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Figuring narration : John Barth's Sabbatical and the Tidewater Tales

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Figuring narration : John Barth's Sabbatical and the Tidewater Tales
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Greer, Creed C
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English
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vii, 249 leaves : 28 cm.

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Subjects / Keywords:
Abortion ( jstor )
Hats ( jstor )
Inlets ( jstor )
Narratives ( jstor )
Narrators ( jstor )
Novels ( jstor )
Sabbatical leave ( jstor )
Tales ( jstor )
Writing ( jstor )
Written narratives ( jstor )
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF
English thesis Ph. D
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Thesis:
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1989.
Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 245-248).
Additional Physical Form:
Also available online.
General Note:
Typescript.
General Note:
Vita.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Creed C. Greer.

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University of Florida
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FIGURING NARRATION:

JOHN BARTH'S SABBATICAL AND THE TIDEWATER TALES










By

Creed C. Greer, III
























A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN
PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY




UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 1989 it;

































Copyright 1989

by

Creed C. Greer, III
















TABLE OF CONTENTS


Pagre

KEY TO ABREVIATIONS.......................v

ABSTRACT..........................i

INTRODUCTION

Rethinking the Beyond..................
Narration and the Use of "Nonfiction"' 7
What Follows......................20

CHAPTER I
CIRCLING THE QUESTION OF KNOWLEDGE

Hermeneutic Circling..................27
Titles and Quotations and Quotations of Titles. 32
Circling Between Texts.................51
The Collapsing of Time.....................57

CHAPTER II
ABORTION STORIES

1. Organizing Barth's Texts..............69
The Issue of Abortion...............76
Disposing of the Text...............81
"Night Sea Journey".................96
2. Forking, The Y.......................98
The Analytical (Inbound Upswimming
Divergent) "Male"................101
The Synthetic (Outbound Downswimming
Convergent) "Female".............116

CHAPTER III
PRODUCTION, READING, SUPPLEMENTARITY ...........136

CHAPTER IV
REPETITION, HISTORY, NARRATION..............164
The Coming Back of Repetition, A Speculative
Organization of Texts..................166
Recollecting Kierkegaard...............187
Coming Back to Barth's Critics ............193
History and the Sequeling of Narration.........201

iii









P.S.: IN PLACE OF A CONCLUSION

Setting the Task . . . . . . . . 227
The Next Thing: The Postscript . . . . 231
Bearing the Sign . . . . . . . . 237
Narrating Living . . . . . . . . 241

WORKS CITED . . . . . . . . . . 245

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . . . . . . . . 249











































iv















KEY TO ABBREVIATIONS



Books by John Barth: ER The End of the Road FO The Floating Opera FB The Friday Book LF Lost in the Funhouse S Sabbatical: A Romance TT The Tidewater Tales





























v









Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy FIGURING NARRATION:
JOHN BARTH'SSABBATICAL AND THE TIDEWATER TALES By

Creed C. Greer, III

December 1989

Chair: John P. Leavey, Jr.
Major Department: English

This dissertation describes the narrative and textual

effects, in John Barth's Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales, of the inscription of four figures: the circle, abortion, production, and repetition. Each of these figures represents an attempt to escape various linguistic binds invariably reintroduced in the telling and writing of the stories.

"Circling" explores the way in which a circle questions our ability to understand the text and places itself in opposition to a narrative organization of events. Any attempt to exceed the orbit of the text reinscribes the circle. The sequentiality of Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales tends to disrupt the notion of their circling because the circling text would suggest a linguistic collapsing of time.

In "Abortion Stories" I show that abortion is connected to a decision concerning the organization of the woman's life and the orderliness of the text. Abortion is a


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disposal because it is the attempt both to arrange and to get rid of that which is aborted. Getting rid of a text will leave behind the trace of an erasure. The terms by which an analysis would be made are shown always to be inappropriate, and in the synthetic moment the prior division is reestablished, so that a decision cannot be made.

"Production" develops the notion of reading as the production of the supplement. Though reading is an addition, since there is no outside-text, reading is, as Derrida says, adding and following a thread. Because the writer does not command language, the text always says something other than what the writer would mean.

"Repetition" demonstrates that we can neither go back to a time before repetition nor identify the "original" repetition. Because the questioning of truth leads one back, it forces one to use a methodology based on a sequentiality and so to create a narrative, which denies, paradoxically, the possibility of arriving at the truth.

My 11P.S.11 describes the inevitable bearing of the sign. Implications inscribed in the system that proposes the validity of the concept of the end (in particular the distinction between the real and the textual) are assumed in turning that system against itself.






vii














INTRODUCTION



Rethinking the Beyond


One of the things that bothers John Barth, that bothers me too, is that what we are writing today, our literature, seems to be at an intellectual standstill. What worries him is that it will (or has already) come to a narrative standstill too. In The Tidewater Tales a story within a story is framed by his anxiety:

a man who once magically visited Scheherazade now
wishes that she could visit him, so that if what he's done must be essentially what he'll do, it
might be done at least as spiritedly and
wholeheartedly as before. In short, that story
was this story, and, like this one, it was not
only unfinished, but stuck. (TT 603)

Stuck is essentially the situation with which we are left in sabbatical and with which we take up The Tidewater Tales. Fenn and Susan cannot decide, within Sabbatical, what to do with themselves, how to end their story; Peter Sagamore has minimalized his stories nearly to the vanishing point, so cannot begin his and Katherinels. Barth, the author of them all, tries to drive them, narratively, "to some presumable farther shore" (TT 284).

Barth's work confronts a variety of linguistic binds (such as the development of meaning in the face of the

1






2


impossibility of communication and the imposition a traditional understanding of narration entailing a beginning, middle, and end in view of the indeterminateness of the contours of the text) and, confronting these binds, his work asks: Can we advance? Can we move beyond?

Barth's metaphor suggests that the answer will not be a simple one. "Shore" comes from the Middle Low German 11schore,11 which meant "point of division," and even now designates the landbetween low and high water or the land at the edge of a body of water. We should wonder whether in reaching a farther shore Barth's books would simply be coming to another point of division, marooned, so to speak, on a beach on which the necessity of moving beyond is presumed.

The farther-shore metaphor may be inappropriate for describing a system that would escape a linguistic bind. Peter Sagamore's reflection about what language should do leads him to his minimalist "less is more" theory of writing. I emphasize that it is the reflection of Peter Sagamore that gets him stuck. More precisely, it is language's looking inward at itself that places out in front a "farther shore." Language says of itself, I am incomplete; but it does not offer us the means of completing it and in fact tells us to look outside for the meaning or the truth or the real.

"What is being written today?" becomes an absurd

question in the face of the "farther shore." Insofar as it






3


reinstates the logic of dichotomy and the logic of anticipation, "the farther shore" takes us where we have already been, disrupting the possibility of simply moving forward within The Tidewater Tales, and so is inappropriate in describing what is being written today, in distinguishing today from yesterday. We can not be sure that today's literature and criticism of literature are fundamentally different from works described by the term modernism. In fact, what people are calling modernism or Rg stmodernism seems to have been taking place all along. Two stories with which Barth identifies, stories that contain "postmodern" situations (such as the stuckness at the end of The Tidewater Tales), Ocean Story and The Thousand and One Nights, are among the oldest in the history of written language.

The criticism of Barth up to now has, for the most part, simply positioned Barth philosophically or thematically. The earliest articles, which began coming out in the mid 160s, labeled him a nihilist or "postexistentialist." He has been aligned with Kurt Vonnegut and the "Black-Humorists." Now, perhaps, because he has used the term in his article about the replenishment of literature, critics are calling him a "postmodernist.11 It could be argued that the job of the critic is, first of all (and perhaps as an end in itself), to name what is being talked about. But because all of Barth's books illustrate the danger of identification and of the alignment with a






4

particular type of writing, approaching Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales with a name in hand would be an inappropriate gesture. Barth's work takes up the so-called postmodern themes (self-reflection, self-destruction, etc.) in order to go beyond them, but winds up showing that going beyond them is impossible in setting them aside, that going beyond them is impossible given the always prior intellectual positioning. Rather than trying to establish terms, Barth involves himself, his characters, his books, in the metaphors with which we allow our lives to be described. Writing, reading, and narrating are always subsumed by (and in) the metaphoric of creating a life. Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales are the exploration of the appropriateness of particular metaphors for that creation. Understanding that language and living are not only involved with each other but are dependent on each other, Barth's work is concerned that the way we use language may determine the way we live. The creating of a life may be something more, in Barth, than metaphorical.

One of the most worrisome things about writing about

Sabbatical alone would be ending. Having read The Tidewater Tales, the reason for the problem is clear: Sabbatical is incomplete. If The Tidewater Tales does not complete Sabbatical, it at least points out the difficulty in ending. Peter Sagamore's initials suggest the PostScriptal activity of The Tidewater Tales. one of the rules of Katherine and Peter in their telling of stories is that none should be






5

left unfinished. "The Ending" of The Tidewater Tales reads like the captions following a 1960's B movie: Mickey Soand-so becomes a movie star and falls in love with So-andso; MaryJean So-and-so starts her own business and lives happily ever after; etc.

Speaking about the books separately, in separate

sections for example, would be entirely inappropriate, if possible at all. Not only are the books alike, but they are literally intertwined. In The Tidewater Tales the plotlines of the books--characters, the names of characters, and all-are twisted together such that to tug on the structure or a metaphor, say, of The Tidewater Tales is to put Sabbatical in tow. I am required to talk about them both at the same time or to talk about one knowing that the other is riding its wake. To talk with the knowledge of and to talk about are nearly the same thing--that is, they have similar effects; either way, the talking is based on terms that affect them both.

On the other hand, inherent in the idea of the postscript is the coming afterward of the script. Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales are written in sequence, The Tidewater Tales the sequel. It is also suggested that Peter Sagamore's last name might indicate the attempt to add to the text; Peter's father was a German immigrant: "The word is not given in our German-English dictionary: Sage mehr ('Say more'), we wonder, metamorphosed by some immigration clerk like many another new American's name" (TT






6


31). This suggestion, is ironic considering that Peter has been trying to "say more" by saying less, but is consistent with the sequential nature of Barth's last two books, the anticipated delivery by Peter of a substantial work of fiction, and, in fact, the heft of The Tidewater Tales, both in itself and in relation to Sabbatical.

Susan's decision to abort her child in Sabbatical had been made, in the past tense, in The Tidewater Tales; Lee and Frank, the "people" on whom the characters Susan and Fenn are "based," decide to try to get pregnant in The Tidewater Tales, something that did not happen, could not have happened, to Susan and Fenn in Sabbatical. We read The Tidewater Tales having read Sabbatical, having a prior knowledge of the conflict. Though, if we read Sabbatical first, The Tidewater Tales has not yet come into play, we anticipate, because of the incompleteness of Sabbatical, something else.

At the end of Sabbatical, Fenn, in a state of euphoric discovery, explains to unconvinced Susan that the story, "this story," "Our Story," Sabbatical, is their child. The Tidewater Tales makes it clear from its conception, so to speak, that, though they are intertwined, "lives are not stories" (TT 142).

Leah Talbott sets Peter up for a direct response to the predicament of Sabbatical: "You generate your stories, and your stories generate your readers. Frank and I are your . children." In other words, Peter has written them






7


into his tidewater tales. "Says Peter carefully, who is not always bad at intuiting situations, Nope:11--his colon introduces the next chapter: "A Story is Not a Child" (TT 410).

Peter has made it clear that telling a story is only like living. Fenn and Susan's story can be their offspring but only in a sense. They have created it; they have come together and in coming together have produced. Peter and Katherine have found that, though they cannot write and tell a story that is their lives, they can create their lives in writing and telling a story. That is, writing and telling can be a part of their living.



Narration and the Use of "Non-Fictionol


Typically, a critic of Barth will read the fiction in terms that Barth establishes in his nonfiction. For example, Charles B. Harris says in Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of John Barth, "Significantly, from the corpus of his own work Barth cites LETTERS as an example of postmodernism, which suggests that 'The Literature of Replenishment' will prove as indispensable a guide through the intricacies of this novel as 'The Literature of Exhaustion' has for Lost in the Funhousell (161). Harris frames his entire book with the indispensable-guide theory. In Alan Prince's "An Interview with John Barth," Barth speaks of "passionate virtuosity" as the relation between technique and art. I'm not, here, concerned as much with






8

what Barth means by "passionate virtuosity" as with Harris's use of the term: "So important is this sentiment to Barth's esthetics that he includes it with only minor revision in Chimera (1972, p. 24), allowing the genie, his obvious surrogate in the novel, to speak the words" (3). Rather than involving himself in the fundamental question of the connection between fiction and nonfiction, the question of authorship, into which Barth's self-quotation seems to force us, Harris assumes that Chimera is elevated by the addition of the nonfiction, that the statement made outside the work of fiction stands alone, and, of course, that the author and a particular character can be spoken of as one. In "The Essay as Aesthetic Mirror: John Barth's 'Exhaustion' and 'Replenishment,"' Elaine B. Safer makes the reading of Barth's fiction in terms of his essays the whole of her argument: "The essays on 'Exhaustion' and 'Replenishment' thus cast light on what Barth has done in the past and call attention to the shorter form [of fiction] that he, theoretically, would like to use in the future" (116).

The assumption that the terms of nonfiction are more

stable (that they are, indeed, established) and the reading of fiction that is based on this assumption define a traditional method of critical inquiry. Because Barth's work questions the distinction between the poles of truth and falsehood, order and chaos, and because it is a reorganization from the "beginning," to assume the rigidness






9

or the primacy of his nonfiction is dangerous, if not directly oppositional to the texts themselves.

When Barth speaks of moving "beyond," for example, we read the term knowing that he understands and even respects the connection of things--of texts to "reality," one text to another, etc. So we cannot think of moving beyond, in Barth, as getting outside.

In The Floating Opera, Barth's first novel, Todd

Andrews is preoccupied with talking about his idea of order. We find early on that his interest is not simply a facet of his "character" or an incidental aesthetic orientation shared by his author, but that on his idea of order wavers his life--not only the "fictive" life of Todd Andrews, but the life of narration:

It seems to me that any arrangement of things at
all is an order. If you agree, it follows that my
room was as orderly as any room can be, even though the order was an unusual one. (FO 10)

The narrator speaks, implicitly, against the idea of order as an absolute, against the possibility that there is one perfect system. His room does not illustrate absolute order, but rather "an" order based on a particular system of ideas or images. Since any group of things is an arrangement (if for no other reason than its relation to the group), and therefore everything is arranged, since, in other words, arranging always takes place, it makes no sense to speak of a system as more or less orderly--the narrator's room, therefore, "was as orderly as any room can be."






10

In "Some Reasons Why I Tell the Stories I Tell the Way I Tell Them Rather Than Some Other Stories Some Other Way,"1 Barth sees himself involved in the process of narration:

At heart I'm an arranger still, whose chiefest
literary pleasure is to take a received melody--an
old narrative poem, a classical myth, a shopworn literary convention, a shard of my experience, a
New York Times Book Review series--and,
improvising like a jazzman within its constraints,
reorchestrate it to present purpose. (FB 7)

We should be careful not to read this statement of Barth's as the thing that is. We should read it in terms of the system it proposes to find out how the system works. We might be tempted to think of Bart h's "definition" of himself as a comment on Todd Andrew's. But if either statement describes the process of narration, using them as "definitions" that can be lifted out of one text undisturbed and applied to the other, assuming, in other words, we can pick out the Todd Andrews or the John Barth from either of them or that Todd Andrews and John Barth are identical, is contradictory. By speaking of himself, in the context of narration, as an "arranger," Barth speaks implicitly of order as an activity--rather than being a thng it is done to things--and arranging as the process of narration.

Right- or wrongness, though, make little sense in

talking about the texts of John Barth (or any texts, for that matter). With absolute order goes the possibility of correctness. Right- and wrongness are of no use in discussing process (or texts in any other terms because of their connection to narration). Right- and wrongness






11


nevertheless are always present as the things moved beyond. To leave absolute order behind is never to get rid of absoluteness; the narrator, rather, considers his own process and thereby involves himself in ordering.

Barth confronts a theory of activity in terms of

polemical argumentation in the "Literature of Exhaustion"~ "the language of action consists of rest as well as movement. . Nothingness is necessarily and inextricably the background against which Being, et cetera" (IB 67, 68). His 'let cetera" implies that the argument almost goes without saying. In order to say 'let cetera," he must allow the premise, on which the argument is based, to tag along. Not only is a theory of opposition (the necessity of both and) upheld, it is included. But included as the orientation, which, of course, entails movement, toward a theory of narration:

I decided I'd spend my professional academic life
saying all the things that go without saying:
staring first principles and basic distinctions
out of countenance; facing them down, for my
students' benefit and my own, until they confess
new information. What is literature? What is
fiction? What is a story? (FB 11)

Todd Andrews never "mastered first principles" (FO 60) either, and his statement attests to the fact. "First principles" are precisely that which cannot be "mastered." He says of his suicide--"I could master the fact of my living with [my heart condition] by destroying myself" (fO 227). Since mastery is a state of being, to exist it must extend beyond the act. Todd Andrews would only be "master"






12


after his death and by then, by his own logic, he would not be at all.

At the showboat Jeannine "slipped into the 'Why?' routine":

"Why What?" I asked. "Why do the actors act
funny or why do the people like to watch them?"
"Why do the people?"
"The people like to go to the show because it
makes them laugh. They like to laugh at the
actors."
11Why?11
"They like to laugh because laughing makes them
happy. They like being happy, just like you." . .
VlWhy? it
"Why do they like being happy? That's the end
of the line. 11 (FO 199)

Todd Andrew's "whole life has been directed toward the solution of a problem, or mastery of a fact" (FO 16). One could propose a particular answer, but "always something would happen to demonstrate its inadequacy" (FO 16). There is never a satisfactory answer to the question "Why?" One can't move back to one static cause of life. The questions "What is literature?" and "What is fiction?" ask the same of us--that we discover an identity or write a definition that will stick. Definition is by definition inadequate; it is a limitation rather than a universalization. The questions themselves are inadequate. "Information" is exactly what they cannot supply.

It could be argued that the necessity of inadequacy is the kind of "new information" of which Barth speaks. In "The Literature of Exhaustion" he suggests that by taking inadequacy into account a writer can do something new: "[Borges'] artistic victory, if you like, is that he






13

confronts an intellectual dead end and employs it against itself to accomplish new human work" (FB 69-70). Though this passage is often quoted, it is not, in itself, representative of Barth's point of view. He suggests in "Tales Within Tales Within Tales" that works have always taken themselves into account: "that is . stories within stories, which always to some degree imply stories about stories and even stories about storytglling--that this phenomenon is ancient, ubiquitous, and persistent; almost as old and various, I suspect, as the narrative impulse itself" (fB 221). We can even wonder about his "almost": in "The Title of This Book" he comes straight out with it: "literature, like language, is seldom simply but always also about itself" (FB xii).

Barth's inconsistency is not the issue, but it suggests that when he speaks of "new information" he is posing a theory of origination as process. one of Borges' characters, Pierre Menard, re-creates several chapters of the Quixote. "It would have been sufficient," Barth says, "for Menard to attribute the novel to himself in order to have a new work of art, from the intellectual point of view." That is, the addition of the name "Pierre Menard" would require a different reading, one in terms of a new author and all the baggage--scholarly, philosophic, what have you--that inevitably goes along with it. "Pierre Menard" would make the Quixote something other. Barth






14


distinguishes, though, Borges from this "intellectual" idea of difference:

But the important thing to observe is that Borges
doesn't attribute the Ouixote to himself, much
less recompose it like Pierre Menard; instead, he
writes a remarkable and original work of
literature, the implicit theme of which is the
difficulty, perhaps the necessity, of writing
original works of literature. (FB 69)

Implicit in Barth's discussion of originality is the understanding that texts are connected to other texts. An original work, therefore, is not one that is outside or that has no relation to the past. A work of literature is "created" not out of nothingness but in relation to nothingness. A text is "original" to the extent that it involves itself inoricfination--not simply a going back but a coming into being. Texts are made new. Borges, nevertheless, wrote the passages that Pierre Menard recreated and so involves himself in the creation of a narrative event and involves his story in its own creation.

Barth speaks of originality in one of two ways. Either

(1) originality is contained in absolute paradox and so is effectively cancelled out (Borges writes an original work about the impossibility of originality); "originality" in other words carries only the meaning of its own paradoxical impossibility. or (2) there are two senses of "original": the original before which there was nothing and evolutionary origination in which every work takes part; there is no "need" to write "original" works of literature ("original"






15


in the first sense) because works of literature inevitably involve themselves in origination.

I take up Barth's first novel not (as will be assumed) to discover the cause of the works that come after it, to unearth the rudiments of Barth"s "budding genius," but because The Floating Opera rethinks beginning. I go back to The Floating Opera not as the Todd Andrews who begins his Inquiry as "an attempt to learn why [his] father hanged himself" (FO 218, emphasis mine), and not even as the Todd Andrews who understands that "it is another thing to examine this information and see in it, so clearly that to question is out of the question, the cause of a human act" (FO 218). Even the revision of the purpose of his Inguiry to this new understanding is inadequate: "In fact, it's impossible, for as Hume pointed out, causation is never more than an inference; and any inference involves at some point the leap from what we see to what we can't see. Very well. It's the purpose of my Inquiry to shorten as much as possible the distance over which I must leap" (FO 218). He has decided to continue, knowing that he cannot solve the problem. His purpose, he says, "is not really to leap the gap . only to shorten it" (FO 219). At this point he is satisfied by simply continuing; he is satisfied by the "activity" of inertial movement--movement devoid of change.

I go back, rather, as the Todd Andrews who, out of the Inquiry, composes a novel.






16


Sabbatical, like The Floating Opera, is based on an intellectual pursuit. Fenn and Susan have taken the sabbatical to decide what to do with their lives--Susan whether to take a position at Swarthmore, Fenn whether to go on doing what he's been doing, and both of them whether to have a child. And, like The Floating opera, the narration of the story is moved out in front of the intellectual bind. At the beginning the question "Why?" is made a matter of substance (both essential to the text's relation to the "intellect" and material to its relation to the "things" talked about):

After sundown we see against broken clouds the
reflected glow of city lights from below the
horizon ahead: Virginia Beach, Fenn reckons, and
hopes we're far enough offshore. The name catches Susan's breath; brings tears to her eyes. Fenwick
knows why. (S 10-11)

As we will see in Chapter II, why the name "Virginia Beach" brings tears to Susan's eyes is caught up in the decision making (or lack of decision making) of the entire text. The extraordinarily brutal rape, in Virginia Beach, of Susan's twin sister and the moronic child that is the product of the rape obviously affect Susan's contradictory desires about having children. Her tears at the mentioning of "Virginia Beach" can be read as a reflection of the impetus of the conflict between her and Fenn, the reason for their sabbatical voyage, the reason, in fact, for Sabbatical.

But as I said the question is essential to the story. In this passage the narrator is concerned more with positioning than with the impossibility of deciding or the






17


inevitable assumption of a cause. They see "against" the clouds light that is "reflected" from "below" the horizon "ahead." From his observation of the position of the light Fenn estimates his own position and wonders whether they are "far enough offshore." The glow of city lights is out in front of Susan and Fenn just as the story of Mimi's rape is projected out in front of the present bind, the lack of knowledge about why Susan is crying. The narration proceeds by placing the story out in front.1

Sabbatical takes place at what is to be the end of

their voyage. But it is about be ginning. one can infer, then, that Sabbatical is also necessarily about the relation between beginning and end. The narrator looks at narration as a putting things in order:

okay, he decides, and consults the compass over Susan's shoulder, wondering the while what words
best follow Once upon a time.
Blam! Blooev!. (S 11)

The story has, of course, already begun by the time we get to the words "Blam! Blooev!.11 The words do "follow," though, the phrase "Once upon a time" and so even though "Blam! and "Blooey!" do not begin, they question the sequence of events in terms of beginning. Though "A dialogue on Diction" takes place "three days later, safely at anchor in Poe Cove, Key Island, Virginia," since it



In the case of Fenn's cardiac episode and Susan's abortion "placing out in front" becomes a putting-off or displacement of the story (they decide to wait to tell each other about the particular events) and so serves as much to disrupt the progression of the story.






18


concerns the appropriateness of the use of "Blam! Blooev!" it comes next. The use of "Blam! Blooey!" has already been questioned implicitly by its juxtaposition to the archetypal opening line of a story--"once upon a time." The discussion of its relation to the tradition seems to follow naturally.

Susan, the scholar of the two, falls back easily to the foundations of philosophical division:

S: In the Poetics, Aristotle distinguishes
between lexis and melos--"speech" and "song"--and
discusses them separately, since in Attic drama
there really were both spoken dialogue and choral
songs. (S 12)

When she teaches Aristotle she "combines[s] lexis and melos into the general heading of Language. Under that heading she consider[s] all questions of tone, style, diction, the effective management of dialogue, the strategic deployment of metaphor, and what have you" (S 12). Susan wonders about the use of language in terms of the tradition and at the same time rearranges Aristotle's categories, using "language" as the term under which lexis and melos are interrelated, speaking of both lexis and melos as aspects of "style," "diction," etc.

She also reads their beginning in terms of the history of fiction:

S: So: after a splendid four-thousand-year
tradition of sea-voyage fiction, from the Egyptian
papyrus of the Shipwrecked Sailor, said to be the
oldest story in the world . to Crane and
Conrad, all with their big set-pieces of tempest
and shipwreck, . we proudly enter the
narrative lists with Blam and Blooey. (S 13)






19


Fenn turns her questioning of the quality of narration into a discussion of narrative technique: "I used to read books in college days. Those blokes all has a little warning, for Christ's sake; an effing foreshadow or two, you know? But us: Blam! Blooev!" (Q. 13). Fenn speaks of warning as foreshadow; he says, in effect, since we had no warning we should not include foreshadow, but he does so by speaking of the event written about in terms of speaking about the event, in terms of narration; he says the storm itself, described by the words "Blam! Blooey!" and the story "A Storm at Sea," was not foreshadowed. So one cannot differentiate the storm from the narration of the event that is the storm.

By deciding to "begin" their story with the storm they make narration its topic and define narration as the development of a new order. Susan and Fenn haggle over another point of diction and include it in the narrative:

F: I'll make you a deal: I'll take out every
effing in the script except the ones in this
passage, and those I'll soften to "effing."1
S: I can live with that.
F: But blam and blooey stay.

"Effing" has always already, within the text, been edited. Fenn says "I will soften the ones in this passage to 'effing" but, by including the promise in the narrative, underscores the pervasiveness of rearrangement. We never see the word to which "effing" refers. Fenn meshes the idea of what "really happened" with the narration of their story:

F: My finger was on the effing starter-button!






20


I was wondering what to say to you after Susie and
Fenn. Then Blam! Blooev! (S 14)

Story and narration coincide and thereby reduce any argument based on the reality of events outside the text to irrelevancy. What "really happened" were the words "Blam! Blooey''I

The theory of language and the story come together in the story's narration.



What Follows


Because so few articles have been written about Sabbatical (the book itself has been out of print for several years, though it was published in 1982) and so little said about The Tidewater Tales (it came out in 1987), the water would seem to be uncharted. In fact though, because the reading of Barth's work is disturbingly narrow and, as I have pointed out, firmly established, there is no indication that the trend will not continue. Thus, I am writing about Barth's work under the pressure of an establishment. Most of the criticism I consult is considered in terms of these two most recent books of Barth only by extension, but even so, I find myself arguing against the possibility of the application to Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales of the assumptions made in these widely accepted methods of criticism.

Unlike Harris's Passionate Virtuosity, for example,

this dissertation attempts more than an explanation of John






21

Barth or even of a particular idea in the books of John Barth. Insofar as the writing of his books make up, in part, his life and insofar as the relations between living and writing are what his books are about, yes, this is about John Barth. But it is also a discussion of ways to read, in critical terms, the relation between metaphor and narration and the effect that relation has on reading and writing in general.

This is why the theory I work with is more integral to this dissertation than the discarding of the criticism. As my bibliography will attest, the work of Jacques Derrida is essential to my understanding of the work of John Barth. I hesitate, though, to say that I apply Derrida to Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales, because any "use" of Derrida will constitute a reading. The work of Derrida initiates a dialogue and an interpretation at least as extensive as the work of Barth. I would rather s ay that my study constitutes a double reading, of both the work of John Barth and some of the recent theories ab out language and literature. Because of Barth's tendency to grapple with the more difficult and provocative issues in language, his books call for this double reading.

This dissertation is divided into four chapters, each of which corresponds to the reading of a "figure" or a "metaphor" and a discussion of its consequences on the reading, writing, and telling of stories. I should point out beforehand that the terms figure and metaphor are part






22


of our subject in that the assumption they carry, the assumption that the figure or metaphor is distinct from the meaning or the idea it conveys, is shown by the figures themselves to be misleading.

"Circling The Question of Knowledge" explores the way in which the circle, as a model for the text, questions our ability to understand the text and places itself in opposition to a narrative, which is to say a sequential, organization of events. The hermeneutic circle describes the necessary presupposition of a knowledge of the thing to be understood and so questions the validity of interpretation generally. The hermeneutic circle can be thought of graphically both as a circular path, challenging the notions of beginning and end, and as an enclosure, challenging the traditional understanding of the inside and the outside of the text. Titles in The Tidewater Tales and the quotation of the "first line" in Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales tend to act according to the circular logic of hermeneutics because neither gives us a means of establishing textual or narrative limits. Though we do not ever see the closure of the text or the story, they describe themselves as an enclosure. Those who would try to understand the enclosure, which would require exceeding it to get a view of the whole, would find themselves caught within. Getting out of the circle of hermeneutics is problematic because any attempt to exceed the orbit of the text, to read it transcendentally, reinscribes the circle.






23


on the other hand, the sequentiality of Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales would tend to disrupt any notion of their circling because the circling text would suggest a linguistic collapsing of time. The circling text is shown to be a sham; to understand the text as a circle requires a breaching of logic because a sequentiality always imposes itself.

In "Abortion Stories" I show that abortion is connected to a decision concerning the organization of the woman's life and the orderliness of the text. Barth's considering the text as the body of the woman is consequential for them both. I describe the abortion of the text as a disposal because this term indicates both the attempt to arrange and the attempt to get rid of what is aborted. Susan's abortion in Sabbatical reflects Fenn's attempt at discarding various drafts of their story and their continual discussion about the organization of the story they are a part of, "the story of their life." Getting rid of a text will leave behind the trace of an erasure, so that what is missing comes to be what the text is about. Because the Y is the structure of decision-making (of analysis and synthesis), it is the source of Sabbatical's narrative abortion. Fenn and Susan discover that the terms by which they divide their world, by which an analysis would be made, are inappropriate and that in the synthetic moment the prior division is reestablished, so that a decision cannot be made. Abortion is not a neat metaphor for the self-destruction of the text or the death






24


of fiction, rather it indicates a narrative problem whose root is in the language.

Whereas abortion describes the text and the writing of the story, "Production, Reading, Supplementarity" describes the text and the reading of the story. To think of the reader as one of the story's parent's, as Peter does in The Tidewater Tales, is to develop the notion of the production of the supplement. The Tidewater Tales illustrates the fact that reading is never simply an addition. Calling reading a production of supplements is not to say that reading occurs outside the text or that there is what might be called an outside-text. Though reading is an addition, it cannot add justanything; it is rather, as Derrida says, adding and following a thread. Because the writer does not command every aspect of the language used, the text always says something other than what the writer would mean.

One of the more dramatic effects of the supplement on

the story is its making indeterminate the story's "end." We cannot count on the story's ever being finished because supplementation is also a replacement. Every supplement describes its own need for a supplemental reading, for a replacement, so marks itself as incomplete.

"Repetition, History, Narration" is a discussion of

repetition as it relates to the displacement of the origin and the repetitious coming back, which is also a deferral, of the end and a discussion of the questioning of historical truth as it relates to the development of a narrative. What






25


is called the repetition of a text is not, as is generally presumed, containable or finite. A story will inevitably point out that it has been told before. Repetition operates according to Derrida's description of the fort:da of Freud in that what is "repeated" is repetition itself. Every time Fenn and Susan come back to the matter about which a decision has to be made and on which the end of their story depends, the matter is deferred; thus, the story cannot be concluded within the text. The end about which they speculate is caught up in a repetitious deferral without end. Though repetition disrupts the concepts of beginning and end and would deny the difference between the past and the future, difference inevitably marks itself and puts forward the narrative of repetition; because repetition is never absolute, it entails the possibility of a sequence, of movement in time. Rather than asking about the validity of historical truth or about the possibility of coming to the origin of the text, we should ask now, What follows the questioning of truth? "Repetition, History, Narration" demonstrates that we can neither go back to a time before repetition nor identify the "original" repetition. Because the questioning of truth leads one back, it forces one to use a methodology based on a temporality and on a sequentiality and so forces one to create a narrative, which denies, paradoxically, the possibility of arriving at the truth.






26


11P.S.: In Place of a Conclusion" is a sort of anticonclusion. "The Ending" of The Tidewater Tales appears to be an attempt to complete the story and to mark the end of the text. It recognizes the desire in Barth's work to get outside the dilemmas language poses and, indeed, to get outside of the text itself. Primarily, for the writer in The Tidewater Tales, it is the dichotomy between the textual and the real that needs to be overcome. "The Ending" is ironic in that it questions the possibility of ending and so the possibility of an outside. In this conclusion that is not a conclusion I ask, To what extent are the implications that are inscribed in a system that proposes the validity of the concept of the end (in particular the distinction between the real and the textual) assumed in turning that system against itself? Each time we are led to the edge of the text, pushed toward the "real," we are wrapped back into both the text and the dichotomy between the textual and the real, which compels us to move to an "outside."














CHAPTER I
CIRCLING
THE QUESTION OF KNOWLEDGE



Hermeneutic circling


I will begin CIRCLING as if you already know about

Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales. Though their moving in circles (or in a circle) would seem to place us outside the texts, in developing an understanding of them, we will find ourselves already involved.

If, as readers, we are literally circling with the texts we interpret, the questions that seem to pose themselves (how do we begin to understand a text we are a part of, and how do we step off the circle, how do we take knowledge with us and perhaps even use it in reading, in becoming involved with, other texts?) are actually part of a presupposition about the shape of texts. The question of Knowledge is bound to the circling of Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales, but it cannot accurately be said to be posed at the beginning or end of their reading, because the shape of the stories will have already circumvented the possibility of an absolute beginning or end. Therefore, the problem that always presents itself in the inscription of



27






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the circle is the connection between, which is the effacement of, beginning and ending.

The question of the circle, as an issue in the theory of interpretation and in the breakdown of logic has, of course, its history. I make these statements about Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales within the context of a theoretical and philosophical tradition--that of hermeneutics--and within the context of an issue inseparable from a general theory of interpretation: the hermeneutic circle.

Schleiermacher is thought of as the first in a line of four major theorists of hermeneutics, including Wilhelm Dilthey, Martin Heidegger, and Hans-Georg Gadamer.1 Schleiermacher described hermeneutics as the "art of understanding" and thereby helped to make the circle the figure of interpretation. Since understanding is referential (that is, since we understand by the comparison of things), what we understand forms itself into "systematic unities, or circles made up of parts" (Palmer 87). The circle as a whole defines the individual parts, while the parts together describe the circle. The hermeneutic circle can also be described in terms of the context of an idea or a work, what Schleiermacher called the work's "horizon." The meaning of a text is derived from its context, its relation to other texts, and yet the context is composed of


1 See, for example, Palmer, on whom the following discussion of Schleiermacher and Dilthey is based.






29


the texts for which meaning is sought. The relation between the whole and the part is, therefore, dialectical--each gives the other meaning. since a dialectical relation is one that is logically circular, understanding, according to Schleiermacher, takes the circle as its model.

Schleiermacher himself is, of course, part of a circle of understanding about the development of the theory of interpretation; by his own definition, his work can only be understood in terms of its larger context. Richard Palmer discusses, in his Hermeneutics, two forerunners of Schleiermacher (Ast and Wolf) who form that context. And Gadamer, in Truth and M~ethod, shows us that the principle of the hermeneutic circle stems from ancient rhetoric, specifically, from the dialogic question and answer:

There is no such thing as a method of learning to
ask questions, of learning to see what needs to be
questioned. On the contrary, the example of
Socrates teaches that the important thing is the
knowledge that one does not know. . All questioning and desire to know presuppose a
knowledge that one does not know. .. (329) This presupposition is what leads one to a particular question; it is also the "problem" with the hermeneutic circle because it involves a logical contradiction. As Palmer puts it, "if we must grasp the whole before we can understand the parts, then we shall never understand anything" (87).

The fact that the hermeneutic circle presupposes a

knowledge of the thing to be understood brings to question the validity of the circle as a model of understanding.






30


Schliermacher contended that the concept of the hermeneutic circle is not invalid, but that logic cannot account for the operation of understanding. In fact, understanding requires an intuitive "leap" into the hermeneutic circle, and we thereby understand the whole and the parts together. Suggesting the possibility of an intuitive leap seems to beg the question of how one begins to understand, to beg the question of the circle's validity in terms of its logic. The question immediately posed by the circle is this: how can one understand anything if understanding entails the presupposition of knowledge about the thing? To say that understanding is partly intuitive is to say that we do understand, to assume the very thing that is being questioned.

Dilthey points out that, since every part presupposes the others, there is no true starting point for understanding. In other words, there can be no "presuppositionless" understanding (Palmer 120-21). Doing away with the idea of a starting point has as a consequence doing away with the need for a "leap" into the circle. Heidegger agrees with Schleiermacher that understanding "is not to be reduced to a vicious circle," but not that the circle's "problem" of logic is itself to be circumscribed by intuition. For Heidegger, the circle of understanding is itself the expression of what he calls the "fore-structure": "All interpretation," which he defines as "the working out of the possibilities projected in understanding," "operates






31


in the fore-structure. .. Any interpretation, which is to contribute understanding, must already have understood what is to be interpreted" (Heidegger 189, 194).

In Aristotle the "Problem" can only be described

dialectically: "the word problema refers to those questions that appear as open alternatives because there is evidence for both views and we think that they cannot be decided by reasons, since the questions involved are too great." Problems, therefore, are "alternatives that can only be accepted as themselves and thus can only be treated in a dialectical way" (Gadamer 339). If the critique of the concept of the problem is organized by a logic of question and answer (which is what Gadamer says has happened, in neokantianism, for example), then the nature of the problem as dialectical has from the start been contradicted: "Reflection on the hermeneutical experience transforms problems back to questions that arise and that derive their sense from their motivation" (340). In other words, in trying to account for the hermeneutic "problem" we will find ourselves part of a circle that has not yet been taken into account.

That is why, for Dilthey, the task of the interpreter is not that of immersing oneself totally in the object of interpretation (which would be impossible anyway) but rather that of finding viable modes of interaction of one's own horizon with that of the text (Palmer 121) and why Heidegger says that "what is decisive is not to get out of the circle"






32


(195) but to work out the fore-structures of the interpretation. "Working out" the fore-structures does not bring us to the truth about the text or even about the forestructures. The only "objectivity" in Heidegger's system, Gadamer says, is "the confirmation of a fore-meaning in its being worked out" (237).

There are two ways of thinking about our involvement in the circle graphically, both of which pose problems for the interpretation of texts. We can think of texts, and ourselves with them, as moving along a circular path and thereby questioning the relation between beginning and end and even the validity of beginning and end as terms with which to describes texts. And we can think of the circle as an enclosure, which would lead us to position texts, and ourselves with them, with regard to the relation between inside and outside.



Titles and Quotations and Quotations of Titles


Where one should begin--with what metaphor, for example, or at what chronological point in the story--must be confronted, given a structure that would tend to deny a beginning and an end and to de-temporalize time. To say that I will begin CIRCLING does not consider the problem with beginning that has already presented itself: it assumes,, for instance, that the title is exterior, outside the circle of the "text proper." In The Tidewater Tales titles are shown to be involved with the development of the






33


story and text, in effect, circling with the text, so that even they cannot be cited as beginnings.

There are several types of doubling or folding of the title in The Tidewater Tales, types which complicate the circling of the text: (1) the phrase "the tidewater tales" is reiterated in comments about the story being told; (2) the narrator quotes the title in telling the story of The Tidewater Tales; (3) title pages "inside" the text begin again the tidewater tales; and (4) the title pages at the so-called upper and lower limits of the text appear to frame the "text proper."

In "Title (to be specified)" Jacques Derrida uses the

example of La-Folie du jour to describe the relation between the title and the same words met elsewhere in the text. We meet various combinations of the terms of the title The Tidewater Tales throughout The Tidewater Tales, so Derrida's discussion is directly applicable to our first complication. Though when the words are used in a statement inside the text they do not have the same function as the title, the doubling brings into question the possibility of discovering the original performance of the terms. As part of a statement, "the tidewater tales" or a phrase such as "these tales" "will not have title-value," as Derrida says, because they will not have the same nominal role; that is, the same words met elsewhere will not serve to name the text as does the title ("Title" 13). The title occurs, properly speaking, on the border of the text, and though it is "still






34


part of a so-called literary fiction. . it does not play a role in the same fashion as what is found inside the same fiction." Though, in their ability to force upon us a return, the terms of the title function as a quotation, the title itself is not, in Derrida's terms, "citational": "In the duplicity of this occurrence it is impossible to say which is the original and which repeats the other" ("Title" 14).

The narrator of The Tidewater Tales, unlike the

narrator of La Folie du jour, also quotes the title in telling about telling the story, 'leasing back into our rentpaying labors while working up our coupled viewpoint for The Tidewater Tales: A Novel" (TT 643). This quotation, or reputation, has essentially the same effect as the repetition of the same words inside the text, but the effect comes about in a slightly different manner. The quotation would seem to designate this book, The Tidewater Tales, the one we can hold in our hands, 656 pages long, copyright 1987. But, apparently, the one the narrator is talking about is not yet written, the viewpoint not yet "worked up." And that will always be the case with this type of reference. When the narrator quotes the title of this book, The Tidewater Tales will not have ended. That will always be the case, even if, as we will see, the words "The Tidewater Tales" are what would usually be called the last line of the text.






35


At the apparent end of the section "Our Story," there occurs these lines (in reference to the "Ordinary Point Delivery Story" being told and to the "forthcoming" "book"):

(with the last line still unglossed) there
unfolds-This Book: (TT 82)

On the following page a title, partly a quotation--The Tidewater Tales plus an expanded subtitle--seems to designate a book separated from what is thereby marked as introductory:

THE
TIDEWATER
TALES
OR,
WHITHER THE WIND LISTETH
OR,
OUR HOUSE'IS INCREASE:
A NOVEL

This (what can it be called?) partly "new" non-titling title has a dual function. It is both part of a statement within and about the story and a title in itself. Though it is connected by a colon to the previous line, it has its own page, in effect a title page, and there is no end punctuation to assure us of its placement in the discourse of the previous passage or of "The Ordinary Point Delivery Story."

The colon preceding the title page has the effect of negating the introductoriness of the introduction by connecting the two sections narratively. What follows a colon is, according to the organization of grammar, an example or an elaboration of that which precedes it. In






36


other words this book is the "glossing" of "This Book:" (TT 82). If the last line remains "unglossed," as the narrator claims, it is only because the book, as well as the "introduction," cannot be said to have come to an end, because for neither of them is there a "last line" per se.

The Tidewater Tales "concludes" with another title page:

THE
TIDEWATER
TALES:
A NOVEL. (TT 656)

This title page, after which nothing seems to follow, has the effect of leading us back. It functions as the quotation of a title, so questions the possibility of coming to an end; we would have to place "beginning" in quotation marks as well, because finding the original statement is problematic. It cannot be determined whether the title at the supposed last line of the text quotes or is the referent for another quotation, the quotation of itself. In relation to La Folie du !our Derrida has called this type of quotation of quotation the "chiasmatic invagination of the borders,," each of which is the quotation of the other. This organization "does not allow us to discern in the reading the indivisible limit of a beginning from an end. It carries away the condition for every dictatorial emergence of a title, the title implying these critical effects of the border, the possibility of discerning indivisible borders" ("Title" 20).






37


In "Living On: Border Lines" Derrida suggests that one of the reasons that the limits of the book are indistinct is that, with books such as La Folie du jour, there are no graphic signals to indicate a distinction:

The starting edge will have been the quotation (at
first not recognizable as such) of a narrative
fragment that in turn will merely be quoting its quotation. For all these quotations, quotations
of requotations with no original performance,
there is no speech act not already the iteration
of another, no circle and no quotation marks to reassure us about the identity, opposition, or
distinction of speech events. (96)

The title page at the supposed end of The Tidewater Tales is the quotation of a quotation (TT 83) of a quotation (TT 5) (not including the cover of the book). There are at least four title pages, one of them, as we have seen, well within what would usually be called the text proper, none of which is distinguished by quotation marks. Though each of them has its differences, both contextual and graphic (I have not attempted to represent the spacing of lines, the level of boldness, or, least of all, the style of type), never does the difference allow us to place, with any sense of security, one title in relation to another.

Titles in The Tidewater Tales are also part of the

circling of the story. This might best be illustrated by the "lower level" titles or titles of what one traditionally calls the titles of chapters. (The divisions of The Tidewater Tales tend to disrupt traditional notions about the hierarchy of parts divided and about the relation between the parts and the "whole" text. Designating the






38


divisions with terms such as Part, Section, or Chapter would give the hierarchical organization of divisions a validity. We might find that not suggesting the hierarchy is impossible; quotation marks can only question a term--they cannot render its meanings neutral.) Often the titles will carry as much weight in the telling of the story as the "chapters themselves." For example, these are two consecutive chapters quoted (if this is possible) in their entirety:

DONE?
Done.

TIME FOR LUNCH.
Skip lunch. (TT 49)

One chapter would be empty of a "text proper" but for the points of ellipsis that indicate its emptiness:

IN ADVANCED AS IN EARLY PREGNANCY,
A WOMAN'S APPETITE MAY BE CAPRICIOUS
BUT WHY DID PETER SAGAMORE EAT NO LUNCH,
EITHER IN THE MAIN HOUSE OR IN THE FIRST GUEST COTTAGE?

. (TT 53)

The following title includes its own points of ellipsis and is the "chapter itself":

AH SO. EVEN THE BO, THEN, AS WE HAD FEARED . .
(TT 53)

The most dramatic of these titles is the 463-word title of a chapter that reads simply, "Ahem" (TT 73). "Ahem" is the breath taken after the recitation of its long-winded title. It is ironic that the chapter is simply a comment on its title, the reverse of what is usually expected of the relation between titles and their texts. one of the






39


functions of the title, according to Gerard Genette, is the designation of the "'content' of the text" (711). Though the "content" of a text is undeterminable, and though the term thematic used to describe this type of title is ambiguous, "thematic titles dominate the picture widely today" (715). Being a comment on the length of the title is doubly ironic because it makes the relation between titles and their texts one of the subjects of the chapter, a subject that is not, apparently, part of the title itself. That 463-word title is, in fact, longer than half of the chapters in the first of the largest divisions. The point, here, is this: if we have to consider the title (or titles) as part of the circling text or as part of the circling story about the text, we can no longer cite a title as the location of a beginning. We are already on the circle.

Another way to approach the difficulty of beginning is to question the supposed first line of a text. Sabbatical might seem to begin with the quotation of a poem thus:

"There was a story that began,
Said Fenwick Turner: Susie and Fenn-Oh, tell that story! Tell it again!
Wept Susan Seckler . 11 (S 9)

"'There was a story that began,"' refers to a story already told. In "The Prose and Poetry of It All, or, Dippy Verses," Barth calls these verses "a kind of standing joke between" Fenn and Susan. What makes it funny to them, and this is the case with all standing jokes, is its being "repeated" (FB 240). Hence, our double quotation marks and






40


Barth's indenting the verses, which serves to indicate their repetition as well as their genre. Being the archetypal introduction of a story, it would tend to lull its readers into analytical complacency; it offers itself simply as a sign (like any other sign) marking this point the "beginning." But as an introduction to Sabbatical, it is ironic and complex. It is suggested that the story will begin after the opening line, specifically with the italicized words Susie and Fenn, but, in fact, it has already begun. "'There was a story . is a part of the story that is about problematic beginnings, a part of Sabbatical. Barth says that "Fenwick Turner says 'there was a story that began,' etc., but in fact he has not yet begun the story he knows is there to be told" (FB 240). We are not in contradiction, though we might seem to be. The story Fenn proposes to tell might not yet be read as the story of Sabbatical. As we read on, though, we find that Sabbatical is all there is of Fenn's story and he, in fact, claims it as his own. Fenn's story and the story of Sabbatical are being repeated but have not yet begun. To say that a story has already begun or, to be emphatic about it, always already begun is to say that the beginning cannot be localized, that there is no location by which we can cite the beginning, which is to say that the beginning has not actually occurred--it has not taken place so does not exist in such a way that it can be found or met with, which is to






41


say that the story has not yet begun. We circle in Sabbatical between the already and the not yet.

