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Done with Mirrors: Restoring the Authority Lost in John Barth's Funhouse

Author(s): Marjorie Worthington
Source: Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 47, No. 1 (Spring, 2001), pp. 114-136
Published by: Hofstra University
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Done with Mirrors:
Restoring the Authority
Lost in John Barth's Funhouse

MarjorieWorthington

though narrative self-consciousness is by no means specific to the
contemporary period, the particularly rampant metafictional self-reflexivity demonstrated in Lost in the Funhousehas often been touted as one
of the principal traits of postmodern fiction. As Linda Hutcheon says,
"What we tend to call postmodernism in literature today is usually characterized by intense self-reflexivity and overtly parodic intertextuality"
("Historiographic"3). Postmodern fiction, then, often exhibits a metafictional quality.Metafiction is typically defined as "fiction about fictionthat is, fiction that includes within itself a commentary on its own
narrative and/or linguistic identity" (Hutcheon, Narcissistic11). In other
words, metafiction focuses as much if not more on its own processes of
creation as on a "story" in the usual sense. John Barth, widely considered to be the preeminent American metafictionist, directly confronts
issues of selfhood and authorship in his Lost in the Funhouseseries.1
However, instead of challenging the primacy of authorship, Barth's
metafictional experiments serve to cement the author into a position of
authority over the text. Linda A. Westervelt writes: "John Barth ... takes
the inner division that results from self-consciousness and, by metaphoric extension, makes it a resource-namely, the subject of his fiction" (42).
Many of Barth's works not only employ but also thematize the complications arising from an increasingly intrusive narrative self-consciousness
that arises, according to Jerome Klinkowitz, from Barth's sense that his
era

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47.1 * Spring 2001 * 114
Literature
Twentieth-Century

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much of the critical discussion surrounding Lost in the Funhousehas focused on the increased burden of interpretation that metafiction forces on the reader. . In the face of postmodern indeterminacy. interpretive authority no longer resides with authors.217.37.had rejected the Cartesian definition of ego so central to traditional novelistic design. and singularity of meaning no longer exists. However. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .At the same time that they lament the diminished capacity of the narrator to con- 115 This content downloaded from 186.making them unable to come to a fruitful end. they twist and turn on themselves. forces the reader to construct a meaning for the text and thereby to participate in the construction of the work itself. Many critics have pointed out that Lost in the Funhouseinvites such an interpretation by repeatedly suggesting that traditional narrative forms and the authors who construct them have lost their power to find or depict a coherent meaning. coupled with the apparent failure of the narrator to control and shape the story. The text . A hero could no longer speak with confidence and coherence and so define himself. criticism about metafiction substitutes a heroics of text and language for the older heroics of creative genius and imagination.The argument has often been made that the intricacy of the text.Their overt authorial presence threatens to derail the narratives.The result is that most of the stories in the series depict narrators as authors so aware of themselves and so concerned with the effect of this awareness on their waning creative powers that they cannot avoid continually inserting their presence into the stories they narrate.Woolley puts it. Instead. what is often overlooked is metafiction's inherent and inevitable preoccupation with the creative power of the author.they experience an almost desperate need to continue the attempt.As Deborah A. Because of the intricacy of these stories. (408) Although Barth's heroes are unable to define themselves through their narratives.117 on Wed.ergosum had become a farcically painful lie. story from narration. since under contemporary philosophical pressure the old cogito. leaving the reader with the difficult and perhaps impossible task of sorting out product from process. accepts the existentialist challenge to confront the lack of a center at the heart of (460) language and to dwell in that void.

of an author.When I use the term author. To answer this question. (13) What I will focus on is not the historical or actual figure ofJohn Barth."the narrator who is ostensibly also the author of the text he narrates.I am not referring to the actual figure ofJohn Barth but to what Inger Christensen calls the "fictional author. Boehm points out this connection between Barth's work and reader response theory when she says:"Barth creates an audience of active. to "engage himself intellectually. While mastery of the text may still elude them.MarjorieWorthington struct a proper story.217. these readers will have been initiated into the select group qualified to read metafiction. Beth A. some critics have employed elements of reader response theory in order to argue that the self-conscious intricacies of Barth's text demand that readers become skillful enough to follow this difficult text to its end. the structural strategies it employs serve also as an attempt to recenterto reauthorize-the author in twentieth-century fiction. imaginatively.2 Beverly Gray Bienstock anticipates this critical focus on Barth's readers by arguing that Lost in the Funhouseaddresses the issue of"the capricious immortality of the work of art" by asking. Lost in the Funhouseis not merely a Kunstlerroman-esquechronicle of the life and development of an author. "how does the reader fit into this masquerade of immortal possibilities?" (72).117 on Wed.As Christensen says.Although readef response critics maintain that all texts demand 116 This content downloaded from 186. self-conscious readers capable of re-experiencing the pleasures of discovery whenever they are confronted with a new puzzle" (118). The historical author will of course always exist outside and apart from the work itself. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . but rather the extent to which authorship and authority are thematic and structural concerns in his series. the self-conscious moments in Lost in the Funhouse point necessarily to the existence of a creator.37. There are several avenues through which critics have approached the idea that metafiction in general and Lost in the Funhouse in particular allow more freedom or demand more responsibility for interpretation from the reader. and affectively in its co-creation" (Narcissistic7). so that metafiction only operates with an additional factor: the fictional author [who] places himself inside the fictional world and figures as a structural element in the novel.3 Linda Hutcheon makes this same argument about metafiction in general when she posits that self-consciousness forces the reader to acknowledge a text's fictionality and to participate.

