Monday, May 09, 2011

John Barth Reading at JHU 5/6/11


I don't want to be mean but John Barth's reading at Johns Hopkins on Friday was bad. Stephanie thought it was so bad that she was forced to breathe loudly. She was incensed. I just thought it was an average badness that lasted too long. Barth read for an hour, and by the end people were leaving in a steady, slow stream. Three times he said, "One more page," but he probably read 10 more pages from the first time he said that. It wasn't that he was old. He wasn't too old. He seemed to be a very healthy octogenarian. His prose was adept. But the new novel he read from was about a 77-yr-old academician writer so, uh, who cares? The protagonist was awfully proud of himself, of course. Anyway, enough editorializing. That doesn't help anyone. Here are my notes.
  • Brad Lighthouse (?) of the Writing Seminars does the introduction, corny reference to Wikipedia being unreliable
  • Barth got his BA and MA at Hopkins in 51 and 52
  • Writes about sailing in his nearly 20 books
  • Brad is from Michigan but doesn't feel comfortable around water unless it's frozen into a parking lot
  • Experimental fiction is a term that's gone away. Are the experiments over?
  • "Every literary classic becomes something of a castaway," says Brad
  • Barth takes over the podium
  • Barth says that in his job at JHU he had to introduce plenty of people. He learned that the three main purposes of introductions are: Test the PA, Give latecomers a chance to settle, Allow others to look around and adjust their programs of necessary
  • "Three new perpetrations of mine are" [coming out soon]
  • Reads "Preamble" from one of these
  • Starts with a reference to Huck Finn, then notes the story is about a tornado on Maryland's eastern shore
  • George Irving Nuitt is the hero's name
  • GIN
  • Gee I knew it
  • He's a prof in Maryland, married to a poet
  • Barth's reading started fast, and it seemed like he had written out his introduction to the piece on the same manuscript paper. He didn't make eye contact. There was very little lead-in
  • Strange omniscient narrator, very informal
  • First section of the novel: "First Fall"
  • About traveling on a cruise line to the Balkans, then to Stratford Upon Avon
  • Had "a brace of spits" of champagne
  • "Reckon y'all don't have the minority problems we have" (laughter in the audience) says Handly (?) a Pennsylvanian who sounds more like a Southerner -- this is good bit featuring one of their fellow American travelers
  • "failing to fetch his fictive folk" re Chaucer
I have 76 seconds of audio but I didn't bother to upload it. I will if anyone cares but it's not really that good. These notes are not that good either, but after reading for so long, Barth decided not to take questions since no one seemed interested.

Small wonder.

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