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Waste of Money

Lucrative Lying

John Barth: The Friday Book: Essays and Other Nonfiction; G.P. Putnam's Sons; New York
"For the writer intent on truth," Solzhenitsyn observes, "life never was, never is (and never will be!) easy: his like have suffered every imaginable harass­ment—defamation, duels, a shattered family life, financial ruin or lifelong unrelieved pov­erty, the madhouse, jail." Things are quite different for John Barth, the prominent "post-modernist" writer who calls himself a "professional liar." Over the past two and a half decades, Barth's lying has brought him honorary de­grees, invitations to symposia, a cushy creative-writing profes­sorship at Johns Hopkins.
 
All meaning for Barth issimply an imaginative construct with no absolute ontological grounding. Since the real world of fact is "devoid of ultimate meaning," the fictionist must repudiate any sense of mimesis in his art, as he creates, ex nihilo, "not a view of the cosmos, but a cosmos itself." At bottom, Barth concedes, his cosmos is a lie, but "my lies, at least, will be of professional caliber." For most of Barth's rewarding career this has meant creating...

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