The Geopolitics of a Postmodern University

BarthThe world of geopolitics distilled into campus rivalry at the university? When I was at school this meant the followers of Mario Savio protesting the university’s allowing the United States Army to have a recruitment table up front outside the student union but denying Bettina Aptheker and her father the right of free assemble and their own version of propaganda rich fliers handed out around the campus. John Barth, in his excellent novel Giles Goat-Boy, or the Revised New Syllabus, creates a rollicking version of the political struggle between the West, representing the established hegemony, and the East, representing the evil upstart regime. It’s funny, in this university which, at least by way of analogy represents the entire planet, there is little mention of anything being actually taught to the students of either the West or the East campus or in any of the various mentioned colleges.

But a few comments on the experience of reading Barth, specifically Giles Goat-Boy and also some general comments on Barth’s work and his brand of postmodernism.

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Roman à clef?

william-haefeli-less-roman-more-clef-new-yorker-cartoonI’ve never had a problem with the form of fiction known as the “roman à clef” (French for a story that needs a key). Generally, knowing the key will make the story more relevant but not knowing the key is perfectly okay, assuming the fiction is well-written. How many readers have enjoyed Anthony Powell’s A Dance To the Music of Time [see also] without knowing the sources of Powell’s characterizations? As the years go by, those real-life personages are becoming sufficiently obscure so as to make knowing the key even less important.

I am, however, now concerned about what is being considered a roman à clef. Look at this list from Wikipedia:

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Money, Money, Money

PryorIt was Richard Pryor who gave us that rapid, vehement battle cry: “Money, Money, Money!!!” It was Time Magazine who recommended Money by Martin Amis as one of the one-hundred greatest novels of the last century.  Put your money on Richard Pryor.

I enjoy reading Martin Amis. He’s a good writer with a lot of erudition behind his work. He often uses his craftsman-like writing skills to extend, manipulate, experiment with fiction, and that is good. Perhaps when Money was first published, this cutesy schtick was popular but now it just seems silly and unbelievably trite. Still, coming out at the beginning of the Reagan era, I suppose it’s understandable if the editors of Time were as delusional about Money as they were about Reaganomics. But John Self is no Gordon Gekko. He is, however, at best a cartoonish version of Patrick Melrose.

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