Autobiography: A self-recorded Fiction: Summary and Question from John Barth’s Short Story

This essay is taken from Barth’s short story ‘Lost in Fun House’. This is fiction. Some of the key characteristics of fiction are: fictions have no li

    Autobiography: A self-recorded Fiction

    About the Author

    John Simmons Barth is an American novelist and short-story writer. He is famous for postmodernist and metafictional fiction. He was born on May 27,1930. He graduated from Cambridge High school. He got B.A and M.A  from John Hopkins University. Bath’s first two novels were; The floating Opera in 1956 and The End of the Road in 1958.

    These novels deal with suicide and abortion respectively. His other works are Lost in Fun House in 1968, Chimera in 1972, letters in 1979 etc.

    About the Text ‘Autobiography..

    This metafictional short story ‘Autobiography; A Self Recorded Fiction Is taken from the collection of his stories Lost in Fun House.  This is an example of a metafictional autobiography where the writer can reveal his own story.

    Simply, autobiography is the most thoroughgoing self-reflexive fiction.  Here the speaker directly confronts the inescapable fact that what it speaks to us is the story itself. This is a story of his/ her own life. The speaker tells his own story of his life. Here in this story the speaker directly speaks with his father-the writer.  Unlike traditional fiction where the voice of fiction is the voice of a human being.

    Summary of the Story

    This essay is taken from Barth’s short story ‘Lost in Fun House’. This is fiction. Some of the key characteristics of fiction are: fictions have no life unless they are read, fiction can’t know itself, fiction has no body, fictions have one-track minds: fiction can neither start themselves nor stop themselves, Fiction reflects their authors in a destroyed way. The given metafictional short story ‘Autobiography;

    A Self Recorded Fiction’ is an autobiography of a small boy who lost his identity when their parents are refused to give him a name, As the title suggests ‘Autobiography; A Self Recorded Fiction’ the speaker is recording his own voice in the form of speaking. This story is based on the belief that where there is a voice there is a speaker.

    In this particular short story, the writer has used his metafictional voice to tell the short story of a small boy whose name is unnamed here, the speaker is a child who lost his identity. He asks to give him life as the speaker. He says that he doesn’t have any proper name as his parents refuse to give him a name.

    This text is written with strong hatred toward his parents. He continuously is ignoring him as his presence in the world is not blissful. He finds himself detached from everyone. The speaker is revealing his bitter reality that his parents intend to destroy him before he speaks the first word. Though he was a bloody mirror of his father, his father continuously tried to destroy him. 

    The father of the child regards the child as an unwanted child. Barth uses the phrase’ unwanted  child’ figuratively. The writer also made use of puns in the story to explain how the parents of the child look more novel itself rather than the novel itself. The birth of a child was so strange.

    At the time of childbirth, his father was taken to the hospital for mentally ill that’s the reason the child’s mother refuses to give the name the child. The lack of identity pushes the child into a state of madness. He is not in control of the situation. He, therefore, pleads with his father using a maniacal voice to end it for himself.

    As the narrator attempts to present his inner world and conflict as directly as possible his focalization is internal. Following the norms of autobiography, the text is marked with flashbacks which are called ‘analepsis’ technically.

    These parts of the story where the narrator remembers his memory about himself is ‘homo diegetic’ whereas the parts of the story in which he recalls his mother or father is ‘heterodiegetic. So this metafiction is hybrid of hetero and’ homo diegetic ‘ focalization.

    This metafiction is not reader-oriented text but assumes that the reader is a mere consumer to be lectured to. Rather it is writer oriented text that starts from the first sentence of the narrative

    Summary - II

    Autobiography: A Self-Recorded Fiction Summary and Interpretation

    In 1967 and 1968 Barth aligned himself with the postmodernist focus on self-reflexive fiction with two decisive steps.  First he published a controversial essay in the Atlantic entitled "The Literature of Exhaustion," which, although it has been misunderstood to have claimed that contemporary fiction writers have "run out" of a subject for their work, actually urged more of the kind of self-conscious narrative experimentation being practiced by the South American writer Jorge Luis Borges. 

    Secondly, he published Lost in the Funhouse, an experimental collection of short stories in which fiction refused to focus its attention on its so-called proper subject--the external world--and instead continually turned the reader's attention back to what Barth considered fiction's real subject--the process of fiction-making itself.  All of Barth's fictional works published since Lost in the Funhouse were similarly focused on their own narrative structure and methods.

    "Autobiography" is one of the most thoroughgoing self-reflexive fictions in Lost in the Funhouse, for it does not pretend, as conventional fictions do, that the voice that speaks the fiction is the voice of a human being; rather it confronts directly the inescapable fact that what speaks to us is the story itself; thus, the only autobiography a story can present is a story of its own coming into being and its own mode of existence.  Once we accept this fact, the rest of this story follows logically.

    Every statement in the story is an assertion, in one way or another, about this particular fiction's fictionality, whose mother was a mere fictional device of self-reflexivity which the father/author was attracted to one day.

    Some of the key characteristics of fiction in general that the story foregrounds are:  fictions have no life unless they are read; fictions cannot know themselves; fictions have no body; fictions have one-track minds; fictions can neither start themselves nor stop themselves; fictions reflect their authors in distorted ways.

    Barth insists that the prosaic in fiction is only there to be transformed into fabulation.  For Barth, the artist's ostensible subject is not the main point; rather it is only an excuse or raw material for focussing on the nature of the fiction-making process. 

    Great literature, says Barth, is almost always, regardless of what it seems to be about, about itself.  Perhaps more than any other American writer in the last quarter of the twentieth century, John Barth made fiction intensely conscious of itself, aware of its traditions, and of the conventions that make it possible.  If, as the main currents of modern thought suggest, reality itself is the result of fiction-making processes, then John Barth is truly a writer concerned with the essential nature of what is real.

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