Between my boy DFW’s “Good Old Neon” and John Barth’s “Title” I have found myself in the frustrating/heartbreaking/necessary role of the English Lit major at odds with language.
"There’s no hope. This isn’t working. But the alternative is to supply an alternative. That’s no alternative. Unless I make it one. Just try; quit talking about it, quit talking, quit! Never dare a desperate man. Or woman. That’s the one thing that can drive even the first part of a conventional metaphor to the second part of same. Talk, talk, talk. Yes yes, go on, I believe literature’s not likely ever to manage abstraction successfully, like sculpture for example, is that a fact, what a time to bring up that subject, anticlimax, that’s the point, do set forth the exquisite reason. Well, because wood and iron have a native appeal and first-order reality, whereas words are artificial to begin with, invented specifically to represent. Go on, please go on. I’m going. Don’t you dare. Well, well, weld iron rods into abstract patterns, say, and you’ve still got real iron, but arrange words into abstract patterns and you’ve got nonsense. Nonsense is right. For example. On, God damn it; take linear plot, take resolution of conflict, take third direct object, all that business, they may very well be obsolete motions, indeed they are, no doubt untenable at this late date, no doubt at all, but in fact we still lead our lives by clock and calendar, for example, and though the seasons recur our mortal human time does not; we grow old and tired, we think of how things used to be or might have been and how they are now, and in fact, and in fact we get exasperated and desperate and out of expedients and out of words."
- from “Title” by Barth.
Also, early on the story the narrator establishes a universal human/narrator goal of “filling the blank” [ostensibly with narrative] and repeatedly harps on it and interweaves it with meta-references to his separate but absolutely parallel struggles as narrator and as human being…and then the last two paragraphs of of “Title” are:
"Goodbye. Is it over? Can’t you read between the lines? One more step. Goodbye suspense goodbye.
Oh God comma I abhor self-consciousness. I despise what we have come to; I loathe our loathesome loathing, our place our time our situation, our loathsome art, this ditto necessary story. The blank of our lives. It’s about over. Let the denouement be soon and unexpected, painless if possible, quick at least, above all soon. Now now! How in the world will it ever”
So. This is one of the more provoking things I have read lately. I may be unfairly interpreting it through my Gertrude Stein goggles (lol) but I would argue that Barth breaks down language and reconfigures it within the context of his what, 6 page story. It’s no “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene” but I would certainly posit that he’s using some of the same techniques, albeit to a lesser degree.
And well. Obviously I’m feeling a bit of cognitive dissonance right now.
There’s something about the fact that words can convince me not to have faith in words that gets me facing my eyes up even as my head is hung in hopelessness. Something about that makes me positive I need to learn this lesson, even if it’s making my 3 essay a week schedule painful and disheartening.
Metaphor warning. I guess I just need to map out the exchange rate of my currency before I can successfully use it to buy cool shit. End metaphor warning.