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Ključ dragocenosti je sama dragocenost: Bartova metafikacija u Himeri

Piše: Katarina P. Držajić
sa engleskog prevela: Dragana Paunović

Apstakt

Džon Bart, jedan od istaknutijih postmodernih autora, poznat je po svojim književnim igrarijama. Njegovo omiljeno oruđe, metafikciju, ponekad je teško razumeti – Bart je gotovo u isto vreme i autor i lik svojih dela. „Svako je nužno junak svoje životne priče“, on kaže, potvrđujući prilično neprimetnu razliku između stvarnosti i fikcije u postmodernizmu. Priča u priči je česta karakteristika Bartovih dela i u ovom radu ćemo analizirati najinteresantnije tačke u kojima se javljao ovaj fenomen i otkriti šta je prava dragocenost u jednoj od Bartovih najsloženijih i najprimamljivijih dela – Himeri.

Ključne reči: metafikcija, mit, priča, pripovedanje

Uvod

Iako je teško definisati postomodernizam kao termin, za Džona Barta to je: „produžetak i modifikacija kulturalnog modernizma, u vidu načina pričanja priče.“ (Rice&Waugh 2001). Poznat po čestoj upotrebi metafikcije, Bart je, može se reći, jedan od najznačajnijih autora postmoderne književnosti danas.

„Jednom davno je modernistička književnost dostigla tačku zamora; onda se dogodio proboj postmodernizma i književnost je ponovo procvetala“, kaže Brajan MekHejl u „Stvaranju postmodernizma“ (Brian MacHale, Constructing postmodernism, 1992). Prema Bartovom mišljenju, istrošena književnost može da se obnovi „oživljavanjem tradicionalnih (predmodernističkih) vrednosti književnosti“ (Mekhejl, 1992). Najbolji primeri za ovu tendenciju su njegova istaknuta dela u romanima Izgubljen u kući smeha (1968) i Himera (1972).

Najjednostavnija definicija pojma metafikcija je reći da je to vrsta fikcije koja stalno podseća čitaoca šta je pravi status umetničkog dela pred njime. Zapravo, Bart je široko poznat po tendenciji da se briljantno poigrava sa tekstom, da vodi dijalog sa čitaocem i da učini sebe delom priče. On otvoreno tvrdi da je jedno od najvećih zadovoljstava za njega da otpusti maštu kroz čin pisanja: „Jedno od zadovoljstava (pisanja) je obavljati dobro teške zadatke... Jedno od zadovoljstava virtuoznosti, drugim rečima, bilo da ste publika ili virtuoz, jeste stvarati komplikovana dela sa lakoćom“ (Lindsey, 1995).


Iako je ponekad teško pratiti Bartovu raizgranu fikciju, u ovom radu ćemo razmotriti upotrebu metafikcije kao smislenog oruđa postomodernizma na primeru romana Himera, kog čine tri novele mitskog porekla. U daljem tekstu dotaći ćemo se modernizacije mita, koja je idealna metafora za književnost koja teži ostvarenosti recikliranjem starog. Na kraju krajeva, autor tvrdi da postmodernistička fikcija mora „uvek da drži jedan korak u narativnoj prošlosti, a drugi, može se reći, u pariskoj strukturalističkoj sadašnjosti.“ (Barth, 1984).


Himera

Himera je roman koji se sastoji od tri labavo povezane novele – Dunjazadijade, Perseide i Belerofontijade. Novele pripovedaju o tri mitska lika imenovana – Dunjazada, Persej i Belerofont. Interesantno je zapaziti da se ova tri lika mogu porediti sa tri dela mitskog bića – Himere (koju ubija Belerofont). Himera je delom lav, delom koza i delom zmija. (prema Walkiewicz-u, 1986, predstavljaju heroizam, satiru i prevaru).
Himera je za Barta još jedna igra u kojoj on pokazuje svoju sposobnost da iskoristi stari materijal i učini ga postmodernim. Roman je sačinjen od elemenata metafikcije koji se pojavljuju na različite načine, često i na komične, dok sam autor objašnjava svoje namere ovako:
„Naravno, kada se svesno koristi stari mit, prenesen mit, kao mit o Perseju, ili mit o Heleni, Parisu, Menelaju, šta god bilo originalno mitopoetički u mojoj mašti, iskočiće negde u tekstu – kao nov lik, jezik ili novi obrt u starom mitu – ili će prosto pohrliti da popuni mitska pribežišta koja postoje pod imenima Parisa, Menelaja, Helene. Čvrsto verujem, drugim rečima, da stvarni afekti koji se rađaju u čoveku kada dolazi u susret sa originalnim mitom, mogu da se pretoče u modernu komičnu fikciju koja je zasnovana na mitskom materijalu.“ (Walkiewitz, 1986).


Dunjazadijada

Prva novela se bavi najpoznatijom pripovedačicom svih vremena – Šeherezadom i njenom mlađom sestrom, Dunjazadom. Kao što je Džon Fauls učinio u Ženi francuskoj poručnika, (The French Liutenant Woman, John Fowles), Bart takođe postaje deo pripovedanja preuzimajući ulogu Duha koji pomaže mladoj ženi da ispriča priču, tako da njeno pripovedanje postaje prepričavanje.

