John Barth: Styles

Novel of ideasBlack humor,literature of the absurdfabulation
Novel of ideas Barth himself: 
"To the extent that [my novels] are novels of ideas--and that's a very limited extent--they are that because they dramatize alternatives to philosophical positions" (Alan Prince, "Interview"). 
Morrell 16
It should be emphasized here, however, that The End of the Road is Barth's only primary novel of ideas. The rest are similar to it inasmuch as parts of the action are based on philosophical debate.... [But they are more than that] 
Black humor Bruce Jay Friedman...[the] unifying principle is "Black Humor"

Rather than dramatizing the madness of contemporary society as the Black Humorists, Barth's aim has always been to "dramatize alternatives to philosophical positions," to imagine people with opposing philosophies and then to join them in battle. (Morrell 97-8)

"literature of the absurd" Barth admits that to the extent literature of the absurd "means a literary conceit that is, say, bizarre, grotesque in some way perhaps, nonrealistic or surrealistic, I suppose some of that could be said about SW," GGB, and parts of LF...

"To the extent that the term includes some kind of philosophical attitude that's one brand or another of nihilism, this is, in my case, truer of the earlier books which were, however, done in a manner of conventional realism, than of the later ones where it seems to me the nihilism is not too important in the story." (Morrell 98-9)

Existentialist Novel

The world of the existentialist novel, says Ihab Hassan, is largely devoid of "presuppositions" about "values, traditions, or beliefs." Thus, whatever values man creates, he does so in isolation, and starting from scratch."  (Noland 15-)
The existential novel, says Hassan, is neither "wholly tragic nor truly comic." It cannot achieve the finality and awareness of these forms because there is no finality or awareness in the world it records. ...The existential novelist, therefore, must present this world in a form which contains an awareness of relativity, a form which includes both terror and laughter. Such a form, Hassan observess, is typically ironic, which allows "the recognition not only of irreconcilible conflicts but actually of absurdity." (Noland 20)
What little movement there has been in my own philosophical premises or stances in the last 25 years, has been from that kind of naive Nihilism, Absurdism, to a perhaps equally naive, but nevertheless heartfelt Tragic View of Life, ...that is that there are finally just diffirent ways to live, but these differences are very important." (Glaser-W 5)

Angst, a feeling which originates from his total solitude when having to face nothingness. Whereas this existential Angst leads to despair in Nihilism, it is regarded in Existentialism as a means to reveal to the human the essence of being, identity, and freedom. In order to discover these phenomena, man must consciously take upon himself this existential Angst. 

Fabulation definition & examples
With the 1967 publication of The Fabulators by Robert Scholes, that focus [on themes] began to shift. British and American writers such as Barth, Scholes maintained, takes an especial delight in formal design for its own sake, an observation that almost singlehandedly redirected critical attention away from them[e] toward B's formal inventiveness. (Harris 4)
As Scholes explains the word, it signifies a narrative in which the author has had great joy arranging words, designing structures, developing ideas. Whether the ideas are optimistic, pessimistic, or whatever, makes no difference; the joy in developing them, a joy that very often displays itself as humor, is the same. (Morrel 99)

e.g. Floating Opera its complex form of interflowing subplots.

[the narrator's] love of implication, language, and design

The End of the Road not a full-blown fabulation because of its lack of elaborate design, it is almost one... Regardless of the [fabulative principles articulated by Horner], ER is more like a novel of ideas than a fabulation. 

[The others] have that extravagant artifice which The Road does not have and which makes the rest fabulations (Morrell 99-). 


The elaborate structures of Barth's fiction (except ER) tend to have an importance of their own also. 

FO--the interflow of plot is an image of the way life works

SW--the enormous plot complications that are tied neatly at the end are a representation of the distortion we normally mkae out of life...

GGB--wheels within wheels


The balance and order of these extravagant designs are soothing and resolving; they give a feeling of wholeness, a feeling that one is certain came to the man who arranged them, both the writers within the fictions and the writer of the fictions.

That is what fabulation is all about: a delight in putting together and balancing and implicating and designing. The process is at heart a rejection of life and the world in favor of the life and world of art...and the process is demontrated in the mov. of B's fiction away from the real world of FO and ER, through the fantastic world of SW and GGB to the universe of language in LF...
a dead end to abstract language. (ER--a dead end of realism)
a new direction--away from pessimism toward a full-hearted embracement of life, esp. love, and a reliance on writing not as an anodyne to painful living but as a metaphor the truth of which is taht the joy one can take in words is the same as the joy one can take in everything.  (Morrell 113)