No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118

Giles Goat-Boy, by John Barth

This novel is like a strange artifact that fell out of a parallel universe. The overall conceit is something of an allegory, where the university represents the universe (well or at least the world). And, having been written in the mid 60s, it's also an allegory of the Cold War. So there is a West Campus and an East Campus.

And the entire history of the campus bears analogues to our world history, but with all the names changed. So Germans are Siegfrieders (our enemies in the Second Campus Riot), Jesus is Enos, Socrates is Maios, and so on. Like A Clockwork Orange, you slowly soak in this weirdness and start to comprehend bits of this alternate reality.

The story, such as it is, is the journey of the titular goat-boy, who follows the path of the hero. So it's also interesting to see parallels to Star Wars (as another derivative of Campbell's work on the hero myth). Some of the episodes are loose retellings of Greek myth or the New Testament. In addition to the heroic journey, the goat-boy also goes on a moral journey, advancing from the animal morality of the goat-pen to seeing metaphorical readings of the prophecies as a way to get to the truer truth.

At right about the midpoint of the novel, there is a bonkers performance/interpolation of the play Oedipus Rex, transformed into Taliped Decanus, written ingeniously and wittily in the style of this university world. 

Sadly, afterwards, the novel starts to take its symbols and allegorical figures too seriously, and things bog down.
Tags: book, insanity

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