nominated for the
National Book Award. (It lost.)While brimming with the kind
of mental energy that filled his later books, The Floating Opera
shares little of the fascination with mythology and story-craft
that his best fiction does. Much of the book seems dated today
particularly one chapter where Barth makes experimental
use of double columns in the text layout.
Amazingly, Barth's editor called the original ending of the book
"too dark" and made him change it as a condition of publication.
(The book had already been rejected by six other publishers.) The
revised edition (published 1967) put Barth's original ending back.

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Donald Barthelme
Donald Barthelme (1931-1989) was born in Philadelphia and
raised in Texas, where his father was a prominent architect.
While a high school student he won awards for his stories and
poetry, and at the University of Houston he edited the campus
newspaper and wrote film criticism for the Houston Post. At age
thirty he became director of the Contemporary Arts Museum in
Houston. In 1962 he moved to New York City, where he lived
when he was not teaching at the University of Houston as
Cullen Distinguished Professor of English.
Barthelme published two novels, Snow White (1967) and The Dead Father (1975),
and left a third novel, The King, ready for publication in 1992 after his death from
cancer. Of his eight volumes of short stories, Sixty Stories (1981), which won the
PEN International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and
Novelists /Faulkner Award for fiction, is the most representative. More
recent publications are The Teachings of Donald Barthelme (1992) and Not Knowing
(1997), a collection of essays and interviews.

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During the twenty years that Barthelme contributed short fiction to The New Yorker,
his minimalist style was often imitated. His stories amused some
readers as magazine fiction, but they intrigued others who sensed the heavier
substance beneath their light narrative surface. Barthelme compared his style of
writing short fiction to that of collage , saying that "the principle of collage is
the central principle of all art in the twentieth century."
Literary critics have noted that Barthelme, like the French poet Stephane Mallarme
, whom he admired, plays with the meanings of words, relying on poetic
intuition to spark new connections of ideas buried in the expressions and
conventional responses.

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Postmodernism
Postmodern fiction in America often extends the novel beyond its
conventional generic boundaries. Such writing, David Harvey
explains, is "necessarily fragmented, a 'palimpsest' of past
forms super-imposed upon each other, and a 'collage' of
current uses, many of which may be ephemeral" (66).
American postmodern writers, according to Nicholas Zurbrugg,
create a literary montage that "interweaves and accepts
the copresence of differing discourses and conflicting categories"
(56). this strategy as a "schema of 'openness,'" in which "meaning
Horst Ruthrof describes
is...something on the move, a dynamic which at times is deceptively slow but never
comes to rest in social discourse". These writers often set their formal textual
innovations in the context of parody, satire, and irony, developing a form that features a
carnivalesque delight in irreverence. Few authors exemplify this type of writing better
than Donald Barthelme. Considered by many to be the pioneer of American
postmodernism, he probably is the writer mainly responsible for bringing this freespirited and highly self-conscious strain of writing to the forefront of American
literature. As a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, he has a well-established
reputation as a writer of quixotic short stories and caricatural sketches.

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Postmodernism
In addition, he has published a number of "novels," of which his first, Snow White, is
a playful mid-1960s counter-cultural, incongruous reconstruction of the popularized
Disney version of the traditional fairy-tale. Set in the modern-day world, Barthelme
presents Snow White not as a virginal maiden, but as a tall seductive woman who
habitually makes love in the shower with her attendant dwarfs. Very different from
their fairy-tale prototypes, these dwarfs occupy themselves by washing buildings and
by "tending the vats" (18) in which they prepare their father's recipes of Chinese baby
food. Snow White self-consciously waits for her prince figure - named Paul - who is
busy trying to come to terms with his destined role, his heroic form. After a series of
humorous, self-conscious meditations, he enters a monastery, then quits, journeys
around the world, and finally returns to New York. There, he sets up a complex
underground surveillance system, complete with trained dogs, to watch over Snow
White, who in turn is being conspired against by the villainous Jane, "the wicked
stepmother figure" (82). True to form, the vindictive antagonist attempts to poison
Snow White, but Paul intercepts the drink, consumes it himself, and dies. Barthelme's
version of the tale ends with the dwarfs departing, but not before hanging one of their
own clan, having found him to be guilty of "vatricide and failure" (180).