„Prava magija je otkriti koje reči deluju i trik je naučiti trik“ (15) Kao što već znamo, nesrećna Šeherezada mora svake noći da Šahu ispriča priču da bi spasila svoj život i živote mnogih devojaka koje mogu poginuti. Na početku, Bart nas upozorava da je priča o pronalaženju načina da se „promeni kraljevo mišljenje o ženama i da on postane blag i nežan muž.“ (16) i predlaže da je „ključ dragocenosti dragocenost sama“ (19) – priča sama. Duh, to jest sam Bart, obaveštava Šeherezadu da su oboje propovedači i da će joj on pomagati da smisli priče, tako što će joj prepričavati svoju knjigu koja nikad nije napustila radni sto (21). Svih tih priča devojka nije ni svesna, one su prastare kao Sinbad moreplovac, Aladinova lampa, Ali Baba i četrdeset razbojnika...

U međuvremenu, Šahov brat, Šah Zaman deli bratovu strast za razdevičavanjem i ubijanjem devojaka i njegova sledeća žrtva je niko drugi do Šeherezadina mlađa sestra, Dunjazada. Ona je već videla kako njena sestra ima odnose sa kraljem koje opisuje kao „ne dočarane ilustracije iz knjiga, nego stvarne odnose.“ (29,30). Ona kaže Bartu: „Ne napuštaj nas, prijatelju, daj Šeherezadi priču na kojoj sad radiš i možeš činiti sa mnom šta ti je volja. Podizaću ti decu ako ih bude, praću ti noge. Bilo šta.“ (37)
Prema Bartovom mišljenju, Šah predstavlja muški, šovinistički stav američkog akademskog shvatanja „objavi-ili-propadni“(Ziegler, 1987), što ga ne čini idealnom publikom, ali je zato sa durge strane, Šeherezada idealan pripovedač. Zigler nadalje sugeriše da Dunjazada predstavlja idealnog slušaoca. Koristeći metafikciju, Bart nam predstavlja Dunjin monolog: „Okrenuvši se k meni, na moje veliko iznenađenje, objavio je da je naslov priče Dunjazadijada, glavni lik nije moja sestra nego ja, slika moje situacije, ’bračna-noć-na-vidiku’, i da nalazi tu priču fascinantnom za pripovedače njegovog vremena i mesta kao što je priča moje sestre fascnantna za narativne umetnike generalno“ (40).

Nažalost, naš glavni lik verovatno očekuje tragičnu sudbinu čim stigne u šake Šaha Zamana, koji je potvrđeni mizogin. Šeherezada i dalje ima problem da poveruje Duhu/Bartu i kaže da je on „ili lažov ili budala kada kaže da muškarac i žena mogu da cene jedno drugo do smrti – ukoliko im životi nisu kratki kao onih od ubijenih sestara.“ Ona nadalje predlaže Dunji da prereže Šahu Zamanu grlo kao što će i ona učiniti Šahu pa će počiniti samoubistvo, da poštede svoj pol patnje. Ipak, ona je sprečena da počini nešto tako pričom Šaha Zamana, koji objašnjava šta se krije iza njegove surovosti, celo jedno društvo koje se sastoji samo od žena. „Želeo sam samo nekog da nastavim priču svog života, tačnije našu priču: dragog prijatelja, voljenu ženu, dragocenu ženu, ženu, ženu.“ kaže on (60).

Kasnije se sugeriše da „je on naučio kroz život i nemoć nešto što je pažljiv čitalac već naslutio: prava magija reči je u „Šta ako“, reči koje osobu koja se zadovoljava nagađanjem usrećuju više nego svi dobri duhovi ovog sveta.“ (57) (Walkiewitz 1986). Šah Zaman želi od reči da „okončaju tamnu noć“ i da „preuzmu iskrenu tragediju ljubavi“– možda to jeste fikcija, ali je najdublja i najbolja od svih“ (61). Ovo je odličan primer kako život zamenjuje fikciju i fikcija zamenjuje život – ono što je istinito nije primarno, tako da novela nema rasplet.

„Pamti me, Dunjazado!“ (63), kaže Šah Zamah kako se približava jutro (obratite pažnju kako je to i čas njene smrti). Pošto priča i dalje živi i Dunja živi takođe, ako možete da prihvatite da ono „šta ako“ i ovaj „rasplet“ mogu da budu momenat kad je „razvezuje“ priča i veseo klimaks prolazi kroz sve slojeve priče. (Walkiewitz, 1986). Na kraju novele, Bart nas obaveštava da nije postojala priča o Šeherezadi već „priča o priči o njenim pričama“ (63). Konačno, on nam poručuje da „u cilju da budemo radosni i da prihvatimo ovakav kraj, moramo da posedujemo dragocenost, ključ kojim se razumeva da su ključ i dragocenost jedno te isto“ (64). Ovim zaključujemo da je dragocenost samo pripovedanje.


Perseida

Protagonista Perseide je Persej, polubog i ubica Meduze, koji se očajnički bori za besmrtnost. „Pisanje je... negacija gde je sav identitet izgubljen, počevši od identiteta samog teksta“ (Barthes, 1968). U sličnom maniru, Bart sad preuzima ulogu Perseja i pripoveda nam o svomživotu.