The implication here is that it is the reader."insists(minimally stated) upon reader participation in creating meaning and texts within the freeplay of language" (266). can no longer be employed" (Lost 125). the deconstructionist argument goes.Barth'sLost in theFunhouse such interpretive participation from readers.. Because the text is so self-consciously fictional. as if"the medium and genre in which he worked . It is.4 The reader is charged with the responsibility for making meaning and interpreting the text because. Many critics have pointed out the extent to which Lost in the Funhouse invites such an interpretation by asserting.217. it denies on the other. fleeting. she argues.Brian Edwardsargues. not the author. The text further lends itself to a deconstructive reading in that many of the stories are about the inability to tell a proper story or the inability of traditional narrative forms to hold up to contemporary narrativeneeds. were moribund if not already dead" (Lost 118). as the selection called "Life Story" does. In fact. who holds the ultimate power over a narrative. the text almost asks to be deconstructed... which results in the free play of linguistic signifiers and posits that meaning is not fixed but contextual. Deconstructionists have made a similar case for the importance of the role of the reader-in all texts. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Hutcheon argues that the role of the reader is of even more crucial importance in metafiction. nonexistent.. What the text suggests on one hand. Don't you think he knows who gives his creatures their lives and deaths? Do they exist except as he or others read their words?" (124). as it claims that authority once did but no longer does rest with either the author or the text. the reader'sinterpretation is particularly necessary to imbue the text with meaning. This "reduction of traditional forms of authority" clears the way for readerparticipationin the construction of textual meaning (Edwards265). Even as the metafictional elements of Lost in the Fun- 117 This content downloaded from 186. however. that "the old analogy between Author and God . Such a theory...it nevertheless makes that author-character the thematic and structural crux of many of the stories it contains. authoritative meaning-if indeed it ever did. not just metafictional ones-by means of the Derridian concept of decentering. the text no longer provides a singular. not that simple. Thus.117 on Wed. the narrator of "Life Story" emphasizes the immense responsibility of the reader when he says:"your own author bless and damn you his life is in your hands.37. At the same time that Lost in the Funhouseproclaims the supremacy of the reader and reduces the author from the status of godlike creatorto struggling fictional character..

37. What has often been touted. By claiming to be unable to control the story he is crafting. and the literary traditions of an earlier period. Despite the critical celebration of the "birth of the reader"that surroundsmetafiction (Barthes 148). a new and more powerful role for the reader. The argument that metafiction is inherently author-focused is particularly relevant to a discussion about Lost in the Funhousebecause both its structure and its content focus on issues of narrative and authorship. Similarly. What I mean is: a text that thematizes a self-conscious awareness of the processes of its own construction unavoidably thematizes the importance of its constructor. closer examination reveals that they also serve to revalidate the very tenets of traditional narrative that they ostensibly repudiate: the centrality of authorial authority and the creative power of the individual. as the preeminent postmodern urtext actually representsa simultaneous attempt to reestablish the authority of the author. the "fictional author" of the narrative. it simultaneously demonstrates the continuing need for a consciously constructing authorial figure.Lost in the Funhousejuxtaposes elements of the self-reflexive narrative with the self-conscious creator in order to posit an intricate.217. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . illustrating that the self-consciousness. Works that constantly point to themselves as texts or fictions. or author. By assertinghis failure. the center of the subject. we are led to understand.6 Many of the stories in this series feature a self-reflexive narratorwho. thereby reaffirming the notion that at the helm of every narrative there must exist an agenic creator. then.117 on Wed. Lost in the Funhouserepresents at the same time an attempt to maintain a firm grasp on the power of author-ity.MarjorieWorthington house project a new direction for late twentieth-century fiction.This fictional author bewails the fact that he cannot seem 118 This content downloaded from 186. Although deconstructionists have rightly pointed to this text as a demonstration of how meaning and authority are decentered. inextricable relationship between them. the self-reflexivity of metafiction is simultaneously and necessarily a recognition of authorial presence. simultaneously point to the necessity of the existence of the artist or author who created them.he simultaneously assertshis (albeit waning) power. is the actual creator. even demands.while metafiction in general allows. the author-narrator demonstrates his continued presence in and creative influence over the text. that refer continually to their fictionality.5 a close textual reading of Lost in the Funhousereveals one of its primary projects to be the resuscitation of a supposedly dead author who struggles to retain the ability to construct a narrative.

"which is about an author struggling to write an entertaining and meaningful story at the exact midpoint of his life. He describes his literary efforts this way: Another story about a writer writing a story! Another regressus in infinitum! Who doesn't prefer art that at least overtly imitates something other than its own processes?That doesn't continually proclaim "Don't forget I'm an artifice!"?That takes for granted its mimetic nature instead of asserting it in order (not so slyly after all) to deny it. in "Life Story. or vice-versa? (114) However. for example."Oh God comma I abhor self-consciousness. the essence whereof would be the impossibility of making something new. illustrates that the "Romantic author who consciously begins to intrude into his own fiction must eventually become the postmodern author who is no longer able to withdraw from it" (91). paralyzing self-consciousness and the adjective weight of accumulated history . vertiginously arch. Similarly. It seems to him that the literary vehicle available to him at this time (Monday. . . according to Heide Ziegler. against itself to make something new and valid.What a nauseating notion" (106). no oth- 119 This content downloaded from 186. June 20. This pairing of the stultifying self-consciousness of the main character and the crippling self-reflexivity of the narrative is evident. a plight that. but then embarks on that very self-consciousness as a "temporary expedient" in order "to turn ultimacy. Thus the narrator recognizes that the problems he is facing are problems facing literature in general at this point in the century. the apparent response to this claim that contemporary literature is too self-involved is Lost in the Funhouse-a series of stories that repeatedly depict that very self-consciousness. exhaustion.117 on Wed. Simultaneously.unoriginal-in fact a convention of twentieth-century literature" (114).37.217. the narrator in the story called "Title" laments. I despise what we have come to" (110). fashionably solipsistic.Barth'sLost in the Funhouse to construct a story in which his own presence does not overwhelm the action.This is one of the basic contradictions or paradoxes of this text: although the narrators deplore the seeming ubiquity of contemporary narrative self-consciousness. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . which is exactly two-thirds of the way through the twentieth century. the protagonist that this toopresent narratordescribes is struggling with the different but related problem of an overdeveloped self-consciousness which keeps him from directly experiencing his own life. 1966) is too "self-conscious.

