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Anyone that has taken a 20th-century American lit course has probably had to read something by Barth, and it was most likely the title story in this collection.
Barth is known for his excessive meta-fictional devices and influence on writers, mentioned previously, like Pynchon, Wallace, and probably any serious postmodernist.
The devices serve a purpose and are usually humorous. Unlike some postmodernists that came after him, Barth is very much concerned with art expressing a human experience mostly love. The beginning of the story describes the car trip.
When they get there, Ambrose is nervous about how to interact with Magda. They go along the boardwalk until they come to a funhouse. He enters a funhouse, and yes, gets lost. Magda continues on with his Peter while Ambrose is left alone. But really, it is not about this at all. The point of this article is to give an honest Lost in the Funhouse analysis, especially of the later parts of the story.
In typical Barth fashion, the funhouse is a multi-layered metaphor. A funhouse has mirrors all around. This means Ambrose must see himself reflected in all shapes and sizes.
This represents his fractured subconscious about the experience. In his words:. Wallace changes the metaphor and says it is like a bow and arrow. Your arm will always be in the way of shooting directly, but the writer can take this into account and directly hit the reader. Barth, as a narrator, sometimes narrates, sometimes talks directly to the reader, and sometimes comments on the narration. It is these comments that are the humorous meta-fictional devices.
The story becomes self-aware. It understands and points out the devices it is using. Initials, blanks, or both were often substituted for proper names in nineteenth-century fiction to enhance the illusion of reality. It is as if the author felt it necessary to delete the names for reasons of tact or legal liability. Interestingly, as with other aspects of realism it is an illusion that is being enhanced, by purely artificial means.
The story is continually interrupted to go off on tangents like this. He wants to point out, explain, and make fun of the traditional devices he is using. In doing this he is actually creating new and original devices. He wants the reader to be painfully aware that they are reading a story.
Another aspect of the verbal trickery of the story is to somehow assert the primacy of language to experience. All experience must be filtered through language. In fact, in searching for a certain quote just now, I came across another that reinforces my reading that the entire story is a metaphor. Perhaps for lovers. For Ambrose it is a place of fear and confusion. The funhouse is for lovers? It is scary and confusing for Ambrose? Come on, of course, this is what it is talking about.
All right. He starts telling all of these scenarios of how his being lost gets played out. In one he actually dies. He died telling stories to himself in the dark; years later, when that vast unsuspected area of the funhouse came to light, the first expedition found his skeleton in one of its labyrinthine corridors and mistook it for part of the entertainment.
He died of starvation telling himself stories in the dark;…. This all emphasizes the main effect Barth is striving for. All human experience is mediated by language. Language is so primary and important that a mind preoccupied with other stories could completely miss the experience itself. It is great and packed full of interesting things. And this is just one of many stories in the book. I highly recommend this to anyone who aspires to understand modern literature. Thanks for this essay.
Stumbled upon this commentary today. Lost in the Funhouse is one of my favorite books. Re-read the passages quoted above and it works either way, especially if you know that being terrified of life to the point of catatonia is a recurring theme in several Barth books.
His characters are frequently torn between decisiveness and indecision; the intellectually contemplative both envy and resent the unreflective man of action. Just another viewpoint. Thanks for writing this! I have an exam tomorrow on this, and it just became a little more clear to me how this story unfolds!
What is Lost in the Funhouse About? Matt 16 Comments. Share this: Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest. Perpetua February 22, at am. Interesting post.
You are good in literature too. ElienU June 20, at am. WOW just what I was searching for. Came here by searching for brain painting Reply. Do you have any video of that? Leave a Reply Cancel reply.
A Mind for Madness
The stories within this collection are typically approached as postmodern due to their self-reflexivity, their self-awareness, and their use of self-reference. Plot-wise, not much occurs within this narrative. In a nutshell, a teenage boy named Ambrose travels with his family to Ocean City, Maryland, where they spend most of their time sunbathing at the beach, going on amusement park rides, and entertaining themselves with games at the Ocean City boardwalk. Ambrose is nervous because he really likes this girl named Magda, and wants to develop the courage to confess his love for her. This plot, however, constitutes a really small part of the narrative. Given the fact that this text is a meta-fiction, the elements within the story should be approached not only by how they develop the plot, but also by their commentary as pertaining to the acts of writing and reading fiction.
John Barth’s “Lost in the Funhouse”: A Postmodern Critique of the Developmental Narrative
Lost in the Funhouse is a short story collection by American author John Barth. The postmodern stories are extremely self-conscious and self-reflexive and are considered to exemplify metafiction. The book appeared the year after the publication of Barth's essay The Literature of Exhaustion , in which Barth said that the traditional modes of realistic fiction had been used up, but that this exhaustion itself could be used to inspire a new generation of writers, citing Nabokov , Beckett , and especially Borges as exemplars of this new approach. Lost in the Funhouse took these ideas to an extreme, for which it was both praised and condemned by critics. Each story can be considered complete in itself, and in fact several of them were published separately before being collected. Barth insists, however, on the serial nature of the stories, and that a unity can be found in them as collected. When Barth began attending Johns Hopkins University in , he enrolled in one of only two creative writing courses available in the US at the time.