„Dobro veče.

Priče traju duže od ljudi, stene traju duže od priča, zvezde traju duže od stena. Ali čak i noći naših zvezda su izbrojane, i sa njima će proći i priča o pokojnoj zemlji“ (67).
On nastavlja da nas informiše o svojoj istoriji, iz perspektive sredovečnog čoveka, dok smo svedoci serije dijaloga koji su prilično komični (govore o seksu, u postmodernom maniru). Kada Persej kaže Kaliksi da je heroj i da je sposoban samo za vituozno izvođenje (78) ona ga savetuje da ne misli o seksu kao o izvođenju da ga ne uhvati trema (79). Konačno, kako je seks spontana forma zadovoljstva, za Barta je to pisanje, dok je za čitaoce to, čitanje i razumevanje kompleksnog dela, u ovom slučaju – Himere. (Lindsay, 1995). Kao što autor kaže, pisac i čitalac su spojeni u plemenitom delu, punom života i radosti, (61,62) kao što je to seks za dvoje ljudi.

Bart nastavlja igru metafikcije nadalje u dijalogu Perseja i Kalikse: „Jednom si me podsetio da si mitski heroj, ali sam to često zaboravljaš. Da li si uvek ovako psihoseksualno slab ili je to Andromedino delo?“ (95) No, sredovečno, heroj je odlučan u nameri da ispriča drugu priču koja je „druga po redu, ne samo replika prve.“ (121). „Njegova potentnost se makar delimično vraća kroz nimfu, on je otišao da uništi ne samo neprijatelje već i tog „neprijatnog srednjeg Perseja“ (132) i da se suoči sa Novom Meduzom koja naime ponovo ima svoju snagu ali i novu moć da učini sebe i svog dragog beskonačnim kao zvezde. (115)“ (Walkiewitz 1986).

„Moja sudbina je da zamišljam beskrajnu lepotu iz svog iskustva beskrajne ljubavi – ali imam maštu sa kojom mogu da radim“ – kaže Persej kako prilazimo kraju novele. (142). On je zadovoljan što je postigao besmrtnost zvezda ali nesrećan što ne može da oseti onu koju voli (Zašto gledam u konstelacije zvezda, u prazni prostor, a ne u ženu koju volim? (139)). Walkiewitz je u pravu kada kaže da je ovo priča o usponu ali i o padu.

„Sa ovim slučajem, naše imanje, kao notna muzika našeg jezika, kao tihi, vidljivi znaci, postalo je priča koju pričam onima koji imaju oči da vide i razum da spoznaju, da te uzdignu zauvek i da znaju da naša priča nikada neće biti prekinuta, već večno ponavljana noću dok muškarci i žene čitaju zvezde... Zadovoljan sam. Do sutra uveče, draga moja.“ (142).


Belerofontijada

Iako je Bart želeo da Dunjazadijada bude poslednja novela Himere, priča o Belerofontu, ubici stvorenja, zauzima poslednje mesto u romanu. Ovo je najkomplikovanija novela od tri, pošto nije ni monolog ni dijalog niti je pripovedana Belerofontovit glasom, niti bilo kojim „smrtnim glasom” već „pisanim rečima”(Walkiewitz, 1986). Ova novela je sigurno najkompleksnija, jer uključuje elemente van mita i njegove modernizacije (kao što je Grejvsovo sumiranje mita, pisma Todu Endrjusu i kralju Džordžu III, shema monomita. (Walkiewitz 1986) i samo Bartovo objašnjenje price i njegove ideje).

Belerofont je, očito, nesrećan koliko i Persej: „Uzrujan, uzrujan, Moj život je promašaj. Ja nisam mitski heroj. Nikad neću biti.” (146) Ipak, u neobičnom maniru, Filonoja odgovara: „Tvoja slava kao ubice Himere sigurna je, sudeći po fanovima koje imaš, čak i Perseida, sudeći po odlomcima koje si mi čitao, pominje te lepo vise puta.” (147). Prisustvo parodije i priče unutar price je evidentno, iako je ponekad zbunjujuće ko je narator Belerofontijade.

U svom kontroverznom eseju „Književnost zamora” Bart „zadržava apokaliptički ton za apokaliptično vreme i mesto.” (Bart 1984) (MacHalem 1992). Ovaj esej je u vezi sa esejem „Smrt autora” Rolana Barta: „Dati tekstu autora znači ograničiti tekst”, kaže on. (1968) S druge strane, Lindi tvrdi da je „Bartovo čitanje njegove fikcije znak da on smrt autora doživljava kao nešto drugo što omogućava pravom autoru da nametne kontrolu nad tekstom.” Bart kaže u Himeri: „Mislim da sam mrtav. Mislim da sam uklet. Pun sam glasova, svi su moji nijedan nije ja; ne znam ko govori, kao što sam znao nekad. Nije moja želja da budem tajnovit ili težak; nadao sam se da ću bar zabaviti ako neću biti inspiracija”. (154)