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Vladimir Nabokov
Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on April 23,
1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Nabokovs were
known for their high culture and commitment to public
service, and the elder Nabokov was an outspoken
opponent of antisemitism and one of the
leaders of the opposition party, the Kadets.
In 1919, following the Bolshevik revolution, he took his family into
exile. Four years later he was shot and killed at a political rally in Berlin while trying
to shield the speaker from right-wing assassins. The Nabokov household was
trilingual, and as a child Nabokov was already reading Wells, Poe, Browning, Keats,
Flaubert, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Tolstoy, and Chekhov, alongside the popular
entertainments of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne. As a young man, he studied
Slavic and romance languages at Trinity College, Cambridge, taking his honors degree
in 1922. For the next eighteen years he lived in Berlin and Paris, writing prolifically in
Russian under the pseudonym Sirin and supporting himself through translations,
lessons in English and tennis, and by composing the first crossword puzzles in
Russian. In 1925 he married Vera Slonim, with whom he had one child, a son, Dmitri.
Vladimir Nabokov died in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1977.

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Lolita
Vladimir Nabokov started writing Lolita while teaching at Cornell
University in 1949. He continued writing the novel while traveling
with his wife around the country on summer butterfly hunting trips
(Nabokov was an esteemed lepidopterist ,
or butterfly specialist), and completed the novel in 1954. Publishers
were predictably skittish about a story narrated by a
pedophile , and it did not find its way into European print
until 1955 (it was published in America in 1958).
Controversy over the subject matter only inspired a wider readership; sales of the
critically-acclaimed book and a 1962 cinematic translation (directed by Stanley
Kubrick) enabled Nabokov to retire from teaching and concentrate on writing in
Montreaux, Switzerland, in 1960.
For all its hype as a sexual novel, Lolita is less concerned with physical,
and more with verbal, eroticism . Nabokov maintained that "'sex as an
institution'" bored him, and the salacious reader expecting a crassly graphic
tale is in for disappointment; Humbert's overwhelming, turgid lust for
Lolita soon turns into an overwhelming, tragic love.

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Lolita
Limning all his desires is Nabokov's exquisite prose,
making Lolita arguably one of the most beautiful books in the
English language. Nabokov made his mark on English in other
ways, introducing two neologisms to English: "nymphet
," to describe the young girls Humbert
adores, and of course "Lolita," the paragon of this breed
. Indeed, Nabokov preferred the notion that Lolita was
"the record of my love affair with the English language," rather
than a record of his European views of America. Still, Lolita is
a museum of 1950s America, from Lolita's bobby-sox adoration
of popular movies to Charlotte Haze's bourgeois values.
Regardless of what the reader takes from Lolita, it remains Nabokov's most popular
novel with readers and scholars alike. It also remains controversial; a 1997 film
version directed by Adrian Lyne and starring Jeremy Irons as Humbert Humbert
had difficulty finding a theatrical release in the U.S.

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An excerpt from Lolita


1
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the
tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo.
Lee. Ta.
She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was
Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in
my arms she was always Lolita.
Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have
been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a
princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my
age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the
misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.

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Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. was born on May 8, 1937 in Glen
Cove, New York and grew up in the middle-class suburbs of Long
Island. Pynchon attended Oyster Bay High School where his first
authorial works were recorded. He was a frequent contributor to
the high school newspaper, the Oyster Bay Purple and Gold,
where he often wrote a column named "The Voice of the Hamster"
under the pseudonyms: "Roscoe Stein," "Boscoe Stein," and
"Bosc." from high school as class salutatorian . He
In 1953, Pynchon graduated
then began Cornell University, which he entered on a scholarship. Pynchon began
studying engineering physics but later transferred to the English Department to study
literature, where he would take a class from Vladimir Nabokov. His time at college was
interrupted when Pynchon joined the Navy for a two year tour of duty, where he
possibly served as a signal corpsman . Returning to Cornell, Pynchon
finished his college education in 1958 and earned a B.A. Degree in English. Pynchon
began writing stories during his time at Cornell. In addition, he worked on a campus
literary journal with friend, Richard Faria. Faria would later write about Pynchon in
his series of reminiscences, entitled Long Time Coming and a Long Time Gone.