Graybeard Fenn would be happy to give it another
go; we2 have fiddled with our tale through this
whole sabbatical voyage: down the Intracoastal in the fall in our cruising sailboat, Pokey, Wye I.,
from Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico and
across to Yucatan; all about the Caribbean islandhopping through the mild winter of 1980; and in
May through our first lazy open-ocean passage
from St. John in the U.S. Virgins direct for the Virginia Capes, Chesapeake Bay, Wye Island, the closing of the circle, sabbatical's end. (a 9)

Apparently, Fenn has told the story before or tried to: this is "another go," another telling or at least another attempt at beginning. Fenn and Susan's fiddling with the tale is the inevitable difficulty of getting it going. Though the sabbatical is over, or, to be precise, nearly over, they have not yet decided how to begin Sabbatical. Precision, here, is important, considering the logic of the circle. ("Sabbatical" [the voyage] comes to be conflated with "Sabbatical" [the story as well as the book], so that even the first mention of the term in the opening paragraph has to be read as meaning both the voyage and the story.) If their voyage and story are circular, the end of the sabbatical will have to be the beginning of Sabbatical. Strictly speaking, the "closing of the circle" of the voyage is not marked by the regaining of the Chesapeake Bay or even


2 This "we," which refers to Fenn and Susan, is
confusing because Fenn, who makes this speech, uses both the third person (in referring to himself) and the first person (in referring to himself and Susan); the intricacy of
Sabbatical's point of view is discussed in the "Forking" section of Chapter Ii.






42


landfall at Wye Island, and their story does not begin with the events described in the opening passage.

What Fenn and Susan call the "end" of the sabbatical has come to be associated with the resolution of problems Fenn and Susan faced on their setting out, principally, whether to have a child. Until that decision is made, one can speak of the "closing of the circle" only figuratively. And since theirs is a sabbatical voyage, only the mainland is an appropriate symbol of its end. As long as they have sailing to do, the decision can be made later:

Fenwick considers, then sets forth his private, no
doubt whimsical reason for preferring Solomons Island to a mainland harbor. Since the turn of
the year, we have been on or between islands.
Fenn feels, therefore, irrationally but strongly, that tying up at a mainland slip, even anchoring in a mainland cove, is tantamount to ending our
sabbatical voyage. (S 85)

Fenn's reasons are not "whimsical," though this passage in isolation might make them seem so. If they declare that their voyage is over, they have as much as decided that they have failed: "It was our hope and intention that by the end of this same voyage we would know better our hearts and minds vis-a-vis several decisions which lie ahead; but by and large, we don't, yet" (S 83-84). It is their salvation as a couple that the decisions "lie ahead." "In short, let's stay with islands, enisled, isolated, until we know better our main landfall. Maybe we'll know after Washington and Baltimore" (S 84).

It turns out that Washington and Baltimore are locations that mark events that shape the story of





43


Sabbatical. In Washington, Fenn meets his friend, Dougald Taylor, who was a colleague of Fenn's when Fenn was in the CIA and who is still on the payroll. Fenn sees Doog, as they call him, because he might have information about Fenn's brother, Manfred, an upper-level CIA officer who has been missing for over a year, and Manfred's son, Gus, a Marxist plumber who has been missing since he went to Chile to work against the CIA's intervention there. Doog knows little, beyond the obvious possibilities, about Manfred's disappearance. But he reveals to Fenn that Gus's mother, Carmen, who happens also to be Susan's mother, was in effect offered the option of ransoming Gus, who might still be alive as a political prisoner in Chile, by becoming an agent of the CIA. Fenn's son, Orrin, might even be approached by the CIA. And Fenn is offered by Doog himself the option of doubling, if he is approached by a foreign agency, in exchange for further information about Manfred and Gus. And, perhaps most importantly, Fenn is warned by Doog that the Agency might have come up with an untraceable inducer of cardiac arrest. Fenn is a prime target for this type of liquidation because he has had a heart attack before and because his expose' of illegal CIA activities has made him many CIA enemies. On the bus from Washington, Fenn has a minor cardiac episode.

Because Fenn had once been involved with the CIA it is impossible to disentangle his life from the movement of that agency. It does not matter that he joined the CIA to






44


"neutralize [Manfred], if not convert him. What happened was more the opposite" (S 45). When Doog's pitch is followed up, Fenn tries to step off the circle:

It goes without saying, Marilyn Marsh says,
that you can say no.
Fenn says No.

Marcus Henry asks Is that the end of your
interest in [Manfred and Gus]?
Fenn considers. Yes. (S 304)

To know about Manfred and Gus, Fenn has to take the pitch, has to involve himself in the CIA. Fenn's "no" is ineffective, and his "yes" is an outright lie--an angry claim that he can dissociate himself from the CIA and rid himself of its influence.

Whereas Fenn's trip to Washington illustrates the

difficulty of extricating oneself from the circle, Susan's trip to Baltimore illustrates the problem of closing the circle. What happens in Baltimore is this: Susan has an abortion. What is relevant about the abortion to this argument is that she has it without discussing it with Fenn. They get pregnant without deciding to get pregnant, and so that Fenn will not be trapped into saying "have the baby," she has the abortion without Fenn's being in on the decision. Near the apparent end of the book, when the abortion story ("Susan's Friday" [a 287-97j) is told, Fenn and Susan's problems are unresolved. At the climax of the story, when it seems that they will split up, Fenn cannot even decide which way to steer the boat; they "circle slowly in mid-channel" (S 347) around the red and black buoy that




45


marks the splitting of the river, the point at which a decision has to be made.

At the apparent end of the book they are anchored behind Cacaway. Cacaway is "fundamental" (S 354) to Sabbatical because that is "Where It All Started" (S 193). Fenn and Orrin "rescued" Susan and her sister, Miriam, who were canoeing in wind and rough water. There, having dropped off Orrin and Miriam, Fenn and Susan made love and began their romance. The implication is that they have come full circle. But they can neither close the circle nor get off it. Though Fenn never actually accepts the pitch Doog had offered, they are up to their necks in knowledge and anxiety about the CIA. Susan conjectures that there may be "Company Safe-houses on Solomons Island right over there and on our beautiful Chesapeake River and God knows where else, maybe even on our precious Cacaway Island." Fenn interrupts, "Not on Cacaway, Susan. Never on Cacaway" (S 120), but his response is more wish than conviction.

In Sabbatical Fenn and Susan have not yet made

landfall. In The Tidewater Tales they are still sailing. It is said in The Tidewater Tales that the Talbots (the characters on whom, it seems, Fenn and Susan of Sabbatical are "based") have "closed the circle of their cruise . with so many questions unresolved" (TT 438). They have "closed the circle of their cruise" in the sense that they are back in the Chesapeake Bay. They have begun to retrace some of the passage making of a year before and even of the






46


beginning of their relationship. But being "where it all started," behind Cacaway, is meaningless given the definition of closure established in Sabbatical; if questions are unresolved, though Fenn and Susan have regained the Chesapeake and even Cacaway, Sabbatical cannot be said to have closed. Behind Cacaway, their boat is anchored as if Sabbatical is unwilling or incapable of moving on around. In The Tidewater Tales, Peter and Katherine meet the characters of Sabbatical on the water, sailing, having not yet made their "main landfall." The supposed end of Sabbatical cannot be considered the end because of the impossibility of closure and the impossibility of getting off the circle, of establishing a point of reference outside the circle from which one can claim that the circle is complete.

The beginning cannot be the beginning, either.

Following "A Storm At Sea" (S 9) is "A Dialogue On Diction," which is told "Three days later" (a 11), and following that is "The Story Of Fenwick Turner's Boina," which occurs in "the late fall of Nineteen Sixty" (a 27), twenty years before the "present." At the "end" of "The Cove," which is the first of the three sections and is claimed to be introductory (Fenn says about the rest of the story, "What the reader doesn't know yet would fill a book" [S 73]), Fenn wonders:

Have we decided where to begin it?
Oh, in the middle, says Susan, definitely. In
media fucking res, as my helper would say.






47


Before his helper edits out his casual
vulgarity. okay: we'll start with the storm at
sea, like the big boys, and work in the exposition
with our left hands as we go along.
Shivering Susan points out that the reader
doesn't know yet for example about her seducing
Fenwick on Cacaway Island in 1972, or about Fenn's son Orrin's old crush on her. Our left hands are
going to be busy. (S 72)

The middle is the only possible place to start. The storm at sea has already been told. The story has already begun. We already know about Cacaway (some of it, at least); our left hands have been busy, too.

Sabbatical forces us to see ourselves within, in the

midst of, a story and a text. Being on the circle, in fact, demarcates an enclosure and demands that we confront the problem of the relation between the inside and the outside (of a story, a novel, a text, etc.). These two ways of viewing the circle (as a path and as an enclosure) are inseparable. In Of Grammatolggy Derrida develops, from the notion of the trace, the impossibility of locating a beginning in the text: "We must begin wherever we are: in a text where we already believe ourselves to bell (162). This statement questions the possibility of beginning, but within the context of the development of a methodology of a criticism based on the axial proposition that there is nothing outside the text, and based on a consideration of the text as an enclosure. Derrida says that "In a certain way I am within the history of psychoanalysis as I am within Rousseau's text. Just as Rousseau drew upon a language that was already there--and which is found to be somewhat our





48


own, thus assuring us a certain minimal readability of French literature--in the same way we operate today within a certain network of significations . ." (Of Grammatology 160). For Fenn and Susan, as well as for the reader of Fenn and Susan, there is no outside of the text. They must begin in the middle because middle is all there is; they begin on the inside.

On the other hand, being within the text does not

insure the efficacy of enclosure but rather emanates from the necessity of the text's being part of a "network of significations" that will not allow one to "sustain the coherence of one's own discourse" (Derrida, Of Grammatology 162). We might want to reach a point that is exterior in relation to the totality of a text, what Derrida calls the "exorbitant" because it would be outside the orbit (orbis) of an enclosure, in order to see that what we are dealing with is in fact a circle and an enclosure. We might, in other words, desire a transcendent reading necessary for a view of the whole. But such an exorbitancy cannot be given methodological intraorbitary assurances. Within the closure, the work can only be judged "in terms of the accepted oppositions" (Derrida, Of Grammatology 162), and attempting to get out of the orbit reestablishes the oppositions one is attempting to exceed, principally the opposition of inside and outside, which leads us to conceptualize the text as an enclosure in the first place.






49


It should be clear that circling and telling are

intertwined. In order to talk about circling, one has to get on the boat, so to speak. Beginning is as much a problem for the critical encompassing of a text as for the narrative development of one. The exorbitant position might be thought of as the circular path itself, because the path cannot be thought of as being within the enclosure. In a sense, it is outside the enclosure, but it is also that which defines the circle as an enclosure. For Derrida the path is the point "farthest" out from which to view the text, neither within nor without, but at the contour of the text, the position that questions the validity of the enclosure as an element of textuality. The exorbitant is, therefore, a deconstruction of the hermeneutic idea of interpretation, which is based on the notion that the circle of understanding is not only not a vicious circle but a productive and stimulating paradox. The exorbitant does not at all get us out of the circle but calls into question the method with which the interpreter proceeds, saying, in effect, you cannot consider your interpretation transcendental or outside the orbit of any particular discourse or discourse "as a whole" because attempting to get out reinscribes the circle, and neither can you consider your interpretation simply within because enclosure is always broached.

At the contours of Sabbatical there is the story of

Fenwick's boina. His losing it in the mouth of "The Covell






50


introduces the problem of closure because Fenn expects it to come back to him and expects its coming back to close another stage of his life; his finding it marks (for Fenn at least), if nothing else, an end. It turns out that Fenn has lost the boina twice before, once in the Tajo de Ronda, a sheer gorge in Spain, famous for its use in the execution of prisoners in the Spanish Civil War, and once at the Choptank River Safe-house. Susan wants to know

Why . telling me this story--in the seventh year of our marriage, for Christ's sake, on our sabbatical--make~s] you believe that your boina will float back to you? No: don't touch me. (S
45)

Susan is touchy because the "Story of Fenwick Turner's Boina"l involves telling about Fenn's first wife Marilyn Marsh and his "first" sabbatical, which they took in Spain. There, Fenn lost his boina as he tossed into the Tajo the manuscript of a novel that was, for the most part, about him and Marilyn Marsh. Susan has, effectively, answered her own question: "Not only did the Tajo return your hat; it keeps returning the story you threw into it" (a 45). When Fenn lost his hat again, he "told [his] colleagues this story-just the boina part of it. Next day [Fenn's brother Manfred] found [the) hat on the beach, washed up by the tide right in front of the safe-house" (S 45). The point is that the telling of the story of the hat brings the hat back3:




3 I will come back to this scene, this coming back of the hat, in Chapter IV in terms of Derrida's play with the fort:da of Freud, the story of the spool.






51


The question before us now is whether it's the Ronda story that's needed to bring it back this
third time or the Choptank River Safe-house story,
which I haven't told you yet. (S 46)

"The Choptank River Safe-house Story" comes much nearer Fenn's finding the hat the third time. Getting the hat back is important to Fenn because it will signify a new beginning--both times he has lost and recovered the hat it marked the fact that "a stage of [their] life and [his] was over" (S 44)--and because Fenn's writing had become associated with the wearing of the hat. In reference to that first attempt at fiction, Frank says (in The Tidewater Tales), "Both my hero and I developed the habit of wearing our boinas at the typewriter" (TT 408). The recovery of the hat this third time may signify his ability to write Sabbatical.



Circling Between Texts


Both Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales are framed by storms. But the books are not simply parallel, their similarity not merely coincidence (unless we mean "coincidence" literally). The storm that appears to end Sabbatical (Fenn and Susan run for the cover of Cacaway because of the approaching weather) is the same storm that appears to begin The Tidewater Tales. The incidents that occur in the "separate" stories coexist. On the day of the storm Frank and Lee were "wrung-out." Lee had just had her






52


abortion and Frank had decided that he was a failure as a writer of fiction. Frank tells Peter and Katherine,

I kept wishing something amazing would happen, out
of the blue. . But the world went on being the world: sunshine and sailboats and problems.
Remarks Peter We were there. That's just about
when I said to Katherine down on Nopoint Point For
pity's sake set me a task, and she said Take us
sailing, and here we are. (TT 416)

Here, in The Tidewater Tales, is Sabbatical. Lee tells all of them,

We could have ducked in here, but since
there was time to get up to Cacaway, and since
nothing was settled, we stayed with our island-toisland thing. When the storm hit, as you probably
remember, it was a humdinger.
We remember, all right. But you got more of it
than we did. (TT 417)

Before the storm hit, Frank put Act One of his "ovarian" TV play, called SEX EDUCATION: Play, into an empty flare canister, "and at the last minute [he] stuck this boina in there too, for the obvious reason, and [he] floated the whole thing off down the tide like baby Perseus in his sea chest or Moses in his basket. Return to sender" (TT 417).

The floating on the tide of Frank's TV play is the

tidal return of a long line of messages in bottles and tidal returns both in the history of literature (Barth compares Perseus and Moses to the sex education script) and in the history of Barth's fiction. In LETTERS Ambrose Mensch makes a movie that contains a "water message sequence," which reflects his sending and receiving messages in bottles as a boy in Lost in the Funhousp.. The 'Ire" of one of Ambrose's






53


letters to the Author describes his receipt of "water message #2"1:

A new letter to me of yesternoon, "washed up" in
an otherwise almost empty, Barnacled, sea-grown
magnum of Mumm's Cordon Rouge upon the beach
before Mensch's Castle during the refilming of the
"Water Message sequence" of the motion picture
FRAMES, duly discovered by yours truly, and found
to consist this time wholly of body, without return address, date, salutation, close, or signature. To which the late "Arthur Morton
King's" reply would doubtless be the inverse, like
Yours Truly's to me of May 12, 1940. But I have
commenced the second cycle of my life; I am
striving through, in order to reach beyond, such
games. (L 765)

The water message of May 12, 1940 (water message #1), is the one Ambrose found in Lost in the Funhouse. On the top line it read, "TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN," and, with nothing in between on the next-to-bottom line, "YOURS TRULY" (LF 53). "Reaching beyond" the games of his youth, the sending and receiving of water messages, the tendency in LETTERS (and letters) and Barth's fiction, the fiction of "Yours Truly," to return, might be as difficult as holding back the tide. That Ambrose has only "commenced the second cycle" of his life places him rigidly within the system he wants to escape. It is only in the second phase, after one has begun to repeat, that the system can be established as cyclical. I repeat, it is in the second phase that the system is established--not only recognized, but also confirmed. The doubling back of the cycle must not be construed as establishing an origin. The so-called "beginning" of the cycle is always circumscribed. The text never comes back to the beginning as it was because the second cycle amounts to






54


a deformation of the first, so that, in one sense, the first phase should be considered always absent.4 Ambrose says he has commenced the second cycle in order to reach beyond it, apparently not realizing that it is the second cycle that contains him, not taking into account that he is part of the circling fiction.

In The Tidewater Tales Peter recalls that as a boy he sent himself out on the tide in a boat to see whether he could recover all the messages in bottles that he had sent out from the family dock but that had not returned (TT 172). The fact that "no messaged bottle cast from the family dock had ever been seen again" (TT 172) might disrupt a system of return based on tidal currents and messaged bottles and therefore disrupt a linguistic system of return generally, but Peter distinguishes between the practical experiment and a generalized metaphorical necessity: "the unpredicted wind had spoiled the experiment: There remained two hours yet to tide-turn, by when he would be at sea indeed. What was more, even the present gentle breeze would cancel out the returning tide; he would have to row the six miles home" (TT 172). Though the experiment of Peter's youth failed because he could not control all the variables (and in fact would always fail because the variables varied with every tide), generally the trend was to return: "nothing he ever saw went down the Honga that didn't start there, and it all came back


4 In the following section the deformation is considered in terms of movement in time.






55


on the tide, no different but for a few barnacles" (TT 231). The emphatic "nothinal" and "all" seem not to take into account the messages in bottles cast out from the family dock, but Peter is speaking about a return of a different order, a metaphoric circling: "It's just us Hoopers Island water folk going out to work and coming home again, generation after generation" (TT 231). Even the Hoopers Island waterf 01k do not necessarily come in on the tide. With oars or sail or an engine they might even return against the tide. But the tidal return is, in principle, like the return of the waterfolk.

That tidal return is metaphoric does not negate its impact on the text. The message is, in fact, made more complex in its coming back a metaphor. The Tidewater Tales tends to disrupt a simple reading of metaphoricity; within the text, the traditional division between the figurative and the literal is shown to be untenable. The figurative and the literal have a circular relationship in that one occupies part of the space of the other. Not only is the message in the bottle a metaphor of linguistic return generally, but is itself part of the linguistic return for which it is a metaphor. What one might have called the literal interpretation, the notion of linguistic return, is itself at least partly metaphoric. No reading can separate return from metaphoricity. The message in the bottle comes back on the tide of Barth's fiction. The returning of the message is one of the things that returns.






56


It almost goes without saying that at a critical point in Peter and Katherine's relationship and in Peter's working himself out of his less-is-more, self-crippling philosophy of writing, they find that flare canister, read Frank's play, and are motivated by it to continue their story. Peter and Katherine retrieve and don the writerly boina that Frank felt he could no longer wear.

And then the storm. The hat drifting from the

characters of one story to the characters of the other and even (though not in as literal a manner) from one text to the other suggests the sequentiality of the events.5 The Tidewater Tales was published after Sabbatical. But the storm that makes appropriate the use of the flare canister in the sending off of the play and the hat is the same storm that carries it to Peter and Katherine--"Says Peter Alert and Locate" (S 417)--and thereby returns the play and the hat to Frank, their sender. The storm that "ends" Sabbatical (that does not allow Sabbatical to end) is the same storm, happens at the same time, as the one that "begins" The Tidewater Tales. And it is that storm that carries Fenn and Susan (in the form of Frank and Lee), carries Sabbatical, into The Tidewater Tales.6 The texts


5 The relation between Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales is further developed in Chapter IV wherein the "changing" of names becomes a marker for the sequencing of narratives and the disruption of the concepts of truth and origin.
6 What must be described in terms of the circle as the same might in other contexts be described as doubled or repeated; on repetition (of events, characters, texts) see Chapter IV.






57


seem to be part of the same conception. still wondering how to begin toward the apparent end of Sabbatical, Fenn makes a statement that is as applicable to the relation between two texts as between the beginning and ending of one. Susan prompts:

Which came first?
They both come first! How could either come
before the other, except as one twin happens to
get delivered earlier? (S 365)

Regardless of their conception, though, one is "delivered earlier," Sabbatical was published first. Though it is the same storm, it seems to end Sabbatical and begin The Tidewater Tales. The sequentiality of the texts would seem to disrupt any notion of their circling, but at the point of origination and apocalypse circling tends to bring about



The Collapsing of Time.


Susan wants to make their story in the shape of a circle for the purpose of bringing about that collapse. At the end of Sabbatical she says,

. If that's going to be our story, then let's begin it at the end and end at the beginning, so
we can go on forever. Begin with our living
happily ever after. (S 365)

If the beginning of a story is literally the story's end, "beginning" and "end" are meaningless, except as signifiers of an arbitrary point at which one notices that they are meaningless, that the point is arbitrary. circling within a text is the denial of an origin and end, which is to say, the wish for immortality.






58


Peter and Katherine are told "The Long True Story of Odysseus's Short Last Voyage," which was not included in Homer's Odyssey (for reasons that will become apparent) and which illustrates the telling out of time. Odysseus and Nausicaa decided to sail to "The Place Where Time Stands Still." "The problem," Odysseus explained to Homer and Nausicaa, "was time. . .

As Circe had explained it to him, and Calypso had
subsequently confirmed, The Place Where Time
Stands Still does not stand still; it recedes to
westward at exactly the speed of the sun itself, a
speed no ordinary vessel could hope to approach.
(TT 208)

Just at the moment when it looked like Odysseus and Nausicaa would fail, Odysseus remembered that he had asked Homer about a Phaeacian idiomatic expression Homer had used: "That a young fellow certainly can sing up a storm. Being a prose-minded Ithacan, he asked Homer whether the tribute was literally correct and, if so, whether Homer could teach him the knack." Homer replied that "The secret was to find the right song for the singer and the occasion, and then (in Homer's own words) to let ler rip" (TT 223). Homer had taught Odysseus the first two lines of a new song, and at the crucial point, Odysseus sang the first of these lines into the sail:

Once upon a time . .
In heartfelt harmony then, Diana says, Nausicaa
joined him in Line Two, which they sang together
like this:
There was a story--that began. . Not only
did the boat surge forward and the sun climb
visibly a few degrees above the horizon, but when
it did, instead of facing the problem of Line
Three (which neither of them knew), they found






59


themselves back at Line One: Once uvofl a time.
And when they followed it with Line Two--There was a story that becgan--there they were, back at Line One again, and the sun another few degrees higher.
Eureka, exclaims laughing Peter Sagamore.7 (TT
224)

Odysseus and Nausicaa had found the right song not only for singing up a storm biAt for singing themselves out of time. The song is, of course, circular--it collapses beginning and end. The "Third Line" is both beginning and end at the same time. Strictly speaking, there is no Third Line, only the repetitions of lines One and Two.

The storm that "begins" The Tidewater Tales is, in

fact, two storms, one at the beginning and one at the end. "The first storm--Blam!--was born to a sultry low-pressure cell that squatted over Maryland all Sunday, June 15, 1980, last weekend before the solstice. . Hail and minitwisters: trees downed, roofs unroofed, doors unhinged, windows blown . and our story begun" (TT 23). Much of the language in the description of the storms would seem to establish the movement of The Tidewater Tales as sequential: the "first" storm "begins" the story. And the fixing of the dates, both the calendar date and the solar date, would seem to suggest the structural dominance of time. But the storms, both of them, blow structure apart--"roofs unroofed, doors unhinged, windows blown." The sequentiality and temporality in this passage are debris left by the pressure


7 The repetition of these lines is very much like the reiteration of the standing joke that does not allow Sabbatical to begin: '"'There was a story that began. .. Oh, tell that story! Tell it again!"' (1 9).





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of language and suggest (is this the first time?) the impossibility of a perfect circularity. One word of a text must follow another, one sentence another sentence. But if time cannot be overcome in a book, it can at least be "unhinged," its "windows blown." A story can force us back around, not to its beginning but to where we were. With 11[t]he second storm--Blooev!-- our story came 'round

on itself" (TT 23). "Blam!" and "Blooev!" are the terms Fenn and Susan haggle over in deciding "what words best follow Once upon a time" [S 11]. Peter and Katherine's story not only comes around on itself, but also comes around on Sabbatical.

"Once upon a time" is, of course, a convention. BY

convention it establishes a beginning; that is, readers have agreed to call this place at which the statement "Once upon a time" occurs the beginning. In a sense, anything one says will always be understood as following "Once upon a time"-everything comes after the beginning. But we should argue this point rigorously. If everything is understood as following "Once upon a time," then the beginning has always already occurred and is not located anywhere. In both Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales this conventional beginning comes even after the apparent first lines of the stories, so that even the statement "Once upon a time" is marked as coming after the story has begun. "There was a story" (the apparent first line of Sabbatical and the "Line Two" of the Odysseus story in The Tidewater Tales) functions





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in the same way as "Once upon a time": they both mark a point in time that is previous to the story as the beginning of the story.

A story can be constructed in such a way that the

delivery of the event that begins the story can coincide with the event that also ends the story:

Blam! cries Kath, A storm at sea. At bay.
Says Peter Blam Blooey! Two storms. At once.
(TT 75)

They decide that the story will be "bracketed" by twin storms. The storms twin in the same sense that the Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales are twin--one only happens to be delivered earlier. Because in the "Ordinary Point Delivery Story," at the apparent end of "Our Story," Peter and Katherine run through the list of events and objects to be delivered and the sequence of their delivery and because a new title page (including "The Tidewater Tales" and an expanded subtitle) follows "Our Story," it is implied that "Our Story" occurs preliminary to the "actual" story. But the introductoriness of "Our Story" is negated by the circling of titles and by the breaking down of sequentiality. The event that concludes the inventory of their story and the introduction and thereby begins their stories, which are The Tidewater Tales, is the second storm--and the first. Let's do that again: since the "Ordinary Point Delivery Story" catalogues the order of the events of the story, it "ends" with the second storm. Since the "end" of the "introduction," which is that delivery






62


story, is also the "beginning" of "The Tidewater Tales"l (TT

83), the second storm coincides with the first:

We understand now what I meant before by two
storms striking at once, two weeks apart, one up
at Ordinary Point on the Twenty-ninth and one
right here, right now, just as the poem's last
stanza unfolds to read Tell me their story as if it weren't ours but like ours enough so that the
powers that drive and steer good stories might
fetch them beyond our present plight and-Blam!
Go the twin storms exactly then, their force
doubled by their combination. They slam together
into the Eastern Shore of Maryland just as...
there unfolds-Blooey!
This book: (TT 82)

With these words the book literally turns into itself, as

described in another context,8 "exactly-at-the-moment-whenthe-past-overtakes-the-present"I (TT 610).

When Peter first mentions these two storms, he doesn't

know just what he means: "Katherine asks him what he means

blam blooey two storms at once; she doesn't get it. Neither

does he, says Peter: He just upped and said it. The moon of

inspiration, he supposes" (TT 75-76).

Circling also are meaning and inspiration. It is

assumed that meaning is prior: one writes in order to convey



8 That of the story May Jump tells about Sheherazade,
who becomes stuck in the present after trying to reestablish a love affair with her "real-life" author, who had found himself able to move back and forth between her time and his; she utters the phrase "what you've done is what you'll do" and is propelled through time and across the fiction/nonfiction border. Trying to get back to her life and time she recounts her story, hoping that at the moment when the past of the story overtakes the present, when she narrates her narrating presently, she would find herself in "her own" time, her past would be present. The Sheherazade story will be developed more thoroughly in Chapter III.






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a meaning; the meaning exists before (and even independent of) the text used to convey it. The tidewater Tales, though, seems to come before its meaning. Peter and Katherine's stories are "chasing the moon and telling themselves" (TT 68). The stories "telling themselves" is not simply a personification; that the stories tell themselves is essential to the circling text. Meaning is not attached, by someone outside the work, someone who exists prior to it. Meaning is developed, rather, by those who will find themselves already involved, by those who, with the text, are "chasing the moon," by those, in other words, who are going nowhere. The stories are told by narrators so much a part of the circling text that they can give us no assurances about what the text means; they cannot position themselves so as to give us a view of the whole. Indeed, it is rather difficult to talk about meaning at all in regard to the circling text because meaning requires an exteriority the text is incapable of sustaining.

Even if, against such obstacles as the text's inability to support the notion of the priority of meaning, and the inevitable collapsing of time, the circle is offered by Barth as the figure of narration, there are other considerations that question a simple view of narration as the representation of a sequence of events. We will see in the following chapters that the notions of abortion, Production, and repetition point out various dilemmas for the narrative organization of a text.






64


J. Hillis Miller's The Linguistic Moment, a thorough

study of the relation between time and language, can help us through (or at least into) the problem of time in Sabbatical and The Tidewater Talgs- Miller notices that language has de-temporalized time. He moves back in time (to Wordsworth) to dispose of the idea that de-temporalization is a modern thing: because it is a function of language, it has taken place as long as there has been language. He therefore argues against the idea of a "progress of linguistic sophistication" (181), making his case in the form of a circle, a form that stops time and denies that progress.

Miller says that works of literature are not just now, with the advent of modernism, taking themselves into account, incorporating the criticism of other texts, and thereby becoming philosophies of literature. Signs have always referred to other signs. so works of literature are not becoming more sophisticated. The circle seems the appropriate metaphor.

But the shape of The Linguistic Moment is problematic from the beginning:

The reading of the book, the traversal of the
never quite complete circling it makes, will bring
the reader back to where he or she is at the
beginning. At the beginning, nevertheless, the reader is not quite able to know where he or she
is, or it would not be necessary to read the book
to get there with a new awareness. (xvii)

Miller's book can only describe a "noncircular circle" (423) or one that is incomplete. For a book to actually be a circle, its reader would have to know as much at the






65


beginning as at the end. But that is never the case. The beginning is never the literal end: "what none of us knows," says Peter Sagamore, "is the ending: the thing that's going to happen any day now and be news to both of us, sound scan or not, and change our lives and start a different story altogether" (TT 68).

The circling text is always a sham.

It is suggested that the events of "Our Story" and "Day 0: Nopoint Point to Dun Cove"l occur before the characters begin circling in The Tidewater Tales proper. one of the reasons Peter and Katherine set sail, one of the reasons, in fact, for The Tidewater Tales, is that Peter is having trouble telling. Peter begins the "Ordinary Point Delivery Story" describing himself:

Once upon ahem. There was this couple. More
or less like us? That, um.
K kisses the crow's-foot at the outboard corner
of her husband's starboard eye. On with the
story.
Hum. Well, Him. Redneck bluecollar, right?
Marshes, tides. Blue crabs. oysters.
You have a way with words.
Declares P. S., warming to his work, Brother
sister parents? Yeah. Scholarship get out write, okay? Stay loose sterilize write! No wife lovers
travel write. He beams: Then teach-write-LessIs-More-write-write-pfff. How's that.
Pfff?
Him to a T. (TT 74)

On Day 0 Katherine demands that Peter tell her a story he had mentioned. This is it: THE NEW CLOTHES HAVE NO EMPEROR. Over.
What do you mean over? You haven't started!
But Peter Sagamore insists he's done. (TT 90)






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These types of "stories" occur less frequently after "Day 0,11 and as the story progresses they disappear altogether. The implication is that the tales are told after Peter's problem is worked out and that "Our Story" and "Day 011 are told before the problem is worked out, while Peter is still stuck. It is implied that Peter and Katherine do not begin circling until "Day 1..11 If the story is circular, though, everything has happened before. The introduction too must have been written or told after Peter begins to write. It is impossible to write a story beforehand, to write the story before the story is written. Getting on a circular story requires that logic be suspended. The sequentiality of getting on is denied by the story itself, which, if perfectly circular, has always already done away with movement in time.

Peter had wished as a child that he lived on the Mississippi River rather than the Honga because the Mississippi could carry him out into the world as it did Huck Finn and as Huck Finn did Samuel Clemens. The Mississippi "doesn't come back, any more than Mark Twain went back to being Samuel Clemens of Hannibal," whereas everything that "went down the Honga came back on the tide, no different but for a few barnacles" (TT 231). Peter understands now though that the difference is significant. His reading of Huck Finn again is different because it is based on other readings, because he has the experience of having already read. The Chesapeake is not the same






67


Chesapeake Peter and Katherine sailed before. In Sabbatical Fenn and Susan are told that "the Wye Island you returned to was not exactly the Wye you left" (S 269). In reference to that lost and found boina, Frank says of the hat that Peter and Katherine returned to him, "This isn't it." Katherine is disappointed because, if it were the same hat, there would have been a story in it. But its being different does not bother Frank: "This hat here is the lineal successor to that one. He frisbees it over to [Katherine]. If the boina fits, wear it" (TT 409). Frank's point is twofold: even if this is not.the same hat, it is like enough to the old one to function in the same way and to be caught up in the same metaphors and the same plot of their story--the boina does fit; and even if it is the same hat, the hat cannot be the same--it has been in the water for at least a week.

Getting off the circle is as problematic as getting on. If we are presently circling within a text, then communicating something about the text to someone outside or applying knowledge about the text to an outside work is impossible. Lois Parkinson Zamora describes Barth's works in general as self-contained: "Barth's novelistic games demand enclosure" and therefore his fictions "set forth rules which operate within the work and are relevant only within that work" (28). Miller says of The Linguistic Moment, "My enterprise . is a search to locate a ground beyond language for the linguistic patterns present in my poems. Who would not wish to escape the prison house of






68


language and stand where one could see it from the outside?" (Xvii). Though it is not clear that he could get outside language in any case, it is clear that he understands the confinement of the circular text. In Chapter Two circling will still be an issue.

In the linguistic moment time is committed to space.

Every poem that Miller describes is a "version of a spatial emblem of human temporality" (xv). He suggests by the consistency of his examples that there are no temporal emblems of time, that in language, in the "linguistic moment," time must be described spatially, but concludes the spatial image, in particular the circle, is never successful at seeing the "riddle of temporality" (433). Time can only be described, written, spatially and so is stopped in language, is localized, planted, grounded, in a nontemporal element.

Language itself is a "non-temporal element." One

doesn't have the choice whether to use language spatially. A "fundamental feature of literature" is the search for a ground before or after time, "something that will support time, encompass it, still its movement" (Miller xvi-xvii).

In response to Susan's suggestion that they make

Sabbatical circular so that they can go on forever, Fenn says, "we both know that not even a story is ever after-" So they "conclude, that they lived":

Happily after, to the end
Of Fenwick and Susie. . (S 366)













CHAPTER II
ABORTION STORIES



1. Organizing Barth's Texts


With SabbaticalJ Barth's eighth novel, which, not incidentally, has slipped prematurely out of print, the image of abortion becomes directly involved in the disposal of the text, such that abortion becomes a way of talking about writing. In Barth's previous work, as well as in Sabbatical, abortion is always connected to a decision concerning order. More specifically, it is the decision of the woman concerning the organization of her life and the condition of her body. The body of the woman is incorporated, though, into the text so that a corpus of works or the corpus of a work is subject, like the woman, to conception and abortion. Barth's notion of the text as the body of the woman forces us to consider the ramifications of abortion on the orderliness of texts. By attempting to put his stories in order (to dispose of them--from the Latin disponere, to arrange) Barth finds that orderliness is always sucked away. The reverse of that is also true: in trying to dispose of a story by getting rid of it some of the organization makes itself felt; the removal has an



69






70


organizational impact on the remainder of the text or corpus.

Already, perhaps, what I have said about abortion

illustrates the difficulty of establishing an organization. The following complications must be included. That the abortion is the decision of the woman is not to say that she is unaffected by the father or the masculine orientation of her society, but rather that it is a decision made amid the assertion of an independence. For example, though Fenn's reluctance to be a father again is part of the reason for Susan's abortion in Sabbatical, Susan's decision to have the abortion is made under the auspices of a silence that reinscribes her and Fenn's separateness. That the decision concerns the order of her life is not to say that it does not affect the lives of those around her, the father's life in particular, but rather that the problem of organization is always partly textual, always a question of the lifecorpus, so to speak. One of the consequences of speaking of a text as abortive or as having been aborted is the association of the text with the child that might have been born. But the question of abortion is never simply whether or not to have a child because the delivery of the child is always to be considered the delivery of another part of the corpus, which cannot be reduced to the mother-child dichotomy.

From the outset we will have noticed that talking about abortion is problematic because any description is partly an






71


attempt at establishing an order and therefore subject to an inevitable disruption. Ordering is itself an abortion because it entails the delivery of an imperfect or premature text.

By taking up the issue of abortion, Sabbatical comes back to an image integral to Barth's earlier works. For example, The End of the Road, Barth's second novel, concludes with Rennie Morgan's abortion and death. In order to understand the relation between The End of the Road and Sabbatical's involvement with abortion, the possibility of orderliness, we need to discover what leads to the abortion in The End of the Road. The dilemma Rennie faces, whether to abort the child she carries or to commit suicide, is tied to the organization of the family and the logic of dichotomy, a logic never completely separate from the family scene.

Joe Morgan and Jacob Horner represent the classical moral split between good and evil and its philosophical counterpart, the split between reason and chaos.

Joe was The Reason, or Being (I was using Rennie's cosmos); I was The Unreason, or not being; and the
two of us were fighting without quarter for
possession of Rennie, like God and Satan for the
soul of Man. (ER 129)

Rennie, Joe's wife, is caught between them. She is the betweenness always present in division, the "point" at which Joe and Jake come together. The fact that Joe and Jake do come together or, more precisely, were never actually






72


separate, makes the idea of an identifiable "point" of connection problematic:

I mention this because it applies so often to
people's reasoning about their behavior in
situations that later turn out to be regrettable:
it is possible to watch the sky from morning to
midnight, or move along the spectrum from infrared
to ultraviolet, without ever being able to put
your finger on the precise point where a
qualitative change takes place; no one can say,
"It is exactly here that twilight becomes night,"
or blue becomes violet, or innocence guilt. one
can go a long way into a situation thus without
finding the word or gesture upon which initial
responsibility can handily be fixed--such a long
way that suddenly one realizes the change has already been made, is already history, and one
rides along then on the sense of an inevitability,
a too-lateness, in which he does not really
believe, but which for one reason or another he
does not see fit to question. (ER 100-01)

In describing the split between The Reason and The

Unreason, Jake uses "Rennie's cosmos" because he knows that that "pretty ontological manichaeism would certainly stand no close examination" (ER 129). Rennie struggles to uphold the categories because she has a vested interest: her husband defines himself in terms of rationality and truth and she defines herself in terms of her husband; if Joe is not entirely rational, if he cannot be entirely truthful, Rennie's position is untenable, her world (her "cosmos") is meaningless. Though Rennie would keep Joe and Jake separate, it is she who precipitates the breakdown of the categories they represent, the crossing over of reason and chaos. "The trouble," Jake says, speaking about Rennie's perception of him and Joe, 11 . is that the more one learns about a given person, the more difficult it becomes






73


to assign a character to him that will allow one to deal with him effectively in an emotional situation. . [A]s soon as one knows a person well enough to hold contradictory opinions about him" (ER 128), the myths of consistency and finiteness are disposed of.

Jake takes it upon himself (not for entirely selfish or evil reasons--Jake cannot be entirely anything) to show Rennie that Joe cannot possibly be the person she thinks he is and thereby shake up her false sense of stability. Rennie thinks that Joe is "the same man today he was yesterday, all the way through. He's Genuine!" Jake applies Rennie's idea of Joe to Rennie herself because he realizes that her sense of being is dependent on who her husband is, and therefore her "genuineness" is brought dangerously into question. If she defines herself in terms of someone else, then she cannot be "true to herself," she cannot be "genuine." Because her identity is based on something exterior it is by her own definition, false. This is a more general problem of family relations, of the relation between husband and wife. If it is assumed that they lose their separate identities in marriage, that they become one person (in Sabbatical Susan's grandmother takes this point of view [S 260]), the relation will be shaken, because, inevitably, something is learned about the other person that reestablishes that person's otherness, the couple's initial separateness.






74


Jake wonders whether Rennie is genuine. "I don't know. Joe's strong enough to take care of me, I guess. I don't care" (ER 68). He convinces Rennie to eavesdrop on Joe, but she, of course, is hesitant and defensive: "Real people aren't any different when they're alone. No masks. What you see of them is authentic" (ER 71). What they see, though, begins Rennie's "disintegration" (ER 128). Standing in the middle of the room, Joe smartly executes military commands; he pirouettes, bows, leaps, and winds up masturbating in his reading chair.

Rennie closed her eyes and pressed her forehead
against the window sill. I stood beside her, out of the light from the brilliant living room, and stroked and stroked her hair, speaking softly in her ear the wordless, grammarless language she'd
taught me to calm horses with. (ER 71)

It turns out that only wordlessness and grammarlessness could allow them to escape their dilemma. The inevitable breakdown of categories, particularly those of dualistic division, is a linguistic phenomenon:

"You're as bad as Joe is. I think all our trouble comes from thinking and talking too much. We talk
ourselves into all kinds of messes that would
disappear if everybody just shut up about them."
(ER 131)

Jake agrees with Rennie about the source of the problem but denies the possibility of a solution. The apparent ambivalence of Rennie's feelings toward Jake, he thinks, is "only a pseudo-ambivalence whose source was in the language":

it was both single and simple, like all feelings it was also completely particular and individual,
and so the trouble started only when she attempted






75


to label it with a common name such as love or abhorrence. . Assigning names to things is
like assigning roles to people: it is necessarily a distortion, but it is a necessary distortion if
one would get on with the plot. (ER 141-42)

Jake sees their positions as essentially textual--"getting on with the plot" is tantamount to the working out of their lives--and so he sees their problem as inescapable. They are, in fact, part of a text, part of The End of the Road. If they were "real people," though, they would have no less of a problem dealing with language. "Shutting up" (Rennie's suggestion) is never a real option, we would nevertheless rationalize, interpret, and remember, activities that are based on language and that define us as humans. Joe says of Jake,

"You won't rationalize. You didn't make any
conscious interpretations of anything Rennie did.
And you can't remember any conversations. Have I
got to agree with Rennie that you don't even
exist? What else makes a man a human being except
these things?" (ER 145)

Joe represents that force in the world that would inevitably reattach us to language and to the paradoxes inherent in it. He is of the opinion that Rennie has "'got to decide once and for all what she really feels about [Jake] and [him] and

herself"' (ER 145).

Rennie is completely incapable of making those

decisions. The categories by which her world is constructed will simply not allow her to choose. Reason and chaos, good and evil have become, for her, confused. She is the fact that the elements of the dichotomy define, and so are dependent on, each other. The tension between Joe and Jake,






76


the fact that Rennie doesn't know which one is the father of the child she carries, leads her to what seems like an arbitrary decision, but one that nevertheless is made inevitable by her impossible position between: 'III don't know,' Rennie said. 'I'm going to get an abortion or shoot myself, Joe. I've decided"' (ER 152). She chooses abortion but winds up being killed as well. (Even in the end, the second option can never actually be eliminated.) The issue of the dichotomy in The End of the Road is abortion and death.


The Issue of Abortion

I can say Sabbatical takes up "the issue of abortion" without limiting myself to a thematic reading, to speaking of abortion as a metaphor for the sucking away of orderliness. Issue is a complex term that demands attention because it can mean a number of interrelated things: it can be a means or place of going out, an exit; the final outcome or result; termination; offspring, progeny; something coming forth from a specified source (as in "issues of a disordered imagination"); a discharge (as of blood) from the body; etc. All these meanings will come into play in the following disposal of Barth's texts. Trying to come to a conclusion about how they feel and what they should do, Joe demands that Jake stick to the issue: 'III want you to forget about everything except what's to the point and what's beside the point"' (ER 153). The problem for Jake is that nothing is absolutely "beside the point." In order to analyze a






77


situation, aspects of it must be ignored, even though they are not completely extraneous. And even if he wanted to take into account the whole story, it would be too long to ever finish recounting. (The narrators of Sabbatical claim fatalistically, "we ourselves may never know one another's whole story" [S 302]. Some of it will have to be ignored, and some of it inevitably will be forgotten or lost.) Whole stories are never known. Every analysis, therefore, is a distortion. With every disposal of a problem the orderliness on which the problem can be established is found to be problematic. This is dramatized by Rennie's dilemma. she divides her options into two categories: abortion and death. But abortion, in itself, is not a real option; they know of no competent doctor who will perform it, and so Rennie dies because of the abortion.

The thematic of abortion cannot simply be gotten rid of. Abortion is an issue. But we should also understand this to mean that abortion is the result--the result of a conflict between oppositions and of the textual impossibility of orderliness. (The multiplicity of the term issue is itself an example of the problematic split between thematic and textual readings. Issue means both subject and result, among other things.)

LETTERS, Barth's seventh novel, might be thought of as a point of division of Barth's career because it is one of the major attempts within the corpus to organize the corpus






78


itself.9 It incorporates his previous novels in a dialogue, carried on through letters, between the characters of those novels and between those characters and their "Author." LETTERS is essentially the putting into order of Barth's fiction up to that point in time (it was copyrighted in 1979).

The title that appears on the title page, which looks something like a computer card, is also the subtitle of the book:



A NOLD TIMME PISTO LARY NOV E L
B Y S E V E N F I
C T I T I 0 U S
D RO L L S& DRE A M
E R S E A C H 0
F W H I C H I M A
GINE SHIM S E LFAC T U A L



The letters that make up the title, LETTERS, and subtitle, An Old Time Epistolary Novel by Seven Fictitious Drolls and Dreamers Each of Which Imag~ines Himself Actual, function as the scheme of organization of the novel. The first chapter, which is titled "IL,"1 is divided into subchapters "A," "IB,"1 "IC, "1 "'D, It "IE, It "IF, "t "IG, "1 "I1, "t "IN" and "IE, 11 the letters that make up the L; the second chapter is titled "IE,"1 etc. The play with this puzzle is exemplary of a text that is motivated by the organization of texts. For Barth, the puzzle is at least partly a game. It lacks the seriousness forced on us by the assumption of the rigidness of systems


9 See, for example, Robbins 222.






79


of organization. The puzzle doesn't quite work; or, rather, in order to make the puzzle work, Barth has had to dispose of a rule of grammar. In an interview by Angela Gerst, Barth is asked about the awkward "each of which" used to refer to 11drolls & dreamers":

B: Unavoidable. Whom doesn't have enough
letters.
G: To total eighty-eight?
B: And to put the _q of imagines in the right
position in a certain pattern, an alphabetical
acrostic. (FB 173)

Barth does not compromise his text by thus making the puzzle "fit," by jeopardizing the title's grammatical system of organization. Something consequential, something serious, is thereby learned about the possibility of putting texts in order.

Jerome Bray's computer, which would use and create

cards such as this one, will never have worked out all its bugs because it cannot take into account the sucking away of orderliness, the fact that the categories with which it begins will inevitably be problematic.

Bray's computer generates a "schema for the rise and fall of . dramatic action," which is based on the conventional model "sometimes called Freitag's Triangle":

C



A B D E

The new sphema is called the "Golden-Triangular Freitag":






80


B


5 N _;, 3
1.6+/ >

A D 2 C 146)

This revised organization illustrates a story's turning in on itself and reflects the computer's "vexing" "tendency to self-mimicry" (L 147). Self-mimicry is "vexing" because it can reveal contradictions or flaws within the system being mimicked. We can use the "Golden-Triangular Freitag" itself as the example. Though the new schema can suggest a story's turning in on itself, its self-reflection, and possibly even a "tendency to self-mimicry," it cannot also represent its self-destruction, which is caused by the turning in, etc. No model can represent simply the absence of order because as a model it would entail an organization, however provisional, because, in other words, the model would countermand its own representation. Whereas The End of the Road warns that abortion can be self-destructive, LETTERS argues that it is not necessarily or absolutely selfdestructive.

LETTERS cannot function simply as an organization of Barth's previous fiction. Inevitably, there occurs in the rewriting, in the self-reflection, a deconstruction--the principles of organization are tested against the text in which they reside. In the final letter, 11L: The Author to the Reader, LETTERS is 'now' ended. Envoi.,11 the author "goes forward with Horace's 'labor of the file': rewriting,






81


editing, dismantling the scaffolding, testing the wiring and the plumbing ." (L 771). LETTERS cannot actually be the point of division of Barth's career--the end of a stage isalways provisional, the "now" must always be questioned with quotation marks. One of the items in the "file"-"sloop Brilliq found abandoned in Chesapeake Bay off mouth of Patuxent River, all sails out, C.I.A. documents in attache case aboard. Body of owner, former C.I.A. agent, recovered from Bay one week later, 40 pounds of scuba-diving weights attached, bullet hole in head" (L 772)--is the parent of "The Strange True Case of John Arthur Paisley" of Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales, issues (Webster gives us) of a disordered imagination.