Dok svedočimo priči o Belerofontu, stalno nam se nameće ideja da se književnost mora obnoviti: „Uništenje književne jedinice: da, pa, stvar se raspada, sve se raspada, raspadanje svuda. Bog zna da ja nisam ono što sam bio, nema tu pomoći. Ali nikad zbog želje za rečima!” (165) Nesrećni heroj „koji postiže potenciju jedino kroz čin silovanja” (Walkiewitz 1986) odbija Antejinu nameru da joj napravi dete što bi zadovoljilo njenu potrebu da ima jedan deo božanskog u sebi. („Neka dete bude pola-prokletog-poluboga, koga briga? Čak je i osmina boga bolja nego ništa!”(190)) Ovaj bizarni dijagram je jedna od Bartovih igrarija u romanu. Ovakva kalkulacija nas duhovito podseća da moderno posmatramo antičke heroje. Protagonista je ipak zainteresovan da prati shemu i da „postane deo besmrtne Belerofontijade” (Walkiewicz 1986). Cigler (1987) predlaže da priča može da posluži kao savršen primer „priče u priči”, priča o Belerofontu je „uokvirena pričom o rođaku Perseju.” Možemo uzeti u obzir i autorov pokušaj da postane besmrtan kroz svoje delo, kao Džojsov Stiven Dedalus (imajući u vidu da je Bartov roman Izgubljen u kući smeha parodija na Portret umetnika u mladosti).

„To je bilo pravo silovanje, u svakom slučaju, prave Amazonke, u koje će pre ili kasnije ova Belerofontijada utonuti” – ovako je stvorena građevina metaforičkih značenja istorijskog portreta umetnika koji ponovo prolazi kroz najgore strahove iscrpljenja i kraja.”, tako da priča „Belerofont umire u besmrtnost” (145), postaje kratkotrajnija, njeno stvaranje nije originalno, jer sve što autor radi je ponavljanje modela, parodijske sheme, zbog koje ne može da veruje u sopstveni heroizam. „On dalje kaže kako novela pokazuje „ciljan promašaj koji otkriva da za umetnika kao i za heroja samospoznaja nije dobra vest, da previse razumevanja dovodi do sužavanja, da prevelika svest o istoriji može da ukoči spontanost i da navede čoveka da se skrasi u parodiji, kao i da pisac, nalik Belerofontu može da postigne samo uspeh tako što stigne do tragičnog pogleda na sopstvenu situaciju i kraj”.

Heroj ima tragičan kraj (za razliku od Perseja čija umetnost živi duže, zahvaljujući činjenici da se usudio da ne ponavlja shemu) jer shvata da priča nije stvarna: „To nije moja priča, nikad nije ni bila. Ja nikad nisam ubio Himeru, ili jahao krilatog konja ili bio sa Filonojom, ili spustio svoju glavu među Melanipine butine: glas koji je govorio sve ovo je Belarusov glas. I njegova priča nije laž ali je šira od istine, drugim rečima, mit” (318).

Ovde se vidi tračak utehe koji nudi Polidej, koji preuzima ulogu autora: „Šta ako ja mogu, ne zato što ti dugujem, već iz svojih razloga, da pretvorim sav ovaj razgovor u Belerofontijadu: određen broj štampanih stranica, jezika koji je izmešan sa grčkim, koje bi pročao određen broj Amerikanaca? Ne bi se svima dopalo, neki ne bi ni završili”. (319) Iako je ova priča „neukroćena fikcija, neproporcionalna, puna izbočina, viškova i praznina, vrsta monstruozno izmešane metafore (319, 320), kraj je otvoren (tipično za postmodernizam). Belerofont izgovara svoje poslednje reči: „Ovo nije Belerofontijada. Ovo je_____________”(320).

Dakle, konačno pitanje Himere je: postoji li razlika između fikcije i života? Da li Bart razjašnjava postmodernizam čitaocu ili ga zbunjuje do kraja? „Danas, kada su stvarno i izmišljeno deo jedne totalne stvarnosti, estetska vrednost postoji svuda.” Kaže Bodrijar (Rice and Waugh 2001), potvrđujući našu zbunjenost u očajničkim pokušajima da definišemo postmodernizam. Na kraju krajeva, Bart kaže da bi kritičar koji analizira ovo delo mogao reći da je to „roman koji imitira formu romana i autor koji imitira ulogu Autora” (Lindsay 1995). Time zaključujemo ovo poglavlje rekavši, da iako smo analizirali primere metafikcije, koja je u ovom slučaju, autorova igra sa tekstom, nikada neće biti dovoljno mesta da se raspravlja o Himeri, o toliko kompleksnom i brilijantnom romanu da se može smatrati jednim od najboljih primera postomoderne književnosti.