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Thomas Pynchon
In turn, Pynchon would comment on the dust jackets of Faria's novels, exulting
their shared ability to "spin the reader." Before this time came, however, Pynchon
refused several fellowships in 1958, such as the Wilson Fellowship, and he turned
down opportunities to teach creative writing for Cornell and to fill an editorial post
for Esquire. Instead, Pynchon chose to live in Greenwich Village and focus on his
writing. In 1959, Pynchon's first two short stories, which he had begun at Cornell,
were published. "The Small Rain" was published in March, 1959 in the Cornell
Writer and "Morality and Mercy in Vienna" was published soon after in Epoch.
After a short stay in Greenwich Village, Pynchon agreed to work for Boeing Aircraft
in Seattle as a technical writer and engineering aide. He would spend two years at
the facility, during which he published a noticeable article in Aerospace,
sardonically entitled "Togetherness," about safety procedures for the Bomarc guided
missile. He also continued writing his own fiction. "Low-lands" was published in
March of 1960 in New World Writing and "Entropy"
was printed in the spring issue of the Kenyon Review,
and has since been largely anthologized. A year later, "Under the Rose" was
published in the Noble Savage and would later, after revision, become the third
chapter of his first novel, V..
V. was likely also started during this time but in 1962, Pynchon left Boeing and

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Thomas Pynchon
moved further South, dividing his time between California and Mexico. Pynchon lived
mostly in seclusion and generally as a nomad , a lifestyle he likely continues
through the present. As O'Donnell explains, "We might speculate endlessly on the
reasons for this disappearance -- shyness, xenophobia , paranoia
, a mania for privacy, or, as David Seed suggests, a desire to imitate poets from the
goliards to the Beats by becoming a nomad, 'a writer at large.'"
A year later, in 1963, V. was published and received instant critical acclaim. At the age
of twenty-six, he was awarded the William Faulkner Foundation Award for best first
novel of the year. Little is known of his activity, beyond literary activity, after this
point. In December of 1964, Pynchon's story, "The Secret Integration," was published
in the Saturday Evening Post. A year later, Esquire published a portion of The Crying
of Lot 49, "The World (This One), the Flesh (Mrs. Oedipa Maas), and the Testament of
Pierce Inverarity." This same year, The Crying of Lot 49 was published and won the
Richard and Hilda Rosenthal Foundation Award of the National Institute of Arts and
Letters. In March of 1966, another section of The Crying of Lot 49, entitled "The
Shrink Flips," was printed in Cavalier. The important nonfiction article, "A Journey into
the Mind of Watts," written by him was published June 12th in New York Times
Magazine. The article detailed an "evocative description of the black ghetto in Los
Angeles,
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Thomas Pynchon
then torn by race riots and, in Pynchon's words, 'impacted in the heart of this [Los
Angeles'] white fantasy...a pocket of bitter reality.'"
The next major work published by him was his next novel, the very intense Gravity's
Rainbow. The book was published in 1973 and shared the National Book Award with a
collection of Isaac Bashevis Singer stories, A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories. The
award was accepted for Pynchon by comedian, "Professor" Irwin Corey. The novel was
also chosen unanimously by the Pulitzer Prize Committee for the fiction award.
However, the advisory board ruled in the end that the novel was obscene and did not
deserve the award. Pynchon won the Howells Medal of the National Institute of Arts
and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Letters as well but rejected the
prize. Between the publication of Pynchon's next novel in 1990, he was heard from
very little. Pynchon wrote a few book blurbs for authors such as Tom Robbins and
Steve Erickson during this time. Slow Learner, a collection of five of Pynchon's
previously published short stories, was published in 1984. In 1987, Pynchon won the
extraordinary MacArthur Award, a grant which provides recipients with $1,000 times
their age per year over five years. Nearly three years later, and seventeen years after his
last novel, Pynchon published Vineland in early 1990. Blurbs, liner notes, and book
introductions have been the only public words provided by Pynchon since this time.

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Plot Summary
It's Christmas Eve, 1955, and ex-seaman Benny Profane--"a
schlemihl and human yo-yo"--is back in Norfolk, Virginia, with some
old Navy buddies and Paola Maijstral, the enigmatic
barmaid from Valletta, Malta. By January, he and Paola are in New
York City with a group of wastrels self-styled The Whole Sick
Crew; and Profane roams the streets and the sewers (hunting
alligators) of a city that seems to just bounce him back in forth.
In the meantime, Herbert Stencil--questing son of a dead British Foreign Office man-has been, since 1945, hunting for the utterly mysterious V., an unknown (perhaps
unknowable) woman whom Stencil knows only from an entry in his late father's
journals--"Florence, April, 1899 . . . There is more behind and inside V. than any of us
had suspected. Not who, but what: what is she." And he knows, he has intuited, "that
she'd been connected . . . with one of those grand conspiracies or foretastes of
Armageddon which seemed to have captivated all diplomatic sensibilities in the years
preceding the Great War. V. and a conspiracy." By January 1956, Stencil's search has
brought him to New York City, where his and Benny Profane's paths inevitably cross.
From that point of crossing, Thomas Pynchon's first novel takes readers on a wild and
wonderful tour of the twentieth century and of contemporary America.