217. it is no longer possible for fiction to follow the modernist imperative to "make it new. At work here is Barth's oft-cited notion that his writing represents what he called "the literature of exhaustion. This character suddenly and self-consciously recognizes his creator's. "it was perhaps inevitable that one afternoon the possibility would occur to the writer of these lines that his own life might be a fiction. Rather." a good artist must respond by depicting that very exhaustion. Barth describes the literatureof exhaustion as representing"the usedupness of certain forms or exhaustion of certain possibilities" in literature (70). Barth says that the fact that the genre is moribund is "by no means necessarily a cause for despair" (70). Novelistic fiction. this lack of meaningful story can becomethe meaningful story.his author's. the narrator of"Life Story" gets most of the way through his narration and is still unable to establish what he calls a "ground-situation. In other words. which would of course be a story about himself.existence. Neither the article nor the story is saying. And that is ostensibly what the narrator of"Life Story" attempts to do. the "Life Story" narrator eventually realizes that he should regard "the absence of a ground-situation.37. Barth argues that fiction should both portray and become-or be performative of-the postmodern exhaustion he discusses. more accurately the protagonist's anguish at that absence and his vain endeavors to supply the defect. which thereby "turns the artist'smode or form into a metaphor for his concerns" (78). After spending two-thirds of his lifetime writing novels. in which he was the leading or an accessory character"(113).117 on Wed."7 For example. In "The Literature of Exhaustion."however. has already said." or a basis for a good or meaningful story in this medium which is "moribund if not already dead" (Lost 118). He decides to write a story about a character who believes he is a character in someone's fiction.8 Instead. They hate being "meta" but cannot seem to avoid it. Barth argues. the narratorrecognizes that he cannot be a fictional character because 120 This content downloaded from 186. in the process of writing the story. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . then. done. done. that art is no longer possible or that art can no longer have meaning (as Barth is often misunderstood as having said). or imagined. and imagined everything that can be said.MarjorieWorthington er means of construction is available to them." In his 1967 essay by that title. However. and "Life Story" starts out to be about the writing of that story. the argument is that because traditional narrativeforms have been "exhausted. Similarly. as itself a sort of ground-situation" (Lost 123).

but an image of himself inaccurately reflected by the pool. perhaps in response to "The Literature of Exhaustion. see.37. not knowing that that image is of himself-and not even of himself undistorted.117 on Wed. a character in someone else's fiction." For example. seemingly pointless and meandering stories chronicle the ostensible inability of contemporary narrativeforms to tell a proper or interesting story or to provide any manner of or route to "truth. "Life Story" is indicative of many of the stories in Lost in the Funhouse in that. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . instead. were undeniably a staple of his own and his century's literature as they'd been of Shakespeare'sand Cervantes's.217.yet it was a fact that in the corpus of fiction as far as he knew no fictional character had become convinced as he had that he was a character in a work of fiction." it acts as an attempt to demonstrate the "used-upness" of modern literary traditions. after all. In the case of "Life Story. that his life is factual.Barth'sLost in the Funhouse he could demonstrate by syllogism that the story of his life was a work of fact: though assaultsupon the boundary between life and art. This being the case and he having in fact become thus convinced it followed that his conviction was false. or know himself without the interference of a screen of reflection. the narrator'sawareness of himself as a self-conscious being allows him to conclude that he is not. However. reality and dream. it is this very self-consciousness that assuresthe narrator of"Life Story" that he is indeed real.In this series. Heide Ziegler calls attention to "the double meaning of the word 'self-reflection"' as 121 This content downloaded from 186. Narcissus tries but cannot truly find. (125-26) Whereas critics like PatriciaWaugh argue that it is this metafictional selfconsciousness that helps to blur the line between art and reality. and to "explore the possible fictionality of the world outside the literary fictional text" (2). while the narrator'sselfconsciousness serves to reestablish his personhood or reality by convincing him that he could not possibly be fictional. it suddenly becomes impossible for him to write the story about a character who is." narrative self-consciousness does not lead to the recognition of the fictionality of life. Once he recognizes that he is not a fictional character in someone else's fiction. that same self-consciousness stands in the way of his successfully completing the story he set out to write. the story titled "Echo" depicts the character of Narcissus looking into the pool and desiring immediate and direct access to the image he sees there.

217. Narcissus spends eternity loving. Both the narrative of his life and the narrativized image created by his reflection in the pool end here in the cave. Is there anyone to hear here? Who are you? 122 This content downloaded from 186. The narrator of the story warns. and becomes lost thereby in self-reflection-in reflecting on that selfuntil the gods pity him and turn him into the eponymous flower (91). therefore. and who was subsequently cursed forever merely to repeat what is said in her presence. are reflected back to him by Echo. he can only see his image. Instead. that although her words are not her own.37. Echo is no longer able to make up her own stories. or the narrativized reflection of reality his image in the pool represents. and shapes his words into a love narrative of her own: I can't go on. Echo still manages to be a storyteller through the manner in which she repeats what she is told: "She edits.MarjorieWorthington Narcissus moons oveYthe reflection of himself that he sees in the pool. alters.When he attempts to speak. the nymph whose wonwords his derful storytelling kept Hera distracted while Zeus frolicked with mountain nymphs. turns others' words to her end" (Lost 97). achieve self-knowledge or a properly fruitful narrative end10 but can only "linger forever on the autognostic verge" (Lost 100). He is so taken with his own reflection that he can do nothing but stare at it and sigh. longing for. mutes. Go on. makes a clear connection between the character of Narcissus and the author of the self-reflexive narrative (yet a third meaning for the term in order to demonstrate the unfortunate result when an self-reflection)9 author (Narcissus) can do nothing but refer endlessly to his own narrative reflection. "Echo. stuck in his self-reflection. heightens. however.alluring yet ultimately unproductive and stifling. and being denied unmediated access to himself. The story of Narcissus represents the self-reflexive narrative so in love with itself that it cannot do other than refer to itself and cannot. she can only reproduce those told her by others. But Narcissus is not alone in the cave.117 on Wed. Echo instantly falls in love with him and repeats. mired in Narcissus's fascination with himself. When Narcissus enters the cave with the pool. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . "Echo" then." then. serves as a warning that the self-reflexive fiction so popular at the time of its publication can act as a trap.