Disposing of the Text

In deciding how to organize their story, what to

include, what needs to be developed, Susan and Fenn, the narrators of Sabbatical, come back around to the footnote to the initial problematic "well and Susan's ambiguous tears:
This we, those verses, Susan's tears, these
notes at the feet of certain pages--all shall be
made clear, in time. (S 9)

At her mentioning of her sister Miriam's being gang-raped at Virginia Beach and being tortured by the Shah's thugs, Susan is weeping again, and "The reader now understands, but for one detail, her tears of some pages past" (a 47). Fenn wonders whether Susan is okay.

I'm okay, I'm okay. That little exposition [the
story of Miriam's other rapes] will have to be






82


fleshed out in our story or flushed out from it.
(S 47)

We should wonder whether "flushing out" that little exposition will be as easy as Susan suggests, as simple as an editorial pen stroke or the addition of a footnote. The mention of Susan's tears and one of their principle causes, the rapes of Miriam, has already been incorporated, has already been made part of the body of the text, the flesh of the story. As signs, tears and Miriam's rapes will have a variety of influences on the text: graphic, semantic, thematic, etymological. And, as part of the story, the tears and Miriam's rapes will, to some extent, control the movement of the plot--Susan has her abortion, at least partly, because of the rapes and the moronic child that issues from them.

We all try, less and less successfully as Sy grows
older and larger, not to image in him the beefy
sadist who got him forcibly upon skinny Mims. It was not Sy's fault! We all--no doubt even Miriam,
though she has not said so--wish much she had
aborted or, failing that, miscarried or even given the child up for adoption: the unlucky lad senses,
even in his mother, our want of easy warmth with
him. (S 265)

Miriam's irresponsibility extends to her second child, Edgar Allan Ho. Visiting Susan on board, the three of them go a long way toward demolishing the boat. "The blood and tomato stains in the teak deck planking, like the shoeleather scratches on the cabin and cockpit soles . will yield to laborious refinishing next season" (S 155), but while Susan is cleaning up after Sy and discovering Miriam's cigarette burns on the chart table and washstand, Edgar






83


discovers the galley knife-rack and slashes the custom made cockpit cushions.

Telling all this to Fenn later, Susan says that

Mainly Mims wanted to know why we don't have
children.
. [Fenn] put the hand-bearing compass down
on the slashed cockpit cushion.
What'd you tell her?

The point is that the ordeal of Miriam and her children's visit, specifically (in this example) the slashed cockpit cushion, is representative of the irresponsibility and mediocrity of which Susan wants no part:

I compared my feelings about parenthood to Kafka's
about marriage: that it's the single most
important thing in human life, and that my standards for it are self-defeatingly high.
I couldn't go much farther down my Superkid road with her because of Sy and Ho. I
just told her again that being an ordinary
mediocre parent doesn't interest me. (S 164)

The "one detail," which Fenn mentioned was also a reason for Susan's tears, is that she is pregnant or, more to the point, that she got pregnant accidentally, without their deciding that it is the right thing to do. She and Fenn have already been irresponsible and thereby represent the ordinary and mediocre mass of parents who have their children without the slightest idea why.

I need to keep this argument under control and get back to the original point (though, in a sense, getting back there is the same problem as flushing out the extraneous from our text). Because Susan's tears, Miriam, her rapes and her children and her general irresponsibility are already part of the text, because Sabbatical has already






84


been inseminated by these signs, the signs can only be flushed out after they have shown themselves to be present, which makes getting rid of them problematic and introduces a textual inevitability. The rape has already been conceived, the idea already given significance.

Susan, herself, has already begun to "show"--her

"breasts have been engorged since last April," her stomach slightly protrudes, and "she has experienced more frequent nausea all spring than she believes can be attributed to seasickness and subtropical food. [S]he infers herself, therefrom, to be two months pregnant" (S 289). After examining Susan her obstetrician announces that "Goodell's, Chadwick's, and Hegar's signs . are all present" ( 230). Susan and her doctor set up her conception and pregnancy in terms of signs and significance and so give the abortion all the complications of textuality, one of which, particularly active here, is the problem of flushing out the extraneous. There are at least two things that make removing a sign from a text problematic: (1) the sign will inevitably have had an impact on the surrounding text (removing the text that has been influenced will simply leave the editor with another, perhaps greater, portion of text to be removed, ad infinitum or until there is nothing left but the text's absence), so that (2) marks of erasure or deletion will always remain; the removal itself becomes significant--absence becomes part of what the text means.

Within the context of the story of Susan's abortion,






85


Fenn wonders . whether formidable Carmen has been earning her keep in our story. The artist Claus Oldenburg once bought a pencil drawing by
the artist William de Kooning, erased the drawing, and exhibited what was left under the title Erased
de Kooning, by Claus Oldenburg. (S 236)

Though Fenn's example crosses mediums of expression, it is essentially to the point, and to some extent it is the title (the words) "Erased de Kooning" that points out what the work is about, gives it the significance of the erasure.10 Though the work becomes something else, even perhaps someone elsels,, it does so only in terms of signs that have been erased, of what has been made absent, of absence itself. The name de Kooning and the work that was "his" make themselves present even in their erasure. Carmen is "formidable" not only in her personality (as a character) but because she is composed of signs and is already part of the text.

In "Dissemination" Derrida argues this point in terms of the erasure of traces: "Since the trace can only imprint itself by referring to the other, to another trace ('the trace of its reflection'), by letting itself be forgotten, its force of production stands in necessary relation to the energy of its erasure" (331). The question of erasure is, in part, the questioning of "presence"; if the trace only imprints itself by referring to another trace, one that (because of the imprinting) has been erased, then "presence"


10 In describing the author disposed of, Fenn makes the mistake of attributing the drawing to Claus Oldenburg, in effect, disposing of (committing to erasure) the name of the artist to which it should be attributed--Robert Rauschenberg.






86


and "absence" are no longer absolute. Derrida says elsewhere that the text is produced only in the transformation of another text: "Nothing, neither among the elements nor within the system, is anywhere ever simply present or absent. There are only, everywhere. . traces of traces" (Positions 26), which is to say erasures of erasures. We never have available, can never even point to, the so-called "original sign."

Abortion is not something that can happen without

having an effect, both because it is a momentous event in anyone's life and because as a sign it has an impact on the meaning of its text. After her ordeal with Miriam and her children and her realization that she would be a failure at raising the perfect child, Susan understands her life as "empty and stupid" (a 164). What is remarked as missing comes to be what this book is about.

Susan has been faking her periods since she and Fenn

were in the Caribbean and even marking them down in the log:


Let each asterisk represent a night, beginning
with that Sunday night the first of June: we
emblemize the period both of Susan's menses . .
and of Pokey's stop at Solomons Island. (S
127)

Because Susan has been faking, these asterisks emblemize (for both of them, even then--Fenn knows Susan has been faking) the menstruation she should have had but didn't.

Susan's period would have also functioned as a sign, signifying that for the present everything, in the conception way, is as it was. And, as is always the case,






87


the sign's absence is significant (perhaps even more so than its presence) because it marks a change, a difference.

The fact that those asterisks emblemize "the period both of Susan's menses . and of Pokey's stop at Solomons" (emphasis mine) illustrates that the movement of the voyage, the movement of.Sabbatical, is keyed to the menstrual cycle and, as we will see, to the process of conception and abortion as well.

In many respects, Fenn and Susan's story is also their child, though it is, as of yet, unborn--they speak of Sabbatical as if it were still in the planning stages. As they actually conceive a child, they create this story. In a very different sense, we must think of the child as having been delivered. We hold Sabbatical before us; it is a story already told, though it has not, as of yet, been brought to maturity.

swimming in Poe Cove, their first anchorage after their long open ocean passage and after their reentering the Chesapeake Bay, in Poe Cove, which at first they think is "perfectly empty," Fenn "stirs to the surface what looks like a light colored rag" (q 25) and turns out to be a large paisley scarf. Fenn wears it on his head, pirate fashion, to protect him from the sun--he has recently lost his boina. He thereby associates himself with the paisleys, which they later decide remind them of sperm. This, of course, isn't the first cove that they assumed was empty but later






88


discovered was occupied--not only by Fenn's sperm but by the fetus Susan will abort.

Part I of Sabbatical sets up much of the metaphoric

significance of terms used throughout the book. Part I is titled "The Cove"l and subtitled "Key," though subtitled is not quite the right description for this play of titles. on

page 7 appear only the number "I" and the words "The Cove"l italicized thus:



The Cove

If "Key" were simply a subtitle, it would normally appear on the same page as this main title. But we find it on the following facing page as if it were the title of the first chapter of the first part:

KEY

There was a story that began,
Said Fenwick Turner: Susie and Fenn-In fact, the title "Key" is Printed in the same typeface and position as the titles of the chapters of Parts II and III, the only difference being that the chapters of Parts II and III are also numbered. For example, the title of the first chapter of Part II reads:



SOLOMONS

Since there are no divisions of the first part, "Key" cannot logically be the title of a chapter within Part I or a "1subpart"--besides the title "The Cove"l it is all there is of Part I.






89


"The Cove"l and "Key" are derived from the cove and the island at which Susan and Fenn make their first stop and which turn out to be the basis for the sexual metaphorics of Part I. They are also named after the authors whom Susan and Fenn like to claim as relatives and whom (whether related or not) they are, in part, named after. Indirectly, Susan and Fenn name the cove and the island after themselves (Susan Rachel Allan Seckler, the namesake of Edgar Allan Poe from which the name Poe Cove; Fenwick Scott Key Turner, the namesake of Francis Scott Key from which the name Key Island):

You're my island, sleepy Susan murmurs, kissing
her husband's chest. She lays her head there
briefly in the salt-and-pepper fuzz, then sits up:
to hear his heart beat breaks her heart.
He kisses her lap. You're my cove. Puts an
ear to her tidy belly as if to listen for a
heartbeat there. (S 26)

With this passage nomination becomes involved with sexuality. "Poe Cove"l is a reference, made here perhaps too obvious, to Susan; the cove is vaginal--Fenn kisses Susan's "lap" and calls her his "cove"--and it is also womb-like-after identifying Susan with the cove, Fenn puts his ear to her belly "as if to listen for a heartbeat." Fenn's listening for the heartbeat foreshadows our being told that there is actually something there; upon rereading, the "as if" becomes ironic. Fenn Pretends to listen for a heartbeat as if he doesn't know that Susan is pregnant.

Though it is difficult to think of an island as

phallic, and thereby able to represent, appropriately,






90


Fenn's sexuality, that problem is circumscribed. In terms of Fenn, it isn't the word island or the idea of islandness but rather the name of the island that is the key. Notice that the title and "subtitle" of the first part are not parallel: "The Cove"l is the common noun that designates, generally, this type of thing; "Key" is a proper noun that designates for Fenn and Susan this particular island. (A key is also, though not primarily in this case, a type of island--one that is low-lying, such as, not incidentally, Key Island: "The island, though low-lyingr, is more woods than marsh . ." [a 25, emphasis mine].) Key, the idea, the thing, and the story, is phallic. It is no accident (unlike Susan's conception) that "Key" is inside "The Cove," that in its function as the title of a sub-part it signifies a text within or eniveloped by "The Cove"l; the key (the thing, the island, and the story) is also that by which access is gained, with which an entrance is made (an entrance into the text, the metaphorics of sexuality, and, as we will see, metaphorics as a subject--a subject of metaphors). "The Cove"l is the Keyhole. As the subtitle of the only "division," "Key" must be read in conjunction with the title. Though "Key" is phallic, it is not only phallic. "Key" exists only in its relation to "The Cove." Without "Key" "The Cove"l would be empty of everything but those words, the title itself--it would designate little more than emptiness. And without the title "The Cove," "Key" would be drained of a phallic significance that has come about






91


structurally. Calling the first part simply or mostly womblike or vaginal because "The Covell comes first or is "the main" title would be a mistake too. "The Covell appears first because it encloses "Key," not because it has a larger or primary significance.

The problem of representing the sexuality of Sabbatical is mostly a graphic and structural one. In the case of the titles of the first part, Barth relies on a general understanding of the organization of texts, specifically the logic of subdivision. In recognizing the representation of the masculine and the feminine we must have noticed that the logic of subdivision has been disrupted. By "disrupted" I do not mean simply "done away with," because, in doing away with that logic, the titles are given their sexual significance and thereby given another system of organization. An orderliness of some kind will inevitably reestablish itself.

I began this section by describing the "disposal of the text": putting a text (or texts) in order is, in Barth, always accompanied by the disruption of an orderliness. I want to make it clear that Barth's books prefer or presuppose neither order nor disorder. To say that orderliness inevitably reestablishes itself does not contradict the idea of disposal; that is, though they are the reverse of each other, they do not cancel each other out. When a text is disposed of, we are not left with a chaotic, an irrational, work, one that will not involve






92


itself in or acknowledge reason. In fact, reading demands orderliness, organization, reason; but it also entails their disruption. In "Reading (Proust)" Paul de Man explores the consequences of a text that narrates the impossibility of reading. He asks whether stories that offer themselves as examples of that impossibility can be read. If a story makes contradictory demands on a reader--this is in a sense a definition of abortion fiction--how are those demands taken into account? Just as one recognizes that it is "forever impossible to read Reading" one must "'understand' that this word bars access, once and forever, to a meaning that yet can never cease to call out for its understanding" (de Man 77). "Understanding" is brought into question by the inevitable difficulty of a text's being able to contain the questioning of understanding, of a reading that calls for orderliness just as it disrupts the order on which one bases that reading. How does one decide that a text cannot be read? Certainly not by referring to an unreadable text. That would beg the question of readability. The demand for understanding and for orderliness is reinscribed in their disruption.

We can incorporate, here, the idea of a discharge.

Though an author or an author's book can be released from the demands of a particular type of organization, something of that organization will remain and will place other demands, perhaps in other terms, on the author and the work. Though Susan has her abortion, the problem of her relation






93


to Fenn remains. And, indeed, the reverberation of the "twin schiups" (a 295) made by the abortion machine have thematic and even organizational repercussions throughout the text. Susan's guess that she had two abortions--"Susan wails into his chest-hair It was twins! It was Drew and Lexie! I didn't have an abortion, Fenn. I had two abortions" (S* 332)--recalls a flood of twinships, doublings, repetitions, and oppositions. There is, in fact, a good chance that she had two abortions because both she and Fenn are themselves twins. Fenn and Manfred are allowed to represent, provisionally, the division between good and evil; Susan and Miriam the difference between controlled restlessness and wild dissatisfaction. They also acknowledge the twinship of interruption and writing, doing and telling, writing and loving (S 365), the dualism of the fork, of analysis and synthesis, left and right, Baltimore and Washington, Wye Island and Swarthmore (g. 345), substitute and compliment (a 362), Romance and Realism(. 362), fiction and lie (2 126), beginning and end ("Big Bang to Black Hole" [a 360]), dream and story, their life and their voyage (a 200), work and play (a 159), etc. For Fenn, this is his second sabbatical, and Susan is his second wife; it peeves Susan that there are two Mrs. Fenwick Turners (the first has retained her married name) (S 311). Fenn and Susan also see themselves in terms of the opposition between reading and writing: Fenn is the writer, an aspiring artist, Susan the professional reader, a professor of literature (S




Full Text
76
the fact that Rennie doesn't know which one is the father of
the child she carries, leads her to what seems like an
arbitrary decision, but one that nevertheless is made
inevitable by her impossible position between: "'I don't
know,' Rennie said. 'I'm going to get an abortion or shoot
myself, Joe. I've decided'" (ER 152). She chooses abortion
but winds up being killed as well. (Even in the end, the
second option can never actually be eliminated.) The issue
of the dichotomy in The End of the Road is abortion and
death.
The Issue of Abortion
I can say Sabbatical takes up "the issue of abortion"
without limiting myself to a thematic reading, to speaking
of abortion as a metaphor for the sucking away of
orderliness. Issue is a complex term that demands attention
because it can mean a number of interrelated things: it can
be a means or place of going out, an exit; the final outcome
or result; termination; offspring, progeny; something coming
forth from a specified source (as in "issues of a disordered
imagination"); a discharge (as of blood) from the body; etc.
All these meanings will come into play in the following
disposal of Barth's texts. Trying to come to a conclusion
about how they feel and what they should do, Joe demands
that Jake stick to the issue: "'I want you to forget about
everything except what's to the point and what's beside the
point'" (ER 153). The problem for Jake is that nothing is
absolutely "beside the point."
In order to analyze a


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page
KEY TO ABREVIATIONS V
ABSTRACT vi
INTRODUCTION
Rethinking the Beyond 1
Narration and the Use of "Nonfiction" 7
What Follows 2 0
CHAPTER I
CIRCLING THE QUESTION OF KNOWLEDGE
Hermeneutic Circling 27
Titles and Quotations and Quotations of Titles. 32
Circling Between Texts 51
The Collapsing of Time 57
CHAPTER II
ABORTION STORIES
1. Organizing Barth's Texts 69
The Issue of Abortion 76
Disposing of the Text 81
"Night Sea Journey" 96
2. Forking, The Y 98
The Analytical (Inbound Upswimraing
Divergent) "Male" 101
The Synthetic (Outbound Downswimming
Convergent) "Female" 116
CHAPTER III
PRODUCTION, READING, SUPPLEMENTARITY 136
CHAPTER IV
REPETITION, HISTORY, NARRATION 164
The Coming Back of Repetition, A Speculative
Organization of Texts 166
Recollecting Kierkegaard 187
Coming Back to Barth's Critics 193
History and the Sequeling of Narration 201
iii


117
essence, a synthesis. Susan's polemical attack on the
system is clear. She claims that Fenn's division is
invalid, and she uses Fenn as the example. Since he is a
man, given his system of categorization, his note should be
analytical. Since his note is synthetic. his categorizing
the "male" with the analytical is problematic. We should
also notice that Susan's attack is at least partly
analytical (that is, according to Fenn, at least partly
"male")she tests the terms of the division against a
specific exampleand, therefore, that she does not fit into
Fenn's system of synthesis and analysis either.
If the terms of the proposed synthesis are Male and
Female or Fenn and Susan, for the synthesis to be subject to
a rigorous analysis these categories must be distinct.
Fenn's response that he is only partly male and Susan only
partly female would make the product of the synthesis
difficult to discern. It is precisely this difficulty that
eliminates any simple analysis relying on the separation of
the terms, in this case, the separation of the sexes. We
find, in both the male and the female, syntheses having
already taken place.
The narrators try to establish the difference between
Fenn and Susan throughout the book. Near the beginning
Susan is identified as a teacher (S 12); apparently she is
the one who star-spangles Sabbatical with footnotes (one
note begins in self-mockery, "Dr. Seckler is late with this
note, drawn from her dissertation" [S 187]); Fenn, the


2
impossibility of communication and the imposition a
traditional understanding of narration entailing a
beginning, middle, and end in view of the indeterminateness
of the contours of the text) and, confronting these binds,
his work asks: Can we advance? Can we move beyond?
Barth's metaphor suggests that the answer will not be a
simple one. "Shore" comes from the Middle Low German
"schore," which meant "point of division," and even now
designates the land between low and high water or the land
at the edge of a body of water. We should wonder whether in
reaching a farther shore Barth's books would simply be
coming to another point of division, marooned, so to speak,
on a beach on which the necessity of moving beyond is
presumed.
The farther-shore metaphor may be inappropriate for
describing a system that would escape a linguistic bind.
Peter Sagamore's reflection about what language should do
leads him to his minimalist "less is more" theory of
writing. I emphasize that it is the reflection of Peter
Sagamore that gets him stuck. More precisely, it is
language's looking inward at itself that places out in front
a "farther shore." Language says of itself, I am
incomplete; but it does not offer us the means of completing
it and in fact tells us to look outside for the meaning or
the truth or the real.
"What is being written today?" becomes an absurd
question in the face of the "farther shore." Insofar as it


218
be a narrativebecause it establishes a sequence and
establishes the narrative as a sequel.
Part Three of Peter's possible three part story is
never named "Rocinante IV." That name is only suggested by
the sequentiality of the other two. Being without the title
that comes next follows from our being told only "Part of
Part Three of that Possible Three-Part Don Quixote Story"
(TT 520, emphasis mine). The story is not yet, within The
Tidewater Tales, finished being told. That is why Peter's
story is only a "possibility." If the time of writing is
the already, the time of narration is the following and the
not yet. The text is always already written but not yet
told.
Captn Don ("Donald Quicksoat" is what they call Don
Quixote in America in the 1980's) narrates "Part of Part
Three," bringing himself into relation with Cervantes and
with the author:
Now I figured I'd singlehand it to the end of the
story, like Cervantes himself. . Now, if our
friends here37 were telling this part, they'd have
me set out in search of Cervantes himself this
time, to square my biggest debt of all. . But
. . I reckoned that Cervantes owed me as much as
I owed him. Anyhow, we characters sometimes get
loose of our authors. ... I understood that I
was my own gosh darn Cervantes. The passenger who
is also the skipper, he says directly to Peter
Sagamorewho nods and at once replies, also in
italics: The Skipper who is also the passenger.
(TT 520-21)
We have seen that the questioning of truth in a narrative as
well as the impossibility of answering questions about truth
37
A reference to Peter and Katherine


163
of Katherine Sherrit Sagamore, its Once Upon a
Time the Ever After of:
And on a new page:
THE
TIDEWATER
TALES
A NOVEL.
A new page, a new story, indeed. This new title page, a
supplementary repetition, tucks itself into The Tidewater
Tales; it forces us to pick up a thread but demands also a
new reading, which is to say a critical reading, a critical
production.
I should say in the manner of Derrida, though not in
the same context nor in exactly the same words, that reading
is certainly a production, because I do not simply duplicate
what the writer thinks of reading. If the production
attempts to make the supplement an issue in the reading of
The Tidewater Tales, it does not leave the text; that is,
the production does not bring in from outside the text or
from some outside-text the guestion of the supplement. As
Derrida says of Rousseau, it is contained in the
transformation of the language it designates, in the
regulated exchanges between the writer and history (Of
Grammatoloqy 163-64).


I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as
a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Robert D'Amico
Associate Professor of Philosophy
This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty
of the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts
and Sciences and to the Graduate School and was accepted as
partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy.
December 1989
Dean, Graduate School


16
Sabbatical, like The Floating Opera, is based on an
intellectual pursuit. Fenn and Susan have taken the
sabbatical to decide what to do with their livesSusan
whether to take a position at Swarthmore, Fenn whether to go
on doing what he's been doing, and both of them whether to
have a child. And, like The Floating Opera, the narration
of the story is moved out in front of the intellectual bind.
At the beginning the question "Why?" is made a matter of
substance (both essential to the text's relation to the
"intellect" and material to its relation to the "things"
talked about):
After sundown we see against broken clouds the
reflected glow of city lights from below the
horizon ahead: Virginia Beach, Fenn reckons, and
hopes we're far enough offshore. The name catches
Susan's breath; brings tears to her eyes. Fenwick
knows why. (S 10-11)
As we will see in Chapter II, why the name "Virginia Beach"
brings tears to Susan's eyes is caught up in the decision
making (or lack of decision making) of the entire text. The
extraordinarily brutal rape, in Virginia Beach, of Susan's
twin sister and the moronic child that is the product of the
rape obviously affect Susan's contradictory desires about
having children. Her tears at the mentioning of "Virginia
Beach" can be read as a reflection of the impetus of the
conflict between her and Fenn, the reason for their
sabbatical voyage, the reason, in fact, for Sabbatical.
But as I said the question is essential to the story.
In this passage the narrator is concerned more with
positioning than with the impossibility of deciding or the


213
that marks it as false, that indicates the second part as a
falsification of what was written before. Don Quixote's
scanning the table of contents confirms that the second part
includes episodes he thought would measure its factuality,
episodes he understood as having occurred. but finds also
that Part Two contains episodes unfamiliar to him, including
his return to La Mancha and his death there. He questions
again, but again only provisionally, his own reality:
The Knight (he scarcely now thinks of himself as
one) is perplexed, the more so because,
unaccountable, those unfamiliar chapter titles
seem right to him, even the mention of his death.
But now he hears the clerk speak of the book as
the greatest novel ever written, and concludes
that its second part must be a work of fiction
extrapolated from the true history of Part One: an
ingenious if somewhat high-handed idea.
Remembering his long and painfully consequential
enchantment by novels of chivalry, he pronounces
it a reckless thing indeed to confuse the boundary
between life and art. All the same, he buys the
book in order to see how this Cervantes fellow
measures up beside the errorless Moor. (TT 489)
Upon rereading Parts One and Two Don Quixote changes his
notion of his own situation and comes to read his life as
one would a narrative. Whereas "formerly he marveled at how
accurately, in Part One, "Hamete Benengeli recorded his and
Sancho's early adventures" and "how skillfully, from the
Montesinos incident on, this Miguel de Cervantes spins out a
convincing alternative to the truth: as if he really had
been hoisted out of that cave and gone on with that story,"
now "so seamless is the transition from history to fiction,
so persuasive the narrative, that these later adventures of
'Don Quixote,' ending in his death in La Mancha, seem to him


225
Tidewater Tales (Peter and Katherine haven't heard them
before), and when they are retold and expanded they will
have become part of the reprising that constitutes The
Tidewater Tales. We cannot think of Sabbatical as being
written into The Tidewater Tales. The story is told again,
is reprised. The story of Sabbatical is made different not
simply because some of the details are "changed" but also
because the story comes after one already set down.
Calmed, the story tellers "tied Story [Peter and
Katherine's sailboat] behind Reprise (There's a switch, said
Peter Sagamore)" (TT 449). In a sense it is turning things
around for the story to follow the reprising of the story,
but that is essentially what the narrators of Sabbatical and
The Tidewater Tales suggest is going on in their claiming
authorship. They claim to be telling about the writing, to
be offering a reprising of the story and its writing, before
the story is written. In another sense stories do follow
reprises, because stories are always in themselves the
reprising of stories. The Tidewater Tales is the reprising
of and is sequel to Sabbatical. a story that is itself a
reprise, a repetition not quite a repetition.
After speculating about the possibility of going back
to the origin of what is commonly called a repetition and
coming again to the conclusion that the origin is, in
Derrida's terms, borne away, I was led to question the
position of the author and the time of writing. In The


had appeared to be." Apparent in terms of this mystical
transcendence is the finitude of the text.
196
Jean E. Kennard's "Imitations of Imitations" is an
attempt to take into account what she describes as Barth's
existentialist notion that there is no reality that can be
apprehended by man. Kennard says that in order to remind us
that life is as fictional as art, Barth has written "'novels
which imitate the form of the Novel, by an author who
imitates the role of Author'" (117).32 There are several
"levels" on which Kennard understands Barth's idea of
imitation. "On the simplest level Barth is talking of
parody. . [S]ince any work of art is an imitation, in
the sense of being an imitation of life, any work of art
which parodies another is an imitation of an imitation"
(Kennard 117). The imitation of "life" would seem to be
excluded a priori from a theory of literature that excludes
the apprehension of reality and that treats life as another
fiction. Though Kennard calls parody the "simplest" form of
imitation, it grounds all of her theory of repetition in the
possibility of absolute origin. The most complex level of
Kennard's idea of imitation is contained in the question of
self-conscious art and self-reflection: "Barth says he is an
author imitating the role of author. In Giles Goat-Boy
there is a writer, J.B., who is presenting a novel about
Giles, but there is also, of course, a novelist, John Barth,
32 A quotation of Barth's "The Literature of
Exhaustion" (FB 72).


83
discovers the galley knife-rack and slashes the custom made
cockpit cushions.
Telling all this to Fenn later, Susan says that
Mainly Mims wanted to know why we don't have
children.
. . [Fenn] put the hand-bearing compass down
on the slashed cockpit cushion.
What'd you tell her?
The point is that the ordeal of Miriam and her children's
visit, specifically (in this example) the slashed cockpit
cushion, is representative of the irresponsibility and
mediocrity of which Susan wants no part:
I compared my feelings about parenthood to Kafka's
about marriage: that it's the single most
important thing in human life, and that my
standards for it are self-defeatingly high.
. . I couldn't go much farther down my
Superkid road with her because of Sy and Ho. I
just told her again that being an ordinary
mediocre parent doesn't interest me. (S 164)
The "one detail," which Fenn mentioned was also a reason for
Susan's tears, is that she is pregnant or, more to the
point, that she got pregnant accidentally, without their
deciding that it is the right thing to do. She and Fenn
have already been irresponsible and thereby represent the
ordinary and mediocre mass of parents who have their
children without the slightest idea why.
I need to keep this argument under control and get back
to the original point (though, in a sense, getting back
there is the same problem as flushing out the extraneous
from our text). Because Susan's tears, Miriam, her rapes
and her children and her general irresponsibility are
already part of the text, because Sabbatical has already


in the fore-structure. . Any interpretation, which is
to contribute understanding, must already have understood
what is to be interpreted" (Heidegger 189, 194).
31
In Aristotle the "problem" can only be described
dialectically: "the word problema refers to those guestions
that appear as open alternatives because there is evidence
for both views and we think that they cannot be decided by
reasons, since the guestions involved are too great."
Problems, therefore, are "alternatives that can only be
accepted as themselves and thus can only be treated in a
dialectical way" (Gadamer 339). If the critique of the
concept of the problem is organized by a logic of question
and answer (which is what Gadamer says has happened, in
neokantianism, for example), then the nature of the problem
as dialectical has from the start been contradicted:
"Reflection on the hermeneutical experience transforms
problems back to questions that arise and that derive their
sense from their motivation" (340). In other words, in
trying to account for the hermeneutic "problem" we will find
ourselves part of a circle that has not yet been taken into
account.
That is why, for Dilthey, the task of the interpreter
is not that of immersing oneself totally in the object of
interpretation (which would be impossible anyway) but rather
that of finding viable modes of interaction of one's own
horizon with that of the text (Palmer 121) and why Heidegger
says that "what is decisive is not to get out of the circle"


193
explanation would be an apt description of repetition; it
finds in repetition the root of narrative, which, as we will
see in the following section on history and narration, is
the possibility of a sequence, of movement in time.
Repetition is never absolute, which is to say that
repetition never quite takes place. As Scheherazade's story
teller says, "WYDIWYD pure and simple won't get you home"
(TT 604). He explains that it is not good dramaturgy to use
the same enchantment for going back. But even if it were
good dramaturgy, the enchantment will never be the same.
Repetition is never pure and simple. WYDIWYD cannot have
the same effect in the future as it had in the past. Though
repetition denies the difference between the past and the
future, difference inevitably marks itself and puts forward,
so to speak, the narrative of repetition.
Coming Back to Barth's Critics
In terms of "allotropic doubling," which is thought of
in chemistry, for example, as the existence of a thing in
two different forms, very much like Fenn's changing shore,
John V. Antush tries to get to the bottom and the beginning
of the work of literature. He suggests that by "reverting"
to and confronting a double a character can discover "the
awesome complexity of his real identity in the world and his
link to history in exercising his humanity to its fullest


247
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Mclaughlin and David Pellauer. Chicago: U of Chicago P,
1984.
Robbe-Grillet, Alain. For a New Novel. Trans. Richard
Howard. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1965.


partly a rationalization, a logic attached only after the
decision has been made.
112
For Susan, neither term of the analysis is
satisfactory: "I don't want to go to Wye Island. I don't
want to go to Swarthmore. I don't want to do anything" (S
345). She both wants a child and doesn't want a child, and
she can deal with neither choice in itself. Fenn has
"search[ed] the Y for other futures" (S 321) but has come to
only two choices (S 333) If her only options are all there
is, then she might as well give them both up: "I can't take
it that there's nothing but you and me and soon we'll get
old and sick and die. The hell with it. . [S]he wishes
she were dead" (S 345).
As in Fenn's dream of their choices in which he and
Susan search the fork literally, in the boat (S 370), there
is a literal forking of the channel in the structure and the
plot of their story that coincides with the decisions they
feel they have to make. The Fork is divided into three
sections, which coincide with the three possible directions
(right, left, and backwards) one could go having come upon a
fork and which coincide with the three possible decisions
they could make given the structure of their decision
making. In The Fork they encounter an actual fork in the
channel: in "Gibson to Cacaway: The Fork," Chapter 2, they
approach the splitting of the channel and the moment of
their decision; in "Cacaway: Against the Tide," Chapter 3,
they reach the buoy that marks the fork, and they reach the


54
a deformation of the first, so that, in one sense, the
first phase should be considered always absent.4 Ambrose
says he has commenced the second cycle in order to reach
beyond it, apparently not realizing that it is the second
cycle that contains him, not taking into account that he is
part of the circling fiction.
In The Tidewater Tales Peter recalls that as a boy he
sent himself out on the tide in a boat to see whether he
could recover all the messages in bottles that he had sent
out from the family dock but that had not returned (TT 172).
The fact that "no messaged bottle cast from the family dock
had ever been seen again" (TT 172) might disrupt a system of
return based on tidal currents and messaged bottles and
therefore disrupt a linguistic system of return generally,
but Peter distinguishes between the practical experiment and
a generalized metaphorical necessity: "the unpredicted wind
had spoiled the experiment: There remained two hours yet to
tide-turn, by when he would be at sea indeed. What was
more, even the present gentle breeze would cancel out the
returning tide; he would have to row the six miles home" (TT
172). Though the experiment of Peter's youth failed because
he could not control all the variables (and in fact would
always fail because the variables varied with every tide),
generally the trend was to return: "nothing he ever saw went
down the Honga that didn't start there, and it all came back
4 In the following section the deformation is
considered in terms of movement in time.


145
JUNE: "Enjoy each stage, girls." (They laugh.)
You're a terrific floater May!
Here, says Katherine, passing him page one.
That Enjoy Each Stage stuff sure does sound like
Florence Halsey. It's all too spooky.
MAY: You are. That last stretch of white water
o
JUNE: I maiored in White Water.
KATHERINE: Yay White Water!
JUNE: But there isn't supposed to be any below
the Confluence.
MAY: What isn't supposed to be would fill a
book.
JUNE (Grins): Maybe we'll write one.
PETER (When he reads this far): A post
modernist self-reflexive lesbian menstrual comedy.
(TT 372-73)
It is important to notice that the reading is not completely
lost in the text. Even after Peter and Katherine begin to
speak in the dialogue among the other speakers, there are
indications of their difference. Peter and Katherine's
dialogue is separated from that of May and June by spacing,
as if to say beware that reading is not everything, a
reading will always mark itself in the writing. The
supplement does not reduce the text to a state of
dissolution.
There are also two different types of passages that do
the same sort of work: passages in prose dialogue wherein
Peter or Katherine speak and describe their actions ("Here,
says Katherine, passing him page one"); and passages in
playscript dialogue, which can be coupled with stage
directions that describe their actions ("PETER: . Hand


P.S.: IN PLACE OF A CONCLUSION
Setting the Task
All along, we have been playing at the "end"at what
has been called the "end" or marked in some way as
representing the place of a conclusion: Circling and the
question of knowledge are concerned with how what might have
been called the "end" is turned back on the book towards
what might have been called the "beginning," making
indeterminate those absolute limits. The issue of abortion
questions, as part of its effect on the text, the
possibility of the text's disposal, of getting rid of the
text in order to get past or outside of it. The repetition
of a text marks itself in a deferral of the end, of putting
the end off until later but never coming to it in the text.
Considering the text's production in terms of the supplement
also has serious consequences for the concept of the end,
because, if the production of the text involves its reading,
the "end" is always replaced in a supplementation that does
not allow an end per se.
The narrators of The Tidewater Tales have been playing
all along too, but they seem compelled to end, to conclude,
to "complete," the story as if there were a price to pay in
227


165
time" repeated. Any repetition in a text, though, is always
the repetition of a repetition. One cannot move back to the
"thing" (textual or otherwiseit may be that repetition
defines a thing as textual, that a thing cannot be repeated
without being in some way a text20); one cannot move back to
the "thing" that is not itself a repetition. Repetition, in
other words, occurs only without end and constitutes,
therefore, a speculative organization of texts.21
The critics who have read Barth in terms of his
relation to and position in history have encountered a
problem similar to that of the speculative quality of
repetition. More often than not critics want to place Barth
in relation to the "historical record," which is presumed to
be fixed.22 That presumption cannot be verified. What one
20 For a discussion of the "thing" as it relates to
language, see Derrida's Sianeponce / Signsponcre.
21 In my discussion of repetition I follow Derrida's
use of the term speculation in his essay "To Speculateon
'Freud.'" In the first section, "Notices (Warnings)," he
outlines his use of the term in three senses: (1) that of
specular reflection (a principle's recognition or lack of
recognition of itself); (2) "of the production of surplus
value, of calculations and bets on the Exchange"; and (3)
"in the sense of that which overflows the (given) presence
of the present" (The Post Card 284) The third of these is
the most important for this study, though the first also
comes into play. The speculation of Freud remains
unresolved (speculation may by definition suggest the lack
of resolution) because with each attempt to conclude another
speculation is made: "the last paragraph . begins with
the project of a new engagement, another initiative, as if
it were still necessary to institute feinzusetzen) another
problematic. ..." Repeated in both Freud and Barth is the
deferral of the subject of speculation, such that deferral
occupies the extent of the text and speculation comes to
describe a repetition without end.
22
See, for example, Diser, and Holder.


132
Where Fenn is in his career as a writer (in relation to his
"sundry past literary efforts"), that is, in his making of
notes for the present work Sabbatical. is relative to the
state of Fenn and Susan's relationship.
In the section called "We Have Reached That Red and
Black Buoy" in which the above statement is made, Fenn and
Susan "circle in midchannel" (S 347). Both their
relationship and their story are stuck. Solution by further
analytical division is unsatisfactory and by synthesis
impossible to attain. In trying to get them going, to bring
them to some satisfactory conclusion, Fenn cannot completely
rid the story of the cause of the problem, of the
predisposition to synthesis and analysis. He proposes a
fourth choice within the old structure:
Fenn explains that at a place where three roads
meet, there are four choices. Your Y has three
legs, but four possibilities. (S 351)
They "decide" only to remain. We must use the term
tentatively because they "decide" only by default. Given
their perspective, the restrictions and the remainder of
analysis and synthesis, they have no other choice.
To the crotch of the Y, Fenn says. The hub of the
wheel. The place where three roads meet. (S 350)
Physically, literally, "staying there," when Fenn has this
revelation, means staying at Cacaway. But he doesn't mean
it completely literally. Susan wants the meaning of the
story, the conclusion, anchored: "What does 'staying right
here' mean, anyhow? Does she go to Swarthmore and he to
Delaware? Does he want her to stay on at Washington College


It should be clear that circling and telling are
intertwined. In order to talk about circling, one has to
49
get on the boat, so to speak. Beginning is as much a
problem for the critical encompassing of a text as for the
narrative development of one. The exorbitant position might
be thought of as the circular path itself, because the path
cannot be thought of as being within the enclosure. In a
sense, it is outside the enclosure, but it is also that
which defines the circle as an enclosure. For Derrida the
path is the point "farthest" out from which to view the
text, neither within nor without, but at the contour of the
text, the position that questions the validity of the
enclosure as an element of textuality. The exorbitant is,
therefore, a deconstruction of the hermeneutic idea of
interpretation, which is based on the notion that the circle
of understanding is not only not a vicious circle but a
productive and stimulating paradox. The exorbitant does not
at all get us out of the circle but calls into question the
method with which the interpreter proceeds, saying, in
effect, you cannot consider your interpretation
transcendental or outside the orbit of any particular
discourse or discourse "as a whole" because attempting to
get out reinscribes the circle, and neither can you consider
your interpretation simply within because enclosure is
always broached.
At the contours of Sabbatical there is the story of
Fenwick's boina. His losing it in the mouth of "The Cove"


71
attempt at establishing an order and therefore subject to an
inevitable disruption. Ordering is itself an abortion
because it entails the delivery of an imperfect or premature
text.
By taking up the issue of abortion, Sabbatical comes
back to an image integral to Barth's earlier works. For
example, The End of the Road. Barth's second novel,
concludes with Rennie Morgan's abortion and death. In order
to understand the relation between The End of the Road and
Sabbatical's involvement with abortion, the possibility of
orderliness, we need to discover what leads to the abortion
in The End of the Road. The dilemma Rennie faces, whether
to abort the child she carries or to commit suicide, is tied
to the organization of the family and the logic of
dichotomy, a logic never completely separate from the family
scene.
Joe Morgan and Jacob Horner represent the classical
moral split between good and evil and its philosophical
counterpart, the split between reason and chaos.
Joe was The Reason, or Being (I was using Rennie's
cosmos); I was The Unreason, or not being; and the
two of us were fighting without quarter for
possession of Rennie, like God and Satan for the
soul of Man. (ER 129)
Rennie, Joe's wife, is caught between them. She is the
betweenness always present in division, the "point" at which
Joe and Jake come together. The fact that Joe and Jake do
come together or, more precisely, were never actually


45
marks the splitting of the river, the point at which a
decision has to be made.
At the apparent end of the book they are anchored
behind Cacaway. Cacaway is "fundamental" (S 354) to
Sabbatical because that is "Where It All Started" (S 193).
Fenn and Orrin "rescued" Susan and her sister, Miriam, who
were canoeing in wind and rough water. There, having
dropped off Orrin and Miriam, Fenn and Susan made love and
began their romance. The implication is that they have come
full circle. But they can neither close the circle nor get
off it. Though Fenn never actually accepts the pitch Doog
had offered, they are up to their necks in knowledge and
anxiety about the CIA. Susan conjectures that there may be
"Company Safe-houses on Solomons Island right over there and
on our beautiful Chesapeake River and God knows where else,
maybe even on our precious Cacaway Island." Fenn
interrupts, "Not on Cacaway, Susan. Never on Cacaway" (S
120), but his response is more wish than conviction.
In Sabbatical Fenn and Susan have not yet made
landfall. In The Tidewater Tales they are still sailing.
It is said in The Tidewater Tales that the Talbots (the
characters on whom, it seems, Fenn and Susan of Sabbatical
are "based") have "closed the circle of their cruise . .
with so many questions unresolved" (TT 438). They have
"closed the circle of their cruise" in the sense that they
are back in the Chesapeake Bay. They have begun to retrace
some of the passage making of a year before and even of the


Peter and Katherine are told "The Long True Story of
Odysseus's Short Last Voyage," which was not included in
58
Homer's Odyssey (for reasons that will become apparent) and
which illustrates the telling out of time. Odysseus and
Nausicaa. decided to sail to "The Place Where Time Stands
Still." "The problem," Odysseus explained to Homer and
Nausicaa, "was time. ..."
As Circe had explained it to him, and Calypso had
subsequently confirmed, The Place Where Time
Stands Still does not stand still; it recedes to
westward at exactly the speed of the sun itself, a
speed no ordinary vessel could hope to approach.
(TT 208)
Just at the moment when it looked like Odysseus and Nausicaa
would fail, Odysseus remembered that he had asked Homer
about a Phaeacian idiomatic expression Homer had used: "That
a young fellow certainly can sing up a storm. Being a
prose-minded Ithacan, he asked Homer whether the tribute was
literally correct and, if so, whether Homer could teach him
the knack." Homer replied that "The secret was to find the
right song for the singer and the occasion, and then (in
Homer's own words) to let 'er rip" (TT 223) Homer had
taught Odysseus the first two lines of a new song, and at
the crucial point, Odysseus sang the first of these lines
into the sail:
Once upon a time . .
In heartfelt harmony then, Diana says, Nausicaa
joined him in Line Two, which they sang together
like this:
There was a story that began. . Not only
did the boat surge forward and the sun climb
visibly a few degrees above the horizon, but when
it did, instead of facing the problem of Line
Three (which neither of them knew), they found


205
on his death-bed and confessed that he had
invented it, since it seemed to him to fit in with
the adventures he had read of in his histories.
(624)
Apparently, assuming Peter has not overlooked this passage,
"refutation by reality" is not the same as refutation by
Cide Hamete Benengeli. Cide Hamete cannot, of course, be
considered the book's "real" author. He has no life outside
the text and so cannot determine the truth of a story told
by a character within the text. The narrator, though, is in
a similar position. The narrator offers us Hamete's
marginalia, suggesting that he (the narrator) is outside the
realm of the fiction narrated, but the narrator cannot be
considered part of the real world either. If Don Quixote
were to confess the fictionality of the Montesinos story on
his deathbed (in Don Quixote there is no such confession;
there is only the marginal report of a confession), it would
be similarly ineffective in establishing the truth of the
story. Can Don Quixote be considered more truthful or more
real then Cide Hamete? The answer has to be no. The
reality Peter speaks of cannot be considered the absolutely
real but is rather another fiction within Don Quixote.
Nevertheless, Peter seems to rest the connection to the
real, which he supposes is lacking in Part Two of Don
Quixote. in the narrator.
The yielding of reality in Part Two, Peter notes,
sustains the fiction of Don Quixote, and it is the
appearance of that yielding and that sustaining which
prompts Peter to write "Part One of a Possible Three-Part


inevitable assumption of a cause. They see "against" the
clouds light that is "reflected" from "below" the horizon
17
"ahead." From his observation of the position of the light
Fenn estimates his own position and wonders whether they are
"far enough offshore." The glow of city lights is out in
front of Susan and Fenn just as the story of Mimi's rape is
projected out in front of the present bind, the lack of
knowledge about why Susan is crying. The narration proceeds
by placing the story out in front.1
Sabbatical takes place at what is to be the end of
their voyage. But it is about beginning. One can infer,
then, that Sabbatical is also necessarily about the relation
between beginning and end. The narrator looks at narration
as a putting things in order:
Okay, he decides, and consults the compass over
Susan's shoulder, wondering the while what words
best follow Once upon a time.
Blaml Blooey! (S 11)
The story has, of course, already begun by the time we get
to the words "Blaml. Blooey 1" The words do "follow,"
though, the phrase "Once upon a time" and so even though
"Blaml and "Blooey!" do not begin, they question the
sequence of events in terms of beginning. Though "A
dialogue on Diction" takes place "three days later, safely
at anchor in Poe Cove, Key Island, Virginia," since it
1 In the case of Fenn's cardiac episode and Susan's
abortion "placing out in front" becomes a putting-off or
displacement of the story (they decide to wait to tell each
other about the particular events) and so serves as much to
disrupt the progression of the story.


65
beginning as at the end. But that is never the case. The
beginning is never the literal end: "what none of us knows,"
says Peter Sagamore, "is the ending: the thing that's going
to happen any day now and be news to both of us, sound scan
or not, and change our lives and start a different story
altogether" (TT 68).
The circling text is always a sham.
It is suggested that the events of "Our Story" and "Day
0: Nopoint Point to Dun Cove" occur before the characters
begin circling in The Tidewater Tales proper. One of the
reasons Peter and Katherine set sail, one of the reasons, in
fact, for The Tidewater Tales, is that Peter is having
trouble telling. Peter begins the "Ordinary Point Delivery
Story" describing himself:
Once upon ahem. There was this couple. More
or less like us? That, um.
K kisses the crow's-foot at the outboard corner
of her husband's starboard eye. On with the
story.
Hum. Well, Him. Redneck bluecollar, right?
Marshes, tides. Blue crabs. Oysters.
You have a way with words.
Declares P. S., warming to his work, Brother
sister parents? Yeah. Scholarship get out write,
okay? Stay loose sterilize write! No wife lovers
travel write. He beams: Then teach-write-Less-
Is-More-write-write-pfff. How's that.
Pfff?
Him to a T. (TT 74)
On Day 0 Katherine demands that Peter tell her a story he
had mentioned. This is it:
THE NEW CLOTHES HAVE NO EMPEROR.
Over.
What do you mean Over? You haven't started!
But Peter Sagamore insists he's done. (TT 90)


In their Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Sciences of
Language, Oswald Ducrot and Tzvetan Todorov explain that,
independent of grammatical tenses, there are problems of
209
temporality that can make simplifying the narrative sequence
of a discourse difficult. For our purposes, it is enough to
show that the difference between "writing time" and "story
time" is significant. According to Ducrot and Todorov,
particular efforts have been made to describe the writing of
these two times: "sometimes this temporality of writing is
in turn representedthe book relates not only a story but
the story of the book itself" (320). Sabbatical and The
Tidewater Tales, and to some extent Don Quixote, are
examples of the attempt to represent the temporality of
writing. "In the simplest case," Ducrot and Todorov say,
each temporal system moves "in the same direction, in a
perfectly parallel course." The problem with this ideal is
that "the narrative has its own requirements, which are not
those of the so-called reality." The parallelism will be
broken (1) by inversions wherein some events are reported
earlier than others that are nonetheless chronologically
anterior and (2) by embedded stories wherein the story is
interrupted to begin a second and then possibly a third and
so on (Ducrot and Todorov 320). Though Ducrot and Todorov
do not summarize any contention that the breaking of the
ideal parallelism between writing time and story time is
necessary, indeed, they seem to indicate the possibility of
an ideal parallelism, it is my argument that the ideal is


141
Peter makes his statement about the parent reader
within the context of his and Katherine's discovering who
wrote the manuscript SEX EDUCATION: Plav. which had floated
into their story in two installments wrapped in plastic
Baggies and set adrift in Alert-and-Locate flare canisters.
To Frank, Katherine says simply, "You wrote that SEX
EDUCATION play!" (TT 409). The response to Katherine's
assertion is not as simple. No one says directly that, yes,
Frank wrote the play. Lee smiles at Frank and Peter is
startled, but the supplement has not been taken into
account. Katherine is not entirely correct if she means
that the command of the text remains with the supposed
"author."
We have pointed out elsewhere that Barth's books read
themselves, so to speak, from within. The Tidewater Tales
makes many, arguably a continuous flow of, comments about
itselfits organization, its style, etc. We should notice,
though, that it also develops allegories of its being
read.15 The Tidewater Tales talks about what it means for
someone to read The Tidewater Tales, what effects such a
reading have on the possibility of isolating an author. In
other words, it talks about a critical production of the
work in the reading. I emphasize that these allegories take
place within The Tidewater Tales because they are not
15 For a seminal discussion of the relation between
allegory and reading, especially as it relates to the
breakdown of the dichotomy between the figurative and the
literal, we should look to de Man's Allegories of Reading.