„Za mene Bartova fikcija ima ogromnu moć jer stalno podseća na ništavilo, stvorena je tako da insistira na praznini. Za mene je to zastrašujuće. Mislim da je Bartovo delo ogromna poetska svečanost.” Kaže LeKler (Lindsay,1995). Iako ponekad možemo pomisliti da nam njegov rad ne govori ništa, Bart insistira da čitalac bude aktivan deo književnosti, da oseća isto zadovoljstvo koliko i autor „Šta može biti bolje od nalaženja nerazumljive poruke, čije je mastilo presušilo i koja se mora rekonstruisati ili napisati ponovo?”(Lampkin)

Dunjin odnos sa Šahom Zamanom može da predstavlja autorov odnos sa čitaocem, koji s druge strane, može da se dovede u vezu sa seksualnim odnosom: „Uloga pripovedača, nezavisno od stvarnog pola, uvek je maskulina, a uloga čitaoca feminine, dok priča predstavlja njihov odnos.”(34) Želeći da sugeriše da je odnos između Dunje i Šaha dostigao tačku Zamora, Bart sugeriše da se i književnost mora rekreirati. „Čuvaj me… kao što ja čuvam tebe.” Kaže Šah Zaman svojoj ljubavi.

Prema Walkiewitcz-u (1986) „piščeva nagrada nije besmrtnost nego zadovoljstvo pisanja, čitaočeva nagrada nije istina nego zadovoljstvo čitanja.” Imajući to na umu, Bartova imaginacija nema granica i igre sa metafikcijom su beskonačne. Dakle, koliko se god trudili da dešifrujete njegove romane, uvek se setite da postomodernizam nema ograničenja i da pristupa književnosti slobodno, bez ograničenja.

„U umetnosti ljubavi, srdačna nevičnost ima jednako privlačnosti koliko i hladna veština, ali ono što želite je strastvena virtuoznost”. (Bart)




Bibliografija

Barth, J. 1972. Chimera. New York: Random House

Barthers, R. 1968. Death of the Author. Dostupno na: http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/barthes06.htm

Harris, C. 1983. Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of John Barth. Champaign: University of Illinois Press

Lindsay, A. 1995. Death in the Funhouse. New York: Peter Lang Pub Incorporated

McHale, B. 1992. Constructing Postmodernism. New York: Routledge

Modern Literary Theory. Edited by Philip Rice and Patricia Waugh. 2001. New York: Bloomsbury Academic

Walkiewicz, E. 1986. John Barth (Twayne’s United States Authors Series). New York: Twayne Publishers

Ziegler, H. 1987. John Barth. London and New York: Methuen Publishing

THE KEY TO THE TREASURE IS THE TREASURE: BARTH’S METAFICTION IN CHIMERA




Abstract

John Barth, one of the most prominent postmodern authors, is famous for his creative literary games: while his favorite tool, metafiction, is at times hard to comprehend, he is almost always both the writer and a character of his stories. “Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story,” he said, thus confirming the quite loose difference between reality and fiction in postmodernism. The story within a story being a common characteristic of his work, in this paper we shall analyze the most interesting points where we can encounter this phenomenon and discover what is the actual treasure in one of his most perplexing, yet incredibly captivating novels, Chimera.

Keywords: metafiction, myth, story, storytelling

Introduction

Though the term postmodernism is hard to define, for the American author John Barth it is “essentially a continuation but modification of cultural modernism, a way of ‘telling stories’ ’’ (Rice & Waugh 2001). Well-known for using metafiction as one of his strongest tools, it might be said that Barth is one of the most significant figures of postmodern literature today.

“Once upon a time modernist literature reached the point of exhaustion; then came the postmodernist breakthrough, and literature replenished itself,’’ says Brian McHale in Constructing Postmodernism (1992). According to Barth, exhausted literature can be replenished by “reviving the traditional (premodernist) values of fiction” (McHale 1992). The strongest examples of this tendency are his most prominent works Lost in the Funhouse (1968) and Chimera (1972).

The simplest way to define metafiction is to say that it is a type of fiction which constantly reminds the reader of its true status as a work of art. Indeed, Barth is widely known for his tendency to brilliantly play with the text, have a dialogue with the reader at times and make himself a part of the story. He openly says that it is a great pleasure for him to release his imagination through writing:“One of the pleasures (of writing) is doing difficult things well... One of the delights of virtuosity, in other words, whether we are the audience or the virtuoso, is doing quite difficult things with some grace, and getting it done’’(Lindsay 1995).

Although it is sometimes not easy to comprehend Barth’s playful fiction, in this paper we shall try to explore the use of metafiction as a meaningful tool of postmodernism on the example of Chimera, a collection of three novellas with mythical background. We shall, furthermore, touch upon the subject of modernization of a myth, which is a perfect metaphor for literature in need of being replenished by recycling the old. After all, the author himself claims that postmodernist fiction must always keep “one foot in the narrative past ... and one foot in, one might say, the Parisian structuralist present’’ (Barth 1984).


Chimera

Chimera is a novel which consists of three loosely connected novellas, Dunyazadiad, Perseid and Bellerophoniad. They tell us the stories of three mythical characters named Dunyazad, Perseus and Bellerophon. An interesting notion is that the three parts of this novel can be compared to the creature Chimera (killed by Bellerophon) which is part lion, part goat and part serpent (according to Walkiewicz (1986), “part heroism, part satire and part deception and convulsion’’).