Echo effaces herself absolutely in order to reflect and depict the story of Narcissus." It is Echo who is ultimately able to survive long after the demise of poor self-reflexive Narcissus. I? Aye. It is somewhat surprising perhaps to encounter this notion of the 123 This content downloaded from 186. Then let me see me! See? A lass!Alas. although she has withdrawn as much as possible from the narrative she constructs. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . heightens. yet exerting constant creative influence over those narrativesas she "edits. or at least a strange and oddly reflected version of himself.37.Barth'sLost in the Funhouse You. the Echo of his fancy" (99). no use: Narcissus grows fond.117 on Wed. my argument establishes Echo as the author in love with the figure she attempts to narrativize:Narcissus. In this way. is that traditional mimetic fiction will outlast current metafictional narrativetrends and that the individual creative genius of the author necessarily lurks behind every successful narrative construction no matter how mimetic that narrative may seem. but his reflection. The implication in "Echo" then. she cannot withdraw completely. and is thus able to persist by creating a more traditional. mutes. constructing mimetic narratives by repeating what she has witnessed. (98)11 In thus speaking to Echo. un-self-reflexive narrative. Narcissus believes he is speaking to himself. Echo represents the successful author as a realist. her authorial authority remains present and intact. What Narcissus really loves is not himself but the narrativized version of himself that he gets from Echo and from his reflection in the pool: "it was never himself Narcissus craved.while Narcissus "perishes by denying all except himself. Echo fools Narcissus into loving her story when he thinks he loves only himself.However. Echo's attempts at narrativeconstruction are more successful than Narcissus's. Furthermore.217. she speaks his language" (99-100). turns others' words to her end." Echo "persists by effacing herself absolutely" (99).While Ziegler refers to Echo's love for Narcissus as "the story [being] in love with its author" (93). As author. and he cannot resist that reflection: "No use. illustrating that she is still able to construct a convincing narrativedespite the fact that the words she must use are not original and not even her own.

" This story depicts a young boy named Ambrose getting lost in a funhouse on a beach boardwalk and vacillates between telling that story and discussing the telling of that story: 124 This content downloaded from 186. in concert with Max F Schultz's assertion that Barth "is not an errant realist guilty of formalist perversions so much as a radical preservationist looking for ways to conserve old and new storytelling" (408). My point is that at the same time that Lost in the Funhouseseems to invite increased reader participation in the construction of textual meaning. The concentration on authorial authority in this story is striking.This move appears in opposition to the idea that traditionalnovelistic forms are no longer powerful enough to result in great fiction.The ostensible purpose of these experiments was to sound the death knell of traditional narrative enterprises. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .37. I am making an altogether different claim.MarjorieWorthington actively constructing author embedded in what is usually considered to be the quintessential postmodern or "experimental" work of fiction. or that the authority for meaning-making no longer resides with an author. the reclamation of the authorial authority demonstrated in "Echo" acts as the revalidation of traditional narrative techniques. This endeavor to reinstate the author as the center of textual importance is evident in many of the stories in Lost in the Funhouse. Both critics and Barth himself have usually agreed that the project of Lost in the Funhousewas to comment on the failure and exhaustion of traditional narrative forms and strategies and to create art from the self-conscious assertion that new art is no longer possible. which had lost their power to create meaningful fiction.117 on Wed. Rather.217. reestablishing the importance of the author serves simultaneously to reestablish those traditional forms as the very ones that can save postmodern fiction from the self-centered slump of metafictional reflexivity. it also engages in an attempt to revalidate the figure of the author as a powerful and conscious constructor of narrative.including the story that is arguably the most notable (and noted) example of self-reflexive narrative:"Lost in the Funhouse. especially since the time of its publication roughly coincides with the first literary theoretical rumblings about the death of the author and the rise of the importance of reader involvement in the text. Rather than being an argument for new fictional forms. Clearly.

snagged on its self-conscious deviations. the connections are many between Ambrose's plight and the plight of this narrative. 75). Interestingly. while "most go along without difficulty. For example. this construction-this narrative-is apparently moving increasingly beyond the constructor's control. so are the narrator and reader lost in the funhouse of this narrative construction. during a sexual encounter he had once had with Magda: 125 This content downloaded from 186. how is it that most go along without difficulty but a few lose their way? (75) The narrative is stalled somehow.Ambrose narrateshis existence to himself. Several pages into this rambling. not to mention. making him similarly unable to progress. The failure of the narrative to progress in a timely fashion will trap little Ambrose forever in the funhouse. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . In fact. the occasionof theirvisit is Independence Day.Yet everyone begins in the same place.Just as Ambrose is lost in the funhouse.217."this narrative seems to have lost its way. and instead of simply having an experience.something has gone wrong. and we are left to wonder why it is that. then.Just as the narrative is focused more on its own processes than the telling of a realistic story. but the narrator worries at regular intervals that "we will never get out of the funhouse" and "At this rate our hero.however.Barth'sLost in the Funhouse He has come to the seashore with his family for the holiday. not much of this preliminary rambling seems relevant. whichin turnis the printed equivalent to oral emphasis of words and phrases as well as the customary type for titles of complete works. digressive story.37. the character of Ambrose is consistently too conscious of himself to engage directly with his surroundings. certain parts considered more noteworthy than others. he feels the constant need to distance himself from that experience through a veil of mental description.A single straight underline is the manuscript mark for italic type. the most importantsecular the United States holidayof ofAmerica. Not only is it not progressing fast enough.117 on Wed. we are informed that We should be much farther along than we are. at this rate our protagonist will remain in the funhouse forever" (74. (69) This digression from the story to a discussion of the use and meaning of italics calls attention simultaneously to the fact that the book is a piece of printed material and to the fact that the narrative itself is also a construction where certain words are emphasized.