233
add that neither do we know that Scheherazade's situation
has changed. We have no way of determining whether she has
been sent outside the orbit of this particular place and
time and order of reality, whether where she is constitutes
an outside-text.
The title "The Ending" might be considered generic
because it seems to name a thing that which it is. But all
generic titles have the potential for being ironic. "The
Ending" can be asking us this question: Should we consider
this part of the book "the ending"? Being a title, "The
Ending" forces us to put it in quotation marks, and because
it is generic, we may consider putting it in double
quotation marks to make the irony clear: "'The Ending.'" I
don't cite this title as one that names that which it is,
but as one that questions that which it is considered to be.
We should also consider that "ending" describes the action
of the verb and not, strictly speaking, a state of being.
We would not be wrong to say Peter Sagamore has been ending
throughout The Tidewater Tales, if by that we meant he has
been trying to end or trying to bring the story to an end.
In other words, and on the other hand, "The Ending" may in
fact describe itself by describing, again, the attempt to
end.
It is not difficult to see that the attempt is a failed
one. In order to describe the end one would have to be
outside the text, which is where "The Ending"'s narrator
appears to be. "Scheherazade" says to her husband, "I'll


217
"nothing but the having done it" is doubly consequential for
the making of a narrative. First of all it is an indication
of the lack of goal centeredness of narration. Don Quixote
has just explained to "the American" that "you need only the
most general notion of your destination" (TT 492) What
follows will be a narrative. It is also the quest to place
a thing in the past, in other words to make it possible for
a narration to occur, to give the story a time on which to
base a sequence and a sequel. As Don Quixote and the
American prepare to depart, "Their handshake turns into a
proper abrazo. and thenfirst apparently from the
American's far-off birth waters, then as it seems from right
inside his narrative headcomes an insistent beeping that
the young man realizes he's been hearing for some time:
Beep-beep-beep, beeep beeep beeep, beep-beep-beep" (TT 493).
The story the narrator of The Tidewater Tales says will be
written has already been written and thereby calls for
something to follow, a narrative. Following that beeping,
in The Tidewater Tales, another story under another title,
which again brings to the fore the temporal nature of
telling:
IT'S YOUR FUTURE CALLING. (TT 493)
Peter is roused, like Don Quixote after his being
hauled up from the Cave of Montesinos, not to a view of the
world as it was or is, the so-called real world, but to the
time of narration, to the recognition that what follows will


143
sanity, should things go and stay where they've clearly been
heading; and for the unthinkable burden it will place upon
[their] parenthood if . his art turns out to have been
sacrificed partly upon that altar [TT 55-56]. Nevertheless
Peter finds himself trying to write in the guest cottage,
which has been turned into a nursery.)
Our reading of Peter and Katherine's reading is well
marked. On opening the second flare canister they ask,
Tongue-risking reader, what do you expect we
expect? You're reading The Tidewater Tales: A
Novel; we're telling our stories, which are our
story, which we're living and have lived from
moment to moment, creek to creek. (TT 370)
Implied is that Peter and Katherine are also reading, like
us, The Tidewater Tales: A Novel. They claim explicitly to
read and hear the stories that make up The Tidewater Tales
and to be planning a novel by that name. Their supposed
reading of The Tidewater Tales is a part of their stories,
which are The Tidewater Tales. They are not content to get
on with what they call their "lives before
opening that Baggie, stripping the rubber bands
off that roll of loose-leaf paper, and (Katherine
first this time, passing on each manuscript page
to Peter as she reads it) reading
ACT II: DOWNSTREAM. (TT 371)
What follows is, presumably, a reading. But it is also a
writing: "Act Two, Downstream, she says. Not even a title
page. If we had found this first, we wouldn't even know
what it was Act Two of (TT 371). Katherine's comments, her
reading, comes under Act Two's title, without being
bracketed or otherwise graphically distinguished from the


127
title). Of course, we understand Romance to be used partly
as a critical term. Fenn and Susan have used it to describe
the temperament of 19th-century American literature, to set
it against (and this is how it is usually used) the
rationalism of the 18th century or the realism of the 19th
and 20th centuries. Though Susan has called theirs a "love-
and-adventure story"love and adventure might be seen as
elements of the RomanceFenn wants their story to be
something else: "I'm not being sentimental. ... We don't
want some tacky roman a clef or half-assed autobiographical
romance" (S 356). In Sabbatical love becomes more than what
the story is about. As a "Romance" it is also but more than
a "love story," more than a story about the love between two
people. In Sabbatical. love is the subject of a critical
inquiry. Sabbatical is about the function of love in a
relationship, about love's betweenness; that is, about love
as the synthetic moment.
As Fenn tells the story of "A Dialogue on Diction" he
sprinkles it with "dirty" language as is his want, but Susan
wants to establish the terms by which their "love story"
will be fold:
And all these effing thises and effing thats: I
won't have it, Fenn. This is our story, that I
love; it's our love-and-adventure story, that
ought to speak and sing and soar and make us laugh
and cry and catch our breaths et cetera, and
you're X-rating it before we even get to the sexy
parts. (S 13)
Though Hegel's system doesn't directly involve love as an
element in story telling, it is useful in exploring the


37
In "Living On: Border Lines" Derrida suggests that one
of the reasons that the limits of the book are indistinct is
that, with books such as La Folie du iour. there are no
graphic signals to indicate a distinction:
The starting edge will have been the quotation (at
first not recognizable as such) of a narrative
fragment that in turn will merely be quoting its
quotation. For all these quotations, quotations
of requotations with no original performance,
there is no speech act not already the iteration
of another, no circle and no quotation marks to
reassure us about the identity, opposition, or
distinction of speech events. (96)
The title page at the supposed end of The Tidewater Tales is
the quotation of a quotation (TT 83) of a quotation (TT 5)
(not including the cover of the book). There are at least
four title pages, one of them, as we have seen, well within
what would usually be called the text proper, none of which
is distinguished by quotation marks. Though each of them
has its differences, both contextual and graphic (I have not
attempted to represent the spacing of lines, the level of
boldness, or, least of all, the style of type), never does
the difference allow us to place, with any sense of
security, one title in relation to another.
Titles in The Tidewater Tales are also part of the
circling of the story. This might best be illustrated by
the "lower level" titles or titles of what one traditionally
calls the titles of chapters. (The divisions of The
Tidewater Tales tend to disrupt traditional notions about
the hierarchy of parts divided and about the relation
between the parts and the "whole" text. Designating the


while he writes this famous story? (S 358). For Fenn,
though, their "working it out" has become a matter of
perspective:
133
He doesn't know about that, what she just asked,
and the reason he doesn't know is that it doesn't
matter in the same way anymore. That's all clear
to him now, too: We didn't make the decisions we'd
hoped to make on this sabbatical sail because the
questions we were trying to decide were the wrong
ones. No, excuse him: they're the right
questions, but we had the wrong handle on them. (S
358)
Sabbatical has been about (is about) all sorts of Y's,
Wye's, and Why's. And they all, in some way or another,
stand for each other.
Wve I. (the place Fenn is from) is epigrammatic for
"Why me?" The search for a cause (the relation between
cause and effect), which is implied by that question as well
as by the place name itself, which marks Fenn's "place of
origin," is inappropriate. But, as Fenn suggests, that
inappropriateness does not do away with the questionno
more than Fenn can do away with the organization, the
structure, of a story already told. The key is perspective,
not what the question is, but how you look at it, what you
expect it to do. If the Y is supposed to bring you to an
end or an answer, then it will fail.
Fenn swears she'll understand what he means as
soon as he does. It is not a matter of answers,
or even a philosophical position: just a
perspective. (S 360)
If Fenn is right that it is not a matter of answers, then
understanding is not quite the right word either. If he has
found a new perspective, a new way of looking at their story


148
connected to a system of reading as production. Having
received only Act One in the first flare canister, Peter and
Katherine wonder about Act Two. Moreover, Katherine wants
an Act Two. Besides the question of the quality of the work
(Katherine does not consider it worthy of "literary"
questioning), an expectation is imposed. In the case of SEX
EDUCATION; Plav. Peter and Katherine are lead to expect
something else because of an obvious structural absence: an
Act One implies the existence of an Act Two. The
establishment of systems of anticipation is seldom this
simple though:
It is Peter Sagamore's fear that there is not only
an Act Two, but an Act Three as well: if not in
this world, then in the heaven of dramaturgical
obviosities.
The what?
Says Peter we could write the rest ourselves:
All the clues are right there in Act One. (TT
161)
As Peter spins out the possibilities and probabilities,
Katherine stops him, sure he will "spoil the story"the
story, keep in mind, they don't have:
How do you know all that?
Freshman Dramaturgy, in Pete's opinion, So's
the script, doesn't she think?
Is he sure he didn't write it? (TT 161)
Some questions follow from their anticipating Acts Two and
Three. Peter denies having anything to do with such
sophomoric dramaturgy, claims not to be the writer of SEX
EDUCATION: Play, but to what extent should we understand
him, as the reader, to be part of the same system of


214
the real story, far more plausible than what has actually
happened since Chapter XXII" (TT 491, emphasis mine). The
distance between historical "accuracy" and narrative "skill"
no longer seems to Don Quixote so great; "Indeed, after
several rereadings, Part One also strikes him as a splendid
and amusing fiction, he reads it neither more nor less
spellbound than any other later-middle-aged readerand
identifies neither more nor less with its hero" (TT 491).
Peter Sagamere and Don Quixote, like Barth's critics,
have questioned, though hesitantly, the possibility of truth
telling in history and thereby the distinction between
history and narration.35 It is essential to understand that
their position within the narrative keeps the characters and
the narrators from determining the accuracy of what has been
called the historical record. The record, according to its
function as the repository of truth, must remain somewhere
outside the narrative and this is why it is never there,
never here, in the present. Peter names his stories after
(in the name of and following) Don Quixote's horse
35 Theorists, such as Roland Barthes and more recently
Paul Ricoeur, have shown us the dangers of casually
distinguishing between history and the narrative. Barthes
says, in Writing Degree Zero, that narration is a form
common to both the novel and to history. The question of
truth in the use of the preterite, which is essential to
narration, is indeterminate: "[the preterite] delineates an
area of plausibility which reveals the possible in the very
act of unmasking it as false" (Barthes 32). According to
Ricoeur, "the inserting of history into action," which is
the operation of narration, "brings into play the question
of truth in history. This question is inseparable from what
I call the interweaving reference between history's claim to
truth and that of fiction" (92).


210
never achieved. What has been called "writing time" (I have
called it the time of writing) is never absolutely parallel
to "story time," to the time of the narrative or the
narration. Even when the co-presence of the time of writing
and the time of narration appears to be undisturbed, the
sequentiality of the narrative will inscribe a preteritive
effect.
In order to explain the necessity of a preteritive
effect, we should take some time to reaffirm the connection
between sequentiality and narration. In their Encyclopedia
Ducrot and Todorov have described concisely what, since
Propp and Lvi-Strauss, students of literature have taken
for granted about narrative:
The narrative is a referential text in which
temporality is represented. The unit higher than
the proposition that can be located in narrative
is the sequence, which is constituted by a group
of at least three propositions. Contemporary
narrative analyses inspired by Propp7s study of
folk tales and Lvi-Strauss7s study of myths agree
that in every minimal narrative it is possible to
identify two attributesrelated but differentof
at least one agent and a process of transformation
or mediation, which allows passage from one
attribute to the other. (297)
If sequentiality defines a narrative and thereby demands the
representation of temporality in narration, a narrative will
always entail the effect of the preterite. Barthes says
that the operation of the preterite "occurs constantly in
the whole of Western art" (33). (Barthes excludes "a
certain Chinese tradition" which makes as the goal of art
the perfect imitation of reality, [Barthes, Writing Degree
Zero 34]. I will claim later on that the effect of the


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
Creed C. Greer, III received his BA in English from the
University of Florida in 1982 and his MA in English from the
University of Florida in 1985. His master's thesis,
"Boundary and Beyond: Kurt Vonnegut and the Character of
Words," explores the author's relation to the text in terms
of schizophrenia, pseudonymity, and the signature.
249


123
Glass Hegel column concerns, largely, Hegel's idea of
Sittlichkeit. the synthesis between right (Recht) and
morality (Moralitat). Within Sittlichkeit. another
syllogism is developed (its terms: the family, civil or
bourgeois society, and the state or the constitution of the
state). And within the family, another syllogism: marriage,
the family property, the education of the children (Derrida,
Glas 4, 14). Understanding the connection of these things
will give us an idea of the Hegelian synthesis.
Love is an essential predicate of the concept
family, that is of an essential moment of
Sittlichkeit. (Derrida, Glas 10)
Love, then, can be thought of as the connection itself, the
thing that "plays in the gap" (Derrida, Glas 18), like
Sittlichkeit. in the synthetic moment.
"Love means in general terms the consciousness of
my unity with another, so that I am not in selfish
isolation, but win my self-consciousness as the
renunciation of [Aufgebung, the dispossession of]
my being-for-self and through knowing myself
(Mich-Wissen) as the unity of myself with another
and of the other with me." (Derrida, Glas 17, a
guotation of Hegel's Grundlinien der Philosoohie
des Rechts)
However, love is also the "unity of [the family's] self
destruction" (Derrida, Glas 14). Love produces and resolves
the familial contradiction. A member of the family wants
not to be independent but counts for something in love only
in terms "fixed by what the other finds" in him"I count
for something for the other" (Derrida, Glas 18). The family
includes, as its synthetic moment, the education of the
child, which is "the dissolution of the family" (Derrida,


77
situation, aspects of it must be ignored, even though they
are not completely extraneous. And even if he wanted to
take into account the whole story, it would be too long to
ever finish recounting. (The narrators of Sabbatical claim
fatalistically, "we ourselves may never know one another's
whole story" [S 302], Some of it will have to be ignored,
and some of it inevitably will be forgotten or lost.) Whole
stories are never known. Every analysis, therefore, is a
distortion. With every disposal of a problem the
orderliness on which the problem can be established is found
to be problematic. This is dramatized by Rennie's dilemma.
She divides her options into two categories: abortion and
death. But abortion, in itself, is not a real option; they
know of no competent doctor who will perform it, and so
Rennie dies because of the abortion.
The thematics of abortion cannot simply be gotten rid
of. Abortion is an issue. But we should also understand
this to mean that abortion is the resultthe result of a
conflict between oppositions and of the textual
impossibility of orderliness. (The multiplicity of the term
issue is itself an example of the problematic split between
thematic and textual readings. Issue means both subject and
result, among other things.)
LETTERS. Barth's seventh novel, might be thought of as
a point of division of Barth's career because it is one of
the major attempts within the corpus to organize the corpus


176
the episode on the bus that Wednesday en route
from D.C. to Solomons Island. He would have told
her about it that same evening, but she was wiped
out already from coping with Miriam and the boys
on board, and so he put off telling her and put
off telling her, just as we put off acknowledging
our pregnancy and, since Black Friday, its
aborting. (S 333)
The implication in both of these speeches is that now the
stories have been "told" and that we have come to a kind of
end.
Freud calls the disappearance and return of the spool a
"complete game" but we must add that any completion must be
understood in terms of its double, the reflection in the
writing about the story. Derrida notices that "if the game
is called complete on one side and the other, we have to
envisage an eminently symbolic completion which itself would
be formed by these two completions, and which therefore
would be incomplete in each of its pieces, and consequently
would be completely incomplete when the two incompletions,
related and joined the one to the other, start to multiply
themselves, supplementing each other without completing each
other" (The Post Card 320). We will recognize about
Sabbatical that the telling of the stories is always only
supplemental in that it adds to a story about it (the story)
that is not, ever, itself complete.
Our sense of Sabbatical "having read" it is that it is
an unfinished story. The abortion story or the story of
Fenn's cardiac episode does not answer the question about
whether Fenn and Susan will have children. That is a
decision, as we have already seen, that is never, within


160
my name, and it is as though I were chanting my own dirge: I
separate myself from myself, I am no longer either my
presence or my reality, but an objective, impersonal
presence, the presence of my name, which goes beyond me and
whose stone-like immobility performs exactly the same
function for me as a tombstone writhing on the void
(Blanchot 42-43). No matter what Scheherazade tells of
herself in this story, it will never be what she was, which
is why Blanchot can also say, paradoxically, that "the book
that has been exhumed ... is born all over again" (93).
May Jump says, even before suggesting the possibility of a
change, "the storytellers present have had their necks right
on the line like Scher, 'cause every time we come to bat,
excuse my metaphor, it's a whole new ball game" (TT 577).
When Scheherazade is "transported" back, it isn't by an
enchantment, a chanting or a repetition, not by finding a
formula in words that needs repeating. And further, no one
can finish the story for her by simply repeating it, because
no one sees her disappear. The unfinishedness of her story
remains an aspect of the story. Though Peter suggests that
May Jump should finish the story the following night, the
way Scheherazade would have. May tells him not to count on
it. We can not count on the story's ever being finished
because (as well as adding to) the supplement also replaces
what it supplements. Every time the supplement replaces a
text in order to complete it, the supplement points out its


64
J. Hillis Miller's The Linguistic Moment, a thorough
study of the relation between time and language, can help us
through (or at least into) the problem of time in Sabbatical
and The Tidewater Tales. Miller notices that language has
de-temporalized time. He moves back in time (to Wordsworth)
to dispose of the idea that de-temporalization is a modern
thing: because it is a function of language, it has taken
place as long as there has been language. He therefore
argues against the idea of a "progress of linguistic
sophistication" (181), making his case in the form of a
circle, a form that stops time and denies that progress.
Miller says that works of literature are not just now,
with the advent of modernism, taking themselves into
account, incorporating the criticism of other texts, and
thereby becoming philosophies of literature. Signs have
always referred to other signs. So works of literature are
not becoming more sophisticated. The circle seems the
appropriate metaphor.
But the shape of The Linguistic Moment is problematic
from the beginning:
The reading of the book, the traversal of the
never quite complete circling it makes, will bring
the reader back to where he or she is at the
beginning. At the beginning, nevertheless, the
reader is not quite able to know where he or she
is, or it would not be necessary to read the book
to get there with a new awareness. (xvii)
Miller's book can only describe a "noncircular circle" (423)
or one that is incomplete. For a book to actually be a
circle, its reader would have to know as much at the


57
seem to be part of the same conception. Still wondering how
to begin toward the apparent end of Sabbatical. Fenn makes a
statement that is as applicable to the relation between two
texts as between the beginning and ending of one. Susan
prompts:
Which came first?
They both come first! How could either come
before the other, except as one twin happens to
get delivered earlier? (S 365)
Regardless of their conception, though, one is "delivered
earlier," Sabbatical was published first. Though it is the
same storm, it seems to end Sabbatical and begin The
Tidewater Tales. The sequentiality of the texts would seem
to disrupt any notion of their circling, but at the point of
origination and apocalypse circling tends to bring about
The Collapsing of Time.
Susan wants to make their story in the shape of a circle for
the purpose of bringing about that collapse. At the end of
Sabbatical she says,
. . If that's going to be our story, then let's
begin it at the end and end at the beginning, so
we can go on forever. Begin with our living
happily ever after. (S 365)
If the beginning of a story is literally the story's
end, "beginning" and "end" are meaningless, except as
signifiers of an arbitrary point at which one notices that
they are meaningless, that the point is arbitrary. Circling
within a text is the denial of an origin and end, which is
to say, the wish for immortality.


61
in the same way as "Once upon a time": they both mark a
point in time that is previous to the story as the beginning
of the story.
A story can be constructed in such a way that the
delivery of the event that begins the story can coincide
with the event that also ends the story:
Blami cries Kath, A storm at sea. At bay.
Says Peter Blam BlooeyI Two storms. At once.
(TT 75)
They decide that the story will be "bracketed" by twin
storms. The storms twin in the same sense that the
Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales are twinone only
happens to be delivered earlier. Because in the "Ordinary
Point Delivery Story," at the apparent end of "Our Story,"
Peter and Katherine run through the list of events and
objects to be delivered and the sequence of their delivery
and because a new title page (including "The Tidewater
Tales" and an expanded subtitle) follows "Our Story," it is
implied that "Our Story" occurs preliminary to the "actual"
story. But the introductoriness of "Our Story" is negated
by the circling of titles and by the breaking down of
sequentiality. The event that concludes the inventory of
their story and the introduction and thereby begins their
stories. which are The Tidewater Tales, is the second
stormand the first. Let's do that again: since the
"Ordinary Point Delivery Story" catalogues the order of the
events of the story, it "ends" with the second storm. Since
the "end" of the "introduction," which is that delivery


166
finds in searching for the truth or meaning of history is
that the record is always defective, in part because
"facts," information, texts, about the so-called historical
event are always found to be missing. Rather than a history
"pieced together" we have ever widening gaps, a disturbing
encompassing absence of history. Our subject, therefore, is
not simply the place of truth in history. We will ask,
rather, what follows the questioning of truth. And what
follows, we will find, organizes itself narratively, because
any question about truth will lead one back and therefore
will constitute and will call for the construction of a
sequence and will rely on a temporality.
The Coming Back of Repetition, A Speculative
Organization of Texts
With a movement essential to the telling of stories, we
will return to a story that is also the deferral of a story
within Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales that both
illustrates and is a part of a repetition and a speculation:
the coming back of the hat.
Sabbatical is framed, so to speak, by Fenn's losing and
finding his hat.23 Near the beginning, just before he and
Susan reach Poe Cove, Fenn leans out over the gunwale to
23 In Freud, the hat is considered a symbol of the male
genital organ and also of castration. It is an extention of
the head, which is considered phallic, and can be detached
as in saluting, which is why the salute by taking off the
hat signifies an abasement before the saluted person (Freud
14: 162-63).


171
something that is not being talked about, and
which must give good returns) to distance
pleasure, the object or principle of pleasure, the
object and/or the pleasure principle, here
represented by the spool which is supposed to
represent the mother (and/or, as we will see,
supposed to represent the father . .), in order
to bring it (him) back indefatigably. It (he)
pretends to distance the pleasure principle in
order to bring it (him) back ceaselessly, in order
to observe that itself it (himself he) brings
itself (himself) back (for it (he) has in it (him)
self the principle force of its (his) own economic
return to the house, his home, near it (him) self
despite all the difference), and them to conclude:
it (he) is still there, I am always there. Da.
The pleasure principle maintains all its (his)
authority, it (he) has never absented it (him)
self. (The Post Card 302)
The movement of the fort:da. Derrida shows, is therefore a
double movement, a double fort:da. a coming back of
repetition itself in the writing. The story "conjugates
into the same . writing the narrated and the narrating
of this narrative ..." (Derrida, The Post Card 303).
What is essential for us is to mark, to repeat, to re
mark, the fort:da of Sabbatical.
In Sabbatical. we notice a repetition not only of the
object that frames the story, not only of the hat, but also
of the process of writing by which the story is told. That
Fenn is in no hurry to find out which story will frame
Sabbatical. how Sabbatical will end, is marked by the
narrators from the first paragraph forward. Fenn would be
happy to "tell the story again" as Susan demands in the
opening lines,
But before he can invoke his dark-eyed muse, sole
auditor, editor, partner, wife, best friend,


129
characters are too minor to be part of the story, what type
of narration, what organization, what footnotes, etc.
Because both Fenn and Susan are twins, Fenn says, they
might use "narcissism as the image of [their] love for
another" (S 332). By loving themselves in their
independence, they would establish a relation to someone
other, because they would love themselves as their twin.
And regardless of their twinship, the reinscription of
independence establishes one of the functions of love, the
double movement of love as the synthetic moment.
Fenn and Susan try to join in the telling of Sabbatical
by coupling the point of view. On the first reading of the
beginning of Sabbatical, one can't decide who is telling the
story. That confusion is due mostly to there being two
usually distinct points of view that form one point of view
doubledthe third person singular and the first person
plural: "Fenn would be happy to give it another go? we have
fiddled with our tale through this whole sabbatical voyage"
(S 9, emphasis mine). Because quotations aren't
distinguished with quotation marks from the exposition of
the story by the narrator, it is not easy, at first, to tell
when someone is speaking, so it might seem that the narrator
was the first person singular as well:
Oh, Fenn, she groans, I've got us lost. (S 21)
The only time we have the first person singular is in the
quotation of someone speaking. The third person is used for
the narrators' reference to themselves, individually as


243
it is Susan7s feeling that something is missing from their
story. The figure and the description of the story, the
theory of narration, are no more interchangeable in The
Tidewater Tales. The movements toward delivery are not
merely coincidental and are not substitutive.
As soon as we think in traditional terms about the use
of a metaphor, about the figure as a substitute for the
theory of narration, a double insemination will have already
taken place. The figure will have given the story its
"life" and the story will have given the figure its, so that
the only way they can function is in terms of the other, a
contraction without equivalence.
When Peter begins the labor of his writing, we know,
with the certainty and according to the rhythm of a
contraction, that Katherine has begun hers. We know this
not simply because we have anticipated the rigorous
organization of the story (the fact is that we have been
forewarned about it), but because the delivery organizes
itself narratively, according to a narrative view: in terms
of a sequence of events and a looking forward. A delivery
defines itself as that which is looked forward to; a
delivery will follow a labor. But delivery has never
occurred, that is, has never taken place within the story;
we cannot think of delivery as establishing itself,
occupying a place or a time. The future is its only tense;
the delivery will be made. This is why we will never read
the book that Peter and Katherine say they are writing, the


40
Barth's indenting the verses, which serves to indicate their
repetition as well as their genre. Being the archetypal
introduction of a story, it would tend to lull its readers
into analytical complacency; it offers itself simply as a
sign (like any other sign) marking this point the
"beginning." But as an introduction to Sabbatical. it is
ironic and complex. It is suggested that the story will
begin after the opening line, specifically with the
italicized words Susie and Fenn. but, in fact, it has
already begun. "'There was a story . .'" is a part of the
story that is about problematic beginnings, a part of
Sabbatical. Barth says that "Fenwick Turner savs 'there was
a story that began,' etc., but in fact he has not yet begun
the story he knows is there to be told" (FB 240). We are
not in contradiction, though we might seem to be. The story
Fenn proposes to tell might not yet be read as the story of
Sabbatical. As we read on, though, we find that Sabbatical
is all there is of Fenn's story and he, in fact, claims it
as his own. Fenn's story and the story of Sabbatical are
being repeated but have not yet begun. To say that a story
has already begun or, to be emphatic about it, always
already begun is to say that the beginning cannot be
localized, that there is no location by which we can cite
the beginning, which is to say that the beginning has not
actually occurredit has not taken place so does not exist
in such a way that it can be found or met with, which is to


44
"neutralize [Manfred], if not convert him. What happened
was more the opposite" (S 45). When Doog's pitch is
followed up, Fenn tries to step off the circle:
It goes without saying, Marilyn Marsh says,
that you can say no.
Fenn says No.
Marcus Henry asks Is that the end of your
interest in [Manfred and Gus]?
Fenn considers. Yes. (S 304)
To know about Manfred and Gus, Fenn has to take the pitch,
has to involve himself in the CIA. Fenn's "no" is
ineffective, and his "yes" is an outright liean angry
claim that he can dissociate himself from the CIA and rid
himself of its influence.
Whereas Fenn's trip to Washington illustrates the
difficulty of extricating oneself from the circle, Susan's
trip to Baltimore illustrates the problem of closing the
circle. What happens in Baltimore is this: Susan has an
abortion. What is relevant about the abortion to this
argument is that she has it without discussing it with Fenn.
They get pregnant without deciding to get pregnant, and so
that Fenn will not be trapped into saying "have the baby,"
she has the abortion without Fenn's being in on the
decision. Near the apparent end of the book, when the
abortion story ("Susan's Friday" [S 287-97]) is told, Fenn
and Susan's problems are unresolved. At the climax of the
story, when it seems that they will split up, Fenn cannot
even decide which way to steer the boat; they "circle slowly
in mid-channel" (S 347) around the red and black buoy that


207
book from within. Don Quixote receives a sign from "the
Enchanter himself,"
the all-seeing Moorish historian Cide Hamete
Benengeli, author of The Ingenious Gentleman Don
Quixote of La Mancha. The Moor has published Part
One; Quixote himself, like all of Europe, has read
it. He will now be in midst of setting down Part
Two, whereof the Knight's every present action is,
as it were, a sentence.
Don Quixote strokes his beard. Don Quixote
steadies himself with his stick. Don Quixote
seats himself in the skiff's stern and waits to
see what Don Quixote will do next. (TT 474)
Cide Hamete Benengeli is spoken of by Peter and Don Quixote,
and speaks of himself in Don Quixote, as a historian. The
implication is, of course, that Don Quixote can read about
his real life as it is recorded in the history written by
Cide Hamete. The problem with the history is two-fold:
writing in the present denies the reality of the thing
written about and thus its "historical" significance, and
(partly for that reason) the "historian" is not to be
trusted.
Peter uses the present tense in his example of the
*
equation of writing and narration ("Don Quixote strokes his
beard . .") to illustrate the "yielding of reality"; if
every present action were a sentence, then "reality" would
seem to be the thing written. But narrating in the present
tense is not writing in the present, nor is it being in the
present. The time of the writing is always the past. One
reads what has already been written.
Not far into Peter's illusion of Cide Hamete's writing-
in-the-present does the "present action" of Don Quixote turn


81
editing, dismantling the scaffolding, testing the wiring and
the plumbing . (L 771). LETTERS cannot actually be the
point of division of Barth's careerthe end of a stage
isalways provisional, the "now" must always be questioned
with quotation marks. One of the items in the "file"
"sloop Brilliq found abandoned in Chesapeake Bay off mouth
of Patuxent River, all sails out, C.I.A. documents in
attache case aboard. Body of owner, former C.I.A. agent,
recovered from Bay one week later, 40 pounds of scuba-diving
weights attached, bullet hole in head" (L 772)is the
parent of "The Strange True Case of John Arthur Paisley" of
Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales, issues (Webster gives
us) of a disordered imagination.
Disposing of the Text
In deciding how to organize their story, what to
include, what needs to be developed, Susan and Fenn, the
narrators of Sabbatical. come back around to the footnote to
the initial problematic "we" and Susan's ambiguous tears:
* This we, those verses, Susan's tears, these
notes at the feet of certain pagesall shall be
made clear, in time. (S 9)
At her mentioning of her sister Miriam's being gang-raped at
Virginia Beach and being tortured by the Shah's thugs, Susan
is weeping again, and "The reader now understands, but for
one detail, her tears of some pages past" (S 47). Fenn
wonders whether Susan is okay.
I'm okay, I'm okay. That little exposition [the
story of Miriam's other rapes] will have to be


232
"The Ending" when the story teller "Tucks Us All In," trying
to tie up all the loose ends of the story, the hypothetical
listener "nods off before he can exasperate our narrator by
asking So where is that Captain Whatsisname?" (TT 653). We
are never told the end of the story about Don Quixote in the
cave of Montesinos, about how Don Quixote comes out of the
cave into the world of Peter Sagamore and becomes Captn Don
(Donald Quicksoat, "Captain Whatsisname"). The end of this
story has no place in "The Ending."
"The Ending" is told in response to a general
dissatisfaction with the unfinishedness of May's
Scheherazade stories, and in particular of "Prisoners of
Dramaturgy, or, Scheherazade's Unfinished Story Unfinished."
Presumably what would finish the stories would be
Scheherazade's being sent back to her place and time and
order of reality by the speaking of an enchantment yet to be
discovered. Her seemingly random disappearance, and
especially the fact that no one sees her disappear, prompts
all May's listeners to protest the story's lack of
conclusion. And though Peter asks, "When did Scheherazade
ever finish a story the same night she began?" suggesting
the coming of "The Ending" and of the end of Scheherazade's
story, Lee says that "We don't know for sure she's back
where she came from" and Carla B Silver that "Maybe she only
appeared to disappear" (TT 613). Peter assumes that the
story is unfinished because a dramaturgically appropriate
enchantment has not been spoken, but Lee and Carla B Silver


98
that would take into account its own disruption without also
bringing about its self-destruction. "Fenwick and Susan are
at a Y" (S 236). And in "The Fork," Sabbatical's third
part, their story culminates at Cacaway Island"the crotch
of the Y" (S 350, emphasis mine)where the East and West
Forks of Langford Creek run together. The Y or the fork is,
of course, roughly the configuration of the female
reproductive systemthe uterus and the fallopian tubes.
But because the Y is also the structure of decision
making (of analysis and synthesis), it is also the source of
Sabbatical's narrative abortion.
2. Forking, The Y
At the end of The Fork's second chapter, which is
subtitled "The Fork," Fenn dreams what is essentially a
summary of the choices that he and Susan face, choices on
which they base, as we have seen, the success or failure of
their sabbatical voyage. And he dreams for the summary the
appropriate structure:
prompted no doubt by Susan's rowing directions, he
dreams our possible futures as a literal fork in
the channel, or a series of such forks, each
presenting us with the options of steering
astarboard, aport or astern. (S 319)
Going "right" for Fenn implies accepting his academic
appointment, "committing his main energies therefrom not to
further exposure of the CIA but to improvement of his
academic credentials and to fathering and parenting a child


80
B
This revised organization illustrates a story's turning in
on itself and reflects the computer's "vexing" "tendency to
self-mimicry" (L 147). Self-mimicry is "vexing" because it
can reveal contradictions or flaws within the system being
mimicked. We can use the "Golden-Triangular Freitag" itself
as the example. Though the new schema can suggest a story's
turning in on itself, its self-reflection, and possibly even
a "tendency to self-mimicry," it cannot also represent its
self-destruction, which is caused by the turning in, etc.
No model can represent simply the absence of order because
as a model it would entail an organization, however
provisional, because, in other words, the model would
countermand its own representation. Whereas The End of the
Road warns that abortion can be self-destructive, LETTERS
argues that it is not necessarily or absolutely self
destructive.
LETTERS cannot function simply as an organization of
Barth's previous fiction. Inevitably, there occurs in the
rewriting, in the self-reflection, a deconstructionthe
principles of organization are tested against the text in
which they reside. In the final letter, "L: The Author to
the Reader, LETTERS is 'now' ended. Envoi.." the author
"goes forward with Horace's 'labor of the file': rewriting,


apparent oppositions, thereby achieving a postmodern
synthesis" (Harris 153).
122
The problem is determining how this anticipated unity
is to be achieved. The impulse in Barth, particularly in
Sabbatical, Harris correctly identifies as "nondualistic."
Barth wants to create a way beyond the dilemma, the double
bind, faced in The Fork, a term that will not simply
reinscribe duality. The problem is how one is to
"transcend" the dualistic division of the universe and
thereby achieve a "nondualistic conjunction." The problem
is that as soon as we think of unity or disunity as a
"problem," duality has already been reinscribed. The
opposition between unity and duality stands as a testament
to opposition as the principle determinant of the universe.
Harris reads Giles Goat-Bov as a "Synthesis Attained"
(that is the subtitle of his chapter on Giles Goat-Bov).
According to Harris, the story contains a "dialectical
structure": it describes a thesis, an antithesis, and a
synthesis. The synthesis "retains the elements of the prior
phases, but in an altered or elevated stateaufgehoben"
(Harris 88). According to Harris, the dialectic is Hegel's.
Since it is likely that Hegel's dialectic and his idea
of synthesis will be applied to Sabbatical by its critics
(Harris's book stops with LETTERS), we should look at the
nature of synthesis and Hegel's use of it to see how
Harris's comments hold up under the pressure of an extensive
study of Hegel such as Jacques Derrida's Glas.


197
who is writing about J.B. writing about Giles. . .
[T]here could be another John Barth playing the role of John
Barth, novelist, writing about John Barth, who is writing
about Giles. ... An endless progression of illusions is
possible" (118). Barth's work does suggest the possibility
of, as he says in "The Literature of Exhaustion," the
"regressus in infinitum"the narrator who claims to be the
author of the work the narrator is in is a version of that
regression. But Kennard does not seem to be convinced by
her own argument: "The Post Tape, which invalidates all the
previous tapes, comes at the end of the novel. As J.B..
Barth then points out in a Postscript the internal evidence
against the Post tape's authenticity . ." (131, emphasis
mine). Though she explains that the novel "inflicts upon
the reader the inability to establish anything for certain"
(131), Kennard seems to have established the origin of the
supposedly infinite reflection: "Barth" writes "as J.B."
No matter that an endless progression of illusions is
possible. Kennard finds at the beginning or the bottom of
the work, the author, not simply the name of the author, but
the real-life person. The origin, though, is always born
away.
The claim of authorship (all of Barth's narrators claim
to be the author of the works they narrate) makes
problematic the time of writing. To write "I am doing this
now" or "I will write this down" claims that the act of
writing is in the present or the future, but the "now" or


170
resigns himself again by dismissing the value of a single
case study"no certain decision can be reached from the
analysis of a single case like this" (18: 16).
Derrida calls this "argument," the proceeding of
Freud's writing, Beyond the Pleasure Principle's pas de
these because despite several steps forward there is no
advancement in the question of the pleasure principle as
absolute master. Freud puts forward, "advances," "argues,"
a thesis that is not a thesis, by taking steps that go
nowhere, pas de these (a non-thesis organized as if it were
taking argumentative steps).
For Freud, the game was related to the child's
"instinctual renunciation (that is, the renunciation of
instinctual satisfaction) which he had made in allowing his
mother to go away without protesting." The "repetition of
this disturbing experience" as a game should be considered
an illustration of the pleasure principle because the
mother's "departure had to be enacted as a necessary
preliminary to her joyful return" (Freud 18: 16). The game
is also connected to the father's absence, which Freud says
has caused the child some anxiety.
Derrida argues that Freud's description and
interpretation of the story of the spool itself proceeds
according to the logic of the fort:da:
Fold back: he (the grandson of his grandfather,
the grandfather of his grandson) compulsively
repeats repetition without it ever advancing
anywhere, not one step. He repeats an operation
which consists in distancing, in pretending (for a
time, for time: thereby writing and doing


30
Schleiermacher contended that the concept of the hermeneutic
circle is not invalid, but that logic cannot account for the
operation of understanding. In fact, understanding requires
an intuitive "leap" into the hermeneutic circle, and we
thereby understand the whole and the parts together.
Suggesting the possibility of an intuitive leap seems to beg
the question of how one begins to understand, to beg the
question of the circle's validity in terms of its logic.
The question immediately posed by the circle is this: how
can one understand anything if understanding entails the
presupposition of knowledge about the thing? To say that
understanding is partly intuitive is to say that we do
understand, to assume the very thing that is being
questioned.
Dilthey points out that, since every part presupposes
the others, there is no true starting point for
understanding. In other words, there can be no
"presuppositionless" understanding (Palmer 120-21). Doing
away with the idea of a starting point has as a consequence
doing away with the need for a "leap" into the circle.
Heidegger agrees with Schleiermacher that understanding "is
not to be reduced to a vicious circle," but not that the
circle's "problem" of logic is itself to be circumscribed by
intuition. For Heidegger, the circle of understanding is
itself the expression of what he calls the "fore-structure":
"All interpretation," which he defines as "the working out
of the possibilities projected in understanding," "operates


235
Scheherazade" (TT 644). The voice is that of a "projected
narrator" (TT 654), one who if thrown forward is in no way
objectified or externalized. The narrator has to be viewed
as an extension of what projects it.
This "projected narrator" claims that the only thing
left to do is to end the poem in which Katherine set the
task of coming to an end. That has been the task all
alongto end the poem, to come to an end. All that is left
to do is precisely what was left at the setting of the task;
we have come no closer to the end in coming to "The Ending."
The poem can do no more than point out its own
unfinishedness.
We thought we lacked a closing rhyme for cost
To end our poem with: one less bleak than lost.
Remember? But we were in formal fact
Not at the end at all. (TT 654)
And here in the text is no end either: "We'd launched a new
stanzaic pair: a Jack / Implying and preceding some new
Jill" (TT 654). The implication of a "new Jill" is our
reading "The Tidewater Tales: A Novel" (on page 656) which
follows the poem, not as an end or as a repetition of the
beginning but as a "new" text, "a whole new tale" (TT 655).
The end is not the word lost after all; but the end is lost
if by that we mean it was never found. The search for a
closing rhyme is abandoned as the text moves into prose.
This "new" text cannot be considered an outside-text,
nor can it be considered a direct reference to the "real";
"The Tidewater Tales: A Novel" does not refer directly to
the book we hold in our hands when we read those words.


41
say that the story has not yet begun. We circle in
Sabbatical between the already and the not yet.
Graybeard Fenn would be happy to give it another
go; we2 have fiddled with our tale through this
whole sabbatical voyage: down the Intracoastal in
the fall in our cruising sailboat, Pokey. Wve I..
from Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico and
across to Yucatan; all about the Caribbean island
hopping through the mild winter of 1980; and in
May through our first lazy open-ocean passage,
from St. John in the U.S. Virgins direct for the
Virginia Capes, Chesapeake Bay, Wye Island, the
closing of the circle, sabbatical's end. (S 9)
Apparently, Fenn has told the story before or tried to: this
is "another go," another telling or at least another attempt
at beginning. Fenn and Susan's fiddling with the tale is
the inevitable difficulty of getting it going. Though the
sabbatical is over, or, to be precise, nearly over, they
have not yet decided how to begin Sabbatical. Precision,
here, is important, considering the logic of the circle.
("Sabbatical" [the voyage] comes to be conflated with
"Sabbatical" [the story as well as the book], so that even
the first mention of the term in the opening paragraph has
to be read as meaning both the voyage and the story.) If
their voyage and story are circular, the end of the
sabbatical will have to be the beginning of Sabbatical.
Strictly speaking, the "closing of the circle" of the voyage
is not marked by the regaining of the Chesapeake Bay or even
2 This "we," which refers to Fenn and Susan, is
confusing because Fenn, who makes this speech, uses both the
third person (in referring to himself) and the first person
(in referring to himself and Susan); the intricacy of
Sabbatical's point of view is discussed in the "Forking"
section of Chapter II.


188
Greeks. Just as they taught that all knowledge is a ^
recollection, so will modern philosophy teach that the whole
of life is a repetition" (Kierkegaard 3). We should not
want to forget that Susan "backwaters to Aristotle" (S 232)
at least twice (to distinguish lexis from melos [S 12] and
in reading Nabokov [S 232]). Repetition and recollection
are "the same movement" (Kierkegaard 3), but they move in
opposite directions, so from them follow oppositional
results. For example, "repetition makes man happy, whereas
recollection makes him unhappy" (Kierkegaard 4).
Recollection begins with loss, "hence it is secure, for it
has nothing to lose" (Kierkegaard 12); repetition begins
with the possibility of gain and so at least the
anticipation of happiness, hence it is insecure, for if
repetition is not possible (the narrator never concedes its
security), then recollection is all repetition has to "look
forward" to. The "mistake" of the poet is that he
recollects, so stands at the supposed end (Kierkegaard 13);
the narrator, who seeks the possibility of repetition,
thinks he stands at the beginning.
The plot of Repetition describes an "experiment"
testing the possibility of repetition. The narrator
actually tries to recreate events. He places himself in
situations, such as traveling to a specific city on a
specific train or watching a burlesque or conducting his
servants, for a second time in order to have precisely the
same experience he had the first time. He is repeatedly


211
preterite occurs in all texts that question the truth.) If
the statements are organized according to a sequence, even
if the statements are made in the present tense ("Don
Quixote strokes his beard. Don Quixote steadies himself
with his stick."), the pastness of one situation in relation
to the other will establish itself and will reflect the
pastness of the writing. A parallelism between the time of
writing and the time of narration can never be maintained.
Strictly speaking, in a narrative the time of writing is
never the time of the story or the narration of the story.
When Don Quixote loses his boat and is swept under by
the river at the bottom of the Cave of Montesinos, he begins
to question the historicality, and thus the trustworthiness,
of his enchanter; Don Quixote has a "vision of the Moor in
whom he has so misplaced his trust, now calmly inscribing
in beautiful, heartless Arabicthe sentence Thus ends Part
Two of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha" (TT
477). The implication of Don Quixote's misplacing his trust
is that his trust is better placed elsewhere. Where then?
In Cervantes? We will see in the following that the author
should never be considered the repository of the truth.
In Peter's Part Two, Don Quixote recants his lack of
faith, because he finds himself still alive, continuing in
his Part Two: "it's to my Moorish enchanter that I owe both
my peril and my rescue" (TT 481). But still equivocal about
his origin as he sets out again, now in search of the one to
whom his greatest debt is owed, "he somehow understood that


138
what the writer would mean, which is to say that reading
will necessarily entail being misled if one reads for or
toward a metaphysical, historical, or psychobiographical
referent.
We should point out deliberately another precaution
(one that is also, for other reasons, Derrida's): "To
produce this signifying structure obviously cannot consist
of reproducing" (Of Grammatoloav 158). Reading never simply
doubles the text; it is not a production that is, in any
absolute sense, a repetition. In reading The Tidewater
Tales. the term reproduction, though it is seldom
encountered, will bring itself forward because of the
metaphors to which the supplement is bound in that text;
because, for example, conception and delivery are marked in
The Tidewater Tales as aspects of writing and narration, and
therefore of reading, we have to argue the supplementarity
of reading within the context of these metaphors. There is
no contradiction in the inevitable appearance of this term.
Reproduction (Peter and Katherine almost always break it
down into more strategic units: insemination, conception,
delivery, etc.) is not within The Tidewater Tales simply the
doubling of the parents or the doubling of commentary on the
work that is therefore produced.
It would be tempting to speak of the metaphor as a
supplement of the idea of supplementarity and therefore to
speak of the idea, the concept, as the "parent text," but
this metaphorization may imply that the idea is somehow


INTRODUCTION
Rethinking the Beyond
One of the things that bothers John Barth, that bothers
me too, is that what we are writing today, our literature,
seems to be at an intellectual standstill. What worries him
is that it will (or has already) come to a narrative
standstill too. In The Tidewater Tales a story within a
story is framed by his anxiety:
a man who once magically visited Scheherazade now
wishes that she could visit him, so that if what
he's done must be essentially what he'll do, it
might be done at least as spiritedly and
wholeheartedly as before. In short, that story
was this story, and, like this one, it was not
only unfinished, but stuck. (TT 603)
Stuck is essentially the situation with which we are left in
Sabbatical and with which we take up The Tidewater Tales.
Fenn and Susan cannot decide, within Sabbatical. what to do
with themselves, how to end their story; Peter Sagamore has
minimalized his stories nearly to the vanishing point, so
cannot begin his and Katherine's. Barth, the author of them
all, tries to drive them, narratively, "to some presumable
farther shore" (TT 284).
Barth's work confronts a variety of linguistic binds
(such as the development of meaning in the face of the
1


212
the Cide Hamete Benengeli is no less a fiction than Don
Quixote de la Mancha, the Knight of Doleful Aspect" (TT
487). Though he seems to understand that he is part of the
text and that his "historian" is a narrator who is also a
part of the text, Don Quixote is offended when he chances
upon someone reading a translation of "Parts I & IInot by
the Cide Hamete Benengeli, but by . Miguel de Cervantes
Saavedra" (TT 488). Don Quixote cannot readily abandon his
belief in the reality of history and in the factual-
historical nature of the text. Both the reality of history
and the factual-historical nature of the text are anchored,
so to speak, in the reality and the stability and the
singularity of the author. To come upon a "second author"
is to disrupt both the reality of the "first" and the system
upon which the reality of the "second" might be based. Don
Quixote's defence of his enchanter is another claim for the
historical accuracy of the text written about him:
The circumstance that Benengeli is not a Christian
does not license his history to be sold under
false authorship or imitated and extended without
his authorization. The clerk amused, replies that
there have in fact been such imitations and false
sequels; indeed, that it was the true author's
indignation at one such that prompted Part Two of
the book in hand, a full decade after the great
success of Part One. But the perpetrator of that
false sequel was not Hamete Benengeli, for that
admirable Moor is as much a figment of great
Cervantes's imagination as are Sancho Panza and
Don Quixote himself. (TT 488)
Though the "true" author writes a Part Two in order to
establish a sequel that is true or that in some way conveys
the truth about its author, it is the following of Part Two


162
that her coining to an end is problematic if not impossible:
"Indeed, there's a wry implication," in the King's order
that Scheherazade's stories be written down, "that her next
massive narrative labor will have to be telling all those
stories over again, to the scribes, plus the one about
herself and Shahryer ..." (FB 280). Her work is not over
and neither is that of The Tidewater Tales. The story of
the story being told always remains to be told. Though,
according to Barth, she has earned the right not to tell any
more stories ever, that right can never be exercised within
the text if her task is to come to the end of the story.
Though her "first failure to conceivea kind of biological
writer's blockcould well serve to remind Scheherazade that
on any morning after the night when her teaming brain shall
finally have been gleaned, she might preemptorily cease to
be" (FB 279), the morning after will never have come.
Like The Tidewater Tales: A Novel, finished now
But for some wrap-up word, some curtain line . .
. . Comrade reader, look again.
Through the keyless hole or holeless key of Form.
We thought we lacked a closing rhyme for cost
To end our poem with: one less bleak then lost.
Remember? But we were in formal fact
Not at the end at all.
In formal fact we, they, are still not at the end, not
finished:
We'd launched a new stanzaic pair: a Jack
Implying and preceding some new Jill
. . A whole
New ball game! Maybe a whole new tale in verse
. or prose: Our House's Increase, by P.S. out


29
the texts for which meaning is sought. The relation between
the whole and the part is, therefore, dialecticaleach
gives the other meaning. Since a dialectical relation is
one that is logically circular, understanding, according to
Schleiermacher, takes the circle as its model.
Schleiermacher himself is, of course, part of a circle
of understanding about the development of the theory of
interpretation; by his own definition, his work can only be
understood in terms of its larger context. Richard Palmer
discusses, in his Hermeneutics. two forerunners of
Schleiermacher (Ast and Wolf) who form that context. And
Gadamer, in Truth and Method, shows us that the principle of
the hermeneutic circle stems from ancient rhetoric,
specifically, from the dialogic question and answer;
There is no such thing as a method of learning to
ask questions, of learning to see what needs to be
questioned. On the contrary, the example of
Socrates teaches that the important thing is the
knowledge that one does not know. ... All
questioning and desire to know presuppose a
knowledge that one does not know. . (329)
This presupposition is what leads one to a particular
question; it is also the "problem" with the hermeneutic
circle because it involves a logical contradiction. As
Palmer puts it, "if we must grasp the whole before we can
understand the parts, then we shall never understand
anything" (87).
The fact that the hermeneutic circle presupposes a
knowledge of the thing to be understood brings to question
the validity of the circle as a model of understanding.