Chimera, for Barth, is another game in which he demonstrates his ability to use the old and make it postmodern. The novel is full of elements of metafiction expressed in different ways that are often quite comical, while Barth himself explains his intentions regarding this:

“Of course, when you consciously use an old myth, a received myth, like the myth of Perseus or the myth of Helen, Paris, and Menelaus, then whatever there is of the originally mythpoetic in your own imagination is either going to come in somwhere else in that text – with new characters, or language, or new twits to the old myth – or else will simply flow in to fill in those mythic receptacles which go by the names of Paris, Menelaus, Helen. I believe firmly, in other words, that some of the serious affect that we experience in the face of genuine myth can be experiences in the face of contemporary ’comic’ fiction using mythical materials’’(Walkiewicz 1986).


Dunyazadiad

The first novela revolves around the most famous storyteller ever, Scheherezade, and her younger sister Dunyazad. Just like John Fowles did it in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Barth is here making himself a part of the story by assuming the role of the Genie who helps the young woman continue the story and make her telling actually a retelling.

“The real magic is to understand which words work, and when, and for what; the trick is to lear the trick’’ (15). As we already know, poor Scheherezadehas totells stories to Shahryar in order to save both her life and lives of many other girls he could kill. In the beginning, Barth lets us know that this story is about her finding a way “to change King’s mind about women and turning him into a gentle, loving husband’’ (16) and suggests that “the key to the treasure is the treasure’’ (19), or the story itself. The Genie, or Barth himself, informs Scheherezade that they are both storytellers and that he can help her think of the stories by retelling her book, which has never been off his worktable since he started writing (21). All these stories the girl is not even aware of yet, while they include the ancient ones such as Sinbad the Sailor, Aladdin’s Lamp, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves...

Meanwhile, Shahryar’s brother Shah Zaman shares his brother’s passion for deflowering and killing virgins and his next victim is none other than Sherry’s sister Dunyazad. She has previously watched her sister having sex with the King which she describes as “not conjured illustrations from those texts, but things truly taking place’’ (29, 30). She says to Barth:“Don’t desert us, friend; give Sherry the story you’re working on now, and you may do anything you like with me. I’ll raise your children if you have any; I’ll wash your Melissa’s feet. Anything’’ (37).

According to Barth, Shahryar represents the male-chauvinist extreme of the American academic “publish or perish’’ principle (Ziegler 1987), which makes him not ideal audience, but Sherry is, on the other hand, an ideal storyteller. Ziegler further suggests that Dunyazade is the one representing the ideal listener. Using metafiction, Barth presents us Doony’s monologue: “Turning then to me, to my great surprise he announced that the title of the story was Dunyazadiad; that its central character was not my sister but myself, the image of whose circumstances, on my ’wedding-night-to-come’, he found as arresting for tale-tellers of his particular place and time as was my sister’s for the estate of narrative artists in general’’ (40).

Unfortunately, our main character is likely to suffer tragic destiny when handed to Shah Zaman, an alleged woman hater. Scheherezade still has trouble believing the Genie (Barth) and says that he “is either a liar or a fool when he says that any man and woman can treasure each other until death – unless their lifetimes are as brief as our murdered sisters’ ’’ (45). She further suggests Doony to cut Shah Zaman’s throat, as she will do to Shahryar, and then they should commit suicide to spare their sex further suffering. Nevertheless, she is prevented from doing so by Shah Zaman telling her the story that hides behind his cruelty – a whole new society consisting only of women. “All I craved was someone with whom to get on with the story of my life, which was to say, of our life together: a loving friend; a loving wife; a treasurable wife; a wife, a wife,’’ says he (60).

It is later suggested that “he learned through life and impotence something that the responsive reader may already have suspected: the true magic words are “as if’’, words “which, to a person satisfied with seeming, are more potent than all the genii in the tales’’ (57) (Walkiewicz 1986). Shah Zaman wants them to “end the dark night’’ and “take the truly tragic view of love’’ – “maybe it is a fiction, but it’s the profoundest and best of all’’ (61). This is an excellent example of life replacing fiction and fiction replacing life – what is true does not matter anymore, so this novella doesn’t have any definite resolution.

“Treasure me, Dunyazade!’’ (63), says Shah Zaman just as the morning is approaching (and bear it in mind that this should have been the time of her death). Since the story shall live, Doony shall live too – if “we can accept the ‘as if’ he offers, then this ‘denouement’ may indeed become a moment of ‘untying’ in which the tangled loops of story are opened up, a joyous climax that occurs concurrently in all the frames of the tale’’ (Walkiewicz 1986). In the last part of the novella, Barth informs us that this has not been the story of Scheherezade, but “the story of the story of her stories’’ (63). Finally, he himself explains us that in order “to be joyous in the full acceptance of this denouement is surely to possess a treasure, the key to which is the understanding that Key and Treasure are the same’’ (64). Thus we can conclude that the true treasure is storytelling itself.


Perseid

The protagonist of this novella is Perseus, the demi-god and the killer of Gorgon Medusa, who desperately struggles to obtain immortality. “Writing is... the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body of writing,” says Barthes (1968). In a similar manner, Barth now takes the role of Perseus and tells us the story of his life.

“Good evening.

