Discuss floating opera as a modern novel.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In The Floating Opera's 1967 introduction, John Barth wrote,

"I had picked up from the postwar Zeitgeist some sense of the French Existentialist writers and had absorbed from my own experience a few routine disenchantments. ... I discovered by happy accident … how to combine formal sportiveness with genuine sentiment as well as a fair degree of realism.”

As the existential questions of Modernists such as Hemingway come into play in Barth's novel--even introduced in the exposition-- 

Ah me.  Everything, I'm afraid, is significant, and nothing is finally important--

this novel is considered Modernist is readily apparent.  For, after Todd attempts to arrive at a rationale for human values and actions, he can find none. Any attempt at explanation ends in unanswerable questions and a sense of absurdity.   In Chapter VII, Todd reflects upon his war experiences in the Argonne Forest, concluding that they were "demonstrations of my own animality." Much like Hemingway, Barth's character decides that life is essentially meaningless--"absolutely nothing has intrinsic value. And, in the final chapter, Chapter XXIX, he concludes,

The truth is that nothing makes any difference, including that truth.  Hamlet's question is , absolutely, meaningless.

Nevertheless, suicide is not the answer; rather, one must have acts of will that bring some sense of meaning. So, Barth's character comes to terms as Modernist writers attempted "with where humanity stood after its cornerstones had been pulverized."









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