CHAPTER IV
REPETITION, HISTORY, NARRATION
In this chapter I will advance two theses that are not
entirely distinct ideologically or even textually (though
they might seem to be). They are divided so that in the
sequentiality for which they call and in their reprisal of
each other they might better illustrate*the questioning of
repetition, of history, and of narration.
The fact that Barth is interested in repetition as a
subject to be taken up in fiction, in fact as a subject
demanded by fiction, has not gone undetected. His critics
have approached the general issue in a variety of ways: in
terms of doubling, in terms of parody and imitation, and
perhaps most thoroughly in terms of self-reflection.19 So
far, though, as we will see, the idea of a textual
repetition has not been fully developed. Up to now the
claims about repetition in Barth have been based on the
assumption that the repetition of or in a text is
containable and finite, that we can go back to a time before
repetition, and that we can, therefore, identify the
"original" repetition and the thing that was for the "first
19 See, for example, Bell, Kennard, and Antush.
164


144
text that is read. We have only the identification of the
speakers ("she says," "says Peter") that imply that what we
are reading is not part of the text they are reading. But
we are given no assurances; and, regardless, Peter and
Katherine's reading is part of our understanding, a part of
our reading, of the text, SEX EDUCATION: Play.
Peter and Katherine find they cannot read without
interjecting a reading, without supplementing, without
writing: reading Act One, "Peter says if she doesn't stop
interrupting, we'll have to write her lines into the script"
(TT 148), and "under Act Two's title," Act Two continues as
if we are not already under Act Two's title, "(we still
can't recall ever having seen chapter-like titles on the
acts and scenes of television plays) she reads"
Scene 1: The Swimmer
Says Peter, What else is new? Katherine reads
(TT 371-72)
Not many lines into this reading that is also a writing of
Act Two, what was suggested by an ambiguity is given a
formality called for by the playscript; Peter and
Katherine's reading, which could not readily be
distinguished from the supposed text being read, has become
a formalized part of the playscript as if it were there
already:
MAY: Wasn't that second whirlpool a bitch!
(As they speak, they repair their envelopes,
assisting each other in the places difficult for
the wearer to reach.1)
KATHERINE: Uh-oh.
PETER: Don't start uh-ohing. Hand it over.


202
disturbing that "Barth has taken some liberties with the
historical records" and calls Barth's play "intellectual
frivolity" (603), implying not only the priority of the real
but also the certainty of the historical. Philip E. Diser
comparing Barth's book to "data" found in historical records
(49) illustrates Barth's quotation from the work of "the
real Ebenezer Cooke" (52), and concludes, "Certainly, as
Richard Kostalentz has said, Barth's novel is a mockery of
written history, but it is mockery within an accurate
framework" (58). Diser wants us to understand Barth not as
a failure because of his historical "impurity" but as
brilliant and original and in touch with the truth about
history. It is telling to point out that the criticism
subsequent to Holder and Diser, though based on the
assumption that "written history" should not be accepted "as
unadulterated fact" (Ewell 33), nevertheless clings to the
possibility of historical accuracy. Though Barbara Ewell
says that "any scheme imposed on the past must somehow be
inadequate" (43) and that an "attempt to fix the past still"
will be accompanied by "the aura of mental construction and
distortion," she also claims that "the imagined past in
Barth impinges on the reality it supposedly elucidates and
achieves a measure of reality in its own right" (46). Ewell
is trying to cope with what Barth has called, in the
"Literature of Exhaustion," "a real piece of imagined
reality." To "imagine reality" or "invent history" is not
to create something real but to make realitythe term, the


168
River safe-house story, which I haven't told you
yet. (S 45-46)
Because Fenn identifies the coining back of the hat with
the coming to an end of a stage of his life (S 44), but
especially because the coming back washes into the telling
of stories, he is in no hurry to get the hat back and in "no
hurry to find out" (S 46) which story is needed to bring it
back.
Since the coming back of the hat this third time will
be the framing of their story, the framing of Sabbatical.
what the narrators think of as the comp'letion and the coming
to the end of Fenn and Susan, they will defer the telling of
the story indefinitely. Sabbatical will become the story
that has not yet been told, not yet completed. The
repetition that is its framing will be shown to occur
without end. The coming back of the hat "near the end" of
Sabbatical will be shown to be a speculative repetition of a
speculative end.
With this general introduction, I would like to step
back to the works on which this reading is based to
establish if not a method of reading then a preliminary
immersion in the coming back. The story of the losing and
finding of the hat is very similar to the story of the
fort:da of the spool in Freud's Beyond the Pleasure
Principle. Very generally, this is the story of the child
who makes a game of throwing a spool with a string tied to
it into a cot and making a sound that represents, according
to Freud, the German word "fort" ("gone") and then pulling


48
own, thus assuring us a certain minimal readability of
French literaturein the same way we operate today within a
certain network of significations ..." (Of Grammatoloav
160). For Fenn and Susan, as well as for the reader of Fenn
and Susan, there is no outside of the text. They must begin
in the middle because middle is all there is; they begin on
the inside.
On the other hand, being within the text does not
insure the efficacy of enclosure but rather emanates from
the necessity of the text's being part of a "network of
significations" that will not allow one to "sustain the
coherence of one's own discourse" (Derrida, Of Grammatoloav
162). We might want to reach a point that is exterior in
relation to the totality of a text, what Derrida calls the
"exorbitant" because it would be outside the orbit (orbis)
of an enclosure, in order to see that what we are dealing
with is in fact a circle and an enclosure. We might, in
other words, desire a transcendent reading necessary for a
view of the whole. But such an exorbitancy cannot be given
methodological intraorbitary assurances. Within the
closure, the work can only be judged "in terms of the
accepted oppositions" (Derrida, Of Grammatoloav 162), and
attempting to get out of the orbit reestablishes the
oppositions one is attempting to exceed, principally the
opposition of inside and outside, which leads us to
conceptualize the text as an enclosure in the first place.


153
recognized as part of the history of literature) on which to
construct his imaginary worlds.17 Stopping there might
mislead one to believe that one can write without taking up
a given thread, without also reading the texts already part
of the history of literature. Barth understands, though,
that writing is not merely placing one text on top of
another, not merely an addition. Barth has said that he
thinks of himself as an arranger, "whose chiefest literary
pleasure is to take a received melodyan old narrative
poem, a classical myth, a shop worn literary convention
. . and, improvising like a jazzman within its
constraints, reorchestrate it to present purpose" (FB 7).
Though the stories of three of these four texts taken up in
The Tidewater Tales are continued (we find out for instance
what happens to Odysseus on his "Short Last Voyage"), their
plots turn and their motivation rests on their being part of
a system of production in which a reading is a necessary
aspect of the text produced. "What is a book that no one
reads?" Blanchot asks. "Something that has not yet been
written" (Blanchot 93).18
17 In the following chapter on repetition, history, and
narration, I discuss in detail this sort of criticism and
its effects on the understanding of Barth's work.
18 Blanchot warns us that, in speaking about reading as
production, there are delicate distinctions to be made; he
would revise our calling the reader a producer because, he
says, reading is not a "productive activity": "The nature of
reading, its singularity, illuminates the singular meaning
of the verb 'to make' in the expression 'it makes the work
become a work . reading does not make anything, does not
add anything; it lets be what is . ." (94). It is worth
pointing out that Derrida seems to take exactly the opposite


disposal because it is the attempt both to arrange and to
get rid of that which is aborted. Getting rid of a text
will leave behind the trace of an erasure. The terms by
which an analysis would be made are shown always to be
inappropriate, and in the synthetic moment the prior
division is reestablished, so that a decision cannot be
made.
"Production" develops the notion of reading as the
production of the supplement. Though reading is an
addition, since there is no outside-text, reading is, as
Derrida says, adding and following a thread. Because the
writer does not command language, the text always says
something other than what the writer would mean.
"Repetition" demonstrates that we can neither go back
to a time before repetition nor identify the "original"
repetition. Because the questioning of truth leads one
back, it forces one to use a methodology based on a
sequentiality and so to create a narrative, which denies,
paradoxically, the possibility of arriving at the truth.
My "P.S." describes the inevitable bearing of the sign.
Implications inscribed in the system that proposes the
validity of the concept of the end (in particular the
distinction between the real and the textual) are assumed in
turning that system against itself.
vii


116
Suffice it to say again that analysis does not work for
Fenn and Susan as a narrative program because the terms of
the division with which the analysis proceeds are
inappropriate and because analysis cannot bring them to a
conclusion, which their story demands.
The Synthetic (Outbound Downswimmina Convergent) "Female
Of our journey, Susan says I sure liked going
down better than coming up.
The female point of view. Fenwick sets forth
his notebook-notion about forks and confluences,
analysis and synthesis, sperm and ova. (S 169)
One of the problems with analysis is also (but in reverse)
the problem with syntheses. Rather than calling for a
division, as analysis does, synthesis begins with division.
In order for a synthesis to take place, a division has to be
present already. The parent of synthesis is division in
two. Like the terms of an analysis, the terms of a
synthesis are subject to invalidation.
Sue's appreciative [of Fenn's setting forth his
notebook-notion]but promptly observes that
Fenn's note is itself synthetic, not analytical.
I'm not all male, he reminds her, nor you all
female. (S 169)
One thing synthetic about Fenn's note is that it is made in
the context of groups of ideas about the notebook: "Fenn
notes that his notes on our story, to which the notebook is
principally devoted, have nearly all to do with either such
general considerations as the foregoing, or bits of
narrative to be incorporated . ., or images (e.g. Is a Y a
fork or a confluence? . .)" (S 137). Fenn's bringing
various notes together under general headings is, in


75
to label it with a common name such as love or
abhorrence. . Assigning names to things is
like assigning roles to people: it is necessarily
a distortion, but it is a necessary distortion if
one would get on with the plot. (ER 141-42)
Jake sees their positions as essentially textual"getting
on with the plot" is tantamount to the working out of their
livesand so he sees their problem as inescapable. They
are, in fact, part of a text, part of The End of the Road.
If they were "real people," though, they would have no less
of a problem dealing with language. "Shutting up" (Rennie's
suggestion) is never a real option, we would nevertheless
rationalize, interpret, and remember, activities that are
based on language and that define us as humans. Joe says of
Jake,
"You won't rationalize. You didn't make any
conscious interpretations of anything Rennie did.
And you can't remember any conversations. Have I
got to agree with Rennie that you don't even
exist? What else makes a man a human being except
these things?" (ER 145)
Joe represents that force in the world that would inevitably
reattach us to language and to the paradoxes inherent in it.
He is of the opinion that Rennie has "'got to decide once
and for all what she really feels about [Jake] and [him] and
herself'" (ER 145).
Rennie is completely incapable of making those
decisions. The categories by which her world is constructed
will simply not allow her to choose. Reason and chaos, good
and evil have become, for her, confused. She is the fact
that the elements of the dichotomy define, and so are
dependent on, each other. The tension between Joe and Jake,


91
structurally. Calling the first part simply or mostly womb
like or vaginal because ''The Cove" comes first or is "the
main" title would be a mistake too. "The Cove" appears
first because it encloses "Key," not because it has a larger
or primary significance.
The problem of representing the sexuality of Sabbatical
is mostly a graphic and structural one. In the case of the
titles of the first part, Barth relies on a general
understanding of the organization of texts, specifically the
logic of subdivision. In recognizing the representation of
the masculine and the feminine we must have noticed that the
logic of subdivision has been disrupted. By "disrupted" I
do not mean simply "done away with," because, in doing away
with that logic, the titles are given their sexual
significance and thereby given another system of
organization. An orderliness of some kind will inevitably
reestablish itself.
I began this section by describing the "disposal of the
text": putting a text (or texts) in order is, in Barth,
always accompanied by the disruption of an orderliness. I
want to make it clear that Barth's books prefer or
presuppose neither order nor disorder. To say that
orderliness inevitably reestablishes itself does not
contradict the idea of disposal; that is, though they are
the reverse of each other, they do not cancel each other
out. When a text is disposed of, we are not left with a
chaotic, an irrational, work, one that will not involve



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c4R


199
afraid it would be a breach of verisimilitude for them to
discuss what they already know, what goes without saying
between them:
Fenn ponders, then suggests Suppose the author
does it straight out, instead of putting it into
the characters' mouths? . [W]e can come in as
author and give the reader a spot of briefing as
needed. Right?
Susan guesses so, if we do it adroitly.
Otherwise it's Author intrusion. (S 85)
Fenn suggests that having the author speak "straight out" is
having someone other than the characters speaking. They
will have the author say what they want us to know instead
of saying it themselves. But he also makes this sort of
narration ambiguous: it is the characters, who are also the
narrators, that will "come in" and speak "as author." If
the characters are speaking (as, as anyone), they should not
be thought of as "coming in" because they are already in.
It is the author who would need to come in, if he were to
speak. The coming in of the author is never more than a
coming back to the narrators.
When Susan says "Your ship, author," she seems to
introduce a third narrator or an author who is present. And
the "Thank you," which begins a new paragraph, usually
indicating a new speaker, would seem to be spoken by someone
other than Fenn and Susan. The suggestion is that the
author takes over, gratefully, and begins to speak for Fenn
and Susan. But that is not the case. As the Baltimore Sun,
which is used to summarize the Paisley case, is cited, it is
"we" who quote, a plural narrator, the voice of Fenn and


234
tell you the whole storystarting tonight" (TT 641), as if
she could tell it all. Her view of the story is described
as "omniscopic" (TT 641), and because it has been nine
months since she "rematerialized," her view is given the
appearance of an objective temporal distance as well. She
appears to be outside and after the story. She makes
statements about events that no one within the story would
seem to be able to make (about, for instance, Fred's and
Jon's deaths).
Despite what seems to be, despite the fact that
Scheherazade seems to be telling from another place and time
and order of reality, "The Ending" can only be told from
within. Every reference to the "outside" is made from
within the text. Though Scheherazade says she will tell the
"whole story," by "starting tonight" she suggests a
beginning, which the concept of whole story has already
denied, and suggests the ability to bring the story to an
end; she will never be able to account for the whole story
because it includes the story of the telling of the story,
which is always under way. In addition, the fact that it
has been nine months since her rematerialization places "The
Ending" firmly within the metaphorical construct of the
story, contradicting the appearance of a temporal
objectivity. Further, though Scheherazade seems to be
"speaking for herself," we are reminded that May is speaking
for her as she has throughout the telling of the
Scheherazade stories; "What say, May? Tell on,


107
Sabbatical. "Poe Again:"l2 comes back around to our initial
observation: Fenn notices that their story is shaped like
the capital letter Y. (With this extremely brief list I
don't want to simply place myself with many of Barth's
critics, such as Gross and Pinsker, who have noticed that
Barth's novels are "self-reflexive"our topic here is the
effect of analysis.)
When I ask my students to write a paper about
Sabbatical. some of them make what has become a routine
response: "Barth has used up all the topicshe says
everything there is to say about Sabbatical." Well, that
response to Barth is natural because he is a careful and
critical reader of his own works and because he includes the
readings in the works themselves even though, like Fenn, he
claims not to be a scholar of literature or criticism. In
the headnote to The Lord John Press edition of "The
Literature of Exhaustion" and "The Literature of
Replenishment," Barth says of himself, "The gifts of doing
and explaining are notoriously not the same: An elegant
artist may sound like a mumbler, a crank, a soulless
pedantmay be these unadmirable thingswhen he sets about
accounting for what he has, perhaps brilliantly, done."
Though he plays down his critical ability and though he
leaves to "others more expert" the improvement of his
"working perspective" (FB 193), his two short essays have
12 For titles that are punctuated according to their
grammatical relation to the sentences they end or begin, the
punctuation will be retained as part of the title.


63
a meaning; the meaning exists before (and even independent
of) the text used to convey it. The Tidewater Tales,
though, seems to come before its meaning. Peter and
Katherine's stories are "chasing the moon and telling
themselves" (TT 68). The stories "telling themselves" is
not simply a personification; that the stories tell
themselves is essential to the circling text. Meaning is
not attached by someone outside the work, someone who exists
prior to it. Meaning is developed, rather, by those who
will find themselves already involved, by those who, with
the text, are "chasing the moon," by those, in other words,
who are going nowhere. The stories are told by narrators so
much a part of the circling text that they can give us no
assurances about what the text means; they cannot position
themselves so as to give us a view of the whole. Indeed, it
is rather difficult to talk about meaning at all in regard
to the circling text because meaning requires an exteriority
the text is incapable of sustaining.
Even if, against such obstacles as the text's inability
to support the notion of the priority of meaning, and the
inevitable collapsing of time, the circle is offered by
Barth as the figure of narration. there are other
considerations that question a simple view of narration as
the representation of a sequence of events. We will see in
the following chapters that the notions of abortion.
production, and repetition point out various dilemmas for
the narrative organization of a text.


in the first sense) because works of literature inevitably
involve themselves in origination.
15
I take up Barth's first novel not (as will be assumed)
to discover the cause of the works that come after it, to
unearth the rudiments of Barth's "budding genius," but
because The Floating Opera rethinks beginning. I go back to
The Floating Opera not as the Todd Andrews who begins his
Inquiry as "an attempt to learn why [his] father hanged
himself" (FO 218, emphasis mine), and not even as the Todd
Andrews who understands that "it is another thing to examine
this information and see in it, so clearly that to question
is out of the question, the cause of a human act" (FO 218).
Even the revision of the purpose of his Inquiry to this new
understanding is inadequate: "In fact, it's impossible, for
as Hume pointed out, causation is never more than an
inference; and any inference involves at some point the leap
from what we see to what we can't see. Very well. It's the
purpose of my Inquiry to shorten as much as possible the
distance over which I must leap" (FO 218). He has decided
to continue, knowing that he cannot solve the problem. His
purpose, he says, "is not really to leap the gap . only
to shorten it" (FO 219). At this point he is satisfied by
simply continuing; he is satisfied by the "activity" of
inertial movementmovement devoid of change.
I go back, rather, as the Todd Andrews who, out of the
Inquiry. composes a novel.


228
a story's incompletion. Even as the task of storytelling is
set, the story marks the need for, as it moves toward, its
"ending." (Because the task is set in verse, it seems all
that is needed is a closing rhyme: "in short, yet another
rhyme, as it were, for cost to end this poem with, even if
we have to abandon verse for prose or prose for verse to
reach it: a rhyme less discouraging, more pregnant so to
speak with hope, than lost" [TT 22].) What sort of hope
would be lost if the end were lost? For what do the
narrators hope? To be fetched by the story beyond:
Tell me their story as if it weren't ours
But like ours enough so that the Powers
That drive and steer good stories might
Fetch them beyond our present plight
and navigate the tale itself to an ending more
rich and strange than everyday realism ordinarily
permits. . (TT 22)
Though the narrators say together that "on our boat an
open-ended story is no story at all" (TT 237), closing the
"end" is a task generally taken on by Peter. He is the
writer and so the one who finds himself in need of moving
beyond.
For Peter we ask this question: Will "The Ending" move
us beyond?
If the end is the thing that will move us beyond, the
question of the beyond will entail playing at the limits of
the text and accounting for, if not agreeing with, the idea
that the limits can be set and therefore also for the
relation between the textual and the real, (according to
traditional usage) the signifier and the signified, which is


198
the "future" is contradicted by the text that is read in the
present.33 "I will write this down" has always already been
written down. We cannot place what is called the author
outside this regression. The capacity of "the author" to
fix an origin is born away with "the author's" connection to
the narration of the work. So an author's speaking "as" a
narrator or "coming into" a work is never, precisely
speaking, the case. "It is well known," says Michel
Foucault in his much cited essay "What is an Author," "that
in a novel narrated in the first person, neither the first
person pronoun, the present indicative tense, nor, for that
matter, its signs of localization refer directly to the
writer, either to the time when he wrote, or to the specific
act of writing ..." (129). Authors do not speak as
narrators. The opposite, in fact, would better describe the
claim of authorship and the regression it suggests: though
authors do not speak as narrators, narrators can speak as
authors. Fenn and Susan, speaking in Sabbatical. make this
point clear.
In at least two instances Fenn and Susan suggest that
they allow "the author" to speak for them, implying the
author's presence, but then they force us to conclude that
the author is not present, that the narrators only speak as
if they were the author. Fenn and Susan want the reader to
know about John Arthur Paisley, but scholarly Susan is
33 For a linguistic description of this phenomenon, see
Ducrot and Todorov on Shifters.


99
by Susan." Going "left" means "living off lectures fees and
consultations for . liberal 'watchdog' organizations
which have approached him since KUDOVE. . pursuing the
disappearance of Gus and Manfred. . There are no
children down this fork; at the end of it there is no Susan
either" (S 319). Going "back" means returning to his life
before Susan, working against the agency while in its
employment and even reuniting with his first wife (the dream
turns into an unrealistic nightmare).
And for Susan:
Going right . means Swarthmore, scholarship,
resignation to childlessness. . Going left
means . Baltimore, perhaps with Fenn; taking
Miriam's cue and giving her talents to some inner-
city high schools . perhaps conceiving a
child, by Fenn or whomever; perhaps adopting one
or helping poor Mims raise her guiltless bastards.
(S 320)
Going back (as with Fenn's third option) is not even a
consideration; the dream becomes idyllic and absurd: Susan
takes a position she previously held at Madeira School for
Girls, marries some handsome "Fred Henry," has children and
lives in bliss (S 320-21).
Susan dreams an apocalyptic conclusion to their story,
a cosmic abortion:
Pokey himself is now become our galaxy, now our
universe, rushing headlong into one of its own
Black Holes like that legendary bird that flies in
ever-diminishing circles until it vanishes into
its own fundament; like Pym's canoe rushing into
the chasm at the foot of the cataract at the
southern Pole: a black hole aspirating, with a
cosmic shlup, us, U.S., all. (S 321)


246
de Man, Paul. Allegories of Reading. New Haven: Yale UP,
1979.
Derrida, Jacques. "Of an Apocalyptic Tone Recently Adopted in
Philosophy." Trans. John P. Leavey Jr. Oxford Literary
Review. 6.2 (1984): 3-37.
Dissemination. Trans. Barbara Johnson. Chicago: U of
Chicago P, 1981.
Glas. Trans. John P. Leavey, Jr., and Richard Rand.
Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1986.
"Living On: Borderlines." Trans. James Hulbert.
Deconstruction and Criticism. New York: Continuum, 1979.
Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1974.
Positions. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: U of Chicago P,
1981.
The Post Card. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: U of Chicago
P, 1987.
Signponge / Signsponge. Trans. Richard Rand. New
York: Columbia, 1984.
"Title (to be specified)." Trans. Tom Conley. Sub-
Stance. 31 (1981): 5-22.
Diser, Philip E. "The Historical Ebenezer Cooke." Critigue
10.3 (1968): 48-59.
Ducrot, Oswald and Tzvetan Todorov. Encyclopedic Dictionary
of the Sciences of Language. Trans. Catherine Porter.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1979.
Eliot, T. S. "Tradition and the Individual Talent." Selected
Essays: 1917-1932. London: Farber and Farber, 1932. 13-
22.
Ewell, Barbara C. "John Barth: The Artist of History."
Southern Literary Journal 5.2 (1973): 32-46.
Foucault, Michel. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. Trans.
Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon. Ithaca: Cornell UP,
1977.
Freud, Sigmund. The Standard Edition of the Complete
Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Trans. James
Strachey. London: Hogarth, 1955.


167
make sure they have cleared some crab pot buoys, and the
starboard lifeline sweeps the hat from his head (S 23).
Near the end, just after Susan suggests that they separate
and both of them are immobilized and near hysteria, Fenn
leaps up without knowing why, and then something catches his
eye. Spearing down with the boat hook, Fenn fishes out a
black beret. The losing and finding of the hat is, of
course, significant but not simply as a framing device and
not simply because it occurs within the context of
significant action and marks the development of significant
metaphors. Fenn has lost his hat twice before, previous to
the present time of the novel. And in The Tidewater Tales.
Peter will find and return the hat that Frank has sent off
on the tide of his own accord.
For Fenn (and for Frank, who we will come to recognize
\ \
as Fenn's reprisal and seguel in The Tidewater Tales), the
losing and the finding of the hat amount to a repetition, a
repetition not simply or absolutely of one event but rather
the repetition of the frame, the framing of the story.
On the heels of telling the story of losing the hat in the
Tajo de Ronda, Fenn explains that it is the telling of
stories that causes the return:
I lost it a second time ten years later, on
company business, late at night on the dock of a
certain safe-house across the Bay from here. I
told my colleagues this storyjust the boina part
of it. Next day Count himself found my hat on the
beach, washed up by the tide right in front of the
safe-house. . The question before us now is
whether it's the Ronda story that's needed to
bring it back this third time or the Choptank


4
particular type of writing, approaching Sabbatical and The
Tidewater Tales with a name in hand would be an
inappropriate gesture. Barth's work takes up the so-called
postmodern themes (self-reflection, self-destruction, etc.)
in order to go beyond them, but winds up showing that going
beyond them is impossible in setting them aside, that going
beyond them is impossible given the always prior
intellectual positioning. Rather than trying to establish
terms, Barth involves himself, his characters, his books, in
the metaphors with which we allow our lives to be described.
Writing, reading, and narrating are always subsumed by (and
in) the metaphorics of creating a life. Sabbatical and The
Tidewater Tales are the exploration of the appropriateness
of particular metaphors for that creation. Understanding
that language and living are not only involved with each
other but are dependent on each other, Barth's work is
concerned that the way we use language may determine the way
we live. The creating of a life may be something more, in
Barth, than metaphorical.
One of the most worrisome things about writing about
Sabbatical alone would be ending. Having read The Tidewater
Tales, the reason for the problem is clear: Sabbatical is
incomplete. If The Tidewater Tales does not complete
Sabbatical. it at least points out the difficulty in ending.
Peter Sagamore's initials suggest the PostScriptal activity
of The Tidewater Tales. One of the rules of Katherine and
Peter in their telling of stories is that none should be


206
Don Quixote Story, in large part about Don Quixote's
adventures in the Cave of Montesinos. Part of the problem
with Peter's idea of "refutation by reality" is that it
assumes, as Peter seems to elsewhere, that the author can
speak in his work and separate fact from fiction:
Let Don Quixote rest in peace, Cervantes warns in
his last chapter: Do not presume to resurrect or
disinter him. But it is fact, not fiction, that
Story overtook a few days back off the Thomas
Point Light: Rocinante IV. . (TT 472)
Peter's story (the story of Peter) cannot, of course, be
considered fact; he is in The Tidewater Tales. And
"Cervantes," in Don Quixote, is also a part of the fiction
narrated. The narrator is not Cervantes speaking in the
book but rather a narrator speaking as Cervantes. Peter in
The Tidewater Tales is very much like the narrator in Don
Quixote because he is a narrator claiming authorship of the
work he narrates. Peter could not actually write "Part One
of a Possible Three-Part Don Quixote Story," but as a
character he could write Part One of that story, which is
described by "Part One of a Possible Three-Part Don Quixote
Story." Following "Part Two" the narrator says outright
"Peter Sagamere has not written the foregoing sentences.
But shamelessly, possessedly, he has logged notes upon this
unfinished possible Don Quixote story ..." (TT 493).
One difference between The Tidewater Tales and Don
Quixote is that The Tidewater Tales points out explicitly
the problem of narrating writing. Peter's story marks the
fictionality of Don Quixote and the difficulty of writing a


229
why in setting the task, part of which is the moving beyond,
the narrators become enmeshed in their relation to the
"real: Tell me their story as if it weren't ours, / But
like ours. ..." This statement is made as if the speaker
were outside the text, perhaps in the "real" world, as if
the story had not yet begun and with them in it. We know
that cannot be the case. So already the question of the
beyond has not only brought to the fore the dichotomy
between the textual and the real but has also brought that
dichotomy into question by marking as false the situation in
which it is presented. Their plight, in other words, is
caused by the compulsion to move beyond. Let us mark this
as ironic and perhaps viciously circular.
Moving beyond, for Peter, is, in part, moving beyond
the text, but there is a more particular aspect of his
compulsion. The plight mentioned in Katherine's task
setting poem is, in particular, Peter's inability to write
and the tension that inability has placed on Peter and
Katherine's relationship. His work has become shorter and
shorter over the years because of his desire to render
truthfully "lived experience":
contextual circumstances are as crucial to the
flavor of recreated experience as the fact that
Katherine has never borne a child before, though
she's had one induced and one spontaneous
abortion. Peter Sagamore used to wish that he
could know and render them all. despite his
understanding, that if he did, no story would get
told. Leaving them incompletely said still feels
to him like describing a fine champagne as merely
alcohol, water, and carbonic acid in solution.
Better sip in silence than thus falsify! (TT 99)


151
Remarks May Jump The current, dummy. Says
Peter, glancing over at her with professional
respect, the Swimmer says We have to allow for the
current. . (TT 619)
It isn't long before the anticipation of a current is
articulated as a steering of the vessel, before May marks
her getting caught in the production of the story:
We can thank May's goodness, says the Swimmer.
My pleasure, Kiss, says May Jump, giving
Katherine a small hug. K sighs I'll never be
black belt. Presses Peter June says Poor May!
(TT 619)
May responds in a joke, as if her interruption interrupted
nothing and made no addition to Peter's Act Three. But in
fact the current of her story, her relation to Katherine, is
mixed with the current of "Peter's story." May and
Katherine's parting ways and Katherine's becoming a parent
with Peter, is, they all understand, reflected in Peter's
text. There is nothing to keep a comment on that reflection
out of the work, out of the reflection, away from those who
would hear the story of the reflection. Peter "presses"
forward with the story that is thereby remarked as "his,"
but must allow for, as do his characters, a current that is
shifting, a current that more or less moves them all.
All of the characters who listen to Peter read Act
Three supplement the text. And the writer is, of course,
not outside the production of supplements: "Says Peter
aside, not particularly to Frank, All these 'smiling
grimlys' and 'watching soberlys' will have to come out" (TT
624). Each reader makes the story "his" or "hers" by
connecting it to a part of The Tidewater Tales that has been


191
theory preceding the last letter, what appears to be the
representation of a card or an envelope, which reads, "To /
N N Esq. / this book's real reader" and a
letter addressed to "My Dear Reader" (149). In the letter
to the reader, which closes Repetition, the narrator says
that it might be claimed "that there is too much philosophy
in the book" (150-51). On the other hand, "the ordinary
reviewer will find in this book the opportunity he desires
to elucidate the fact that it is not a . novel"
(Kierkegaard 151). Robbe-Grillet would say, "Of course, how
could it be either?" And Miller, "How can one renounce
theory without theorizing?" I should have said, Repetition
is at least a narrative, because it is a recollection, a
history, a history about history and about history's
recollection.
In Sabbatical. Fenn wants to go back to Cacaway
because, he says, "it'll remind us how happy we were the
first time we sailed over there to Love Point and the
Chester River together. To Cacaway." Susan only offers an
indication of her skepticism: "Mm" (S 372) Fenn wants to
go back to the place where he and Susan began their
relationship, where they sailed as lovers for the "first
time," in order to regain what they had before. Cacaway,
Fenn recollects thinking then, is "WHERE IT ALL STARTED" (S
193). Just as a title represents the location of a
beginning in a book, Cacaway, "WHERE IT ALL STARTED,"
represents the location of a beginning in Fenn and Susan's


109
story, a different way of looking at it or using it
critically. Sabbatical marks the movement, in criticism,
toward understanding literature as the development of the
literary text as opposed to understanding literature
according to standards presumed to be fixed, such as the
originality of the work or the personality of the writer.
What criticism learned from T. S. Eliot in 1917 is being
rewritten into the fiction of Barth. In "Tradition and the
Individual Talent," an essay that is a landmark of the
development of textual analysis, Eliot says that "what
happens when a new work of art is created is something that
happens simultaneously to all the works of art which
preceded it. . [T]he relations, proportions, values of
each work of art toward the whole are readjusted ..."
(15). For Eliot, it was essential that the artist recognize
the presence of the past. The artist will not likely know
what is to be done "unless he is conscious; not of what is
dead, but of what is already living" (Eliot 22). Fenn wants
to see whether telling the Ronda story will bring his hat
back the way it did at the Choptank River safe-house or
whether it needs the Choptank River safe-house story, which
he has not told yet (S 46). Telling one story forces Fenn
to tell another in explanation or elucidation, forces him,
as Eliot says, to readjust the relations, proportions,
values of the work toward the whole.13 A similar pressure
13 At the forefront of the study of language and
literature today, M. M. Bakhtin speaks of the analysis of
texts as the "problem of the second subject who is


I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as
a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Professor of English
I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as
a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
/Althu^ P. Ip T
William R. Robinson
Professor of English
I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as
a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Jofyh M. Perlette
Associate Professor of English
I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as
a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
R. B. Kershner
Associate Professor of English


182
The opposition between play and work and its connection
to dispersion and return are rendered in Sabbatical in terms
of the sabbatical voyage and connected to the issue of
childbearing. Wondering about their usefulness, Fenn and
Susan reflect:
We have been, in the main, indulging ourselves,
amusing ourselves. We have been playing.
Over the third quarter of her club sandwich,
Susan lays that term on the table. Fenn knows
what it betokens: his wife's dark, sometimes
feeling that our years together, precious as
they've been to both of us, are themselves a kind
of playing: not finally serious, as the lives of
Susan's child-raising house-buying contemporaries
might be said to be serious. . (S 159)
And when Fenn summarizes his conversation with Dugald
Taylor, his friend and ex-CIA colleague, omitting the part
about "that rumored heart-attack drug which he had half-
seriously speculated just before his excursion, and his
cardiac alarm on the bus ride home," but reporting
faithfully the alleged "pitch" made by the CIA to Carmen,
Susan's mother, Susan wonders how Fenn could not have told
her right away: "Get me off this fucking toy!" (S 165-66).
What is serious is coming home, enjoying, engendering, and
possibly protecting the family, and, as we will see, buying
a house.
Freud begins the story of the spool by declaring
children's play one of the mind's earliest "normal
activities" (Freud 18: 14). Play, on the other hand, is not
entirely normal for the adult, in particular, the adult's
writing about play. Freud describes his writing as serious:
an analysis, a formally organized study. For Susan, playing


8
what Barth means by "passionate virtuosity" as with Harris's
use of the term: "So important is this sentiment to Barth's
esthetics that he includes it with only minor revision in
Chimera (1972, p. 24), allowing the genie, his obvious
surrogate in the novel, to speak the words" (3). Rather
than involving himself in the fundamental question of the
connection between fiction and nonfiction, the question of
authorship, into which Barth's self-quotation seems to force
us, Harris assumes that Chimera is elevated by the addition
of the nonfiction, that the statement made outside the work
of fiction stands alone, and, of course, that the author and
a particular character can be spoken of as one. In "The
Essay as Aesthetic Mirror: John Barth's 'Exhaustion' and
'Replenishment,'" Elaine B. Safer makes the reading of
Barth's fiction in terms of his essays the whole of her
argument: "The essays on 'Exhaustion' and 'Replenishment'
thus cast light on what Barth has done in the past and call
attention to the shorter form [of fiction] that he,
theoretically, would like to use in the future" (116).
The assumption that the terms of nonfiction are more
stable (that they are, indeed, established) and the reading
of fiction that is based on this assumption define a
traditional method of critical inquiry. Because Barth's
work questions the distinction between the poles of truth
and falsehood, order and chaos, and because it is a
reorganization from the "beginning," to assume the rigidness


51
The question before us now is whether it's the
Ronda story that's needed to bring it back this
third time or the Choptank River Safe-house story,
which I haven't told you yet. (S 46)
"The Choptank River Safe-house Story" comes much nearer
Fenn's finding the hat the third time. Getting the hat back
is important to Fenn because it will signify a new
beginningboth times he has lost and recovered the hat it
marked the fact that "a stage of [their] life and [his] was
over" (S 44)and because Fenn's writing had become
associated with the wearing of the hat. In reference to
that first attempt at fiction, Frank says (in The Tidewater
Tales), "Both my hero and I developed the habit of wearing
our boinas at the typewriter" (TT 408). The recovery of the
hat this third time may signify his ability to write
Sabbatical.
Circling Between Texts
Both Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales are framed by
storms. But the books are not simply parallel, their
similarity not merely coincidence (unless we mean
"coincidence" literally). The storm that appears to end
Sabbatical (Fenn and Susan run for the cover of Cacaway
because of the approaching weather) is the same storm that
appears to begin The Tidewater Tales. The incidents that
occur in the "separate" stories coexist. On the day of the
storm Frank and Lee were "wrung-out."
Lee had just had her


18
concerns the appropriateness of the use of "Blaml Blooey 111
it comes next. The use of "Blaml Blooey 111 has already been
questioned implicitly by its juxtaposition to the archetypal
opening line of a story"once upon a time." The discussion
of its relation to the tradition seems to follow naturally.
Susan, the scholar of the two, falls back easily to the
foundations of philosophical division:
S: In the Poetics. Aristotle distinguishes
between lexis and melos"speech" and "song"and
discusses them separately, since in Attic drama
there really were both spoken dialogue and choral
songs. (S 12)
When she teaches Aristotle she "combines[s] lexis and melos
into the general heading of Language. Under that heading
she consider[s] all questions of tone, style, diction, the
effective management of dialogue, the strategic deployment
of metaphor, and what have you" (S 12). Susan wonders about
the use of language in terms of the tradition and at the
same time rearranges Aristotle's categories, using
"language" as the term under which lexis and melos are
interrelated, speaking of both lexis and melos as aspects of
"style," "diction," etc.
She also reads their beginning in terms of the history
of fiction:
S: So: after a splendid four-thousand-year
tradition of sea-voyage fiction, from the Egyptian
papyrus of the Shipwrecked Sailor, said to be the
oldest story in the world ... to Crane and
Conrad, all with their big set-pieces of tempest
and shipwreck, ... we proudly enter the
narrative lists with Blam and Blooey. (S 13)


Two things: that a union of "contraries" has taken
place is questionable because the tenas of the union are
120
indistinct, the "contrariness" of the terms is brought into
doubt; assuming that we can call Fenn and Susan's
relationship a "union," whether it will prevail is brought
into doubt by Susan's suggestion that they split.
In working out the relation between Fenn and Susan, we
have to deal with the chauvinistic character of the
categories in Fenn's note about the difference between the
synthetic and the analytical, because it begins the second
phase of this argument: in the synthetic moment the prior
duality reaffirms itself.
Fenn's categories tend to align the masculine and the
feminine with traditional stereotypes. The male is aligned
with the analytical, and therefore given the position of
power: the male is the maker of decisions. His movement is
positive and productive, "upward" and "forward." He moves
inward and introspectively. The Feminine is aligned with
the synthetic, the position of conciliation. Her movement
is generally negative, downward and backward. She is
outward, predisposed to excess and extravagance. Fenn bases
his categories, for the most part, on the movements of the
sperm and the ovum. But even the movements of the sperm and
ovum, by definition the masculine and the feminine, are
subject to a chauvinistic interpretation. Fenn calls them
swimmers and floaters, names that reflect the traditional
perception of men as active and woman as passive. In The


139
outside the movement of the supplement when the supplement
denies a priori that a "parent text" can be the origin and
denies, as Derrida says, "the tranquil assurance that leaps
over the text toward its presumed content, in the direction
of the pure signified" (Of Grammatolocrv 159) It is
dangerous to try to offer an example of supplementarity
because the system on which the offer is based (the
dichotomy of subject/example or form/content) is disrupted
by the effect of the supplement, the supposed "subject." An
example cannot be made without adding to, omitting from, or
saying something other than what the subject would say of
itself. What the subject would sav is of course always a
supposition, because what it would sav is never said. For
this reason, we are not to think of Derrida as our origin
or, in simplistic terms, our source. He is rather our
departure, a leaving and a leaving off, a parting, a
separation and a boundary among other separations and
boundaries, within the text.
A supposition, a "metaphor," the production of a
supplement:
But if stories were children, their readers
wouldn't be their children; they'd be one of their
parents, and the author the other. (TT 410)
Not the "parent text" but the parent reader. To be one of
the parents of the story, the reader must be made part of a
system of production; reading is a production because the
text comes about as the result of the tension between what
the writer commands and what the writer does not command of


223
We are led to believe that Sabbatical. or more
precisely, the story of Sabbatical. is taking place vithin
The Tidewater Tales. Lee has her abortion in the present
tense of The Tidewater Tales. But the illusion of the co
presence of the texts does not take into consideration the
writing of either book, the writing that has already
occurred. Peter asserts "that if he were setting about to
write the new novel that Franklin Key Talbott has just been
discussing . with him, inspired by Reprise's Caribbean
cruise, he would turn both the Silver sisters and the
Talbott brothers into twins: twin twins.38 And he'd shorten
the voyage from a year down to nine months. . But he'd
begin the story in the last two weeks of the ninth month,
when the couple reenter the Chesapeake Bay. And he'd frame
it with the loss and recovery of the magic boina. Shut me
up, Kath! It's not my novel" (TT 557). One thing a passage
such as this one does, coming after the writing of the story
talked about as not yet written, is to point out that no one
within the novel has a claim to its ownership by virtue of
having created it because it is already written. In reply
to Peter's statement, we are led to declare that it is not
Frank's novel either.
We might come to view the illusion of the "presence" of
the story of Sabbatical as a reprise within a reprise.
Peter and Katherine's remeeting of Frank and Lee in The
38 Peter appears to have forgotten that Frank claims to
have already made this adjustment.


179
cruise."1 At the "end" of Sabbatical, Fenn and Susan are
still on board.
Confronting their inability to decide and Susan's
"incredible proposal" that they separate, Fenn and Susan
find themselves stuck, but the story is framed nevertheless:
"We can neither go forward nor go back" (S 347). Floating
there in mid-channel, the hat returns: "he leaps up; doesn't
even know why. . What is he up to? He doesn't know. .
He has sprung to the gunwale, to the cabin, trunk. Sue sits
up alarmed. Fenn's looking about him like a crazy man. Now
something's caught his eye!" (S 348). The story is framed
as with an inevitability. Though on finding it, they toast
"Aristotle on coincidence" (S 350), the hat does not catch
Fenn's eye by accident. It has to occur now, because this
is the frame. Fenn doesn't know why he leaps up or what he
is looking for; this points out not simply an intuition, but
the inevitability of the return. Given the organization of
the story and the hat's function as the framing device, the
hat could not do otherwise but come back.
We have been making a misrepresentation if we have
spoken of the return of the hat. What comes back is "a
black beret" (S 349, emphasis mine). This distinction is
significant because it calls into question the
definitiveness of the return and of the frame. Susan, in
fact, is "incredulous": "That's your new one! You just
dropped it in and picked it up! Fenn shakes his head; can't
speak. You found your old one at Key Island the day we lost


241
forward as a repetition ("Well: / Tell me their story
. ."); to say that it is a repetition, though, does not
sufficiently take into account their difference: one implies
a distinction (though not without equivocation) between art
and life, the other a distinction (though not without
equivocation) between stories. Though the injunction is not
simply repeated, the difference between its iterations is
not established; they might be said to constitute two sides
of the same injunction.
A reference to women and men would seem to establish
the division between the textual and the realthis is to be
a story about women and men. But these are not women and
men in the world; rather they are women and men "like us."
We are given no assurances about the referent of this "us,"
but even at the limits of the text the pronoun must at least
refer to the characters being formed by the narrative voice.
Each time we are led to the edge of the text, pushed, in
fact, toward the "real," we are wrapped back into it.
Wrapped into what? Into the text which is pushing us
toward the "real," both into the text and into the dichotomy
between the textual and the real, which compels us to move
to an "outside."
Narrating Living
It might be said that I have been using various figures
(conception, abortion, delivery) merely to talk about
language; and I might have provoked this objection by not


12
after his death and by then, by his own logic, he would not
be at all.
At the showboat Jeannine "slipped into the 'Why?7
routine":
"Why What?" I asked. "Why do the actors act
funny or why do the people like to watch them?"
"Why do the people?"
"The people like to go to the show because it
makes them laugh. They like to laugh at the
actors."
"Why?"
"They like to laugh because laughing makes them
happy. They like being happy, just like you." .
"Why?"
"Why do they like being happy? That's the end
of the line." (FO 199)
Todd Andrew's "whole life has been directed toward the
solution of a problem, or mastery of a fact" (FO 16). One
could propose a particular answer, but "always something
would happen to demonstrate its inadeguacy" (FO 16). There
is never a satisfactory answer to the question "Why?" One
can't move back to one static cause of life. The questions
"What is literature?" and "What is fiction?" ask the same of
usthat we discover an identity or write a definition that
will stick. Definition is by definition inadequate; it is a
limitation rather than a universalization. The questions
themselves are inadequate. "Information" is exactly what
they cannot supply.
It could be argued that the necessity of inadequacy is
the kind of "new information" of which Barth speaks. In
"The Literature of Exhaustion" he suggests that by taking
inadequacy into account a writer can do something new:
"[Borges'] artistic victory, if you like, is that he


115
decision-making"we're at a fork in our channel. We've got
to settle the question of having children" (S 199)even
then we are not prepared for their relationship to be made
dependent on the settling of that question.
Susan's conclusion that they should separate is not
arrived at narratively so much as logically. Not only does
an analysis require a division in order to proceed, but it
leads to a division as well. Fenn and Susan had anticipated
their problems becoming more complex:
We had allowed for the possibility, if not the
likelihood, that our sabbatical cruise might
increase rather than decrease certain
uncertainties; that is what has come regrettably
to pass. (S 84)
Because the division between having children and not having
children is unsatisfactory, Susan applies the analysis
elsewhere, to her relationship with Fenn and thereby makes
their dilemma more complicated. Now, if her statement about
their separating is only a proposition, they have more
decisions to make, more options from which to choose. Susan
can stay with Fenn and have children, she can stay with Fenn
and not have children, she can separate from Fenn and have
children with someone else, or she can separate from Fenn
and not have children. And these are only the options
relating to childbearing (there are several other issues
they want to settle, some of which have been cited above,
though the child-bearing issue is central and would
influence, possibly even determine, the outcome of the
others).


244
book called The Tidewater Tales: A Novel. The Tidewater
Tales does not put the narrative view in the place of the
conclusion (the conclusion has no place), but in place of
the possibility of coming to an end. If a narrative looks
beyond itself, it looks without ever seeing what is beyond.