what happens in and to the narrative is mirrored by what happens to Ambrose. The fear expressed by the narrator that the story is stuck and will never be able to progress to a proper ending mirrorsAmbrose's similar fear that he will be trapped in the funhouse forever. in some new or old part of the place that's not supposed to be used" (80). Ambrose has become lost in the inner workings of the funhouse. The narrator informs us that it is here.And just as Ambrose masks or copes with his fears by consciously constructing a veil of story between himself and the events around him. he found one that you weren't supposed to find and strayedoff into the works somewhere" (82). Just as the narrative has become preoccupied with its own workings. the narrator constructs a similar veil of self-reflexive musings about the nature of narrative around the story of Ambrose in the funhouse. Ambrose has gone off the track toward the end of the funhouse. Unlike Narcissus.37. he heard his mind take notes upon the scene: This is what they call (81) passion. In a truly Narcissistic move. groaned as if ecstatic. because no matter how you stand. as though some one else were Master.MarjorieWorthington though he had breathed heavily. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . in that last lighted room: Peter and Magda found the right exit.He takes a wrong turn and suddenly.117 on Wed. Strive as he might to be transported. Ambrose realizes that the mirrors do not provide a truly accurate reflection and do not allow him direct access to himself: "In the funhouse mirror room you can't see yourself go on forever. just as the narrative has gone off its track toward the proper conclusion. It is while he is at his most self-absorbed that Ambrose takes the wrong turn that gets him lost in the funhouse. 126 This content downloaded from 186. I am experiencingit.217. Like so much in this story. now "Ambrose is off the track. Ambrose gets so involved in his own reflections on his own reflection that it is here in this room that both he and the story go astray. your head gets in the way" (81-82). in the mirror room. what he'd really felt throughout was an odd detachment. The self-reflexivity of the narrative serves to exteriorize Ambrose's selfconscious self-narration. Ambrose gets lost in self-reflection while viewing his altered image in the funhouse mirrors. It is important to note that the moment Ambrose goes astrayinto the inner workings of the funhouse is the moment when he is at his most self-reflexive. that the misstep occurs: "That'sjust where it happened.12 Nevertheless. however.

that he 127 This content downloaded from 186. He even foresaw. but is unable for some reason to bring it about: "The climax of the story must be its protagonist's discovery of a way to get through the funhouse.hesitates. with little hope of getting to the proper end." the narrator evinces a certain amount of anxiety over whether this story will follow the traditional narrative structure described (and illustrated) as a variant of Freitag'sTriangle (93. as he thinks how readily he deceived himself into supposing he was a person. In the same way that his self-awareness prevents Ambrose from forgetting himself long enough to have an experience unalloyed by self-narration. The narrator knows what that end should be. find its proper ending. in some new or old part of the [funhouse] that's not supposed to be used.37. 91)-in other words. sighs. he is a character doomed to a heightened self-awareness that others do not possess-doomed therefore to the recognition that he is merely a fictional character." the narrative has similar problems: "the plot doesn't rise by meaningful steps but winds upon itself. At the same time that Ambrose gets lost by going "off the track.This realization saddens him. This story.Barth'sLost in the Funhouse Furthermore.217. Clearly. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . But he has found none.wincing at his dreadful self-knowledge. Just as Ambrose's self-reflections caused him to get lost and now he cannot find his way out of the funhouse. whether this will become a "regular narrative. the story is too focused on its own construction to make sufficient progress toward a conclusion and cannot. collapses.117 on Wed. may have ceased to search" (92). retreats. his self-consciousness serves an important purpose for Ambrose.While Ambrose worries that he will never become a "regular person. digresses. However." But it won't. then. Ambrose's experiences in the funhouse can be directly correlated to the trajectory of the narrative entire. therefore. is performative in that it simultaneously depicts the failure of the protagonist and the narrative itself to reach the expected resolution. who is often upset by the suspicion that he is not a real human being but rather a character in the story of his or someone else's life and that this story is a kind of"portrait of the artist as a fiction" (Marta 210). the self-conscious preciousness of the narrative prohibits it from progressing with the story. expires" (92). Ambrose realizes that if he is a fictional character. the narrative itself has taken on the attributes of a funhouse-a funhouse in which we and it have become trapped and lost.

narrated from the third-person point of view" (92).Ambrose begins constructing narratives. stuck in this narrative. His constant self-conscious narration of events allows him to construct a selfhood where he worries there may be none. he fantasizes about returning one day to the funhouse with his wife and child. of opening his soul to that person and helping her escape. like Narcissus. it this very sense of being too self-conscious to be a real person that simultaneously provides Ambrose with the means to construct a narrative subjectivity for himself.217. all his wretched life. realizes somewhat unhappily that he is destined to be a person who will "construct funhouses for others and be their secret operator-though he would rather be among the lovers for whom funhouses are designed" (94). of hugging his child to him when he wants to know what a funhouse is.37. in a sense. trapping its protagonist in the funhouse forever. these narrative constructions represent his attempts to convince himself that he actually does exist. Ambrose constructs a portrait of himself as a fiction and his narratives constitute his selfhood.Through his constant narrativizing. the author of himself. "rehearsing to himself the unadventurous story of his life. he decides reluctantly to be an author.however.13but it is also about the creation of an author. still lost in the funhouse. at ever-rarer intervals.Ambrose decides. a creator of narrative funhouses. he can at least construct himself a persona and thereby become. Ambrose is the artist and his selfhood is his art. that protagonist de- 128 This content downloaded from 186.as I have shown and as many others have argued. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . As the narrative fails. In other words. that he does not have direct access to real experience (access not mediated by a film of self-constructed narrative). but by then they may be out of fashion. like steamboats and excursion trains" (93). "He dreams of a funhouse vaster by far than any yet constructed. despite the dreary recognition that they may be going out of style. Thus. Instead of continuing to search for the way out of this funhouse once he gets lost in the mirror room.MarjorieWorthington would repeat the deception. not only is "Lost in the Funhouse" a narrative about the failure of self-reflexive narrative. If he cannot be a person. The story ends as Ambrose. "He could design such a place himself" (93). (90) Paradoxically. so fearful were the alternatives.117 on Wed. He fantasizes about meeting someone in the dark of the funhouse. So even if he feels.While lost in this funhouse.

