Fiction as Man and Man as Fiction

               AUTOBIOGRAPHY: A Self-Recorded Fiction can be found in John Barth’s 1968 collection Lost in the Funhouse.  It is a philosophical imagining of a piece of fiction having the human qualities of shame, hope, fear, and disappointment as held in the complicated relationship between parent and child, and concurrently an exploration of those complicated feelings of humanity through this metaphorical literary technique.  Barth speaks of the creator’s difficulty accepting his progeny’s inevitable reflection of his shortcomings:

               What fathers can’t forgive is that their offspring receive and sow broadcast their      shortcomings.

                Barth also writes of the progeny’s lack of confidence and feeling that things have not turned out well, and that tides are not likely to change — reckonings embedded by the damaging, dissatisfied father:

                Well, well, being well into my life as it’s been called I see well how it’ll end, unless in some meaningless surprise.  If anything dramatic were going to happen to make me successfuller . .  agreeabler . . . endurabler . . . it should’ve happened by now, we will agree.  A change for the better, still isn’t unthinkable; miracles can be cited.  But the odds against a wireless deus ex machina aren’t encouraging.

                The feeling this story left me with is that we keep plenty of distractions in play to keep thoughts off the ending; to keep from being consumed by anxiety over not knowing or understanding the ending; true of life and writing fiction, more so life.  This doesn’t mean we need to ignore the ending, or that there is not some value in worrying about purpose and whether we will ever attain what we seek, if we even have an idea of what that is.  It instead means we distract ourselves by paying attention to the smallest wonders in front of us every day in an effort to break free of self-consciousness.

We should not waste time always feeling there is something else we should be doing, or by worrying about the sins of our fathers, or their lowered expectations of us.  These feelings will cause us to always give short shrift to whatever is in front of us, which will in turn make it impossible to ever fully enjoy anything.  This is all easy to say, but so much work to effectuate; probably not something even the most disciplined or enlightened could ever realize permanently.  And like us, a story, once it has left its creator, is free to become whatever it shall, something different to each reader, possibly something new to the same reader upon each re-reading.  A life of its own, not belonging to its creator any longer once released into the world.

Acceptance of imperfections is not a blessing but a necessity.  Acceptance doesn’t mean happiness or contentment.  Unhappiness within and a desire to improve our souls is reason to get out of bed each day, and reason for a story, if a story could have such feelings, to want to keep being cogitated by different forms of consciousness, born anew each time with never the exact same meaning.  Persistence.  Stubbornness in existence.  As Barth ends the story:

                 Nonsense, I’ll mutter to the end, one word after another, string the rascals out, mad or not, heard or not, my last words will be my last words

There is no period at the end of the story, and thus, there is no acceptance of an ending.  No preoccupation with ending; only a resolve that it will come and when it does, it will be what it is.  And without preoccupation, it may be perfected.


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