200
Susan as author. At the close of the quotation, Susan
questions Fenn, not the author, about the quotation's
efficiency.
At Fenn's suggestion that they recap their dreams and
flash back to the big bang, "Practical Susan says I say
leave it to the author" (S 206), and following three points
of ellipses centered on the line (it is the only page break
of its kind in Sabbatical) the story and the point of view
appear to shift:
o o e
Done? Okay? Well! Hum! Why, that's some
tall order, Susan, Fenn! Probably impossible?
certainly improbable; unlikely as our having
shared a dream in the first place. ... (S 207)
The appearance of the shift in voice is clear. It is a
reply to Fenn and Susan, specifically to Susan's suggestion
that the author narrate. But to whom does "our" refer? It
was Fenn and Susan who shared a dream. The author, supposed
or real, had no part in the plot of that particular story.
After the flashing back, Susan reasserts their position as
narrator:
I think the author did okay, Susan says. That was
some fleshbeck. My hat is off to us. Well done,
us. (S 209)
Sabbatical illustrates that the search for an author within
the text will always bring one back to the question of
narration, never to an author who is the author, who is
outside the text, and could therefore help us locate the
origin or the beginning of a repetition.


KEY TO ABBREVIATIONS
Books by John Barth:
ER The End of the Road
FO The Floating Opera
FB The Friday Book
LF Lost in the Funhouse
S Sabbatical: A Romance
TT The Tidewater Tales
v


236
"The Tidewater Tales: A Novel (TT 652) wraps itself back
into the text from which it springs; it necessarily refers
to the inside of the bookthere are three other title pages
that include the words The Tidewater Tales: A Novel and many
references in dialogue to a book called The Tidewater Tales:
A Novel, not to mention the arguably continual talk about
"this book." It is marked throughout that those words refer
to a book not yet written. "At the writing," The Tidewater
Tales will not have been completed; "at the reading," all
reference to the book wraps back into the book disclaiming
itself as the book's conclusion. The "wrap-up" inventory
that constitutes "The Ending" does not tie up the loose
ends, but "tucks" these loose ends into the text.
Without coming to the end of the text, we cannot go
beyond it. "The Ending" is neither a completion nor a
conclusion of the story, nor does it bring us any closer to
the "outside" of the text, to a world that is real or a text
that is independent of the text in hand.
What we come to in "The Ending" is always only The Next
Thing, a postscript. Peter explains the narrative nature of
the "ending" in describing a story of his, called
"Apocalypse," that "ends" in mid-sentence: "When, in a
story, nothing happens next, that is the thing that happens
next: The nothing becomes a thing" (TT 142). The
apocalypse, foreshadowed by the story, never comes.39 What
39 Derrida points out that the apocalyptic tone is
signified not by the description of an end but by the
declaration that the end is beginning or that the end is


47
Before his helper edits out his casual
vulgarity. Okay: we'll start with the storm at
sea, like the big boys, and work in the exposition
with our left hands as we go along.
Shivering Susan points out that the reader
doesn't know yet for example about her seducing
Fenwick on Cacaway Island in 1972, or about Fenn's
son Orrin's old crush on her. Our left hands are
going to be busy. (S 72)
The middle is the only possible place to start. The storm
at sea has already been told. The story has already begun.
We already know about Cacaway (some of it, at least); our
left hands have been busy, too.
Sabbatical forces us to see ourselves within, in the
midst of, a story and a text. Being on the circle, in fact,
demarcates an enclosure and demands that we confront the
problem of the relation between the inside and the outside
(of a story, a novel, a text, etc.). These two ways of
viewing the circle (as a path and as an enclosure) are
inseparable. In Of Grammatolocrv Derrida develops, from the
notion of the trace, the impossibility of locating a
beginning in the text: "We must begin wherever we are: in a
text where we already believe ourselves to be" (162). This
statement questions the possibility of beginning, but within
the context of the development of a methodology of a
criticism based on the axial proposition that there is
nothing outside the text, and based on a consideration of
the text as an enclosure. Derrida says that "In a certain
way I am within the history of psychoanalysis as I am within
Rousseau's text. Just as Rousseau drew upon a language that
was already thereand which is found to be somewhat our


130
characters, the first person plural for the narrators'
reference to themselves as a couple or as the narrator
coupled.
In Sabbatical the coupled point of view can't hold up.
Though they have nicknamed their story "Our Story" and even
devote several subdivisions to calling it that"Our Story"
(S 71-73), "Our Story!" (S 352-56), "To Our Story" (S 362-
64), and though Susan entertains the notion early on, calls
it "our love-and-adventure story" (emphasis mine), after her
abortion she has had enough, she is unwilling to let the
synthesis stand without scrutiny:
What about our story, Suse?
What about it.
I'm going to write it; that's what about it.
Joking aside, we're going to write it.
Susan looks away. Bully for us. Fenwick
absorbs the rebuff. I'm not belittling you, Sue
says seriously. You'll write something fine, and
that'll be enough for you, because you had all the
other things in your life. (S 334)
Fenn is more right when he slips and says that he will write
it. He will be the book's principal author. Though Susan
is interested in, even has a stake in, their story, it will
be Fenn who writes it down, it will be the book that makes
Fenn a writer of fiction. Fenn, not Susan, aspires to be
the author of a novel (S 273-74).
In fact, Susan mainly functions editorially. When Fenn
names the terms and defines the story"The doing and the
telling, our writing and our lovingthey're twins. That's
our story," Susan only acquiesces: "If that's going to be
our story, then let's begin it at the end and end at the


181
as a deferred overlapping, the scene of its own description.
The writing of a fort/da is always a fort/da11 (The Post Card
321). Derrida indicates this overlapping with a colon:
"fort:da."
Implicit in what I have said thus far but not yet
brought into the argument is the fact that the present
action of Sabbatical is devoted to the coming back home of
Fenn and Susan on their sailboat, Pokey. Sabbatical is the
story of this particular "sabbatical's end" (S 9), Fenn and
Susan's return. They have been on a leave of absence, a
vacation, and now it is time to get back to the serious
business of organizing lives and making career decisions.
Freud characterizes the fort:da of the spool as children's
play; it is the action of the game. The child would play
the game with all his toys, would throw them "away from him
into a corner, under the bed, and so on so that hunting for
his toys and picking them up was often quite a business"
(Freud 18: 14). Derrida notices that for Freud "the work
consists of reassembling, of searching in order to bring
together, or reuniting in order to give back. In return, he
will call play the dispersion which sends far away (the
operation of distantiation), and will call playthings24 the
collection of manipulated objects" (The Post Card 309).
24 In The Complete Psychological Works of Siomund
Freud. 1955, Strachey translates Soielzeuge as "toys"; here
Derrida prefers the variant "playthings," which in English
reflects more readily the play of the child and the doubling
of that play in Freud's writing.


68
language and stand where one could see it from the outside?"
(xvii). Though it is not clear that he could get outside
language in any case, it is clear that he understands the
confinement of the circular text. In Chapter Two circling
will still be an issue.
In the linguistic moment time is committed to space.
Every poem that Miller describes is a "version of a spatial
emblem of human temporality" (xv). He suggests by the
consistency of his examples that there are no temporal
emblems of time, that in language, in the "linguistic
moment," time must be described spatially, but concludes the
spatial image, in particular the circle, is never successful
at seeing the "riddle of temporality" (433). Time can only
be described, written, spatially and so is stopped in
language, is localized, planted, grounded, in a non
temporal element.
Language itself is a "non-temporal element." One
doesn't have the choice whether to use language spatially.
A "fundamental feature of literature" is the search for a
ground before or after time, "something that will support
time, encompass it, still its movement" (Miller xvi-xvii).
In response to Susan's suggestion that they make
Sabbatical circular so that they can go on forever, Fenn
says, "we both know that not even a story is ever after."
So they "conclude, that they lived":
Happily after, to the end
Of Fenwick and Susie. ... (S 366)


142
allegories of readings that occur outside the text. To
understand reading as production, which is take the
supplement into consideration, is to recognize that 11 there
is nothing outside of the text11 (Derrida, Of Grammatoloqy
158). Peter and Katherine7s reading the manuscript SEX
EDUCATION: Play functions as one such allegory. We are
concerned here not simply with the manuscript, which is a
reflection of and a commentary (essentially a "doubling
commentary") on The Tidewater Tales, but also with what
Peter and Katherine have to say about opening and reading
the manuscript,
which by the unlikeliest of hazards swam into the
Ken of dwarf-laden Story at a peculiarly volatile,
suspended moment in our own tidewater tale, and in
a manner of speaking catalyzed, goosedMight as
well say inseminated, says Peterinseminated our
outboard muse, though what she will deliver
remains to be seen. (TT 421)
Peter and Katherine read SEX EDUCATION: Play, as do we in
addition to them, a text that is in The Tidewater Tales, and
thereby inseminate their "own tidewater tale," remarked over
and again to be The Tidewater Tales. Reading The Tidewater
Tales inseminates The Tidewater Tales. "There is no
outside-text" (Derrida, Of Grammatoloqy 158) (Reading the
opinion that Katherine offers, Peter adds to and helps write
it; Katherine says what she "might as well" but might not
have said: inseminated. Elsewhere she has wondered whether
the association of the metaphors of reproduction might be
"counter-productive" [TT 45]. One of the dwarves on Peter's
authorial back is the double fear for his "career and actual


119
Susan is characterized initially as the "logical scholar
who puts things in order (S 23), making sure that the
references are clear and that the appropriate citations are
made. But as their story nears its critical point, at which
the coming together of Fenn and Susan is brought seriously
into question, she becomes the "irrational romantic,"
unstable, even hysterical.
Even then, in the grip of her self-torment, she keeps
enough of her cool to question Fenn's placement of himself:
Your view of the Eighteenth century is romantic,
in your wife's opinion. Your view of rationalism
is romantic. (S 216)
What she means is that we don't know what Francis Scott Key
was actually like: "Not impossibly he was as demon-driven as
Poe, or as his namesake, F. Scott Fitz." (S 216). Fenn is
attaching his idea of the 18th century, perhaps his idea of
himself, to his namesake for the sake of the category, so
that he can make his point about the difference between him
and his wife. He softens his position: "Well: her husband's
not anti-romantic, any more than he's anti-her. Says he's
got some Manfred in him; even a touch of Poe. And a little
Sue Seckler, thank God" (S 216). Though he hedges on the
stability of his categories, he takes them a step further in
describing their synthesis, which is the joining of him and
Susan: "Well, reader: hence, the significance of our sturdy
craft's name: a union of contraries prevailing harmoniously
indeed but sometimes tense, like the physics of Pokey
himself" (S 217).


100
The dream is appropriate because the systems by which
they plan the working out of their problems are the cause of
their problems. In a sense, they are sucked in and nearly
destroyed by the assumption that their problems can be
solved in terms of the structure of the Y.
Fenn has already made a note that sets up the terms of
the Y and introduces the initial dilemma with which that
structure presents them:
Is a Y a fork or a confluence? Does the
Chesapeake Channel diverge into York River
Entrance Channel, or do they converge into the
Chesapeake Channel? The one inbound, the other
outbound; or, in tidewater, the one on floods, the
other on ebbs. Analysis versus synthesis; "male"
versus "female." Sperm swim up; ova float down.
(S 137)
Though fork is used here to mean "a divergence," it is often
used by the narrators of Sabbatical synonymously with Y; and
sometimes the meanings of the terms are interchanged so that
Y means "a divergence." For instance: "Pokey's in a cove,
but Fenwick and Susan are at a Y"; the narrator means that
Fenn and Susan have a decision to make-they are "not sure
where [they'll] be going" (S 2 3 6) Fenn begins his dream
about their possible futures as "a literal fork in the
channel" but concludes the dream searching "the Y for other
futures" (S 321, emphasis mine). The meanings of these
terms vary (even become interchanged) with a change in
context. Part III, The Fork, should not be read as
divergent, analytical, or male but rather as incorporating
both divergence and convergence, analysis and synthesis,
masculinity and femininity.


CHAPTER II
ABORTION STORIES
1. Organizing Barth's Texts
With Sabbatical. Barth's eighth novel, which, not
incidentally, has slipped prematurely out of print, the
image of abortion becomes directly involved in the disposal
of the text, such that abortion becomes a way of talking
about writing. In Barth's previous work, as well as in
Sabbatical. abortion is always connected to a decision
concerning order. More specifically, it is the decision of
the woman concerning the organization of her life and the
condition of her body. The body of the woman is
incorporated, though, into the text so that a corpus of
works or the corpus of a work is subject, like the woman, to
conception and abortion. Barth's notion of the text as the
body of the woman forces us to consider the ramifications of
abortion on the orderliness of texts. By attempting to put
his stories in order (to dispose of themfrom the Latin
disponere. to arrange) Barth finds that orderliness is
always sucked away. The reverse of that is also true: in
trying to dispose of a story by getting rid of it some of
the organization makes itself felt; the removal has an
69


219
in narratives follows from the illusion of a narrator's also
being the author (and vise versa). Captn Don seems to
understand that the narrator of Don Quixote is not
Cervantes, but rather another Cervantes so to speak. Though
Captn Don claims to be the skipper as well as the passenger,
the author as well as the character, he does not claim to be
Cervantes, but rather his "own Cervantes." This claim, like
Peter's, is an equivocal oneCaptn Don claims authorship
without claiming to be the author. But the equivocation is
less a lack of precision than a necessity of the illusion.
Reading The Tidewater Tales after Sabbatical we will
have noticed, as we have in reading the relation between The
Tidewater Tales and Don Quixote, that the sequeling of
narration follows from the questioning of truth, of the
origin of the work, and therefore from the claim of
authorship. When we read, in The Tidewater Tales, about
some of the characters (or, perhaps, the sequels of some of
the characters) of Sabbatical. their connection to the story
that came before The Tidewater Tales seems to turn on the
questioning of historical fact. There is no doubt that in
The Tidewater Tales the characters and their situations bear
a strong resemblance to those in Sabbatical:
This was the hopeful scene (we have learned) that
Frank and Lee Talbott found upon the successful
completion, just last week, of this blue-water
passage from the Virgin Islands to the Virginia
capes and Chesapeake Bay. What was more, Carla's
formidable intuitions told her that Professor Leah
Allan Silver Talbott, now thirty-five, was
pregnant at last, for the first time, by her
strapping fifty-year-old husband! But there'd
been a cloud upon their childlessness, so C.B.S.


11
nevertheless are always present as the things moved beyond.
To leave absolute order behind is never to get rid of
absoluteness; the narrator, rather, considers his own
process and thereby involves himself in ordering.
Barth confronts a theory of activity in terms of
polemical argumentation in the "Literature of Exhaustion"
"the language of action consists of rest as well as
movement. . Nothingness is necessarily and inextricably
the background against which Being, et cetera" (FB 67, 68).
His "et cetera" implies that the argument almost goes
without saying. In order to say "et cetera," he must allow
the premise, on which the argument is based, to tag along.
Not only is a theory of opposition (the necessity of both
and) upheld, it is included. But included as the
orientation, which, of course, entails movement, toward a
theory of narration:
I decided I'd spend my professional academic life
saying all the things that go without saying:
staring first principles and basic distinctions
out of countenance; facing them down, for my
students' benefit and my own, until they confess
new information. What is literature? What is
fiction? What is a story? (FB 11)
Todd Andrews never "mastered first principles" (FO 60)
either, and his statement attests to the fact. "First
principles" are precisely that which cannot be "mastered."
He says of his suicide"I could master the fact of my
living with [my heart condition] by destroying myself" CFO
227). Since mastery is a state of being, to exist it must
extend beyond the act. Todd Andrews would only be "master"


7
into his tidewater tales. "Says Peter carefully, who is not
always bad at intuiting situations, Nope:"his colon
introduces the next chapter: "A Story is Not a Child" (TT
410) .
Peter has made it clear that telling a story is only
like living. Fenn and Susan's story can be their offspring
but only in a sense. They have created it; they have come
together and in coming together have produced. Peter and
Katherine have found that, though they cannot write and tell
a story that is their lives, they can create their lives in
writing and telling a story. That is, writing and telling
can be a part of their living.
Narration and the Use of "Non-Fiction"
Typically, a critic of Barth will read the fiction in
terms that Barth establishes in his nonfiction. For
example, Charles B. Harris says in Passionate Virtuosity:
The Fiction of John Barth. "Significantly, from the corpus
of his own work Barth cites LETTERS as an example of
postmodernism, which suggests that 'The Literature of
Replenishment' will prove as indispensable a guide through
the intricacies of this novel as 'The Literature of
Exhaustion' has for Lost in the Funhouse" (161). Harris
frames his entire book with the indispensable-guide theory.
In Alan Prince's "An Interview with John Barth," Barth
speaks of "passionate virtuosity" as the relation between
technique and art. I'm not, here, concerned as much with


126
The structure of Derrida's text echoes that remainder.
"Before attempting an active interpretation," says Derrida,
"verily a critical displacement (supposing that is
rigorously possible), we must yet patiently decipher this
difficult and obscure text rElements of the Philosophy of
Right 111 (Derrida, Glas 5). "To know what love is . one
needs to know what feeling is. But that will truly not be
known before knowing what love is, that is, what the family
is" (Derrida, Glas 14), or, we might say, what Sittlichkeit
is. This pre-text becomes before we know it (that is, from
the start) "an active interpretation." Another way of
putting it, which is to say the same thing, though not
exactly the same thing, is that all of Glas is a critical
displacement, a patient deciphering, of Hegel.
Glas is organized in two columns, the left about Hegel,
the right Genet. Already I have slipped backward because I
have not yet gotten to their connection. We can see from
the start their crossing over. The displacement of Hegel is
the replacement of Genet and vice versa. Both columns
anticipate the other and, together, anticipate their
connection. But what remains, what is left standing, are
the two columns.
In Sabbatical. the synthetic reinscription of duality
is marked in the love declared by Fenn and Susan. I have
said that we are led to presume that because Fenn and Susan
love each other they will always be together. Sabbatical
is, after all, "A Romance" (the term is part of Sabbatical's


78
itself.- It incorporates his previous novels in a dialogue,
carried on through letters, between the characters of those
novels and between those characters and their "Author."
LETTERS is essentially the putting into order of Barth's
fiction up to that point in time (it was copyrighted in
1979) .
The title that appears on the title page, which looks
something like a computer card, is also the subtitle of the
book:
A
NOLD
TIMME
PISTO
LARY
NOV
E
L
B
Y
S
E
V
E
N
F
I
C
T
I
T
I
0
U
S
D
RO
L
L
S&
DRE
A
M
E
R
S
E
A
C
H
0
F
W
H
I
C
H
I
M
A
GINE
SHIM
S
E
LFAC
T
U
A
L
The letters that make up the title, LETTERS, and subtitle,
An Old Time Epistolary Novel by Seven Fictitious Drolls and
Dreamers Each of Which Imagines Himself Actual, function as
the scheme of organization of the novel. The first chapter,
which is titled "L," is divided into subchapters "A," "B,"
"C," "D," "E," "F," "G," "I," "N" and "E," the letters that
make up the L; the second chapter is titled "E," etc. The
play with this puzzle is exemplary of a text that is
motivated by the organization of texts. For Barth, the
puzzle is at least partly a game. It lacks the seriousness
forced on us by the assumption of the rigidness of systems
9
See, for example, Robbins 222.


239
apprentice error" (TT 260). We are said to be able to
tolerate more complexity in a novel than we can in life; Lee
Talbott says directly, "but of course, art isn't life" (TT
407). These statements (and the divisions they make) will
seem clear cut until we introduce the questioning of the
end.
In describing his "Apocalypse," Peter adds that,
whereas the story goes on with the addition of the next
thing,
nothing is no thing, and our story does not at all
necessarily go on, for the reason that our lives
are not stories. (TT 142)
This statement may well be indecipherable, but figuring out
how it is indecipherable will tell us something about the
reinstitution of the dichotomy between the real and the
textual. In a storv what follows is the next thing, even if
the next thing is "nothing"; in other words, stories go on.
What would seem to oppose this logic would be a statement to
this effect: In life what follows might be nothing; life
does not necessarily go on. But that is not the opposition
offered by The Tidewater Tales. What will not necessarily
go on is our storv. The story goes on; our storv does not
necessarily go on because "lives are not stories." This
sort of messing with the distinction between art and life,
which is foretold in Peter and Katherine's wanting to "read"
ahead in their "lives" and which is nearly pervasive in
Barth's books (so much so that an illustration would be


38
divisions with terms such as Part, Section, or Chapter would
give the hierarchical organization of divisions a validity.
We might find that not suggesting the hierarchy is
impossible; quotation marks can only question a termthey
cannot render its meanings neutral.) Often the titles will
carry as much weight in the telling of the story as the
"chapters themselves." For example, these are two
consecutive chapters quoted (if this is possible) in their
entirety:
DONE?
Done.
TIME FOR LUNCH.
Skip lunch. (TT 49)
One chapter would be empty of a "text proper" but for the
points of ellipsis that indicate its emptiness:
IN ADVANCED AS IN EARLY PREGNANCY,
A WOMAN'S APPETITE MAY BE CAPRICIOUS
BUT WHY DID PETER SAGAMORE EAT NO LUNCH,
EITHER IN THE MAIN HOUSE OR IN THE FIRST GUEST COTTAGE?
. . (TT 53)
The following title includes its own points of ellipsis and
is the "chapter itself":
AH SO. EVEN THE Bb, THEN, AS WE HAD FEARED . .
(TT 53)
The most dramatic of these titles is the 463-word title of a
chapter that reads simply, "Ahem" (TT 73). "Ahem" is the
breath taken after the recitation of its long-winded title.
It is ironic that the chapter is simply a comment on its
title, the reverse of what is usually expected of the
relation between titles and their texts. One of the


66
These types of "stories" occur less frequently after "Day
0," and as the story progresses they disappear altogether.
The implication is that the tales are told after Peter's
problem is worked out and that "Our Story" and "Day 0" are
told before the problem is worked out, while Peter is still
stuck. It is implied that Peter and Katherine do not begin
circling until "Day 1." If the story is circular, though,
everything has happened before. The introduction too must
have been written or told after Peter begins to write. It
is impossible to write a story beforehand, to write the
story before the story is written. Getting on a circular
story requires that logic be suspended. The sequentiality
of getting on is denied by the story itself, which, if
perfectly circular, has always already done away with
movement in time.
Peter had wished as a child that he lived on the
Mississippi River rather than the Honga because the
Mississippi could carry him out into the world as it did
Huck Finn and as Huck Finn did Samuel Clemens. The
Mississippi "doesn't come back, any more than Mark Twain
went back to being Samuel Clemens of Hannibal," whereas
everything that "went down the Honga came back on the tide,
no different but for a few barnacles" (TT 231). Peter
understands now though that the difference is significant.
His reading of Huck Finn again is different because it is
based on other readings, because he has the experience of
having already read. The Chesapeake is not the same


60
of language and suggest (is this the first time?) the
impossibility of a perfect circularity. One word of a text
must follow another, one sentence another sentence. But if
time cannot be overcome in a book, it can at least be
"unhinged," its "windows blown." A story can force us back
around, not to its beginning but to where we were. With
"[t]he second stormBlooey! . our story came 'round
on itself" (TT 23) "Blaml11 and "Blooey!" are the terms
Fenn and Susan haggle over in deciding "what words best
follow Once upon a time" [S 11]. Peter and Katherine's
story not only comes around on itself, but also comes around
on Sabbatical.
"Once upon a time" is, of course, a convention. By
convention it establishes a beginning; that is, readers have
agreed to call this place at which the statement "Once upon
a time" occurs the beginning. In a sense, anything one says
will always be understood as following "Once upon a time"
everything comes after the beginning. But we should argue
this point rigorously. If everything is understood as
following "Once upon a time," then the beginning has always
already occurred and is not located anywhere. In both
Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales this conventional
beginning comes even after the apparent first lines of the
stories, so that even the statement "Once upon a time" is
marked as coming after the story has begun. "There was a
story" (the apparent first line of Sabbatical and the "Line
Two" of the Odysseus story in The Tidewater Tales! functions


36
other words this book is the "glossing" of "This Book:" (TT
82). If the last line remains "unglossed," as the narrator
claims, it is only because the book, as well as the
"introduction," cannot be said to have come to an end,
because for neither of them is there a "last line" per se.
The Tidewater Tales "concludes" with another title
page:
THE
TIDEWATER
TALES:
A NOVEL. (TT 656)
This title page, after which nothing seems to follow, has
the effect of leading us back. It functions as the
quotation of a title, so questions the possibility of coming
to an end; we would have to place "beginning" in quotation
marks as well, because finding the original statement is
problematic. It cannot be determined whether the title at
the supposed last line of the text quotes or is the referent
for another quotation, the quotation of itself. In relation
to La Folie du iour Derrida has called this type of
quotation of quotation the "chiasmatic invagination of the
borders," each of which is the quotation of the other. This
organization "does not allow us to discern in the reading
the indivisible limit of a beginning from an end. It
carries away the condition for every dictatorial emergence
of a title, the title implying these critical effects of the
border, the possibility of discerning indivisible borders"
("Title" 20).


70
organizational impact on the remainder of the text or
corpus.
Already, perhaps, what I have said about abortion
illustrates the difficulty of establishing an organization.
The following complications must be included. That the
abortion is the decision of the woman is not to say that she
is unaffected by the father or the masculine orientation of
her society, but rather that it is a decision made amid the
assertion of an independence. For example, though Fenn's
reluctance to be a father again is part of the reason for
Susan's abortion in Sabbatical. Susan's decision to have the
abortion is made under the auspices of a silence that
reinscribes her and Fenn's separateness. That the decision
concerns the order of her life is not to say that it does
not affect the lives of those around her, the father's life
in particular, but rather that the problem of organization
is always partly textual, always a question of the life-
corpus, so to speak. One of the consequences of speaking of
a text as abortive or as having been aborted is the
association of the text with the child that might have been
born. But the question of abortion is never simply whether
or not to have a child because the delivery of the child is
always to be considered the delivery of another part of the
corpus, which cannot be reduced to the mother-child
dichotomy.
From the outset we will have noticed that talking about
abortion is problematic because any description is partly an


150
Peter writes Act Three (and he points this out to us within
the Act [TT 619]) not as a play but in prose dialogue. "He
is by nature," he has told us, "a narrator, not a
dramatizer" (TT 162). Peter cannot be the writer; he cannot
read from the position of the writer, which is to say that
he cannot write, without also reading. Even as Peter reads
what he has written, his listeners, who are essentially his
readers, are careful to point out that this is Frank's play.
The reader is only part, though a fully entitled part, of
the production of the text. Because speakers are not
identified on the left margin as in a playscript, there is
another significant difference between what we would have
called "Peter's text" and "Frank's text." There are no
graphical distinctions between the text that was written and
the supposed readerly insertions. Even if we wanted to, we
could not sever, at a glance, the writing from the reading;
we would be forced to make decisions (Derrida has told us
that reading is a decision fDissemination 63]) about who is
speaking and whether this particular speaker is part of the
text or the reading of the text. These sorts of decisions
concerning the distinction between the text and its reading
have become even more difficult to support.
May Jump, who wants to hear Act Three without the
benefit of a reprisal of Acts One and Two because she thinks
she ought to be able to construct them if the writers have
done their jobs, anticipates the direction of the story:
June says That's two twenty magnetic. You said
two ten.


152
essential to his or her understanding of the story and of
telling stories, which is to say that the possession or
command over the text is never fixed in one writer or
reader. When Peter reads that the Swimmer and June "haul up
onto a deserted strand," the readers make their various
predictions about the identity of the place:
Ordinary Point, predicts Katherine.
Carlita's otra cuevita. predicts Lee.
Sheritt's Cove, predicts May Jump, smiling at
Katherine [Sherritt's] lap. (TT 620)
Calling it "A tell along playscript" (TT 624), Katherine
comments on the comments as well as on the "script itself,"
further obscuring these sorts of distinctions. It is
essential to remember that for Peter's playscript and for
The Tidewater Tales telling along is not simply taking turns
telling again a story already written, but rather reading in
the story what supplements the story and becoming involved
as the text's producer.
"Interrupt, bids Peter: You're entitled" (TT 624). The
story is also that of the reader.
We can read The Tidewater Tales as a series of stories
producedread and written out of a given thread. In turn,
the stories of four texts, which might in other contexts be
called "historical," are taken up: Huckleberry Finn. The
Oddvssev. Don Quixote, and The Thousand and One Nights. In
each case the reading of these texts becomes significant in
the production of The Tidewater Tales. It is not enough to
say, as many of Barth's critics have, that in certain
situations Barth uses "historical" texts (texts which are


3
reinstates the logic of dichotomy and the logic of
anticipation, "the farther shore" takes us where we have
already been, disrupting the possibility of simply moving
forward within The Tidewater Tales, and so is inappropriate
in describing what is being written today, in distinguishing
today from yesterday. We can not be sure that today's
literature and criticism of literature are fundamentally
different from works described by the term modernism. In
fact, what people are calling modernism or postmodernism
seems to have been taking place all along. Two stories with
which Barth identifies, stories that contain "postmodern"
situations (such as the stuckness at the end of The
Tidewater Tales), Ocean Story and The Thousand and One
Nights, are among the oldest in the history of written
language.
The criticism of Barth up to now has, for the most
part, simply positioned Barth philosophically or
thematically. The earliest articles, which began coming out
in the mid '60s, labeled him a nihilist or "post
existentialist." He has been aligned with Kurt Vonnegut and
the "Black-Humorists." Now, perhaps, because he has used
the term in his article about the replenishment of
literature, critics are calling him a "postmodernist." It
could be argued that the job of the critic is, first of all
(and perhaps as an end in itself), to name what is being
talked about. But because all of Barth's books illustrate
the danger of identification and of the alignment with a


189
disappointed. That is, the most he retains is a
recollection of events as they were. The narrator
anticipates his result in theory at the beginning of the
story: "the fact that [something] has been gives to
repetition the character of novelty" (Kierkegaard 34).
Where can Susan go, backwatering to Aristotle through
Nabokov? Certainly not back to Aristotle.27 Barth shows
us, thoroughly, that we cannot write as if the past has not
happened but also that we cannot make it happen again: "It
did happen: Freud and Einstein and . the rest. ... As
the Russian writer Eugeny Zamyatin was already saying in the
1920's (in his essay On Literature. Revolution, and
Entropy): 'Euclid's world is very simple, and Einstein's
world is very difficult; nevertheless, it is now impossible
to return to Euclid's" (FB 202). As we will see later on,
Alain Robbe-Grillet, in For a New Novel. argues the
inevitability of novelty in modern works and in doing so
denies the possibility of repetition in language. No matter
the strength of the connection to an established form, he
says, a work that follows must be considered new. Something
has always been added and something always taken away. For
an event to be a repetition, one event must be anothera
contradiction in terms.
27 Nabokov's Pale Fire illustrates as well as any
modern novel that a text, whether "commentary" or "fiction,"
changes forever the way we read the so-called primary text,
the "work of literature"; it denies, in fact, the
"primariness" of any text.


203
conceptproblematic. Michael Hinden claims that with Lost
in the Funhouse "Barth challenges the writers and critics of
contemporary fiction to cut the coils that bind them to the
recent past. But that same past, as Lost in the Funhouse
paradoxically demonstrates, already has furnished Barth with
new materials for art ..." (116). The question that
should concerns us is by what measure the past can be
considered "the same" in its use in the creation of art.
Arguing against Holder and the idea of a pure history, Linda
S. Bergmann asserts that "play is an appropriate treatment
of history if it is as ambiguous as Barth shows it to be
. ." (36). The more artificially the novelist organizes
the past, Bergmann says, "the less we will be inclined to
mistake the structure necessary for art for the hidden truth
of history." Though she argues against the possibility of
discovering truth in history, Bergmann nevertheless
distinguishes history from story:
Any particular story will be the selection of a
few strands of the infinite web of history, and
will resist isolation as truth, unless the Author
conceals its arbitrariness.
Barth's few strands of history and his cupfull
of story take the form of a comedy. . (36)
The distinction between history and story is confusing
because the only thing Bergmann leaves us by which to
distinguish history from story is the capacity for telling
the truth, which she has already discounted.
Nona of Barth's critics has been able to completely
shed the burden of truth telling in describing narrative's
connection to history. Even in describing the problem of


CHAPTER I
CIRCLING
THE QUESTION OF KNOWLEDGE
Hermeneutic Circling
I will begin CIRCLING as if you already know about
Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales. Though their moving in
circles (or in a circle) would seem to place us outside the
texts, in developing an understanding of them, we will find
ourselves already involved.
If, as readers, we are literally circling with the
texts we interpret, the questions that seem to pose
themselves (how do we begin to understand a text we are a
part of, and how do we step off the circle, how do we take
knowledge with us and perhaps even use it in reading, in
becoming involved with, other texts?) are actually part of a
presupposition about the shape of texts. The question of
Knowledge is bound to the circling of Sabbatical and The
Tidewater Tales, but it cannot accurately be said to be
posed at the beginning or end of their reading, because the
shape of the stories will have already circumvented the
possibility of an absolute beginning or end. Therefore, the
problem that always presents itself in the inscription of
27


201
History and the Secmelina of Narration
The question of authorship in connection to the history
of a text and to a text as narrative follows (in a sense)
from the difficulty of locating the origin of a repetition.
In what follows I will concern myself with the narrative
relation between texts, between The Tidewater Tales and Don
Quixote (and between The Tidewater Tales and Sabbatical), to
discover what a narrative can tell us about the history of a
text relative to its author and about looking at a text
"historically."
What follows here will not begin with the question of
historical truth, though it will, by necessity, encompass
that problem. Rather, I will ask, What follows from the
questioning of truth in history and in narrative. What
happens next, after one asks, "Is this book telling the
truth? How much of this book is true? What of this book
can be verified by the historical record?"
Barth's readers have been asking these sorts of
questions about all of his books, since he wrote The Sot-
Weed Factor, a story written out of, so to speak, the poem
of that name, authored by Ebenezer Cooke and published in
1708, and the Archives of Maryland34 as well as other
"historical" documents, such as William Byrd's "Secret
Historie of the Dividing Line" and John Smith's "Generali
Historie of Virginia." Alan Holder seems to find it
34
See Diser 52-58, and Holder 596, 599.


14
distinguishes, though, Borges from this "intellectual" idea
of difference:
But the important thing to observe is that Borges
doesn't attribute the Quixote to himself, much
less recompose it like Pierre Menard; instead, he
writes a remarkable and original work of
literature, the implicit theme of which is the
difficulty, perhaps the unnecessity, of writing
original works of literature. (FB 69)
Implicit in Barth's discussion of originality is the
understanding that texts are connected to other texts. An
original work, therefore, is not one that is outside or that
has no relation to the past. A work of literature is
"created" not out of nothingness but in relation to
nothingness. A text is "original" to the extent that it
involves itself in originationnot simply a going back but
a coming into being. Texts are made new. Borges,
nevertheless, wrote the passages that Pierre Menard re
created and so involves himself in the creation of a
narrative event and involves his story in its own creation.
Barth speaks of originality in one of two ways. Either
(1) originality is contained in absolute paradox and so is
effectively cancelled out (Borges writes an original work
about the impossibility of originality); "originality" in
other words carries only the meaning of its own paradoxical
impossibility. Or (2) there are two senses of "original":
the original before which there was nothing and evolutionary
origination in which every work takes part; there is no
"need" to write "original" works of literature ("original"


131
beginning . (S 365). "If that's going to be our
story": Susan is not satisfied with the conclusion proposed,
but she will allow it to stand if she can have a hand in
controlling the structure of the conclusion. But Fenn has
already planned the structure she describes. Susan wonders
only thirteen pages earlier, "Where does Cacaway fit in?"
And Fenn gives her the conclusion before she describes it:
"At the beginning and the end" (S 352). Even Susan's
function as editor is somewhat circumscribed by Fenn's
already having worked out the story part of the way. Though
Fenn says, "It's our power and our voice, and what it's for
is our story" (S 351), he says it in the subdivision called
"She's Listening" (S 325-52). That irony is symptomatic of
the impossibility of a "synthesis attained," indicative of
the division between listener and teller, reader and writer,
the duality always reinscribed in the twins and into the
synthetic moment.
The Fourth Choice
It is essential that we keep in mind that we are
talking about the way synthesis functions in language. To
talk about the relation between Fenn and Susan is to talk
about the working out of Sabbatical:
Fenn is astonished almost as much by Susan's
estimation of his abilitiesand the revelation
that she has examined, neither at his initiation
nor against his prohibition, not only his
notebooks but his sundry past literary efforts!
as by her incredible proposal that we separate.
Unthinkable just now either to proceed to Wye I.
or not to proceed! We can neither go forward nor
go back: forward whither? Back where? (S 347)


10
In "Some Reasons Why I Tell the Stories I Tell the Way
I Tell Them Rather Than Some Other Stories Some Other Way,"
Barth sees himself involved in the process of narration:
At heart I'm an arranger still, whose chiefest
literary pleasure is to take a received melodyan
old narrative poem, a classical myth, a shopworn
literary convention, a shard of my experience, a
New York Times Book Review seriesand,
improvising like a jazzman within its constraints,
reorchestrate it to present purpose. (FB 7)
We should be careful not to read this statement of Barth's
as the thing that is. We should read it in terms of the
system it proposes to find out how the system works. We
might be tempted to think of Barth's "definition" of himself
as a comment on Todd Andrew's. But if either statement
describes the process of narration, using them as
"definitions" that can be lifted out of one text undisturbed
and applied to the other, assuming, in other words, we can
pick out the Todd Andrews or the John Barth from either of
them or that Todd Andrews and John Barth are identical, is
contradictory. By speaking of himself, in the context of
narration, as an "arranger," Barth speaks implicitly of
order as an activityrather than being a thing, it is done
to thingsand arranging as the process of narration.
Right- or wrongness, though, make little sense in
talking about the texts of John Barth (or any texts, for
that matter). With absolute order goes the possibility of
correctness. Right- and wrongness are of no use in
discussing process (or texts in any other terms because of
their connection to narration). Right- and wrongness


173
is itself a deferral: "For encouragement we speak, not of
our recent stories, but of 'Our Story'" [S 71]), Fenn and
Susan decide that they will "work in the exposition" as they
"go along" (S 72). This apparently means that the story
they want to tell will be told somewhere along the line,
within the story and within Sabbatical. But telling the
story does not turn out to be so simple. Susan points out,
as an example of the need to work in exposition and of the
fact that working it in will keep them busy, that "the
reader doesn't know yet . about her seducing Fenwick on
Cacaway Island in 1972." They have left something else out
too:
We forgot Gus and Manfred.
Good night, poor fellows. Rest you easy.
The reader doesn't know yet about Gus and
Manfred, really.
What the reader doesn't know yet would fill a
book.
Oy. Who said that?
I did. (S 73)
In fact, the story does fill a book, it fills Sabbatical,
but it is not simply the story of Gus and Manfred or of
Fenwick's being seduced on Cacaway. Even if these stories
are told, they make room for yet larger, more encompassing
deferrals. What "fills the book" is the deferral, the
repetitious putting off, of the story. Sabbatical comes to
be the story of the deferral of the story.
Two of the most prominent deferrals are those of the
story of Susan's pregnancy and abortion, which we considered
in Chapter II, and the story of Fenn's cardiac episode. One
notices, in reading Sabbatical. not the significant subject


238
in using the concept of the end: (1) if the text cannot be
brought to an end, then any assertion based on the relation
between the inside and the outside of a text is rendered
absurd; (2) if there is no outside-text, then the real-
world/textual-world dichotomy is likewise disposed of a
priori.
We can see how these aspects have become attached to
each other. If one has moved beyond the text to some
outside, where would one be but in the real world?
(Saussure argued against the absolute distinction between
concept and language, but a more fundamental, more
traditional distinction between the real world and the
textual world tries to impose itself on the systemization of
language according to the limits of the text or the sign).
Our question is this: To what extent are the
implications that are inscribed in a system that proposes
the validity of the concept of the end (in particular the
distinction between the real and the textual) assumed in
turning that system against itself?
Throughout The Tidewater Tales, the division between
art and life is held to be essential: "But what husband and
wife are living, and trying rather desperately just now
without success to read ahead in, is not their story. It's
their life" (TT 140) We are warned: "Mess not with the
distinction between life and art; things are tough enough
already" (TT 150) Including an event in a story because it
seems to have happened in real life is said to be "an


62
story, is also the "beginning of "The Tidewater Tales" (TT
83), the second storm coincides with the first:
We understand now what I meant before by two
storms striking at once, two weeks apart, one up
at Ordinary Point on the Twenty-ninth and one
right here, right now, just as the poem's last
stanza unfolds to read Tell me their story as if
it weren't ours but like ours enough so that the
powers that drive and steer good stories might
fetch them beyond our present plight and
Blaml
Go the twin storms exactly then, their force
doubled by their combination. They slam together
into the Eastern Shore of Maryland just as . .
there unfolds
Blooey 1
This book: (TT 82)
With these words the book literally turns into itself, as
described in another context,8 "exactly-at-the-moment-when-
the-past-overtakes-the-present" (TT 610).
When Peter first mentions these two storms, he doesn't
know just what he means: "Katherine asks him what he means
blam blooey two storms at once; she doesn't get it. Neither
does he, says Peter: He just upped and said it. The moon of
inspiration, he supposes" (TT 75-76).
Circling also are meaning and inspiration. It is
assumed that meaning is prior: one writes in order to convey
t
8 That of the story May Jump tells about Sheherazade,
who becomes stuck in the present after trying to reestablish
a love affair with her "real-life" author, who had found
himself able to move back and forth between her time and
his; she utters the phrase "what you've done is what you'll
do" and is propelled through time and across the
fiction/nonfiction border. Trying to get back to her life
and time she recounts her story, hoping that at the moment
when the past of the story overtakes the present, when she
narrates her narrating presently, she would find herself in
"her own" time, her past would be present. The Sheherazade
story will be developed more thoroughly in Chapter III.


though,
not the
175
that what we are reading is not the story, that is,
story remarked as deferred:
Subdued Fenwick decides not to tell her now.
Subdued Susan decides not to tell him now. (S
243)
Susan decides, in fact, not to tell Fenn about her pregnancy
at all or until after the pregnancy's termination. And the
reader of the deferral does not know about or at least does
not feel sure in the knowledge about, Susan's being pregnant
until "Susan's Friday," which is the story of her abortion,
until the pregnancy, its termination, is no longer a subject
of debate. The reader is forced to speculate about that
which is not talked about.
Susan's pregnancy had put her in a bind that required
the story's being put off. She knew that if she had told
Fenn that she was pregnant, Fenn would have agreed,
sincerely, to her having the child, though he does not want
children, and Susan wants children only if Fenn wants them
to start with.
1 hated all that faking with the Midols and the
Tampax, but I couldn't accept that we got
ourselves pregnant before we'd decided one way or
the other, or that we'd decided not to decide, or
decided no but couldn't acknowledge it. I didn't
want to have that baby, much as I wanted it more
than anything! I didn't want to abort it till we
got home, and I didn't want to go around till then
being pregnant! I didn't want to talk about it or
about aborting it, to spare both of us. (S 333)
Especially to spare Fenn because of his heart. "The truth
is," says Fenn, "there's been some new justification" for
fearing another heart attack. Fenn takes his turn telling:


237
"ends" a story is never simply nothing, which is to say
there is never an absolute end in the text.40 "The Ending"
is simply a writing that follows, another P.S. It is not
outside the text, but it is placed at the limit of text and
written as if it were outside.
Bearing the Sian
In response to a question about a notation attempting
to escape metaphysics, Derrida illustrates the inevitable
reflection of a system in the system's rejection. Though
Saussurean semiology has marked "that the signified is
inseparable from the signifier, that the signified and
signifier are the two sides of one and the same production,
. . turning against the metaphysical tradition the concept
of the sign that he borrowed from it, . Saussure could
not not confirm this tradition in the extent to which he
continued to use the concept of the sign" (Derrida,
Positions 18-19).
There are two aspects of The Tidewater Tales's
questioning the possibility of the end, both of which tend
to confirm traditional notions about the boundaries of texts
soon ("Of an Apocalyptic Tone" 24).
40 That The Next Thing cannot be the end is implied in
Peter's description of one of the narrative dwarves on his
back, "the petering out of literary modernism and the not-
quite-petering-in of the Best Next Thing"; if we understand
The Next Thing as something other, then there will be the
sense of its not-quite-petering-in. Barth echoes Peter's
description in "The Literature of Replenishment" (FB 206).


43
Sabbatical. In Washington, Fenn meets his friend, Dougald
Taylor, who was a colleague of Fenn's when Fenn was in the
CIA and who is still on the payroll. Fenn sees Doog, as
they call him, because he might have information about
Fenn's brother, Manfred, an upper-level CIA officer who has
been missing for over a year, and Manfred's son, Gus, a
Marxist plumber who has been missing since he went to Chile
to work against the CIA's intervention there. Doog knows
little, beyond the obvious possibilities, about Manfred's
disappearance. But he reveals to Fenn that Gus's mother,
Carmen, who happens also to be Susan's mother, was in effect
offered the option of ransoming Gus, who might still be
alive as a political prisoner in Chile, by becoming an agent
of the CIA. Fenn's son, Orrin, might even be approached by
the CIA. And Fenn is offered by Doog himself the option of
doubling, if he is approached by a foreign agency, in
exchange for further information about Manfred and Gus.
And, perhaps most importantly, Fenn is warned by Doog that
the Agency might have come up with an untraceable inducer of
cardiac arrest. Fenn is a prime target for this type of
liquidation because he has had a heart attack before and
because his expose of illegal CIA activities has made him
many CIA enemies. On the bus from Washington, Fenn has a
minor cardiac episode.
Because Fenn had once been involved with the CIA it is
impossible to disentangle his life from the movement of that
agency. It does not matter that he joined the CIA to


20
I was wondering what to say to you after Susie and
Fenn. Then Blam Blooevl (S 14)
Story and narration coincide and thereby reduce any argument
based on the reality of events outside the text to
irrelevancy. What "really happened" were the words "Blam!
Blooevl"
The theory of language and the story come together in
the story's narration.
What Follows
Because so few articles have been written about
Sabbatical (the book itself has been out of print for
several years, though it was published in 1982) and so
little said about The Tidewater Tales (it came out in 1987),
the water would seem to be uncharted. In fact though,
because the reading of Barth's work is disturbingly narrow
and, as I have pointed out, firmly established, there is no
indication that the trend will not continue. Thus, I am
writing about Barth's work under the pressure of an
establishment. Most of the criticism I consult is
considered in terms of these two most recent books of Barth
only by extension, but even so, I find myself arguing
against the possibility of the application to Sabbatical and
The Tidewater Tales of the assumptions made in these widely
accepted methods of criticism.
Unlike Harris's Passionate Virtuosity, for example,
this dissertation attempts more than an explanation of John


beginning of their relationship. But being "where it all
started," behind Cacaway, is meaningless given the
definition of closure established in Sabbatical; if
46
questions are unresolved, though Fenn and Susan have
regained the Chesapeake and even Cacaway, Sabbatical cannot
be said to have closed. Behind Cacaway, their boat is
anchored as if Sabbatical is unwilling or incapable of
moving on around. In The Tidewater Tales. Peter and
Katherine meet the characters of Sabbatical on the water,
sailing, having not yet made their "main landfall." The
supposed end of Sabbatical cannot be considered the end
because of the impossibility of closure and the
impossibility of getting off the circle, of establishing a
point of reference outside the circle from which one can
claim that the circle is complete.
The beginning cannot be the beginning, either.
Following "A Storm At Sea" (S 9) is "A Dialogue On Diction,"
which is told "Three days later" (S 11), and following that
is "The Story Of Fenwick Turner's Boina," which occurs in
"the late fall of Nineteen Sixty" (S 27), twenty years
before the "present." At the "end" of "The Cove," which is
the first of the three sections and is claimed to be
introductory (Fenn says about the rest of the story, "What
the reader doesn't know yet would fill a book" [S 73]), Fenn
wonders:
Have we decided where to begin it?
Oh, in the middle, says Susan, definitely. In
medias fucking res, as my helper would say.