117 on Wed. asAmbrose the child loses him- 129 This content downloaded from 186. with Magda's suggestion.37."Lost in the Funhouse" is the story of the creator of this particular story as well as the story of its own creation. but the connection is nonetheless made between the self-conscious narrator and the similarly self-conscious Ambrose. (83) The paragraph begins in the present of the story. throw up for excitement.Ambrose told to himself the events of his life from the third-person point of view.A tidal wave. and the paragraph ends with an internal description of Ambrose's thoughts. I would argue that Ambrose himself actually is the narrator (and therefore the ostensible constructor) of the story. the ghost-crabs are tickling across the beach and down the littered cold streets. he alone knew the maze's secret.217. An He yearned to tell Peter. The brief emergence of first-person narration is quickly glossed over and compensated for. They hadn't even chased him.From that description emerge several ofAmbrose's frequent fantasies about becoming a hero as the narrative once again resumes the third person. I'll never be an author. the woman's fat white legs had. It's been forever already. that is in the first person: "I'll never be an author" (83).And the empty halls of clapboard hotels and abandoned funhouses. earlier in the story that third-person point of view is interrupted by one of the instances where the narrator bemoans the slow progress of the story-the only instance. The fellow's hands had been tattooed. an enemy air raid. He wished he were dead. He wanted to astonishingcoincidence. however. a monster-crab swelling like an island from the sea. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . the woman's legs. Furthermore. "He gave his life that we might live. Then the narrator'sshow of discouragement leads into a description of the deserted Ocean City boardwalk.The failure of this narrative seemingly necessitates the emergence of a writer. It is instructive to examine the entire paragraphin which that statement occurs: "Let's ride the old flying horses!" Magda cried.everybody's gone home.Magda clung to his trouser leg. As noted earlier. so it is not unreasonable to suspect that the narrator actually is Ambrose.Barth'sLostin the Funhouse termines simultaneously to become an author. In fact." said Uncle Karl with a scowl of pain. Ocean City's deserted. as he. The inhabitantsfled in terror. of a creator-someone to witness and document that failure. this story is also narrated in the thirdperson point of view.

However. the story "Lost in the Funhouse" is in constant threat of breaking down."I'l never be an author" (83). On closer examination.117 on Wed. in the case of the Lost in the Funhouseseries as a whole.37. or even into. the story. Ambrose needs the narrative-he needs to narrate-in order to be a person. it becomes clear that Ambrose does 130 This content downloaded from 186. In addition to its being a story about an author telling a story about the creation of an author. that need is reciprocated: as much as the author needs the narrative. in that it ends without Ambrose's triumphant emergence from the funhouse. of not finding the appropriate end.there is the consciously constructing figure of the narrator. of not getting through. this need causes him to become an author. He determines to create funhouses for others because the curse of his self-consciousness denies him the ability simply to enjoy them. however.The story threatens permanently to detour into one of its narrative perversions when it should merely suggest-but not pursue-the possibility of a perverse ending. For example.who. the funhouse. through its telling. Things are not progressing as they should: "we will never get out of the funhouse" (74) at this rate. it has been argued that "Lost in the Funhouse" does end without the proper resolution. at the heart of this failed or failing narrative.217.MarjorieWorthington self in the reflection of the finhouse mirrors.14 In fact.the narrative simultaneously needs the author. Here we have the connection between the self and the ostensible author made overt. needs the narrative in order to narrate himself a "self. The author. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . this story does not seem to have the proper ending. because it does not end the way one would expect. while he may not always be able to control the progress of the narrative."In turn. he does not gain the knowledge we expect him to gain-knowledge of"the way out." So at first glance. Thus.Ambrose.nevertheless acts as guide through and constant commentator on the action. performatively transforms the main characterAmbrose into an author ultimately able to narrate the story of his own creation as author.Ambrose the narrator reveals himself through his constant self-conscious reflections. in order to have a self. an argument that becomes more convincing in light of the myriad connections between the narrativeand the character.Ambrose never does find his way out of the funhouse. The figure of Ambrose as author is constructed through and by the telling of this story. this constructing presence is simultaneously narrator and author of the story he is narrating. Furthermore.15And actually.

and Menelaus the storyteller emerges as the "true self. "When will I reach my goal through its cloaks of story? How many veils to naked Helen?" (140). Ambrose does not "linger on the autognostic verge" but instead is imbued with an Oedipal self-knowledge of his true identity as an author.Barth'sLost in the Funhouse gain a kind of knowledge-the sad knowledge that he is destined never to leave the funhouse.117 on Wed."Menelaus wants both to win back the love of his wife Helen and to be able to tell the story of that winning. the self that Proteus turns into is Menelaus himself. He compares the author to Menelaus. becomes the strong author figure who holds out and holds on until truth is revealed. By holding on. however. as I argued earlier. As in the essay. Barth himself recognizes this necessity in "The Literature of Exhaustion" when he concludes that contemporary fiction must wend its way through the labyrinth of all that has already been said and done and all that it is possible to say or do. Menelaus has become empowered to tell the story. who "has got to hold fast while the Old Man of the Sea exhausts reality'sfrightening guises so that he may extort direction from him when Proteus returns to his 'true' self" (82). Menelaus. To some extent.217.Thus this narrative does end productively: it creates an author out of Ambrose. to get through the layers of clothing to his wife.this narrative creates its own author. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions ." making clear the connection between Barth's essay and his series of stories. While holding on to Proteus. he grasps the sea god for help. the autognostic momentthe moment in which this becomes a productive narrative-is the same moment in which Ambrose is confirmed in his authorship of this story about how he became an author. to a productive close. he cries." Subsequently. the ultimate savior of this highly successful depiction of narrative exhaustion must necessarily be a powerfully constructing author. Furthermore. but to construct funhouses for others' enjoyment-to become an author. the story of his rise to authorship. Interestingly. and Menelaus notices that the instructions he receives from Proteus are spoken from his own mouth. 131 This content downloaded from 186.37. In fact. His calling is not only to remain in the funhouse forever. in the Lost in the Funhousestory "Menelaiad.the Menelaus of the story wants desperately to get through the lies and illusions to the real story. then. for Ambrose. That moment of recognition is the moment in which Ambrose the author brings this. Furthermore. as it is Ambrose himself who constructs the story "Lost in the Funhouse.

