The “Myth-ing” Link: The Postmodern Community and Classical Myth in John Barth’s Menelaiad
This paper, a study of John Barth’s novelette, ‘Menelaiad,’ addresses itself to the seeming paradox of a postmodern work that seems to possess ‘mythic’ dimensions. Demonstrating first how Barth’s tale, through its ingenious deployment of frame narrative, embodies perfectly the Derridean principle of the ‘structurality of structure’, it goes on to consider the troubling ways in which the story also seems traditionally mythic, in ways completely at odds with postmodernity’s refusal of grand narratives. This aporia is resolved in two ways. First, we show how Menelaus, as eternal husband, serves as a suitable figure for postmodernity’s peculiarly anti-metaphysical and ‘fundamental’ ontology. Second, we note how Barth’s relentless calling attention to the telling and re-telling of story within the presentation of the myth of Menelaus makes us re-evaluate myth as a whole, as the site of its own self-interruption–and therefore as the potential site of an authentically postmodern community of difference.
John Barth’s ‘Menelaiad’ is – to use a term that may at first seem wildly inappropriate to the subject matter at hand, but one that we nonetheless hope to justify over the course of this paper– what one might call a quintessential piece of postmodern literature. Its more or less simultaneous appearance with the author’s programmatic essay on ‘The Literature of Exhaustion’ in the mid-1960’s, its pride of place as the central and most extensive tale of all the collected stories in Lost in the Funhouse, and most important, its brilliant, teasing, playful stylistic innovations,...
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