224
Tidewater Tales is a reprise and follows the questioning of
reprise:
Plumply paddling some yards astern of Reprise,
Wye I.. she calls up cordially from the creek Are
you Repreeze or Reprize? . .
Lee and Frank Talbott! We met you at Doug
Townshend's once, a hundred years ago! Says the
fellow, surprised, so you are the Sagamores. We
wondered. His wife says to Katherine Your
memory's amazing. (TT 393-94)
The name of Frank and Lee's sailboat, like their remeeting
and the name of Frank's "work in progress," is both a
reprise and the questioning of a reprise. Reprise is not
Pokey (Fenn and Susan's sailboat in Sabbatical) not because
Pokey is fictional and Reprise real, but because a reprise
is not a repetition and because what follows is always a
retelling. Following their meeting again Peter and
Katherine and Frank and Lee tell each other a series of
stories that describe what has brought them to this reprise,
stories that are also reprises themselves. The stories are
described briefly in "Ready for Another?" (TT 402-03). The
following passage relates two of them:
Says Franklin Talbott directly but not severely to
Leah Talbott If you'll tell me why your having an
abortion at age thirty-five means we're never
going to have any children ever, I'll tell you why
you didn't tell me you were pregnant until after
you'd had that abortion, even though I knew it
anyhow, just as I knew you'd had a look at my
novel-manuscript that I'd rather you hadn't looked
at till I'd proved to myself that I could write
it. (TT 403)
It will be apparent that these are stories already told, in
Sabbatical. and here they constitute other stories in
themselves, other stories partly because they are within The


84
been inseminated by these signs, the signs can only be
flushed out after they have shown themselves to be present,
which makes getting rid of them problematic and introduces a
textual inevitability. The rape has already been conceived,
the idea already given significance.
Susan, herself, has already begun to "showher
"breasts have been engorged since last April," her stomach
slightly protrudes, and "she has experienced more frequent
nausea all spring than she believes can be attributed to
seasickness and subtropical food. [S]he infers herself,
therefrom, to be two months pregnant" (S 289). After
examining Susan her obstetrician announces that "Goodell's,
Chadwick's, and Hegar's signs . are all present" (S
230). Susan and her doctor set up her conception and
pregnancy in terms of signs and significance and so give the
abortion all the complications of textuality, one of which,
particularly active here, is the problem of flushing out the
extraneous. There are at least two things that make
removing a sign from a text problematic: (1) the sign will
inevitably have had an impact on the surrounding text
(removing the text that has been influenced will simply
leave the editor with another, perhaps greater, portion of
text to be removed, ad infinitum or until there is nothing
left but the text's absence), so that (2) marks of erasure
or deletion will always remain; the removal itself becomes
significantabsence becomes part of what the text means.
Within the context of the story of Susan's abortion,


separate, makes the idea of an identifiable "point" of
connection problematic:
72
I mention this because it applies so often to
people's reasoning about their behavior in
situations that later turn out to be regrettable:
it is possible to watch the sky from morning to
midnight, or move along the spectrum from infrared
to ultraviolet, without ever being able to put
your finger on the precise point where a
qualitative change takes place; no one can say,
"It is exactly here that twilight becomes night,"
or blue becomes violet, or innocence guilt. One
can go a long way into a situation thus without
finding the word or gesture upon which initial
responsibility can handily be fixedsuch a long
way that suddenly one realizes the change has
already been made, is already history, and one
rides along then on the sense of an inevitability,
a too-lateness, in which he does not really
believe, but which for one reason or another he
does not see fit to question. (ER 100-01)
In describing the split between The Reason and The
Unreason, Jake uses "Rennie's cosmos" because he knows that
that "pretty ontological manichaeism would certainly stand
no close examination" (ER 129). Rennie struggles to uphold
the categories because she has a vested interest: her
husband defines himself in terms of rationality and truth
and she defines herself in terms of her husband; if Joe is
not entirely rational, if he cannot be entirely truthful,
Rennie's position is untenable, her world (her "cosmos") is
meaningless. Though Rennie would keep Joe and Jake
separate, it is she who precipitates the breakdown of the
categories they represent, the crossing over of reason and
chaos. "The trouble," Jake says, speaking about Rennie's
perception of him and Joe, ". . is that the more one
learns about a given person, the more difficult it becomes


221
story as Frank changed the names in his, Frank and Lee can
be considered no more factual than Fenn and Susan and just
as subject to question as Peter and Katherine. The names,
the details, have always already been "changed," which is
why "changed" is not quite the right word. Explaining to
Peter and Katherine about his shortcomings as a writer of
fiction, Frank tells them about the novel he tried but
failed to write on the sabbatical voyage.
I turned Rick Talbott into "Manfred Turner,"
because Doug Townshend called him the Prince of
Darkness after Byron's Count Manfred. Lee and I
were "Fenwick Turner" and "Susan Seckler." He
smiles at her. Black eyed Susan, right? My idea
of the art of fiction was to make her and "Mimi"
twin sisters and Fenn and Manfred twin brothers.
(TT 413-14)
Is this attempted novel Sabbatical? Yes and no. Yes, it is
a reference to that story. As Fenn does in Sabbatical.
Frank speaks as if he were the author of that work. And no,
it is not Sabbatical but a book not yet written (its
"working title," Frank says, "was Reprise" [TT 414]). This
contradiction is contained within Sabbatical too. As we
have seen, Fenn and Susan claim all along the way that the
book they are, in the present, writing and telling has not
been written. This writing without having written is the
illusion that must be maintained in any text in which a
character or narrator claims to be the author.
The problem with the claim of authorship, and according
to Frank, the problem with his story, is that it turns upon
the question of truth and the factuality of the story's
origin.


108
been prolific in bringing about critical discussion and
debate. Barth says he is "afflicted with the itch to
understand and explain, to himself and others, why he tells
the stories he tells the way he tells them." The
"Literature of Replenishment" illustrates that this
affliction is accompanied by a wide reading of theory and
criticism. Nevertheless, the students7 response to
Sabbatical. that Barth uses up all the topics of discussion,
is based on two interrelated false assumptions (the first of
which I will put off dealing with until later): (1) that
language, specifically the meaning of words, is finite and
fixed, and (2) that through analysis one can come to the end
of a text, can be done with it critically.
I said that Fenn disposes of his first novel-length
text because it is not entirely gotten rid of. Though he
pitches it into the gorge, and into the problematics of
analytical division, it does not actually "vanish into its
own fundament." The manuscript "litterfed] up [Ronda's]
chief tourist attraction" (S 43), left its mark on the cleft
into which it was thrown. And it leaves its mark on
Sabbatical because the story of that first novel-length work
becomes part of the story and the text of Sabbatical. In
the terms of the Solomon story, the giving up of the text
has allowed it to "live." "So, Susan says: Not only did the
Tajo return your hat, it keeps returning the story you threw
into it" (S 45). There is always, given movement in time
and the generation of new texts, a new application for the


128
relation between Fenn and Susan and their idea of
synthesis.14 For Fenn (if not yet by the end of the book
for Susan) the writing of their story and their loving are
identical twins: "The doing and the telling, our writing and
our lovingthey're twins. That's our story" (S 365).
Fenn's softening to "effing" the word to which Susan finds
exception is his giving over who he is, the meaning of
Fennwick Turner, in the telling of the story of his love for
her. As a narrator, who he is is defined by his telling the
story. By taking on Susan's terms in making this their
"love story," in effect declaring his love for her, he
renounces (in Hegel's terms) his being-for-self. Fenn takes
on meaning fixed by the other and thereby reinscribes their
independence.
Much of Sabbatical involves this kind of bargaining for
terms by which the love story should be told: which
14 Though in fact Hegel always opposes narration to the
concept, in the reconstitution of a Hegelian process he
incites us, according to Derrida, "to a kind of conceptual
narration" (Glas 15). Hegel's being a speculative
dialectics, the completion of the dialectical process can
only occur at the end of history. It is, therefore, easier
to explain Hegel in the future tense. The future tense,
though, is a "grammatical ruse of reason" (Glas 5), because
Hegel's dialectic is a circular system that requires us to
presume the fulfillment of the synthesis it proposes, so
that the appropriate tense is not the simple future but the
future perfect, the future anterior, which brings into
dialectical relation the future and the past. "When Hegel
is explained," says Derrida, "it is always in a seminar and
in telling students: the history of the concept, the concept
of history. In explaining Hegel, in other words, we are
lead to narrate, to consider a series of events in time, to
write a history. Our explanation turns inevitably toward
narration.


338). Nearest at hand, perhaps, is the duality of "The
Cove" and "Key," of the male and female in general.
94
"Abortion Fiction" is not an acknowledgement or a
restatement of what has too often been called the self-
destructiveness of Barth's works. In "John Barth: The
Teller Who Swallowed His Tale," for example, Sanford Pinsker
says that by analyzing language Barth comes to a "dead end,"
and his work defeats itself:
In short, Barth is not so much the great destroyer
of Modernismexaggerating its faults through
extended parody, etc.as he is the devourer of
his own Art. The principle that "fiction must
acknowledge its fictitiousness and metaphoric
invalidity" . might be an intriguing thesis,
even the subject of an academic symposium, but,
baldly stated, it is a poor narrative line on
which to hang one's story. (68)
In "The Anti-Novels of John Barth," Beverly Gross contends
that Barth's fiction leads to "the repudiation of narrative
art," that each of his books through Giles Goat-Boy is "an
anti-novelistic assault on itself." In the end, though,
Gross repudiates her own argument. Fiction, and
specifically the novel, is a necessary and even positive
endeavor for Barth: "He is not quite affirming life but he
is negating lifelessness. He is not quite affirming art but
he is negating silence" (Gross 109). With that conclusion
Gross's title and her thesis about the repudiation of
narrative art are brought into question; it places Barth
somewhere between the negation and the affirmation of
fiction, the novel, and narrative, but, if we can interpret
her "not quite" as meaning "almost," closer to the


174
that occupies the minds of the narrators, but rather the
significance of the subject, the subject that is not talked
about directly. One notices that something is deferred,
that a story is to be told but will not be told for a while,
not yet. The footnote to the opening lines tells us that
Susan's tears "shall be made clear, in time" (S 9), and,
when her weeping is taken up again, when she weeps again,
the tears are explained "but for one detail" (S 47). That
one detail, which is left out, occupies the telling and the
deferral of the rest of the story. Mentioned off-handedly
as if insignificant and thereby put at a distance, Susan's
pregnancy and the bind in which it places her are in part
what the story is about (but what the story is about is also
deferred).
We will recognize, in the paradoxical relation between
the presence of the subject of the story and the story's
deferral, that the story cannot be an absolute deferral of
itself because the deferral has to be (is inevitably)
marked. The story not told is hinted at and pointed to so
that we notice its not being told. When Fenn puts his ear
to Susan's belly "as if to listen for a heartbeat there" (S
26), we do not know yet that there is a heartbeat there to
hear. And even at the closing of the first chapter of "The
Fork," which is the third and apparently final part, we
cannot be sure why "Susan slips her left hand down inside
the front of her jeans and underpants and presses her belly,
between navel and pubic hair" (S 243) We can be sure,


86
and "absence" are no longer absolute. Derrida says
elsewhere that the text is produced only in the
transformation of another text: "Nothing, neither among the
elements nor within the system, is anywhere ever simply
present or absent. There are only, everywhere, . traces
of traces" (Positions 26), which is to say erasures of
erasures. We never have available, can never even point to,
the so-called "original sign."
Abortion is not something that can happen without
having an effect, both because it is a momentous event in
anyone's life and because as a sign it has an impact on the
meaning of its text. After her ordeal with Miriam and her
children and her realization that she would be a failure at
raising the perfect child, Susan understands her life as
"empty and stupid" (S 164). What is remarked as missing
comes to be what this book is about.
Susan has been faking her periods since she and Fenn
were in the Caribbean and even marking them down in the log:
*****
Let each asterisk represent a night, beginning
with that Sunday night the first of June: we
emblemize the period both of Susan's menses . .
and of Pokey's stop at Solomons Island. ... (S
127)
Because Susan has been faking, these asterisks emblemize
(for both of them, even thenFenn knows Susan has been
faking) the menstruation she should have had but didn't.
Susan's period would have also functioned as a sign,
signifying that for the present everything, in the
conception way, is as it was. And, as is always the case,


134
that would negate the need for coming to a conclusion, he
has not yet found a way to explain it to Susan, or, if
explanation isn't the right word, to lead Susan to his point
of view:
What's morehe hopes Susan can take this the way
he means it; he knows what the past few days and
weeks have been for herthis story, our story,
it's our house and our child. . (S 357)
Because Fenn has made it clear that he wants to get past
their old perspective, to imagine their story as controlled
by neither analysis nor synthesis, we have to conclude that
he does not propose simply another synthesis in saying "our
story is our child." It may be that what Fenn is trying to
articulate is beyond the capacity of language in general.
It is definitely beyond the systems of discourse established
by Fenn and Susan in Sabbatical. Fenn wants to dispose of
or leave behind them a discourse that has brought them to a
standstill, to leave behind both aspects of the Y, without
bringing forward the remainder left over by the text's
disposal, without bringing forward remnants of the text that
has brought him to this new perspective.
Susan's grieving about her abortion is essentially her
dissatisfaction with the way their story ends, with the
problem of articulating a story that would place them
outside the Y.
Though Fenn wants not to see their story in terms of a
synthesis, "our story is our child" looks synthetic, and
Susan treats it that way:


156
and work; now it is time to enjoy. For Scheherazade,
"study" consisted primarily of reading and memorization:
Young Scher there had studied story telling like
young Peter Sagamore in College Park and Portugal.
Those thousand books of stories she collected; all
those poets she learned by heart. She had boned-
up in her library on the art of telling stories
like Doctor Jack Bass in med school on the art of
delivering babies. (TT 577)
In the afternoon of her life she had done her work: she had
told stories and borne babies, laboring always under the
possibility of death if the delivery didn't go well. This
is how Scheherazade would have the metaphor work: in the
morning of life she studied (she read stories) and then that
circumstance changed; in the afternoon she worked (she told
stories and had babies), and that circumstance changed. As
May tells it, "There comes a time when removing the ax from
the narrative neck is not only the fit reward for stories
told and babies borne, but the best insurance of more to
come. I mean maybe she'd tell and maybe she'd swell, but
she'd earned the right, Scher figured, to tell no more
stories ever; to bear no more children ever" (TT 577).
The problem with Scheherazade's metaphor is that the
categories it established are not at all discrete. There is
more than enough reason to question whether she can change
the circumstances of her study or her work, her reading or
her telling.
According to Scheherazade, the source of her
storytelling was a storyteller, whom she calls a "genie,"
who would appear to her and read installments of Richard


190
Repetition and recollection have in common their
propensity toward idealism and toward the portrayal of the
ideal as the achievements of the past.28 Idealism, whether
in terms of repetition or recollection, denies movement in
time: "If she were to remain upon that ideal pinnacle, I
might have to put up with it that my life, instead of
progressing, remained stationary, in pausa" (Kierkegaard
139). The pause suggested by the search for the ideal is
essentially the pause of Miller's linguistic moment. In it
oscillates the "both-and-neither" of repetition and
recollection. "Beginning," for example, is not possible if
in repeating we are moving nowhere, if we are truly
repeating. But "beginning" is the only way to think about
something happening again.
Repetition is a narrative. "Part First" is the first
person account of the narrator's "experiment in psychology"
and (at the same time) the story of his struggle with
"philosophical" terms. "Part Second" is a series of letters
to the narrator from the subject of his experiment with an
introduction, a short explanatory section or renunciation of
28 In a passage of The Tidewater Tales that will become
important to us in terms of the questioning of history,
Peter notes, not for the first time, that his own quixotic
aspiration "has been to leave behind him some image as
transcendent as his favorite four: Odysseus striving
homeward, Scheherazade ayarning, D.Q. astride Rocinante and
discoursing with Sancho Panza, Huck Finn rafting down the
big Muddy. His fortieth year near run, his narrative career
half done, P. Sagamore finds himself neither famous nor
unknown, unsure of his accomplishment but absolutely certain
that nothing of his invention approaches that ideal.
Dwarfed septuply into silence (he writes), I am a Quixote
windmilled flat" (TT 472).


88
discovered was occupiednot only by Fenn's sperm but by the
fetus Susan will abort.
Part I of Sabbatical sets up much of the metaphoric
significance of terms used throughout the book. Part I is
titled "The Cove" and subtitled "Key," though subtitled is
not quite the right description for this play of titles. On
page 7 appear only the number "I" and the words "The Cove"
italicized thus:
I
The Cove
If "Key" were simply a subtitle, it would normally appear on
the same page as this main title. But we find it on the
following facing page as if it were the title of the first
chapter of the first part:
KEY
There was a story that began,
Said Fenwick Turner: Susie and Fenn
In fact, the title "Key" is Printed in the same typeface and
position as the titles of the chapters of Parts II and III,
the only difference being that the chapters of Parts II and
III are also numbered. For example, the title of the first
chapter of Part II reads:
1
SOLOMONS
Since there are no divisions of the first part, "Key" cannot
logically be the title of a chapter within Part I or a "sub
part"besides the title "The Cove" it is all there is of
Part I.


22
of our subject in that the assumption they carry, the
assumption that the figure or metaphor is distinct from the
meaning or the idea it conveys, is shown by the figures
themselves to be misleading.
"Circling The Question of Knowledge" explores the way
in which the circle, as a model for the text, questions our
ability to understand the text and places itself in
opposition to a narrative, which is to say a sequential,
organization of events. The hermeneutic circle describes
the necessary presupposition of a knowledge of the thing to
be understood and so questions the validity of
interpretation generally. The hermeneutic circle can be
thought of graphically both as a circular path, challenging
the notions of beginning and end, and as an enclosure,
challenging the traditional understanding of the inside and
the outside of the text. Titles in The Tidewater Tales and
the quotation of the "first line" in Sabbatical and The
Tidewater Tales tend to act according to the circular logic
of hermeneutics because neither gives us a means of
establishing textual or narrative limits. Though we do not
ever see the closure of the text or the story, they describe
themselves as an enclosure. Those who would try to
understand the enclosure, which would require exceeding it
to get a view of the whole, would find themselves caught
within. Getting out of the circle of hermeneutics is
problematic because any attempt to exceed the orbit of the
text, to read it transcendentally, reinscribes the circle.


23
On the other hand, the sequentiality of Sabbatical and
The Tidewater Tales would tend to disrupt any notion of
their circling because the circling text would suggest a
linguistic collapsing of time. The circling text is shown
to be a sham; to understand the text as a circle requires a
breaching of logic because a sequentiality always imposes
itself.
In "Abortion Stories" I show that abortion is connected
to a decision concerning the organization of the woman's
life and the orderliness of the text. Barth's considering
the text as the body of the woman is consequential for them
both. I describe the abortion of the text as a disposal
because this term indicates both the attempt to arrange and
the attempt to get rid of what is aborted. Susan's abortion
in Sabbatical reflects Fenn's attempt at discarding various
drafts of their story and their continual discussion about
the organization of the story they are a part of, "the story
of their life." Getting rid of a text will leave behind the
trace of an erasure, so that what is missing comes to be
what the text is about. Because the Y is the structure of
decision-making (of analysis and synthesis), it is the
source of Sabbatical's narrative abortion. Fenn and Susan
discover that the terms by which they divide their world, by
which an analysis would be made, are inappropriate and that
in the synthetic moment the prior division is reestablished,
so that a decision cannot be made. Abortion is not a neat
metaphor for the self-destruction of the text or the death


letters to the Author describes his receipt of "water
message #2":
53
A new letter to me of yesternoon, "washed up" in
an otherwise almost empty, Barnacled, sea-grown
magnum of Mumm's Cordon Rouge upon the beach
before Mensch's Castle during the refilming of the
"Water Message sequence" of the motion picture
FRAMES. duly discovered by yours truly, and found
to consist this time wholly of body, without
return address, date, salutation, close, or
signature. To which the late "Arthur Morton
King's" reply would doubtless be the inverse, like
Yours Truly's to me of May 12, 1940. But I have
commenced the second cycle of my life; I am
striving through, in order to reach beyond, such
games. (L 765)
The water message of May 12, 1940 (water message #1), is the
one Ambrose found in Lost in the Funhouse. On the top line
it read, "TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN," and, with nothing in
between on the next-to-bottom line, "YOURS TRULY" (LF 53).
"Reaching beyond" the games of his youth, the sending and
receiving of water messages, the tendency in LETTERS (and
letters) and Barth's fiction, the fiction of "Yours Truly,"
to return, might be as difficult as holding back the tide.
That Ambrose has only "commenced the second cycle" of his
life places him rigidly within the system he wants to
escape. It is only in the second phase, after one has begun
to repeat, that the system can be established as cyclical.
I repeat, it is in the second phase that the system is
establishednot only recognized, but also confirmed. The
doubling back of the cycle must not be construed as
establishing an origin. The so-called "beginning" of the
cycle is always circumscribed. The text never comes back to
the beginning as it was because the second cycle amounts to


story and text, in effect, circling with the text, so that
even they cannot be cited as beginnings.
33
There are several types of doubling or folding of the
title in The Tidewater Tales, types which complicate the
circling of the text: (1) the phrase "the tidewater tales"
is reiterated in comments about the story being told; (2)
the narrator quotes the title in telling the story of The
Tidewater Tales; (3) title pages "inside" the text begin
again the tidewater tales; and (4) the title pages at the
so-called upper and lower limits of the text appear to frame
the "text proper."
In "Title (to be specified)" Jacques Derrida uses the
example of La Folie du jour to describe the relation between
the title and the same words met elsewhere in the text. We
meet various combinations of the terms of the title The
Tidewater Tales throughout The Tidewater Tales, so Derrida's
discussion is directly applicable to our first complication.
Though when the words are used in a statement inside the
text they do not have the same function as the title, the
doubling brings into question the possibility of discovering
the original performance of the terms. As part of a
statement, "the tidewater tales" or a phrase such as "these
tales" "will not have title-value," as Derrida says, because
they will not have the same nominal role; that is, the same
words met elsewhere will not serve to name the text as does
the title ("Title" 13). The title occurs, properly
speaking, on the border of the text, and though it is "still


110
is placed on Barth in the writing of "The Literature of
Replenishment" and The Tidewater Tales. To stop writing is
never to finish the story; "we might remind ourselves,"
Eliot says, "that criticism is as inevitable as breathing"
(13). In "The Literature of Replenishment" Barth clarifies
his earlier essay:
That is not what I meant at all. ... I agree
with Borges that literature can never be
exhausted, if only because no single literary text
can ever be exhaustedits "meaning" residing as
it does in its transactions with individual
readers over time, space and language. (FB 205)
Barth speaks in terms of the "literary text," but the
living on of the critical text is marked as well. One of
these transactions, particularly disturbing to Barth, is
that between "The Literature of Exhaustion" and Jorge Luis
Borges, a writer whom Barth admires but who, according to
Barth, misunderstood the essay.
So far, we have pointed out two problems with analysis,
which are not entirely independent of one another, but might
be summarized separately thus: (1) analysis is always
subject to invalidation by further analysis; (2) coming to a
conclusion (an answer or an end), the presumed purpose of
the analysis, is impossible because the analysis (whether
reproducing (for one purpose or another, including for
research purposes) a text (another's) and creating a framing
text (one that comments, evaluates objects, and so forth)";
one of the difficulties of this reproduction is that both it
and the reproduced text occur within the "textual chain" of
a given sphere that is not itself isolated from other
spheres ("The Problem of the Text" 104-05).


114
decisions will have any devastating effects. Their tone
throughout that conversation is cheerful. They suggest that
they could sail forever:
Micronesia! Polynesia! Hawaii!
Fenn says perfectly seriously we could, you
know, Suse. With a bit of refitting. People do
such things. Work only as we need to. Screw the
world. Sail around 'till we're old. (S 84)
Fenwick thinks his reason for preferring Solomons
Island to a mainland harbor (so that their voyage will not
yet end, to give them more time to make these decisions) may
even be "whimsical" (S 85). It isn't until "Susan's Friday"
in the second chapter of the third part that the reader
finds out for certain that Susan is even pregnant and
"Susan's Friday" is the story of that pregnancy's abortion.
Because Susan and Fenn put off talking about whether to have
children (perhaps they know early on that there can be no
resolution and that the effect of confronting that knowledge
could be disastrous), information about the decision and its
importance to their relationship is deferred.
Only gradually do their problems take on a seriousness.
Susan has an outburst, says she hates her position (S 118),
and throws up to leeward (S 120):
Fenn knows what it betokens: his wife's dark,
sometimes feeling that our years together . .
are themselves a kind of playing: not finally
serious, as the lives of Susan's childraising,
house-buying contemporaries might be said to be
serious. . (S 159)
"We have decisions to make" (S 159) becomes a refrain. But
even when the issue of childraising is named as part of
(even possibly the whole) subject of their imminent


Copyright 1989
by
Creed C. Greer, III


90
Fenn's sexuality, that problem is circumscribed. In terms
of Fenn, it isn't the word island or the idea of islandness
but rather the name of the island that is the key. Notice
that the title and "subtitle"1 of the first part are not
parallel: "The Cove" is the common noun that designates,
generally, this type of thing; "Key" is a proper noun that
designates for Fenn and Susan this particular island. (A
key is also, though not primarily in this case, a type of
islandone that is low-lying, such as, not incidentally,
Key Island: "The island, though low-lvinq. is more woods
than marsh . ." [S 25, emphasis mine].) Key, the idea,
the thing, and the story, is phallic. It is no accident
(unlike Susan's conception) that "Key" is inside "The Cove,"
that in its function as the title of a sub-part it signifies
a text within or enveloped by "The Cove"; the key (the
thing, the island, and the story) is also that by which
access is gained, with which an entrance is made (an
entrance into the text, the metaphorics of sexuality, and,
as we will see, metaphorics as a subjecta subject of
metaphors). "The Cove" is the Keyhole. As the subtitle of
the only "division," "Key" must be read in conjunction with
the title. Though "Key" is phallic, it is not only phallic.
"Key" exists only in its relation to "The Cove." Without
"Key" "The Cove" would be empty of everything but those
words, the title itselfit would designate little more than
emptiness. And without the title "The Cove," "Key" would be
drained of a phallic significance that has come about


146
it over," or "PETER iwhen he reads this farl . It
might appear that there is no reason for this difference,
but it is an indication that there is a reading going on.
The difference tells us over and over: there is a writing
and a reading. Reading does not supplant writing. In
reading, we don't read anything, we always also read what is
written, but what is; is always subject to the reading, a
reading that is therefore a critical production of what the
writer would sav.
On the other hand, neither the spacing of the dialogue
nor the relation between what is said in playscript and what
is said in prose gives us a way of distinguishing between a
text that is "primary" and the supplement. If we claim that
the dialogue between Peter and Katherine should be isolated
as the supplement, we are forced to ask, why, then, the
distinction between the playscript and the prose? The
playscript and the prose do the same sort of work; but for
the formalization into playscript, the prose is no less a
part of the text that is read. This is to say that the
difference between the playscript and the prose cannot be
understood in terms of "levels" of supplementarity; they are
both in the text. We have no way of deciding that one is a
writing and the other a reading and no way of deciding that
one was written or conceived of first. We read them already
together. The spacing and the difference between the
playscript and the prose do not allow us to decide anything,
rather they mark the coupling of writing and reading and


222
What I had in mind, Frank Talbott goes on, was
forks and confluences in people's lives. . .
Lee and I first bumped into each other at the
literal fork of the Wye River, right down the road
there, but that's another story.
At least I wanted it to be another story. (TT
412-13)
In other words, he wanted the story to be fiction, but it
turned out to be nonfiction, like his Kubark expose. Peter
confirms this division ("The art of the nonfiction expose is
not the art of the novel"), but does not maintain the purity
of the categories. Frank says about his story, "what it was
was long faced confessional melodrama. For example, would
you put a spiel like this one into a novel? Of course you
wouldn't. . Peter shrugs his eyebrows" (TT 113, 114).
Frank's spiel has, of course, made it into a book, of which
Peter claims, though provisionally, to be the author.
Similarly, the story of "Reprise" has made it into
Sabbatical. Neither the books nor the claims of authorship
are in danger of being "confused with reality" because they
continually disrupt the division between the "fictive" world
of narration and the "factual" world of the expose or the
historical record on which questions about a text's
factuality are based.
The story at hand is always another story, a story that
comes after, a story that follows. If we were not led to
wonder about what looks like the changing of names and of
"facts," The Tidewater Tales would not point out as clearly
the sequeling of narration and the disruption of notions
based on the reality of the origin of the text.


19
Fenn turns her questioning of the quality of narration into
a discussion of narrative technique: !,I used to read books
in college days. Those blokes all has a little warning, for
Christ's sake; an effing foreshadow or two, you know? But
us: Blaml Blooevl" (S 13). Fenn speaks of warning as
foreshadow; he says, in effect, since we had no warning we
should not include foreshadow, but he does so by speaking of
the event written about in terms of speaking about the
event, in terms of narration; he savs the storm itself,
described by the words "Blaml Blooevl" and the story "A
Storm at Sea," was not foreshadowed. So one cannot
differentiate the storm from the narration of the event that
is the storm.
By deciding to "begin" their story with the storm they
make narration its topic and define narration as the
development of a new order. Susan and Fenn haggle over
another point of diction and include it in the narrative:
F: I'll make you a deal: I'll take out every
effing in the script except the ones in this
passage, and those I'll soften to "effing."
S: I can live with that.
F: But blam and blooey stay.
"Effing" has always already, within the text, been edited.
Fenn says "I will soften the ones in this passage to
'effing'" but, by including the promise in the narrative,
underscores the pervasiveness of rearrangement. We never
see the word to which "effing" refers. Fenn meshes the idea
of what "really happened" with the narration of their story:
F: My finger was on the effing starter-button!


105
frustrated writer" and a strained marriage (S 33). Because
Fenn places himself in a text he makes himself subject to
the result of a textual analysis. The novel was divided
between what it was "supposed to be about" (the supposed
"true" parent) and what it actually was about (the supposed
"false" parent)and the division could not be reconciled.
Neither parent had an exclusive right to the child. The
author's intention and the outcome of the text are always at
odds. The story literally contained its own examples of a
failed author and was its own example of a failed story; it
judged itself to be a failure because of its being
irreconcilably divided. Fenn had written an
autobiographical, self-abortive texta text "rushing
headlong into one of its own Black Holes . until it
vanishes into its own fundament" (S 321). We must be
careful not to read these descriptions of Fenn's book as
suggesting unequivocally an absolute self-destruction. In
Allegories of Reading Paul de Man explains the double bind
of arriving at the truth about a text that tries, like
Fenn's first effort, to take itself into account:
Since any narrative is primarily the allegory of
its own reading, it is caught in a difficult
double bind. As long as it treats a theme (the
discourse of a subject, the vocation of a writer,
the constitution of a consciousness), it will
always lead to the confrontation of incompatible
meanings between which it is necessary but
impossible to decide in terms of truth and error.
If one of the readings is declared true, it will
always be possible to undo it by means of the
other; if it is decreed false, it will always be
possible to demonstrate that it states the truth
of its aberration. (76)


172
Fenwick is interrupted for two nights and a day by
A STORM AT SEA. (S 9)
"A Storm at Sea" is the story of the storm that interrupts
Fenn and Susan's passage into the Chesapeake Bay where the
bulk of their story takes place. As they notice trying to
bring their story to a close, "A Storm at Sea" is the
interruption of their "writing" as well as their voyage.
They claim in fact that the interruption "begins" their
writing (S 365). Not far into "A Storm at Sea" Fenn is
still "wondering what words must follow Once upon a time,"
wondering how to proceed after one has begun to write, and
defers the story again (defers, this time, the story of the
storm at sea) by relating "A Dialogue on Diction, three days
later, safely at anchor in Poe Cove, Key Island, Virginia"
(S 11). And on the heels of that story is the one that
concerned us preliminarily, "The Story of Fenwick Turner's
Boina," which is itself an interruption of the guestion that
Susan wants Fenn to address:
I'd been wearing it by then a dozen years
already.
Those years don't count. Where was I?
If I tell you the story of my boina, it will
come back to me.
The story? Or where I was?
Mi boina.
How so?
That's another story. First comes
THE STORY OF FENWICK TURNER'S BOINA. (S 27)
At the conclusion of "The Cove," which is the first part of
Sabbatical. the part that contains the stories just
mentioned, and within the section called "Our Story" (which


56
It almost goes without saying that at a critical point
in Peter and Katherine's relationship and in Peter's working
himself out of his less-is-more, self-crippling philosophy
of writing, they find that flare canister, read Frank's
play, and are motivated by it to continue their story.
Peter and Katherine retrieve and don the writerly boina that
Frank felt he could no longer wear.
And then the storm. The hat drifting from the
characters of one story to the characters of the other and
even (though not in as literal a manner) from one text to
the other suggests the sequentiality of the events.5 The
Tidewater Tales was published after Sabbatical. But the
storm that makes appropriate the use of the flare canister
in the sending off of the play and the hat is the same storm
that carries it to Peter and Katherine"Says Peter Alert
and Locate" (S 417)and thereby returns the play and the
hat to Frank, their sender. The storm that "ends"
Sabbatical (that does not allow Sabbatical to end) is the
same storm, happens at the same time, as the one that
"begins" The Tidewater Tales. And it is that storm that
carries Fenn and Susan (in the form of Frank and Lee),
carries Sabbatical. into The Tidewater Tales.6 The texts
5 The relation between Sabbatical and The Tidewater
Tales is further developed in Chapter IV wherein the
"changing" of names becomes a marker for the sequencing of
narratives and the disruption of the concepts of truth and
origin.
6 What must be described in terms of the circle as the
same might in other contexts be described as doubled or
repeated; on repetition (of events, characters, texts) see
Chapter IV.


existence and even the appropriateness of a variety of
categories, of divisions, of textual clefts.
102
Allow me the divergence of telling one of Fenn's
stories as a way of getting us into one of those clefts (a
divergence that serves mainly to move us away from what may
seem a theoretical explanation of analysis toward a textual
onecategories not entirely or necessarily divergent):
Fenn went to Spain with his first wife and their son so
that he could become a capital-W writer; there he wrote his
first novel-length storya "story, bogged down in self
concern, of a story bogged down in self concern" (S 43).
When it is apparent that the story, as well as their
sabbatical, as well as their marriage, is a failure, they
decide to visit Ronda, whose "chief attraction, other than
picturesque streets and the oldest bullring in Spain, is a
spectacular sheer gorgecalled the TajoSpanish for
'cleft'which in fact cleaves the town as if Paul Bunyan
had split it with his ax" (S 35). The Tajo is, of course,
crucial to this story but also to a textual cleavage. There
broke out a stupid husband-wife argument about whether they
should leave, and Orrin got stuck in between:
Finally Marilyn Marsh ordered Orrin into the car.
Very dirty pool: I had then either to countermand
her order and oblige Orrin to choose between us,
or spare him that by letting her have her way. I
did the latter, of course: but doing it so angered
me that nothing could have kept me from climbing
down into that gorge. (S 40)
Though Orrin obeyed his mother's order to get in the
car, he refused to leave town with her, "arguing reasonably


104
him, though the claim is weakened by her using Orrin to get
at Fenn, in her placing Orrin between them and risking the
child's destruction as does the false mother. In one sense
Orrin does not go to the "true" parent, the one who is more
deserving because true to the welfare of the child. Not
only does Orrin get in the car, but he remains in the
custody of Marilyn Marsh after her and Fenn's divorce. But
in another sense Fenn establishes a connection to his son
that they did not previously share. Though Orrin's division
is not detrimental, it is essentialhis being "solomoned"
defines his relation to the story; and Fenn's story is
ruined, partly because in its subjection to the logic of
Solomon, the attempt to find the true story is overturned
and the story's "true" parent cannot be determined. He
"thanked [Orrin] for having rescued it [from possible abuse
by Marilyn Marsh], and pitched it over the rail without a
glance" (S 43). Fenn's climbing down into that gorge marks
the division between him and Marilyn Marsh and thereby
precipitates the destruction of their marriage.
Dividing at the detriment of the thing divided.
Fenn also takes himself, literally, into the
problematics of analysis, into an analytical division of the
text that leads to the text's disposal, which is marked by
his throwing the story into the gorge. "[M]y novel wouldn't
come together. It was supposed to be about the politics of
political journalism . but it had taken an
autobiographical turn and was more and more about a


154
In this chapter, I will take up only one of these
stories in any detail: the tale of Scheherazade. She will
become, therefore, part of my reading of the other three;
that is neither regrettable nor particularly beneficial.
Given the organization of this essay, that reading is
inevitable. In the same way, Peter and Katherine's thorough
reading of The Thousand and One Nights makes certain that it
has an impact on the writing of their tidewater tales: Peter
and Katherine remember their "recent dizzy conviction that
where Huckleberry Findley, Odysseus Dmitrikakis, and Captain
Donald Quicksoat have crossed wakes, Scheherazade must in
some guise soon sail by" (TT 526). The Scheherazade stories
in The Tidewater Tales are, at least in part, stories that
have been told by "Scheherazade" herself"May Jump swears
she met Scher in person last September in Annapolis" (TT
524). Scheherazade was having a difficult time getting back
to her "reality," having found herself propelled into that
of The Tidewater Tales by uttering the enchantment "What
You've Done Is What You'll Do."
position; he says that a criticism will always risk "the
addition of some new thread. Adding, here, is nothing other
than giving to read." Derrida explains "that it is not a
question of embroidering upon a text, unless one considers
that to know how to embroider still means to have the
ability to follow the given thread" (Dissemination 63). In
other words, we don't add any old thing or anything that
could be rigorously described as outside the text. This is
where Blanchot's and Derrida's seemingly opposite statements
come together; to call production an "activity" can suggest
that it is exterior to the thing acted on, and so reading
should not be described in terms of the dichotomy between
activity and passivity.


34
part of a so-called literary fiction, ... it does not play
a role in the same fashion as what is found inside the same
fiction." Though, in their ability to force upon us a
return, the terms of the title function as a quotation, the
title itself is not, in Derrida's terms, "citational": "In
the duplicity of this occurrence it is impossible to say
which is the original and which repeats the other" ("Title"
14) .
The narrator of The Tidewater Tales, unlike the
narrator of La Folie du -jour, also quotes the title in
telling about telling the story, "easing back into our rent
paying labors while working up our coupled viewpoint for The
Tidewater Tales: A Novel" (TT 643). This quotation, or
requotation, has essentially the same effect as the
repetition of the same words inside the text, but the effect
comes about in a slightly different manner. The quotation
would seem to designate this book. The Tidewater Tales, the
one we can hold in our hands, 656 pages long, copyright
1987. But, apparently, the one the narrator is talking
about is not yet written, the viewpoint not yet "worked up."
And that will always be the case with this type of
reference. When the narrator quotes the title of this book,
The Tidewater Tales will not have ended. That will always
be the case, even if, as we will see, the words "The
Tidewater Tales" are what would usually be called the last
line of the text.


155
The reading of Scheherazade in The Tidewater Tales
begins as a question about form: Why The Thousand and One
Nights? The question is addressed in "The Story of
Scheherazade's First Second Menstruation." It is explained
that it is a thousand and one nights before Scheherazade has
two menstruations in a row; up to that point she had gotten
pregnant before her second menstruation three pregnancies
running. The question about the form of The Thousand and
One Nights is also a question about its production; it
regards not simply why it was written but also how it comes
about. If we understand something of the significance of
the story's shape, we will also understand something of the
text's production. Moreover, in our reading of the shape of
the text there will be an analogous production of another.
"The first repeated message of [Scheherazade's] blood let
her know that it was time for a change, ... a change,
Scher said, May said, in the circumstances of her
production" (TT 576).
The question about the number of nights, which is also
a number of stories, leads the readers to a question about
Scheherazade's cycles of menstruation, which is an issue in
the organization of her life and in, as she says, the
circumstances of her production. These circumstances are
summed in a quotation of Goethe: "In the morning, study; in
the afternoon, work; in the evening, eniov" [TT 576]). She
sees her life so far as consisting of the first two, study


87
the sign's absence is significant (perhaps even more so than
its presence) because it marks a change, a difference.
The fact that those asterisks emblemize "the period
both of Susan's menses . and of Pokey's stop at
Solomons" (emphasis mine) illustrates that the movement of
the voyage, the movement of Sabbatical. is keyed to the
menstrual cycle and, as we will see, to the process of
conception and abortion as well.
In many respects, Fenn and Susan's story is also their
child, though it is, as of yet, unbornthey speak of
Sabbatical as if it were still in the planning stages. As
they actually conceive a child, they create this story. In
a very different sense, we must think of the child as having
been delivered. We hold Sabbatical before us; it is a story
already told, though it has not, as of yet, been brought to
maturity.
Swimming in Poe Cove, their first anchorage after their
long open ocean passage and after their reentering the
Chesapeake Bay, in Poe Cove, which at first they think is
"perfectly empty," Fenn "stirs to the surface what looks
like a light colored rag" (S 25) and turns out to be a large
paisley scarf. Fenn wears it on his head, pirate fashion,
to protect him from the sunhe has recently lost his boina.
He thereby associates himself with the paisleys, which they
later decide remind them of sperm. This, of course, isn't
the first cove that they assumed was empty but later


101
The question is, How does one decide between
oppositions when the current that moves the narrative life
of the characters flows in opposite directions? We find
that despite the search for an answer that demands a choice
between. Sabbatical (their voyage as well as the text and
the story) involves both analysis and synthesis, male and
female, in and out, up and down, divergence and convergence.
The Analytical (Inbound Upswimminq Divergent) "Male"
The first act of analysis is division or
categorization. In analyzing the structure of Sabbatical.
for instance, Fenn discovers two aspects of the Y (both of
these aspects are subdivided in terms of systems of logic,
directions, and gender). In analyzing Sabbatical. we must
decide first of all what aspect of the book to consider:
structure, metaphor, narration, etc. And if we consider the
structure, on what level is the structure to be examined:
the structure of the text (sentence structure, the graphic
organization of titles, the relation of letters within
words), the structure of the story, etc.? Even if these
divisions are not made deliberately (I think usually they
are notseldom do I say to myself at the beginning of a
project, I believe I will study the organization of the plot
in this particular work and thereby will divide my study
from those that would consider the structure of sentences),
the divisions are nevertheless made and in effect amount to
the making of decisions about how to divide. One agrees if
only implicitly in every step of an analysis to assume the


93
to Fenn remains. And, indeed, the reverberation of the
"twin schlups" (S 295) made by the abortion machine have
thematic and even organizational repercussions throughout
the text. Susan's guess that she had two abortions"Susan
wails into his chest-hair It was twins 1 It was Drew and
Lexie! I didn't have an abortion, Fenn. I had two
abortions" (S 332)recalls a flood of twinships, doublings,
repetitions, and oppositions. There is, in fact, a good
chance that she had two abortions because both she and Fenn
are themselves twins. Fenn and Manfred are allowed to
represent, provisionally, the division between good and
evil; Susan and Miriam the difference between controlled
restlessness and wild dissatisfaction. They also
acknowledge the twinship of interruption and writing, doing
and telling, writing and loving (S 365), the dualism of the
fork, of analysis and synthesis, left and right, Baltimore
and Washington, Wye Island and Swarthmore (S 345),
substitute and compliment (S 3 62) Romance and Realism (S
362), fiction and lie (S 126), beginning and end ("Big Bang
to Black Hole" [S 360]), dream and story, their life and
their voyage (S 200), work and play (S 159), etc. For Fenn,
this is his second sabbatical, and Susan is his second wife;
it peeves Susan that there are two Mrs. Fenwick Turners (the
first has retained her married name) (S 311). Fenn and
Susan also see themselves in terms of the opposition between
reading and writing: Fenn is the writer, an aspiring artist,
Susan the professional reader, a professor of literature (S


192
relationship. But, also like a title, it cannot be come
back to, cannot be read in the same way again for a second
time, for time and because of time. It should be emphasized
that Fenn anticipates recollecting, anticipates thinking
about Cacaway in the past. At the time he thinks that this
is the place "WHERE IT ALL STARTED," all of it had not
happened yet. In fact, nearly none of it had. The effect
of this anticipation is that the recollection is
incorporated into the supposed first event. The
"beginning," in other words, is always thought of as having
happened already. The event or the thing that begins is
never located in the present. At the other end, so to
speak, because the beginning cannot be found, in the
present, going back is found to be impossible. In the
present is where we are, which is why Fenn "will remember
. . that rhyme is not repetition (the place one returns to
is never exactly the place one left: the river flows, but
the shore changes too, not to mention the traveler) ..."
(S 270, emphasis mine). The place named Cacawav is reached
but not regained, neither is the beginning of the story.
Repetition is narrative. The contradictoriness of that
statement is addressed by the narrators of The Tidewater
Tales. Musing about the enchantment that brings
Scheherazade into the story teller's presentWhat you've
done is what you'll do or WYDIWYDScheherazade says, "it
presupposed both a past and a future, while denying their
difference in the present" (TT 595). Scheherazade's


226
Tidewater Tales the position of the author is brought into
question as the repository of truth, in particular, the
truth about the history of the text.
Rather than allow myself to be overwhelmed by the
problem of discovering historical truth in a narrative or
evidence of the factuality of a historical record, I asked
what follows and follows from the qestioning of truth in a
narrative, arriving at this conclusion: what follows is a
narrative. This conclusion might seem a tautology. Since
the narrative is dependent on the sequence, on one thing
following another, the text that follows, that allows a
following to occur within it, is by definition a narrative.
But we can not settle for tautology because tautology is, in
a sense, the opposite of a narrative: since a tautological
"truth is a truth by definition, it does not allow for
seqentiality.
A narrative will follow the questioning of truth.
Because the questioning of truth leads one backto the
supposed origin, the historical record, the authorit
forces one to use a methodology based on a temporality, on
the efficacy of a past, and on sequentiality, on what
follows the past. Questioning the truth forces one to
create a narrative, which denies all along the way the
possibility of arriving at the truth.


157
Burton's 1885 edition of The Thousand Nights and a Night.
This reading creates, of course, an inexplicable circle.
What is essential to our discussion is that it is a circle
on which reading and writing are indisseverable. Her
continued relation with the storyteller after the night of
the thousand and first story, which is when the King
retracts his sentence of executing a virgin a day and
proposes marriage to Scheherazade, and her coming to the
storyteller's "place and time and order of reality" mark
what she calls the "change" in her circumstances of
production.
We are led to wonder whether her reading herself into
The Tidewater Tales by speaking the enchantment changes
those circumstances, whether her production is no longer a
matter of also reading and whether she can tell without
putting her life at stake. Having decided to change her
circumstances, Scheherazade goes to her sister Dunyazade for
advice. Rather than helping her change, Dunyazade reads her
a story. And though Scheherazade says she "didn't really
come ... to read stories" but rather "to tell . one"
(TT 583), what follows is not only the critical reading of
Scheherazade's story, but of writing in general. Even as
Scheherazade "tells" her story, Dunyazade makes critical
judgments about what needs to be said:
I was there, Dunyazade reminded her.
Right. But since Kuzia Fakan wasn't there,
when Dunyazade writes this story out for her
latest bed-and-bathtub partner to read, she'll
include the following retrospective exposition,
dialogue and all: (TT 583)


180
it, and hid it away till now! Fenn shakes his head. ..."
When Fenn does speak he claims the validity and the
completeness of the return: "Fetch up the Dorn Perignon*" (S
349). The footnote to Fenn's statement tells us that this
is the same Dorn Perignon Fenn and Susan were to have drunk
and didn't when they returned to Wye Island. For Fenn, in
other words, the finding of the hat marks a more definitive
conclusion, the completion of their story and voyage.
For Susan, though, it is an "irrelevant miracle." Fenn
understands that it does not matter whether this black beret
is the same black beret lost at Key Island; the return can
function as a frame nevertheless. But only a frame. The
finding of a hat is irrelevant to a return beyond which no
return can occur, irrelevant to a return that is absolute.
Susan has just declared, "I can't take life. I can't take
it that there's nothing but you and me, and soon we'll get
old and sick and die" (S 345). What she wants is the
completion that is absolute, the answer, the frame, the
return, the black beret. But, forever, Fenn and Susan can
only speculate. We only know, in Sabbatical. that Fenn and
Susan's relationship is in question and that whether or not
they will have children is undecided. The coming back of
the hat and the story about the coming back overlap each
other, neither allowing the other the completion they both
call for. Derrida says that this doubling is always the
case: "The scene of the fort/da, whatever its exemplary
content, is always in the process of describing in advance,


CHAPTER III
PRODUCTION, READING, SUPPLEMENTARITY
Let this, then, be our departure (but neither our
origin, source, nor simply our example):
The presumed subject of the sentence might always
say, through using the "supplement," more, less,
or something other than what [the writer] would
mean. This question [of the usage of the word
"supplement"] is therefore not only of [the]
writing but also of our reading. . [T]he
reading must always aim at a certain relationship,
imperceived by the writer, between what he
commands and what he does not command of the
patterns of the language that he uses. This
relationship is not a certain quantitative
distribution of shadow and light, of weakness or
of force, but a signifying structure that critical
reading should produce.
Yet if reading must not be content with
doubling the text, it cannot legitimately
transgress the text toward something other than
it, toward a referent (a reality that is
metaphysical, historical, psychobiographical,
etc.) or toward a signified outside the text whose
content could take place, could have taken place
outside of language, that is to say ... of
writing in general. (Derrida, Of Grammatologv
157-58)
Thus, in terms of a certain writer and a certain text (we
will leave them out of sight for now for reasons that will
be made clear), Derrida offers a justification for his
principles of reading. We must take a special precaution in
reading The Tidewater Tales, as we will, by allowing Derrida
to be our departure, by allowing his idea of the supplement
136


125
coming together of right and morality. Regardless of the
effect of the marriage, whether we are talking about
Sittlichkeit or a synthesis of another sort, the
intervention remains.
Philosophy, in Hegel's system, is the synthesis of art
and religion, the syllogism within the third or synthetic
moment of the most encompassing division, that between
objective spirit and subjective spirit:
in absolute religion, division in two CEntzweiuna)
is not vet absolutely overcome by reconciliation.
An opposition fEntgegensetzung) stays, determines
itself as an anticipatory representation
(Vorstellunq). (Derrida, Glas 219)
Philosophy can only be anticipated; it always remains the
not-yet of the absolute spirit. Hegel proposes a dialectic
rather than a tautological relation between philosophy and
religion. "Philosophy is the truth (the philosophy) of
religion, and religion represents already (the name) (of)
philosophy." Thus, according to Hegel, "'Philosophy is only
explicating itself when it explicates religion, and when it
explicates itself it is explicating religion.'" In
Derrida's terms, "Absolute religion is not yet what it is
already. . Absolute religion ... is already what it
is not yet. . The unity of the object and the subject
does not yet accomplish itself presently, actually; the
reconciliation between the subject and the object ... is
left waiting" (Derrida, Glas 218, 219-20). What remains is
division in two.


