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American author (1930- )

Though life's tuition is always ruinous, inexorably we learn.

JOHN BARTH, The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor

In art as in lovemaking, heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and so does heartless skill, but what you want is passionate virtuosity.

JOHN BARTH, attributed, Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of John Barth

Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story. Hamlet could be told from Polonius's point of view and called The Tragedy of Polonius, Lord Chamberlain of Denmark. He didn't think he was a minor character in anything, I daresay.

JOHN BARTH, The End of the Road

Nobody knew how to be what they were right.

JOHN BARTH, Lost in the Funhouse

Writers in this country, particularly novelists, are likely to come to the medium through some back door. Nearly every writer I know was going to be something else, and then found himself writing by a kind of passionate default.

JOHN BARTH, The Paris Review, spring 1985

Women thought me charmingly shy, and sometimes stopped at nothing to "penetrate the disdainful shell of my fear," as one of their number put it. Often as not, it was they who got penetrated.

JOHN BARTH, The Floating Opera

I came from a fairly unsophisticated family from the rural, southern Eastern Shore of Maryland—which is very “deep South” in its ethos. I went to a mediocre public high school (which I enjoyed), fell into a good university on a scholarship, and then had to learn, from scratch, that civilization existed, that literature had been going on. That kind of innocence is the reverse of the exquisite sophistication with which a writer like Vladimir Nabokov comes to the medium—knowing it already, as if he’s been in on the conversation since it began. Yet the innocence that writers like myself have to overcome, if it doesn’t ruin us altogether, can become a sort of strength. You’re not intimidated by your distinguished predecessors, the great literary dead. You have a chutzpah in your approach to the medium that may carry you through those apprentice days when nobody’s telling you you’re any good because you aren’t yet.

JOHN BARTH, The Paris Review, spring 1985

All men are loyal, but their objects of allegiance are at best approximate.

JOHN BARTH, The Sot-Weed Factor

You don't reach Serendib by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings ... serendipitously.

JOHN BARTH, The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor

Every artist joins a conversation that's been going on for generations, even millennia, before he or she joins the scene.

JOHN BARTH, attributed, Writers Dreaming

My imagination is most at ease with an old literary convention like the epistolary novel, or a classical myth—received melody lines, so to speak, which I then reorchestrate to my purpose.

JOHN BARTH, The Paris Review, spring 1985

To turn experience into speech - that is, to classify, to categorize, to conceptualize, to grammarize, to syntactify it - is always a betrayal of experience, a falsification of it; but only so betrayed can it be dealt with at all, and only in so dealing with it did I ever feel a man, alive and kicking.

JOHN BARTH, The End of the Road

More history is made by secret handshakes than by battles, bills and proclamations.

JOHN BARTH, attributed, Words from the Wise

Is man a savage at heart, skinned o'er with fragile Manners? Or is savagery but a faint taint in the natural man's gentility, which erupts now and again like pimples on an angel's arse?

JOHN BARTH, The Sot-Weed Factor

The house of fiction has many windows ... sometimes such a simple thing as suggesting to a student that perhaps realism instead of fantasy may be a more sympathetic genre, or humor instead of the opposite, or the novel rather than the short story—sometimes a simple suggestion like that can be the one that makes things click.

JOHN BARTH, The Paris Review, spring 1985

Not every boy thrown to the wolves becomes a hero.

JOHN BARTH, attributed, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius


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