capable.The series ends with the image of the anonymous author of the "Anonymiad. So for Barth. Furthermore. Clearly. requires a simultaneous return to older traditions). there truly is no need for despair. the interpretive involvement of the reader is not necessary for the success of a text.MarjorieWorthington Lost in the Funhouserepresents a fictional enactment of the essay's rebellion against the death of the author. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . He argues to the contrary that "not just any old body is equipped for this labor": an author is "the virtuoso.217.117 on Wed. and fully developed.this viewpoint does not so much signal an embrace of a reader-centered literary aesthetic as a reaction against it. go straight through the maze to the accomplishment of his work" (83. the Thesean hero"who must "with the aid of veryspecialgifts . read. because the disintegrating narrative forms will be either salvaged or recast by the heroic virtuosity of the author."he sighs.. what it means to be "postmodern." in Barth's case at least. As this passage demonstrates.. emphasis Barth's). on a lorn fair shore a nameless minstrel / Wrote it" (194).as is demonstrated by the last story in Lost in the Funhouse. this authorial virtuosity obviates the necessity for the interpretive participation of the reader. or even find it. Barth argues that the author is the true hero of contemporary literature and must therefore be strong." having just launched his final missive into the sea. What is the writer's response to the idea that his work will encounter no readers?"No matter. Barth scoffs at the notion that a text is less the result of one person's artistic effort than an amalgam of different voices and forces. the virtuosity of the author is sufficient.. It is certainly possible from my analysis to draw the conclusion that Barth is not the harbinger of postmodern indeterminacy and malaise that he is so often deemed to be. I have argued that the project of Lost in the Funhouseis not simply to demonstrate the exhaustion of modernist narrative forms but to reinvigorate 132 This content downloaded from 186. is quite different from what we usually imagine. In the essay.37. In addition.Thus the author is necessary if we are going to navigate through the exhausted forms of modern literature toward newer and truer possibilities (which. centered. as I have already argued. More likely.. convinced that no one will ever decipher. it is enough for him to know that on "this noontime of his wasting day . or what Barth calls the tendency of the "intermedia arts"to eliminate "the most traditional notion of the artist: the Aristotelian conscious agent who achieves with technique and cunning the artistic effect" ("Exhaustion" 71).

it also represents an attempt to restore and recentralize the authority of the author.117 on Wed. subjectivity at the heart of the narrative. Most critics. if constructed.37.217. In Lost in the Funhouse (and possibly other metafiction) the self in self-consciousness and self-reflexivity refers not only to the narrative but also to an actual self constructed within that narrative-a self that is essential for the narrative'spurposes." takes the form of the narrator. In the author'snote. it also requires a recognition of the creative enterprise of the fictional author.particularly that of the powerfully creative virtuosity of the author.Barth'sLost in the Funhouse them by combining them with contemporary narrative strategies such as self-conscious self-reflexivity. which also focus on innovationsin nar- 133 This content downloaded from 186. My analysiscould productivelybe broadenedto include some of Barth's other texts such as Chimeraor Letters.I would suggest that equally necessary in Barth's work is the coherent yet self-constructing subject of Ambrose.the serieswill be seen to havebeen meant to be received'all at once' and as here arranged"(Lostix). it can and must be rescued by the centralized figure of a coherent constructing subject as author. Furthermore. in "Lost in the Funhouse. narrating his life to himself in the third person.The true paradox of metafiction is that at the same time that it suggests an increased responsibility of the reader. It seems to me that Barth's argument that a talented author figure is necessary to lead literature through the maze of exhausted forms is also a recognition of the necessity of a coherent. 2. this recentering of the author could be viewed as a recentering of an essentialized. As much as the ever-present metafictional self-consciousness illustratesthe failure of language to construct a fixed and coherent meaning and asks or even demands a greater interpretive investment from the reader.If the narrative threatens to fail.myselfincluded.though severalof its items haveappearedseparatelyin periodicals.but a series. Barthwrites that the book is "neithera collection nor a selection. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .takethis to mean that the storiesin the book can and shouldbe takenas ableboth to standindependentlyand to be readtogether. Whereas Barth argues for the necessity in contemporary literature for the heroic author who tries to control the narrativeproceedings and who. requires a return to traditional principles of narrative. however. Notes 1. coherently depicted subject. This rejuvenation.

througha reading of Lostin theFunhouseas a unified novel insteadof a collection of short stories. and therebyto rejuvenatethe storytellingconventionsofWesternculture" (397). See also Foucault.Lostin theFunhouseoften servesas the springboardfor criticaldiscussionof metafictionin general.becauseit is widely considered to be one of the preeminentmetafictionaltexts.117 on Wed. 7."The Literatureof Replenishment. as the narratorin "Title"states. In a lateressay.notto-be-repudiated. In fact. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . 4. (xvii) 134 This content downloaded from 186.37.I have chosen to focus solely on this seriesin an effortnot only to reevaluatemajor criticalreadingsof the text but also to reframeour understandingof the genre of metafictionas a whole. Others havealso identifiedelementsin Lostin theFunhousethat recuperate particularnarrativeforms. . 5. of the nineteenthand twentiethcenturies.victory. 9." (66) 8.but essentiallycompleted"program"of what Hugh Kennerhas dubbed"the Pound era."Barthfurtheroutlineshis definitionof postmodernismand commentson his 1967 essayby saying: What my essay"The Literatureof Exhaustion"was reallyabout.so it seems to me now.anothernarrative. See also bothWesterveltand Marta.this is "a stateof affairsmore tsk-tskthan boo-hoo" (108).However. 10.identity. See alsoBell.MarjorieWorthington rativestructureand on authorialagency.arguesthatBarthattempts"to fuse into one viable contemporaryform the differentnovelisticmodes .Hutcheon uses the term narcissistic narrative to referto the kind of textualself-awarenesstypifiedby metafiction. Or.was the effective"exhaustion"not of languageor of literaturebut of the aestheticof high modernism:that admirable. mastery.. 6. I mention this passagein orderto illustratethe connection between"The Literatureof Exhaustion"and Lostin theFunhouse.this patternof [narrative's] joinder to productalso accounts for the countlessanalogiesto child/product-knowledge.Heide Ziegler discusseswhat she callsthe "neoRomanticismof the postmodernauthor"(90).the latteris clearlya fictionalembodimentof the ideasespousedin the former.and even death-that occupy the satisfyingend of the story.JudithRoof writes: As ideology.217. Max F Schulz. 3.