Stories last longer than men, stones than stories, stars than stones. But even our stars` nights are numbered, and with them will pass this patterned tale to a long/deceased earth.” (67)

He then continues informing us of his history, from a middle-aged man’s point of view, while we witness a series of dialogues which are quite comical at times (they mostly talk about sex in a, so to say, postmodern manner). When Perseus says to Calyxa that he is a hero, only capable of “virtuoso performance” (78), she advises him not to think of sex as a performance, or else he will suffer “stage fright” (79). After all, just like sex is a form of pleasure which should be spontaneous, for Barth the pleasure is writing, while, for us readers, it is reading and “coming to an understanding of such a complex work”, in this case, Chimera (Lindsay 1995). As the author suggests, the reader and writer`s joint “enterprise is noble”, “full of joy and life” (61, 62), just like sex is for two people.

Barth continues his game of metafiction further in Perseus and Calyxa`s dialogue: “You reminded me once that you-re a mythic hero, but you keep forgetting it yourself. Were you always psychosexually weak, or is that Andromeda`s doing?” (95) But the middle-aged hero is determined to tell his “second tale” which should be “truly a second, not mere replication of my first” (121). “His potency at least partially restored by the nymph, he went on to slay not only his remaining enemies, but also ‘unpleasant middle Perseus’ (132) and to confront a New Medusa, who supposedly had been given back her erstwhile beauty and granted the new power to turn both herself and her true lover ‘ageless as the stars’ (115)” (Walkiewicz 1986).

“My fate is to be able only to imagine boundless beauty from my experience of boundless love – but I have a fair imagination to work with,” says Perseus as we are approaching the end of the novella (142). He is content about achieving immortality as a constellation of stars, while, at the same time, crushed by not being able to feel the one he loves (“Why is it I look at empty space forever, a blank page, and not at the woman I love?” (139)). Hence Walkiewicz (1986) is right when he claims that this is not only a story about a rise, but a fall too.

“So with this issue, our net estate: to have become, like the noted music of our tongue, these silent, visible signs; to be the tale I tell to those with eyes to see and understanding to interpret; to raise you up forever and know that our story will never be cut off, but nightly rehearsed as long as men and women read the stars... I`m content.Till tomorrow evening, love.” (142)


Bellerophoniad

Although Barth initially intended Dunyazad to be the final novella of Chimera, the story of Bellerophon, the slayer of the creature, took the final place in the novel. It is the most complex of the three novellas, since it is neither monologue nor dialogue, not “Bellerus’s voice’’ (277) speaking to us or anyone’s “mortal speech’’, but “written words’’ (Walkiewicz 1986). This novella is certainly the most unusual one, since it includes other elements beside the myth and its modernization (such as Graves’s summary of the myth, letters to Todd Andrews and King George III, a pattern of the monomyth (Walkiewicz 1986), as well as Barth’s own thoughts and explanations of the story).

Bellerophon is, apparently, frustrated, just like Perseus is: “Upset upset. My life’s a failure. I’m not a mythic hero. I never will be’’ (146). However, in an unusual manner, Philonoe replies: “Your fame as Chimeromach seems secure, judging by your fan mail; even the Perseid, I gather from the excerpts you chose to read me, mentions you favorably a couple of times’’ (147). The presence of parody and the story within a story is evident, though it is sometimes a perplexing task to comprehend who’s speaking in Bellerophoniad.

In his controversial essay Literature of Exhaustion Barth “retains some of the apocalyptic tone of that ‘somewhat apocalyptic place and time’ (Barth 1984)’’ (McHale 1992). This essay was brought in connection to Barthes’s Death of the Author. “To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text,”says Barthes (1968). On the other hand, Lindsay claims that “Barth's reading of his own fiction suggests that he believes the death of the author may be something else the real author may consciously employ against itself in order to assert the author's control of his material.” This is what Barth says in Chimera: “I think I’m dead. I think I’m spooked. I’m full of voices, all mine, none me; I can’t keep straight who’s speaking, as I used to. It’s not my wish to be obscure or difficult; I’d hoped at least to entertain, if not inspire’’ (154).

While we witness the story of Bellerophon, it is constantly suggested through metaphor that literature must be replenished: “Deterioration of the Literary Unit: yes, well, thing are deteriorating; everything is deteriorated; deterioration everywhere. God knows I’m not what I used to be; no help for that. But never for want of words!’’ (165). The poor hero who “achieved potency only through rape”(Walkiewicz 1986) refuses Anteia's begging to make her a baby which would satisfy her need to have at least a smallest percent of god in herself (“Let the kid be a semigoddamndemigod; who cares? Even a one-eight god's better than nothing!” (190)) by drawing a bizzare diagram, which is one of the many Barth's games in this novel. This calculation is humorously modern considering that we're talking about ancient heroes. The protagonist is, however, only interested in following the Pattern and wishing “to become transformed in an immortal Bellerophoniad” (Walkiewicz 1986). Ziegler (1987) suggests that his story “can serve as a ‘perfect model of a text-within-the-text’, for the story of Bellerophon is ‘framed’ by the story of his cousin Perseus”. We might as well consider this also a metaphor for an artist who wishes to be immortalized through his work, just like Joyce's Stephen Dedalus (having in mind that Lost in the Funhouse was actually Barth's parody of The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man).

