On page 126 of John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse is the following sentence:

He happened at the time to be in the oak-wainscoted study of the old family summer residence; through a lavender cascade of hysteria he observed that his wife had once again chosen to be subject of this clause, itself the direct object of his observation.

It’s profoundly funny to slice through a sentence into the fact that it’s there. It’s embarrassing for the sentence and it’s embarrassing for the stuff that the sentence is talking about. They both sort of spin around in the middle of what they were doing, caught red handed, and look at you, and there’s no point either of them trying to act natural any more. All three of you know what’s been going on.

The delight of doing something like this to a sentence – and it goes on for pages in the Life-Story part of the book – is the devastating frankness of it. Underneath a story are indeed the mechanics of the artifice of its being told, but if you reveal the mechanics you rupture the fiction upheld by the story. Lost in the Funhouse is torn apart by the impossibility of trying to be at once the story and its artifice.

I want to try and think about how a text could togetherly and self-consciously indicate the mechanics of itself while also giving itself up to the story it tells. Presumably it could only work if a sentence were describing the mechanics of itself. Is there any more hope in this sentence, from Funhouse again?

With words or more words, otherwise I’ll fill in the blank with this noun here in my propositional object (p.105)

Are words like ‘noun’ and ‘verb’ useful here, or is it wrong to assume those categories are real – that is, known to the sentence as it speaks of itself. One could write a sentence like this one (based on “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”) :

Article adjective adjective noun verbs preposition article adjective noun.

But that’s going too far. And articles, adjectives, nouns, verbs and prepositions are all nouns anyway. Then there’s something like:

As this sentence proceeds it trails off into elipsis…

Neither of these are particularly interesting forays into this mess, but what comes out is the need for simultaneity between the story and the telling of the story. I want to keep an eye on this simultaneity idea because it’s been important in some of the short texts I’ve written in the past month or two.

In Things Moving, things move around the room as they move around the text; there isn’t any description of the movements in the room or text, the things just sometimes turn up in new places, and it’s as much a surprise to the room as it is to the text. In Imagine Things About Your Computer, the reader is instructed to imagine certain things taking place for the duration of that instruction. In Fiction: The Retractable Pencil the description of the pencil needs to be read in time with the negation of the description. And Ekphrasis on Vampyr describes the watching a film whilst serially trying to imagine watching a different film in its stead.


Here are some others, just for fun: dead-pan replacements of words with their semantic or rhetorical categories. “And be carried away by a valiant metaphor, I suppose, like a simile”; “Just as people would do if adverbial clause of obvious analogical nature” (p.111).


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