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V.
Record-company and armaments executives (Roony Winsome and Clayton "Bloody"
Chiclitz) jostle on these pages with British spies and Nazi rocket builders (Eric BongoShaftsbury and Kurt Mondaugen), dentists and plastic surgeons (Dudley Eigenvalue
and Shale Shoenmaker) rub metaphoric elbows with street gangs and jazz musicians
(the Playboys and McClintic Sphere). And all the while, the world has either run down
into meaninglessness or is run by a vast conspiracy that imposes a single absolute
meaning on everyone.
Chapter One
Chapter excerpt

In which Benny Profane,


a schlemihl and
human yo-yo,
gets to
an apocheir
V

Christmas Eve, 1955, Benny Profane, wearing black levis, suede jacket, sneakers and
big cowboy hat, happened to pass through Norfolk, Virginia.

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V.
Given to sentimental impulses, he thought he'd look in on the Sailor's Grave, his old
tin can's tavern on East Main Street. He got there by way of the Arcade, at the East
Main end of which sat an old street singer with a guitar and an empty Sterno can for
donations. Out in the street a chief yeoman was trying to urinate in the gas tank of a
'54 Packard Patrician and five or six seamen apprentice were standing around giving
encouragement. The old man was singing, in a fine, firm baritone:
Every night is Christmas Eve on old East Main,
Sailors and their sweethearts all agree.
Neon signs of red and green
Shine upon the friendly scene,
Welcoming you in from off the sea.
Santa's bag is filled with all your dreams come true:
Nickel beers that sparkle like champagne,
Barmaids who all love to screw,
All of them reminding you
It's Christmas Eve on old East Main.

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Sylvia Plath
To this day, Sylvia Plath's writings continue to inspire and provoke. Her
only published novel, The Bell Jar, remains a classic of American
literature, and The Colossus (1960), Ariel (1965), Crossing the Water
(1971), Winter Trees (1971), and The Collected Poems (1981) have
placed her among this century's essential American poets.
Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932, the first child of Aurelia and
Otto Plath. When Sylvia was eight years old, her father died--an event that would
haunt her remaining years--and the family moved to the college town of Wellesley. By
high school, Plath's talents were firmly established; in fact, her first published poem
had appeared when she was eight. In 1950, she entered Smith College, where she
excelled academically and continued to write; and in 1951 she won Mademoiselle
magazine's fiction contest. Her experiences during the summer of 1953--as a guest
editor at Mademoiselle in New York City and in deepening depression back home-provided the basis for The Bell Jar. Near that summer's end, Plath nearly succeeded in
killing herself. After therapy and electroshock , however, she resumed her
academic and literary endeavors. Plath graduated from Smith in 1955 and, as a
Fulbright Scholar, entered Newnham College, in Cambridge, England, where she met
the British poet, Ted Hughes.

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Sylvia Plath
They were married a year later. After a two-year tenure on the Smith College
faculty and a brief stint in Boston, Plath and Hughes returned to England, where
their two children were born.
Plath had been successful in placing poems in several prestigious magazines, but
suffered repeated rejection in her attempts to place a first book. The Colossus
appeared in England, however, in the fall of 1960, and the publisher, William
Heinemann, also bought her first novel. By June 1962, she had begun the poems that
eventually appeared in Ariel. Later that year, separated from Hughes, Plath
immersed herself in caring for her children, completing The Bell Jar, and writing
poems at a breathtaking pace.
A few days before Christmas 1962, she moved with the children to a London flat.
By the time The Bell Jar was published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, in
early 1963, she was in desperate circumstances. Her marriage was over, she and her
children were ill, and the winter was the coldest in a century. Early on the morning
of February 11, Plath turned on the cooking gas and killed herself.

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Daddy
concise anthology of American Literature, second edition
p.1983
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time-Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,

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Ghastly statue with one gray toe


Big as a Frisco seal
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