as we haveseen at the macro-textuallevel"(221). Rpt. Lostin theFunhouse. Stephen Samuel. PeterBrookshas arguedthatnarrativemust tend toward"the correctend. 1984): Bienstock. in TheNovelToday:Contemporary Writers on ModernFiction. Beth A. "EducatingReaders:CreatingNew Expectationsin Lostin the Funhouse"ReadingNarrative: Ed. "The Death of the Author.JanMartadiscussesthis partof the story in an effort to make more explicit the connection between the issuesof this story and those of the seriesas a whole. Brooksarguesthat these possible short circuitsor "perversions" arepartof the pleasureof narrativein that we threat the the that story mightgo awry only becausewe knowthat evenenjoy it will not.Barth'sLostin the Funhouse 11.1 (Spring1973):69-78.Ideology. and trans.217. . 135 This content downloaded from 186. StevenM. NewYork: Beckett. Workscited Barth. 1989. .JamesPhelan. See bothWesterveltand Schulz. MalcolmBradbury. See in particularboth Olson and Slaughter."The Literatureof Replenishment. tually 15.John. Grove.andWriting:The Exampleof Barth'sLostin theFunhouse. 1991.37.ColumForm.as this and many of the other storiesin Lostin theFunhousearepreoccupiedwith reachinga satisfactorynarrativeending. 14. Barthes. NewYork:Bantam.1984. The Unnameable. Self-Consciousness.reinforcingthe union of self-reflectionand mimesis.Ethics. London: Fontana.70-83. 102-19.2 (Summer 84-89.BeverlyGray. saying:"The inevitableimpositionof the realreflectingobject makes pure reflectionimpossible. 142-48. bus:Ohio StateUP.1967): 29-34. ThreeNovelsbySamuelBeckett. 12. Roland.1969.Ed.Ed. 13. Bell. "Literature. Boehm. I'll go on" [414]) is probablynot coincidental."Lingeringon the AutognosticVerge:JohnBarth's Lostin theFunhouse."AtlanticMonthly220 (Aug."The Literatureof Exhaustion.117 on Wed." and that this end is threatenedby "the dangerof short-circuit:the dangerof reachingthe end too quickly"(103-04)." ModernFictionStudies19.The fact that this exchangedimly echoes the ending of Beckett'sThe Unnameable ("I can'tgo on."ImageMusicText."AtlanticMonthly245 (Jan.Manchester:ManchesterUP. 1977. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions ." International FictionReview11.1980): 65-71. Heath.

2 (June 1982): 208-22. Brian. Woolley. "Teller. Cambridge: Harvard UP.Ed. Patricia. "What Is an Author?" TextualStrategies:Perspectivesin PostStructuralistCriticism. "Deconstructing the Artist and the Art: Barth and Calvino at Play in the Funhouse of Language. "Historiographic Metafiction. Heide.4 (Winter 1989): 80-97. 1980." InternationalFictionReview 7 (1980): 90-93. 136 This content downloaded from 186. Deborah A.NewYork: Methuen.90-112. 1979. 1981. ComeAs YouAre: Sexuality and Narrative.MarjorieWorthington Brooks. Metafiction.217. Patrick O'Donnell. Olson. Linda. Klinkowitz. Ithaca:Cornell UP.117 on Wed.2 June 1985): 264-86. City: .Judith." CanadianReview of ComparativeLiterature9.NewYork: Methuen. The Meaningof Metafiction. "John Barth's'Echo':The Story in Love with Its Author. 141-60. NarcissisticNarrative:The MetafictionalParadox.NewYork: Columbia UP.Ed. Michel. Edwards.4 (1984): 397-410. 1984." PartisanReview 49 (1982): 407-11. Peter. Carol Booth. Christensen."ContemporaryLiterature26.Jan. Westervelt. 1984." PassionateDoubts:Designs of in Contemporary AmericanFiction. Carolyn Norman. Ziegler. "John Barth Reconsidered.' FecundVoice: Self-Reflexivity in Barth's Lost in the Funhouse. "Empty 'Text. "Lost in the Madhouse.Jerome. 7 Aug 2013 10:44:34 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Roof. Foucault.2 (Summer 1990): 56-63. "Who Gets Lost in the Funhouse."Journalof NarrativeTechnique8 (1978): 42-55. 1996. Inger. "Freud'sMasterplot" Readingfor the Plot: Design and Intentionin Narrative.3-32.4 (1985): 460-81."ContemporaryLiterature25." Review of ContemporaryFiction 10. Hutcheon.Ed." CanadianReview of ContemporaryLiterature12. P. Linda A. Iowa Interpretation of U Iowa 1986.NewYork: Columbia UP. Marta. Peter Brooks.JosueV. Max F "The Thalian Design of Barth's Lost in the Funhouse.Told: Relationships in John Barth's Latest Fiction.37." Arizona Quarterly44. Harari. Schulz.Tale. Waugh. Slaughter. "John Barth's Portrait of the Artist as a Fiction: Modernism through the Looking-Glass.