“It was a true rape, in any case, of a true Amazon, which even this Bellerophoniad will sog its way to soooner or later,” says Barth (2000). According to Walkiewicz (1986), both Perseid and Bellerophoniad “constitute the construction by metaphoric means of a historical portrait of the artist that seems to reconfirm many of the worst fears about exhaustion and ultimacy”, so “Bellerophon dies ‘to immortality’ (145), becomes a story that is less lasting, because his invention is not original, because he is aware that all he can do is repeat a pattern, parody a model, that in his time neither he nor the populace can believe in his heroism”. He further suggests that this novella is an “intentional failure which reveals that, for the artist as well as the hero, self-knowledge is bad news, that too much understanding of what one is up to can leave one mired, too great an awareness of historicity can stifle spontaneity and lead one to settle for and into leaden parody, and that the writer, like Bellerophon, can achieve only limited flight by arriving at a tragic view of his own situation and turning ultimacy against itself”.

The hero eventually comes to a sad ending (unlike Perseus whose art shall apparently live longer thanks to the fact that he dared not to repeat the pattern) realizing that his story is not in fact reality: “It's not my story; never was. I never killed Chimarrhus or Chimera, or rode the winged horse, or slept with Philonoe, or laid my head between Melanippe's thighs: the voice that spoke to them all those nights was Bellerus's voice. And the story it tells isn't a lie, but something larger than fact … In a word, a myth” (318). There is, however, a glimpse of consolation that Polyeidus, assuming the role of the author, offers to the hero: “What I might manage – not because I owe you any favors, but for reasons of my own – is to turn myself from this interview into you-in-Bellerophoniad-form: a certain number of printed pages in a language not untouched by Greek, to be read by a limited number of ‘Americans’. Not all of whom will finish or enjoy them” (319). Even though this story might be “a beastly fiction, ill-proportioned, full of longueurs, lumps, lacunae, a kind of monstrous mixed metaphor” (319, 320), the ending remains open (typical of postmodernism), by Bellerophon delivering his last words: ”It's no Bellerophoniad. It's a “ (320).

So, the final question after we read Chimera might be: Is there any difference between fiction and real life? Does Barth clarify postmodernism to a reader, or does he leave us totally confused? “Today, when the real and the imaginary are confused in the same operational totality, the esthetic fascination is everywhere,” says Baudrillard (Rice & Waugh 2001), confirming our confusion in desperate attempts to define postmodernism. After all, Barth believes that a critic analyzing his work might have said that he created “novels which imitate the form of the novel, by an author who imitates the role of the Author”(Lindsay 1995). Thus we may conclude this chapter by saying that, even though we have analyzed some of the examples of metafiction, which is, in this author's case, a pure play with the text, there shall never be enough room to discuss Chimera, a novel so complex and brilliant which might be considered one of the most inventive representatives of postmodern literature.


Conclusion

“For me John Barth's fiction has the enormous power it does partly because it is always positing nothingness, because it is so 'created' that it also insists on that which is vacant. To me this is frightening. I think of Barth's work as an enormous poetic celebration,” says LeClaire (Lindsay 1995). Indeed, although we sometimes may think that his work tells us nothing, Barth insists that the reader should also be an active participant in literature, feeling the same pleasure as he does as an author -”What could be better than to find a message that is indecipherable, whose ink has run so that you must reconstruct it or imagine it youself?” (Lampkin[1])

Dunyazade's relationship with Shah Zaman can be compared with the author's relationship with the reader, which can, on the other hand, be brought in connection to a sexual relationship: “The teller's role, he felt, regardless of his actual gender, was essentially masculine, the listener's or reader's feminine, and the tale was the medium of their intercourse” (34). By suggesting that Doony and the King are possibly threatened with exhaustion, Barth wants to say that literature too must be replenished. “Treasure me … as I'll treasure you,” says Shah Zaman to his lover (61).

According to Walkiewicz (1986), “the writer's reward is not immortality but the pleasure of writing, the reader's reward not truth but the pleasure of reading”. Bearing this in mind, Barth's imagination has no limits while his games of metafiction are endless. So, no matter how hard it is for us to decipher his novels, we should always remember that postmodernism is deprived of limitations and approach the literature freely, without prejudice.

“In art as in lovemaking, heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and so does heartless skill, but what you want is passionate virtuosity.”[2]

Barth[3]

References

Barth, J. 1972. Chimera. New York: Random House

Barthers, R. 1968. Death of the Author.Dostupnona: http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/barthes06.htm

Harris, C. 1983. Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of John Barth. Champaign: University of Illinois Press

Lindsay, A. 1995.Death in the Funhouse. New York: Peter Lang Pub Incorporated

McHale, B. 1992.Constructing Postmodernism. New York: Routledge

Modern Literary Theory.Edited by Philip Rice and Patricia Waugh. 2001. New York: Bloomsbury Academic

Walkiewicz, E. 1986.John Barth (Twayne’s United States Authors Series). New York: Twayne Publishers

Ziegler, H. 1987. John Barth. London and New York: Methuen Publishing



[1] Taken from: Lindsay 1995

[2] Taken from: Harris 1983








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