208
upon, as it follows and follows from, an action written in
the past and described as having been:
A further happy thought occurs to him: He gave
Dulcinea7s serving-maid four reales because,
though she had asked for six, four was all he
possessed. Now he has the other two. (TT 474-75)
My point in guoting this passage is not that a story will
contain the past tense or that it will refer to a past
action but rather that it will indicate that the time of
writing is that of the past and that the situation of the
writer as having been will mark itself somewhere in the
text. When Don Quixote scans the table of contents of Part
Two he finds his story "followed by others unfamiliar to
him"; in other words, he finds that the text of his "life"
has already been written.
In Writing Degree Zero. Roland Barthes describes
narration in the context of the narrative past, the
preterite. Its function, he says, is no longer that of a
tense:
the preterite, which is the cornerstone of
Narration, Always signifies the presence of Art;
it is a part of a ritual of Letters. . .
Allowing as it does an ambiguity between
temporality and causality, it calls for a sequence
of events, that is, for an intelligible Narrative.
This is why it is the ideal instrument for every
construction of a world; it is the unreal time of
cosmogenies, myths, History and Novels. (39)
No longer functioning as a tense, the preterite points out
that it is part of a constructed world: "Behind the
preterite there always lurks a demiurge, a God or a reciter"
(Barthes 30).


220
divined a cloud upon this belated early pregnancy,
which she sensed had in fact not yet even been
acknowledged between the parents. (TT 352)
One cannot help wondering, and in fact we are led to wonder,
why, if these are the same characters, if Frank and Lee and
Carla are Fenn and Susan and Carmen, and if their story is
the story of Sabbatical. why the names are different in The
Tidewater Tales. Though in our critical sophistication we
have come to regard names as significant matter for
interpretation, as significant as the "facts," some of the
details that have been "changed" do indeed seem
insignificant. Why, for instance, would Fenn's son become
Frank's daughter (TT 405). Nothing consequential in the
plot of The Tidewater Tales seems to turn upon that detail
except perhaps the turning of details, which points out the
sequentiality of the narrative.
When Peter and Katherine remeet Frank and Lee, they
confront the changing of names as they tell each other their
stories and the stories about their stories, which they are
working on now, and thereby give us a way of dealing with
sequeling stories: "I warned you I'd get personal," Lee
says, after attempting an explanation about her and Frank's
relationship and their childlessness. "Invites Peter Don't
worry: I'll change all the names. Frank Talbott says
nevermind the names; he wishes he could change some of the
facts" (TT 411). Because they occur within the story, the
factuality of the "facts" is already in question. But Peter
complicates the matter. If Peter changes the names in his


79
of organization. The puzzle doesn't quite work; or, rather,
in order to make the puzzle work, Barth has had to dispose
of a rule of grammar. In an interview by Angela Gerst,
Barth is asked about the awkward "each of which" used to
refer to "drolls & dreamers":
B: Unavoidable. Whom doesn't have enough
letters.
G: To total eighty-eight?
B: And to put the g of imagines in the right
position in a certain pattern, an alphabetical
acrostic. (FB 173)
Barth does not compromise his text by thus making the puzzle
"fit," by jeopardizing the title's grammatical system of
organization. Something consequential, something serious,
is thereby learned about the possibility of putting texts in
order.
Jerome Bray's computer, which would use and create
cards such as this one, will never have worked out all its
bugs because it cannot take into account the sucking away of
orderliness, the fact that the categories with which it
begins will inevitably be problematic.
Bray's computer generates a "schema for the rise and
fall of . dramatic action," which is based on the
conventional model "sometimes called Freitag's Triangle":
C
A B D E
The new schema is called the "Golden-Triangular Freitag":


215
Rocinante. He is reminded of the Cave of Montesinos
episode, in Don Quixote, its centrality to Don Quixote, on
seeing a boat named Rocinante IV hailing from Montesinos.
Peter's three possible stories correspond to the three
Rocinante's he imagines Don Quixote sailing in (and out of)
the Cave of Montesinos: "Rocinante II.11 the story of and the
broken down fishing skiff Don Quixote sails on the Guadiana
and the Ebro rivers between the Cave of Montesinos and the
Island of Barataria; "Rocinante III." the story of and the
"pleasure craft" provisioned and named by the duke and
duchess of Barataria and sailed single-handedly by Don
Quixote out of the Ebro to Lisbon; and "Rocinante IV." the
title never given to the story, which is only partly told,
about the boat with which Don Quixote sails to America and
into The Tidewater Tales.
Part One's being named "Rocinante II" is indicative of
the following of the story, which is the sequeling of
narration, and the absence of history. "Rocinante II" is
named after Rocinante, but Rocinante is neither historical
(in the sense being grounded factually) nor is it the
original. Rocinante is (this almost goes without saying
now) part of a narrative that cannot anchor itself
historically. Furthermore, which is to say the same thing
in another way, Rocinante is not a story but within a story:
there is no "Rocinante I." In a sense, Part One of Peter's
possible three part story is not the first part but the
recognition of the absence of the origin, the absence of the


137
to supplement Barth's text, because already a supplementary
reading is at play. My quotation, which illustrates a
reading, of Of Grammatoloov. and especially my alterations
of the text, indicate the scission and the connection
between writing and reading. In the first part of the
quotation I have tried to generalize Derrida's statement by
removing them from the context of the specific writer in
question, by leaving out references to Rousseau. The change
is not entirely vitiated by pointing out that in the
following paragraphs Derrida broadens the question of
reading Rousseau to reading and writing "in general";
Rousseau is very much a part of Derrida's idea of the
supplement. Divorcing the subject from the context or
example is always problematic, but this separation is
particularly disturbing because the supplement points out
the adhesion of the text to the subject and of the subject
to the example. Even without the brackets, which point out
in my quotation the addition as well as the omission of
certain relevant information, the supplement is integrated
into the text and perhaps made more dangerous, for without
the appearance of signs that speak directly to us about the
supplementarity of the text at hand, these sort of
precautions would not be taken. Let us not mislead
ourselves though: taking precautions can give us no absolute
assurances about the effect of the supplement on the text
that is read, because the supplement is always at play. The
presumed subject will always say more, less, or other than


39
functions of the title, according to Gerard Genette, is the
designation of the "'content' of the text" (711). Though
the "content" of a text is undeterminable, and though the
term thematic used to describe this type of title is
ambiguous, "thematic titles dominate the picture widely
today" (715). Being a comment on the length of the title is
doubly ironic because it makes the relation between titles
and their texts one of the subjects of the chapter, a
subject that is not, apparently, part of the title itself.
That 463-word title is, in fact, longer than half of the
chapters in the first of the largest divisions. The point,
here, is this: if we have to consider the title (or titles)
as part of the circling text or as part of the circling
story about the text, we can no longer cite a title as the
location of a beginning. We are already on the circle.
Another way to approach the difficulty of beginning is
to question the supposed first line of a text. Sabbatical
might seem to begin with the quotation of a poem thus:
"There was a story that began,
Said Fenwick Turner: Susie and Fenn
Oh, tell that story! Tell it again!
Wept Susan Seckler . ." (S 9)
"'There was a story that began,'" refers to a story already
told. In "The Prose and Poetry of It All, or, Dippy
Verses," Barth calls these verses "a kind of standing joke
between" Fenn and Susan. What makes it funny to them, and
this is the case with all standing jokes, is its being
"repeated" (FB 240). Hence, our double quotation marks and


42
landfall at Wye Island, and their story does not begin with
the events described in the opening passage.
What Fenn and Susan call the "end" of the sabbatical
has come to be associated with the resolution of problems
Fenn and Susan faced on their setting out, principally,
whether to have a child. Until that decision is made, one
can speak of the "closing of the circle" only figuratively.
And since theirs is a sabbatical voyage. only the mainland
is an appropriate symbol of its end. As long as they have
sailing to do, the decision can be made later:
Fenwick considers, then sets forth his private, no
doubt whimsical reason for preferring Solomons
Island to a mainland harbor. Since the turn of
the year, we have been on or between islands.
Fenn feels, therefore, irrationally but strongly,
that tying up at a mainland slip, even anchoring
in a mainland cove, is tantamount to ending our
sabbatical voyage. (S 85)
Fenn's reasons are not "whimsical," though this passage in
isolation might make them seem so. If they declare that
their voyage is over, they have as much as decided that they
have failed: "It was our hope and intention that by the end
of this same voyage we would know better our hearts and
minds vis-a-vis several decisions which lie ahead; but by
and large, we don't, yet" (S 83-84). It is their salvation
as a couple that the decisions "lie ahead." "In short,
let's stay with islands, enisled, isolated, until we know
better our main landfall. Maybe we'll know after Washington
and Baltimore" (S 84) .
It turns out that Washington and Baltimore are
locations that mark events that shape the story of


25
is called the repetition of a text is not, as is generally
presumed, containable or finite. A story will inevitably
point out that it has been told before. Repetition operates
according to Derrida's description of the fort:da of Freud
in that what is "repeated" is repetition itself. Every time
Fenn and Susan come back to the matter about which a
decision has to be made and on which the end of their story
depends, the matter is deferred; thus, the story cannot be
concluded within the text. The end about which they
speculate is caught up in a repetitious deferral without
end. Though repetition disrupts the concepts of beginning
and end and would deny the difference between the past and
the future, difference inevitably marks itself and puts
forward the narrative of repetition; because repetition is
never absolute, it entails the possibility of a sequence, of
movement in time. Rather than asking about the validity of
historical truth or about the possibility of coming to the
origin of the text, we should ask now, What follows the
questioning of truth? "Repetition, History, Narration"
demonstrates that we can neither go back to a time before
repetition nor identify the "original" repetition. Because
the questioning of truth leads one back, it forces one to
use a methodology based on a temporality and on a
sequentiality and so forces one to create a narrative, which
denies, paradoxically, the possibility of arriving at the
truth.


230
Better not to speak than to falsify7 that is, for Peter, the
minimalist creed. It is because of his desire to tell the
truth about the real world that his writing the "final
version of B ^,7" the story in progress at the setting of
the task, consists of "deleting all that remained of it: its
abbreviated title" (TT 291). The "writing" of this "final
version" is supposed also to be the "completion" of a stage
in the career of its writer: "That ultimate kenosis, so long
in the works of his works, was thus completed as Katherine's
filling was all but fulfilled. The latter vessel stood
ready to be emptied, the former to be replenished, when
Peter said Set me a task!" (TT 291). Apparently, Peter and
Katherine think that in order to write under the pressure of
the minimalist creed, one must bring oneself to the end not
only of the text but also of writing. In order to write, to
move "beyond the vanishing point," Peter must be emptied; he
must get beyond the compulsion to tell the truth, which
means beyond the need to be beyond the text. The difficulty
for Peter and Katherine lies in the paradox that "working
through to some other side" (TT 269) reestablishes the same
sort of dichotomy that requires a moving beyond.
Peter and Katherine seem to understand themselves in
textual terms, if not as part of this text, The Tidewater
Tales: Katherine speaks of a beyond as "an ending more rich
and strange than everyday realism ordinarily permits." That
the beyond of their "present plight" is tied to "everyday
realism" is not to suggest simply that they are real, but


159
Scheherazade tells her story in The Tidewater Tales.
May Jump tells us, so that in the telling she might be
transported back to her place and time and order of reality,
or so that her listeners (the members of The American
Society for the Preservation of Storytelling), storytellers
all, might come up with the appropriate ending for her
unfinished tale. She tells her story, in other words, as a
sort of enchantment. Though the enchantment for getting her
"here" is "What You've Done Is What You'll Do," what she has
done will not get her back. What she has done will not be
what she will do. And the story that she retells in The
Tidewater Tales is not simply or absolutely a repetition
because its telling involves a critical reading. Therefore,
Scheherazade has not escaped the circumstance of her
production that ties her to reading. And neither has she
gotten out from under the narrative axe; in The Tidewater
Tales. at stake in the production of the text is her life,
her living, in The Thousand and One Nights. Telling under
the ax is always the case. What Blanchot says of the
relation between language and the supposedly real also
describes the relation between texts: "For me to be able to
say, 'This woman,' I must somehow take her flesh and blood
reality away from her, cause her to be absent, annihilate
her." Blanchot is careful to point out that we know
language does not kill anyone, but that it "essentially
signifies the possibility of . destruction." This
possibility is no less for the one who is speaking: "I say


113
point in their story and in their lives at which a decision
has to be made:
By 1500 we're in sight of the go/no-go point: a
red and black mid-channel buoy at the upper
approach to Kent Island Narrows. From that buoy,
which may be left to either port or starboard,
it's three miles up Chester to snug anchorage in
Queenstown Creek, or twelve at least down to Key
Farm. (S 345)
Susan says simply and suddenly, "we should separate" (S
345). Statements like that will always seem sudden whether
or not they are foreshadowed. In fact, though, Sabbatical
sets us up for a surprise. The one thing in the story that
appears to be unshakable is Fenn and Susan's love for one
another. And in fact it is not their love that is shaken.
We are led to presume that because they love each other they
will always be together. We cannot think of them as
separate. In speaking about Sabbatical it is almost always
Fenn and Susan.
Another thing that makes the possibility of their
separation such a surprise is that until relatively late in
the story we are not told of their dilemma about whether to
have children. In Chapter 1 of Part II, the making of
decisions is brought up but played down: "It was our hope
and intention that by the end of this same voyage we would
know better our hearts and minds vis-a-vis several decisions
which lie ahead" (S 83-84). To say one "hopes and intends"
to do a certain thing is to suggest that there is a strong
possibility that it will not be done. And there is little
to indicate that not making these (up to that point unnamed)


82
fleshed out in our story or flushed out from it.
(S 47)
We should wonder whether "flushing out" that little
exposition will be as easy as Susan suggests, as simple as
an editorial pen stroke or the addition of a footnote. The
mention of Susan's tears and one of their principle causes,
the rapes of Miriam, has already been incorporated, has
already been made part of the body of the text, the flesh of
the story. As signs, tears and Miriam's rapes will have a
variety of influences on the text: graphic, semantic,
thematic, etymological. And, as part of the story, the
tears and Miriam's rapes will, to some extent, control the
movement of the plotSusan has her abortion, at least
partly, because of the rapes and the moronic child that
issues from them.
We all try, less and less successfully as Sy grows
older and larger, not to image in him the beefy
sadist who got him forcibly upon skinny Mims. It
was not Sy's fault! We allno doubt even Miriam,
though she has not said sowish much she had
aborted or, failing that, miscarried or even given
the child up for adoption: the unlucky lad senses,
even in his mother, our want of easy warmth with
him. (S 265)
Miriam's irresponsibility extends to her second child,
Edgar Allan Ho. Visiting Susan on board, the three of them
go a long way toward demolishing the boat. "The blood and
tomato stains in the teak deck planking, like the shoe-
leather scratches on the cabin and cockpit soles . will
yield to laborious refinishing next season" (S 155), but
while Susan is cleaning up after Sy and discovering Miriam's
cigarette burns on the chart table and washstand, Edgar


35
At the apparent end of the section "Our Story," there
occurs these lines (in reference to the "Ordinary Point
Delivery Story" being told and to the "forthcoming" "book"):
(with the last line still unglossed) there
unfolds
ora
This Book: (TT 82)
On the following page a title, partly a guotationThe
Tidewater Tales plus an expanded subtitleseems to
designate a book separated from what is thereby marked as
introductory:
THE
TIDEWATER
TALES
OR,
WHITHER THE WIND LISTETH
OR,
OUR HOUSE'S INCREASE:
A NOVEL
This (what can it be called?) partly "new" non-titling title
has a dual function. It is both part of a statement within
and about the story and a title in itself. Though it is
connected by a colon to the previous line, it has its own
page, in effect a title page, and there is no end
punctuation to assure us of its placement in the discourse
of the previous passage or of "The Ordinary Point Delivery
Story."
The colon preceding the title page has the effect of
negating the introductoriness of the introduction by
connecting the two sections narratively. What follows a
colon is, according to the organization of grammar, an
example or an elaboration of that which precedes it. In


26
"P.S.: In Place of a Conclusion" is a sort of anti
conclusion. "The Ending" of The Tidewater Tales appears to
be an attempt to complete the story and to mark the end of
the text. It recognizes the desire in Barth's work to get
outside the dilemmas language poses and, indeed, to get
outside of the text itself. Primarily, for the writer in
The Tidewater Tales, it is the dichotomy between the textual
and the real that needs to be overcome. "The Ending" is
ironic in that it questions the possibility of ending and so
the possibility of an outside. In this conclusion that is
not a conclusion I ask, To what extent are the implications
that are inscribed in a system that proposes the validity of
the concept of the end (in particular the distinction
between the real and the textual) assumed in turning that
system against itself? Each time we are led to the edge of
the text, pushed toward the "real," we are wrapped back into
both the text and the dichotomy between the textual and the
real, which compels us to move to an "outside."


147
mark what Derrida calls the relation between what a writer
commands and what he does not command; in this marking the
difference and the spacing do productive work.
We are not far into the script before Katherine is
answering for (but not in place of) June:
JUNE: I wish we could have talked awhile before
we swam off.
MAY: Talked! With a swimmer?
KATHERINE: Why not?
JUNE: Why not?
June's answer sounds like an echo. In fact it crosses over
the division between the primary and secondary text, between
text and commentary. Katherine says, reads. "Why not?"
before she comes to it. Is Katherine actually writing this
text? Does June speak in response to Katherine reading? We
come to find out, if we have not already made this part of
our reading, that Frank's play is partly about Katherine's
friend May Jump and what May has told him about her
relationship with Katherine. But, more importantly,
Katherine's anticipation of what the author would say
signifies the breakdown of the categories by which we
understand the relation between writing and reading, the
breakdown of the system of understanding that would keep
reading from becoming an aspect of the production of the
text.
In The Tidewater Tales, what the reader comes to expect
of a text, the anticipation of a continuation or a
divergence from a plot or a metaphor, for instance, is


240
merely redundant), is predicated by the questioning of the
end.
"The Tragic View," according to The Tidewater Tales, is
the inevitable self-infection of one who would undermine
that which is corrupt (TT 261). In order to offset the evil
done by his brother in the CIA or even to convert him, Frank
joins the CIA, and, in order to establish his cover, he
participates in the wrong he is trying to undo. The tragic
view of language would delineate a corresponding corruption
and debasing of language or the writer. Though Peter does
not write about spies, because he has immersed himself as a
listener in stories about spies, his work becomes fiction
not about spies. The not-about becomes what the stories are
about so that his work becomes a decision about how not to
write spy stories (TT 262). In undermining the dichotomy
between "subjects" and stories that define subjects, between
"things" and their representations, one will participate in
the tradition that allows that dichotomization to occur.
When Katherine says, "Tell me their story as if it
weren't ours," she marks a connection between stories. Ours
is elliptical for "our story," not, though it might seem to
be, for "our life." But already her poetic injunction has
implied the connection and difference between art and life:
"Tell me a story of women and men / Like us" (TT 21,
emphasis mine). It is therefore a double injunction, or
rather an injunction that is doubled. Prefaced by a word
that marks it as a quotation, the reiteration puts itself


P.S.: IN PLACE OF A CONCLUSION
Setting the Task 227
The Next Thing: The Postscript 231
Bearing the Sign 237
Narrating Living. .. 241
WORKS CITED. 245
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 249
iv


231
rather that they are part of a textuality dominated by the
realistic. We will see that Katherine's description of
their situation in the text, like Peter's understanding that
a writer cannot say it all, that the text is an inevitable
falsification, is contradicted by their repeated and
insistent division of the fictive from the real.
The Next Thing; The Postscript
"The Ending": I accept its double meaning, the
insistence of the concept of the end even under the pressure
of the quotation marks which are a questioning of the
concept as well as the citing of a title; let us point out
that the fact that it is also a title obscures the
questioning of the concept. The coming of "The Ending":
Foretold in the writer's insistence on closure and
completion, "The Ending" is always on the horizon.
Peter takes up the story of Don Quixote in the Cave of
Montesinos because, he claims, it is the only story in Don
Quixote that is "unrefuted by reality." We have considered
Peter's claim in Chapter IV in detail. It will suffice us
here to point out that Peter seeks a completion and a
closure and that he understands the completion and closure
of Don Quixote only in terms of the story's connection to
and difference from the "real." Peter writes (or, perhaps,
more precisely is writing) a "Possible Three-Part Don
Quixote Story," Part Three of which is not yet completeas
yet it is only "Part of Part Three ..." (TT 520). Even in


WORKS CITED
Antush, John V. "Allotropic Doubles in Barth's Sot-Weed
Factor.11 College Literature 4 (1977): 71-9.
Bakhtin, M. M. "The Problem of the Text in Linguistics,
Philology, and the Human Sciences: An Experiment in
Philosophical Analysis." Speech Genres and Other Late
Essays. Trans. Vern W. McGee. Austin: U of Texas P,
1986. 103-31.
Barth, John. Chimera. New York: Random House, 1972.
The End of the Road. New York: Bantam, 1958.
The Friday Book: Essays and Other Nonfiction. New York:
Perigee, 1984.
"An Interview With John Barth." By Charlie Reilly.
Contemporary Literature 22.1 (1981): 1-23.
LETTERS New York: Putman, 1979.
Sabbatical. New York: Putnam, 1982.
The Tidewater Tales. New York: Putnam, 1987.
Barthes, Roland. Writing Degree Zero. Trans. Annette Lavers
and Colin Smith. New York: Hill and Wang, 1967.
Bell, Steven M. "Literature, Self-Consciousness, and Writing:
The Example of Barth's Lost in the Funhouse."
International Fiction Review 11.2 (1984): 84-9.
Bergmann, Linda S. "'The Whys and Wherefore's of't'": History
and Humor in The Sot-Weed Factor." Markham Review 12
(1983): 31-6.
Blanchot, Maurice. The Gaze of Orpheus. Trans. Lydia Davis.
Barrytown: Station Hill, 1981.
Cervantes, Miguel de Saavedra. Don Quixote. Trans. J. M.
Cohen. Baltimore: Penguin, 1950.
245


21
Barth or even of a particular idea in the books of John
Barth. Insofar as the writing of his books make up, in
part, his life and insofar as the relations between living
and writing are what his books are about, yes, this is about
John Barth. But it is also a discussion of ways to read, in
critical terms, the relation between metaphor and narration
and the effect that relation has on reading and writing in
general.
This is why the theory I work with is more integral to
this dissertation than the discarding of the criticism. As
my bibliography will attest, the work of Jacques Derrida is
essential to my understanding of the work of John Barth. I
hesitate, though, to say that I apply Derrida to Sabbatical
and The Tidewater Tales, because any "use" of Derrida will
constitute a reading. The work of Derrida initiates a
dialogue and an interpretation at least as extensive as the
work of Barth. I would rather say that my study constitutes
a double reading, of both the work of John Barth and some of
the recent theories about language and literature. Because
of Barth's tendency to grapple with the more difficult and
provocative issues in language, his books call for this
double reading.
This dissertation is divided into four chapters, each
of which corresponds to the reading of a "figure" or a
"metaphor" and a discussion of its consequences on the
reading, writing, and telling of stories. I should point
out beforehand that the terms figure and metaphor are part


194
within the limits of that identity" (78).29 Though Antush
says that "real identity" is complex (probably he means that
it is at least doubled), it is in the world and links one to
history. The implication of this in-the-worldness and this
link to history is the anchoring of what is doubled.
Though, perhaps, we cannot think of the doubled as separate
from the double, they (it) are (is) fixed and real and part
of a history that is, presumably, fixed and real. On the
other hand, Barth, says Antush, acknowledges the limits of
the "mystery of human identity" and "the limits of language
to express it" (78) Apparently, the real world and the
identity of humans are at the heart of literature and at the
heart of the allotropic double, even though language cannot
express that relationship.
Steven Bell seems to address a sort of speculative
organization of texts when he says that the turning to myth
in Lost in the Funhouse "marks an implicit recognition in
Barth of the possibilities for infinite 'play,' infinite
almost repetitions or substitutions" but claims that it
occurs "within a finite system" (88) Outside the text,
29 In Sabbatical. Fenn and Susan claim to know the
truth of Aristophanes' "wonderful fancy": "that we are each
of us the fallen moiety of a once-seamless whole" (S 332).
They understand themselves in terms of a past wholeness
because they are both twins and can therefore more readily
accept the idea of the divided self. But they claim too
much of an understanding. They claim not to be like
Aristophanes, doomed to seek forever and in vain for their
missing half, but rather to "know that half supremely well"
(S 3 32) Their twinship cannot give them that knowledge.
Like history, which is supposed to be reflected in the
historical record, the textual twin is shown always to be a
vanished twin.


89
"The Cove" and "Key" are derived from the cove and the
island at which Susan and Fenn make their first stop and
which turn out to be the basis for the sexual metaphorics of
Part I. They are also named after the authors whom Susan
and Fenn like to claim as relatives and whom (whether
related or not) they are, in part, named after. Indirectly,
Susan and Fenn name the cove and the island after themselves
(Susan Rachel Allan Seckler, the namesake of Edgar Allan Poe
from which the name Poe Cove; Fenwick Scott Key Turner, the
namesake of Francis Scott Key from which the name Key
Island):
You're my island, sleepy Susan murmurs, kissing
her husband's chest. She lays her head there
briefly in the salt-and-pepper fuzz, then sits up:
to hear his heart beat breaks her heart.
He kisses her lap. You're my cove. Puts an
ear to her tidy belly as if to listen for a
heartbeat there. (S 26)
With this passage nomination becomes involved with
sexuality. "Poe Cove" is a reference, made here perhaps too
obvious, to Susan; the cove is vaginalFenn kisses Susan's
"lap" and calls her his "cove"and it is also womb-like
after identifying Susan with the cove, Fenn puts his ear to
her belly "as if to listen for a heartbeat." Fenn's
listening for the heartbeat foreshadows our being told that
there is actually something there; upon rereading, the "as
if" becomes ironic. Fenn pretends to listen for a heartbeat
as if he doesn't know that Susan is pregnant.
Though it is difficult to think of an island as
phallic, and thereby able to represent, appropriately,


85
Fenn wonders . whether formidable Carmen has
been earning her keep in our story. The artist
Claus Oldenburg once bought a pencil drawing by
the artist William de Kooning, erased the drawing,
and exhibited what was left under the title Erased
de Kooning, by Claus Oldenburg. (S 236)
Though Fenn's example crosses mediums of expression, it is
essentially to the point, and to some extent it is the title
(the words) "Erased de Kooning" that points out what the
work is about, gives it the significance of the erasure.10
Though the work becomes something else, even perhaps someone
else's. it does so only in terms of signs that have been
erased, of what has been made absent, of absence itself.
The name de Kooning and the work that was "his" make
themselves present even in their erasure. Carmen is
"formidable" not only in her personality (as a character)
but because she is composed of signs and is already part of
the text.
In "Dissemination" Derrida argues this point in terms
of the erasure of traces: "Since the trace can only imprint
itself by referring to the other, to another trace ('the
trace of its reflection'), by letting itself be forgotten,
its force of production stands in necessary relation to the
energy of its erasure" (331). The question of erasure is,
in part, the questioning of "presence"; if the trace only
imprints itself by referring to another trace, one that
(because of the imprinting) has been erased, then "presence"
10 In describing the author disposed of, Fenn makes the
mistake of attributing the drawing to Claus Oldenburg, in
effect, disposing of (committing to erasure) the name of the
artist to which it should be attributedRobert Rauschenberg.


59
themselves back at Line One: Once upon a time.
And when they followed it with Line TwoThere was
a story that beganthere they were, back at Line
One again, and the sun another few degrees higher.
Eureka, exclaims laughing Peter Sagamore.7 (TT
224)
Odysseus and Nausicaa had found the right song not only
for singing up a storm but for singing themselves out of
time. The song is, of course, circularit collapses
beginning and end. The "Third Line" is both beginning and
end at the same time. Strictly speaking, there is no Third
Line, only the repetitions of lines One and Two.
The storm that "begins" The Tidewater Tales is, in
fact, two storms, one at the beginning and one at the end.
"The first stormBlam!was born to a sultry low-pressure
cell that sguatted over Maryland all Sunday, June 15, 1980,
last weekend before the solstice. . Hail and mini
twisters: trees downed, roofs unroofed, doors unhinged,
windows blown . and our story begun" (TT 23). Much of
the language in the description of the storms would seem to
establish the movement of The Tidewater Tales as sequential:
the "first" storm "begins" the story. And the fixing of the
dates, both the calendar date and the solar date, would seem
to suggest the structural dominance of time. But the
storms, both of them, blow structure apart"roofs unroofed,
doors unhinged, windows blown." The sequentiality and
temporality in this passage are debris left by the pressure
7 The repetition of these lines is very much like the
reiteration of the standing joke that does not allow
Sabbatical to begin: "'There was a story that began. . .
Oh, tell that story! Tell it again!'" (S 9).


140
the language used. The reader helps to produce what is out
of the writer's hands, which is why Derrida speaks of a
writing that is vet reading.
When he discovered that his sailboat leaked (not
incidentally the boat is named Story), Peter did not
hesitate to lay on the epoxy and the fiberglass. Peter
thinks that the builders of the boat would have been
offended "but it wasn't their boat any longer. ... P.
Sagamore is not a romantic: neither about origins nor about
wooden sailboats nor about fiction" (TT 111). On the other
hand Peter went to great lengths not to use the engine that
came with the boat (he turned it on but left it in neutral
in channels that required its use), though "if there'd been
a moment's danger to anyone else or any real threat to
himself or the boat, he'd have said screw this and shifted
into gear ..." (TT 111). Derrida points out that without
recognizing the moment of doubling commentary which requires
"all the instruments of traditional criticism . critical
production would risk developing in any direction at all and
authorize itself to say almost anything" (Of Grammatology
158). Peter authorizes himself to modernize Story (which is
also to say the story), though he is not its "author"
neither the builder of the boat nor the one who signs The
Tidewater Tales. At the same time, he understands the value
and the necessity of recognizing and respecting Story's
history.


6
31). This suggestion is ironic considering that Peter has
been trying to "say more" by saying less. but is consistent
with the sequential nature of Barth's last two books, the
anticipated delivery by Peter of a substantial work of
fiction, and, in fact, the heft of The Tidewater Tales, both
in itself and in relation to Sabbatical.
Susan's decision to abort her child in Sabbatical had
been made, in the past tense, in The Tidewater Tales; Lee
and Frank, the "people" on whom the characters Susan and
Fenn are "based," decide to try to get pregnant in The
Tidewater Tales, something that did not happen, could not
have happened, to Susan and Fenn in Sabbatical. We read The
Tidewater Tales having read Sabbatical. having a prior
knowledge of the conflict- Though, if we read Sabbatical
first, The Tidewater Tales has not yet come into play, we
anticipate, because of the incompleteness of Sabbatical.
something else.
At the end of Sabbatical. Fenn, in a state of euphoric
discovery, explains to unconvinced Susan that the story,
"this story," "Our Story," Sabbatical. is their child. The
Tidewater Tales makes it clear from its conception, so to
speak, that, though they are intertwined, "lives are not
stories" (TT 142).
Leah Talbott sets Peter up for a direct response to the
predicament of Sabbatical: "You generate your stories, and
your stories generate your readers. Frank and I are your
. . children." In other words, Peter has written them


187
perhaps the unnecessity, of writing original works of
literature. Its artistic victory, if you like, is that he
confronts an intellectual dead end and employs it against
itself to accomplish new human work" (FB 70). We should
wonder what Barth claims of Borges when he applies the word
original because Barth also agrees with Borges' editors who
say that "For [Borges] no one has claim to originality in
literature; all writers are more or less faithful amanuenses
of the spirit, translators and annotators of pre-existing
archetypes" (FB 73). Barth deals with the contradiction
between our connectedness to the past and the inevitability
of difference by recalling the idea of mystical
transcendence: "If this corresponds to what mystics do
'every moment leaping into the infinite,' Kierkegaard says,
'and every moment falling surely back into the finite'it
is only one more aspect of that old analogy" (FB 70). It is
ironic, of course, that Barth explains the original by
citing Kierkegaard, by defining another aspect of the "old
analogy."
Recollecting Kierkegaard
Kierkegaard's Repetition addresses the issue of
origination by questioning the possibility of repetition and
by offering the world again the Greek notion of
recollection.
The narrator of Repetition divides Greek philosophy
from what modern philosophy will become: "repetition is a
decisive expression for what 'recollection' was for the


¡Qo
/>
/


106
Strictly speaking, Fenn's failed story about a failed story
cannot be considered a failure because it tells the "truth"
about its failure. And any assertion about the story's
success or truth must be just as equivocal. The truth about
a failed story that is an allegory of failure undoes itself.
Sabbatical analyzes itself, too. In telling their
story, Fenn and Susan are trying to decide all along the way
how their story should be told. They get their story going
wondering how to begin in "A Dialogue on Diction." Titles
often begin "The Story of . ." and underscore the fact
that what follows is not only a story but about stories.
Sabbatical includes a chapter on "Minor Characters" and one
on "Name-Loss in the Myths of Wandering Heroes" (S 236).
"On Narrative Viewpoint, Selectivity, and Advancement of the
Action" attempts to describe Sabbatical using those terms:
FENWICK: What are our options? I mean
viewpointwise, for our story. Run them by me,
would you, hon?
SUSAN: You mean narrative points of view?
First person. Second person. Third person. (S
232)
"On Narrative Viewpoint" is written, as are several other
sections, in the form of notes, which are about Sabbatical.
The implication is that they are not actually part of the
story, and in fact they would not normally appear in the
finished version, but Sabbatical is about analysis and
therefore includes its notes, which are the analyses of


97
John Arthur Paisley, Doog, Count, me toowe were
all swimming along together, upstream, like giant
sperm. With sperm! As sperm! It was late
evening, or early nighttime: brillig. We were
slogging along upstream in the dim light. (S 205)
The other half of the program and structure is reflected in
a parallel and feminine version of the dream, which Susan
has on the same night:
Mims and I were floating! No: we were like some
kind of white water canoers, but not in a canoe.
More like an inflatable dinghy. It was something
we were wearing, as if each of us were built into
an inflatable white-water raft. And we didn't
just coast along: we were busy steering,
navigating, radioing back to the . what? She
puts her fingertips to her cheeks. We were these
big, elastic, floating eggs! (S 205)11
Though an insemination takes place, the metaphorics of
delivery is disrupted. Though the sabbatical cruise is
"nine months" long (S 162) Susan's pregnancy is not brought
to term.
Our dreams, then, began differently but came
remarkably together: shared memories of the
paisley scarf. . Flowed together would
describe it better, Susan believes, like . .
Ohio and Mississippi at Cairo, East and West Forks
of Langford Creek at Cacaway Island. (S 205)
Susan in fact felt "impregnated" by their dream (S 208).
Fenn and Susan need a narrative medium in which to swim
and float the story of abortion. The structure and plotline
of Sabbatical might be thought to accommodate a metaphorics
11 These dreams are the foundation of Frank's TV play,
SEX EDUCATION: Play, in The Tidewater Tales. As we will
see, Peter writes an ending for the play that reflects The
Tidewater Tales's orientation to production, an ending
inappropriate to the abortion oriented structure of
Sabbatical and the dilemma regarding abortion facing Fenn
and Susan.


13
confronts an intellectual dead end and employs it against
itself to accomplish new human work" (FB 69-70). Though
this passage is often quoted, it is not, in itself,
representative of Barth's point of view. He suggests in
"Tales Within Tales Within Tales" that works have always
taken themselves into account: "that is . stories within
stories, which always to some degree imply stories about
stories and even stories about storytellingthat this
phenomenon is ancient, ubiquitous, and persistent; almost as
old and various, I suspect, as the narrative impulse itself"
(FB 221). We can even wonder about his "almost": in "The
Title of This Book" he comes straight out with it:
"literature, like language, is seldom simply but always also
about itself" (FB xii).
Barth's inconsistency is not the issue, but it suggests
that when he speaks of "new information" he is posing a
theory of origination as process. One of Borges'
characters, Pierre Menard, re-creates several chapters of
the Quixote. "It would have been sufficient," Barth says,
"for Menard to attribute the novel to himself in order to
have a new work of art, from the intellectual point of
view." That is, the addition of the name "Pierre Menard"
would require a different reading, one in terms of a new
author and all the baggagescholarly, philosophic, what
have youthat inevitably goes along with it. "Pierre
Menard" would make the Quixote something other. Barth


118
writer of a CIA expose (S 14), aspires to be a capital-W
writer of fictionhe is the unrefined adventurer. Susan
reads quickly and widely; Fenn slowly and carefully. Susan
is part "gypsy" and part Jewish, grows up around her
mother's "bar-restaurant in the salty, boozy Fells Point
neighborhood of Baltimore" (S 54); Fenn, the son of old
tidewater parents, grows up on Key Farm, Wye Island,
Virginia, in the slow-paced marshland.
"Your 19th is Susan's century, Your 18th Fenn's," the
first subdivision of Chapter 1 of Part III, is devoted to
delineating the characteristics of Fenn and Susan but
collapses on itself by confusing the terms of the
characterization. Susan, more and more upset, takes on her
role as she describes it:
Your irrational romantic, overreaching Nineteenth
is my fucking century, and Crazy Edgar is my alma
pater, Jewish or not. Nervous. Unstable.
Frenetic.
Brilliant, Fenwick hastens to add.
Energetic. Intuitive.
Susan's eyes are wet again. Fatherless.
Childless. Self-tormented. Half hysterical. And
doomed to an early, unquiet grave. (S 215)
Fenn, trying to calm Susan down, plays his role as he
describes it:
Fenwick's Key was your Eighteenth century man:
enlightened, rational, cool, optimistic,
unecstatic, self controlled. Appollonian to Sue's
Dionysiac Mister Poe, Jack of sundry trades. . .
(S 216)
There seems to be a discrepancy between the earlier
characterization and this in the third part, which
foreshadows the more extensive breaking down of categories.


Ill
part of a story or a critical text) generates other subjects
of analysis.
Near the beginning of the third part, the presumption
that Fenn and Susan will be done with their analysis is
affirmed. There are "large choices that must be made within
this division of our story, Part III, The Fork, however many
subdivisions we postpone these choices with" (S 221). Part
III is after all the last major section, according to the
structure they have proposed, so if there is to be an end, a
decision, it must come soon, within Part III.
Though Fenn and Susan seem to intuit the fact that the
system by which they propose to resolve their dilemma tends
to negate the possibility of resolution, they don't confront
that contradiction until they are pressed toward separation
themselves, when they involve the plight of the world in
their contradictory desires about parenthood. Acid rain,
the conservative and hawkish new president, Ronald Reagan,
the build up of nuclear arms, government support of the
right-wingers in El Salvador, and the pollution of the
Chesapeake Bay, make bringing a human being into the world a
difficult decision. But Fenn realizes "that none of the
above considerations is sufficient reason not to reproduce
oneself, though all may be invoked as consolation for not
doing so" (S 330). He realizes that logical argumentation
is insufficient in making his decision. Any decision
arrived at logically, by process of analysis, will always be


216
historical record, the absence not simply of the past, but
of what we have come to call history.36
What follows? What comes after the conclusion that
what comes before is not history but the absence of history?
In Peter's Part Two Don Quixote stares out to sea and
rereads Don Quixote. "[H]e finds himself telling his whole
story" to a young American writer he meets, "just as Peter
Sagamore will one day write it down" (TT 49). It is implied
that this American is a Huckleberry Finn, who, like Don
Quixote, "has strayed . out of a great novel, as it
were. . Having . rafted chapter after chapter down
certain North American waterways, at a certain pass he lit
out for the Territory, so to speak, rather than return to
his starting place at the voyage's end" (TT 492-93). It is
also suggested that the American is Peter Sagamore, who will
write the story down, who has floated in The Tidewater
Tales. not out of it, toward the telling of his three-part
story. Huck Finn could not explain to Don Quixote that
single-handing it across the Atlantic is now made possible
by the advancement of technology: "he is resolved now to
equip himself to do what until meeting the American he would
scarcely have deemed possible: aboard some fourth Rocinante,
in quest of nothing but the having done it, to sail alone
from the old world to the new" (TT 493). To be in quest of
36 Holder speaks of a "relative lack of history" (601)
describing a character's lack of information about his past.
I am claiming an absence that is fundamental to one's
situation in a narrative.


169
the spool out of the cot again by the string and hailing its
reappearance with a joyful "da" ("there"). Freud concludes,
"This, then, was the complete gamedisappearance and
return" (18: 15).
In his essay "To Speculateon 'Freud'" (in The Post
Card), Derrida takes up the story of the spool as a way of
dealing with the methodology of the second chapter of
Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Derrida argues that
not only is the repetitive process to be found in "the
content, the examples, and the material described and
analyzed by Freud, but already, or again, in Freud's
writing, in the demarche of his text, in what he says, in
his 'acts,' if you will, no less than in his 'objects'" (The
Post Card 295). The second chapter of Bevond the Pleasure
Principle. the one that contains the story of the spool,
advances arguments without itself advancing, without making
any decisions about that which it questions, the absolute
authority of the pleasure principle.
What repeats itself ... in this chapter is the
speculator's indefatigable motion in order to
reject, to set aside, to make disappear to
distance (fort), to defer everything that appears
to put the pleasure principle into question. He
observes every time that something does not
suffice, that something must be put off until
further on, until later. Then he makes the
hypothesis of the beyond come back [revenir] only
to dismiss it again. (Derrida, The Post Card 295)
For example, Freud takes up the issue of children's play,
the story of the spool, by leaving behind, without
concluding, the "dark and dismal subject of traumatic
neurosis" (18: 14); and as he begins his interpretation, he


FIGURING NARRATION
JOHN BARTH'S SABBATICAL AND THE TIDEWATER TALES
By
Creed C. Greer, III
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN
PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS
FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
1989
mmiTY gf
rism Li
!3RAg}


73
to assign a character to him that will allow one to deal
with him effectively in an emotional situation. . [A]s
soon as one knows a person well enough to hold contradictory
opinions about him" (ER 128), the myths of consistency and
finiteness are disposed of.
Jake takes it upon himself (not for entirely selfish or
evil reasonsJake cannot be entirely anything) to show
Rennie that Joe cannot possibly be the person she thinks he
is and thereby shake up her false sense of stability.
Rennie thinks that Joe is "the same man today he was
yesterday, all the way through. He's Genuine!" Jake
applies Rennie's idea of Joe to Rennie herself because he
realizes that her sense of being is dependent on who her
husband is, and therefore her "genuineness" is brought
dangerously into question. If she defines herself in terms
of someone else, then she cannot be "true to herself," she
cannot be "genuine." Because her identity is based on
something exterior, it is by her own definition, false.
This is a more general problem of family relations, of the
relation between husband and wife. If it is assumed that
they lose their separate identities in marriage, that they
become one person (in Sabbatical Susan's grandmother takes
this point of view [S 260]), the relation will be shaken,
because, inevitably, something is learned about the other
person that reestablishes that person's otherness, the
couple's initial separateness.


96
It is convenient that Barth speaks in terms of the birth of
"postmodern fiction." Today it is still "hard to find a
phrase" for the fiction being written, because any
organization of modern fiction (and this may apply to all
fiction)the term modern itself is an attempt at such an
organizationwill be swept under in a new wave of fiction.
In its growing old one can not ignore the irony and
contradiction of the term modernism. Modernism is already
used to describe a thing of the past. Systems of
organization are inevitably conceived and aborted.
In the introduction to the "Literature of Exhaustion"
collected in The Friday Book. Barth rejects as clearly as
possible what has become a routine misreading of all his
books:
It has been frequently reprinted and as frequently
misread as one more Death of the Novel or Swan-
Song of Literature piece. It isn't. Rereading it
now, ... I hear an echo of disruption. . .
(FB 64)
Clearly, for Barth, "disruption" is not an absolute doing-
away-with the text.
"Niaht-Sea Journey"
"Night-Sea Journey" is the title of the first chapter of
Barth's Lost in the Funhouse. It is a first person account
of a sperm's swimming upstream and his reflections on the
paradoxes and even the absurdity of that journey. This
image forms half of the narrative program and the structure
of Sabbatical. Sailing up the Chesapeake, Fenn has a dream:


242
saying here and there along the way that I am looking
through these figures, using them as a substitute for a more
abstract or more "theoretical" view of reading, writing,
narrating, etc. This objection and its easy remedy bear the
seed of a misconception. They assume a prior division
between the concept and the sign that represents the concept
and between the sign or the text and the world in which a
conception is thought to occur. I do not intend to remake
Saussure's arguments about the connection between the
signified and the signifier, though they are arguments that
could bear review, but rather to say again, even here where
I am at risk of laboring a metaphor, that in this particular
case the figures are inseparable from a view of how language
works and, in particular, how stories are told.
In The Tidewater Tales we can see "things" only
textually, that is, as figures, and never outside their
textual ramifications. Further, we can read the story,
which is about storytelling, only in terms of the figures,
so that any use of a "metaphor" will be read as constituting
a statement about narration. It is not surprising, then,
that Peter's delivery of his and Katherine's story, the one
they call The Tidewater Tales: A Novel, is to coincide with
Katherine's delivery of her and Peter's children. A
coincidence, though, will not bear a methodology of reading.
Sabbatical has shown us, and it is reiterated in The
Tidewater Tales, that the work is not an adequate substitute
for the child. When Fenn offers the story as a substitute,


50
introduces the problem of closure because Fenn expects it to
come back to him and expects its coming back to close
another stage of his life; his finding it marks (for Fenn at
least), if nothing else, an end. It turns out that Fenn has
lost the boina twice before, once in the Tajo de Ronda, a
sheer gorge in Spain, famous for its use in the execution of
prisoners in the Spanish Civil War, and once at the Choptank
River Safe-house. Susan wants to know
Why . telling me this storyin the seventh
year of our marriage, for Christ's sake, on our
sabbaticalmake[s] you believe that your boina
will float back to you? No: don't touch me. (S
45)
Susan is touchy because the "Story Of Fenwick Turner's
Boina" involves telling about Fenn's first wife Marilyn
Marsh and his "first" sabbatical, which they took in Spain.
There, Fenn lost his boina as he tossed into the Tajo the
manuscript of a novel that was, for the most part, about him
and Marilyn Marsh. Susan has, effectively, answered her own
question: "Not only did the Tajo return your hat; it keeps
returning the story you threw into it" (S 45). When Fenn
lost his hat again, he "told [his] colleagues this story
just the boina part of it. Next day [Fenn's brother
Manfred] found [the] hat on the beach, washed up by the tide
right in front of the safe-house" (S 45). The point is that
the telling of the story of the hat brings the hat back3:
3 I will come back to this scene, this coming back of
the hat, in Chapter IV in terms of Derrida's play with the
fort:da of Freud, the story of the spool.


need for a supplementation, a replacement; therefore the
text is remarked as fundamentally incomplete.
161
The characters within the story cannot read the story's
conclusion, the mark that pushes toward the outside. Though
in effect (but not in fact) the characters have been reading
and writing this text along the way, when "Scheherazade
Tucks Us All In" (in "The Ending"), they will not have seen
what takes place. If we read this vicariously as if outside
the production of the supplement or if we can find the
voices of Peter and Katherine in "The Ending" (which some
might call a conclusion) the conclusion is thereby pushed
further on. Derrida wonders that, if the laws and rules of
texts run the risk of being definitely lost, "who will ever
know of such disappearances?" (Dissemination 63); how will
we know of the disappearance (of the conclusion, for
example) if we can't see the thing that disappears, if
disappearance is incorporated into the text's writing.
In "The Ending," laboring under the appearance of
having changed her circumstance again, Scheherazade tells
the story of her story telling in the "reality" of The
Tidewater Tales, tells again without repeating the story of
a critical reading. No longer does the King, now her
husband, threaten to kill her in the morning, but
nevertheless the narrative ax is still raised. It is up to
Scheherazade not simply to finish her story but also the
story of "us all," to make a reading and a supplement that
will be the last, a self-defeating task. Barth has noticed


183
with Pokey is essentially abnormal: "I want a normal house
with kids and dogs and petunias (S 33). The boat is, in
Derrida's terms, the manipulated object of the game; but it
is not only the plaything that is sent out, it is also that
which carries the players away with it, that which allows
Fenn and Susan themselves to become the manipulated objects
of the game. Pokey. whose name is decidedly childish but
nevertheless has far-reaching "serious metaphorical
familial ramifications,25 can not be for Susan the house of
the serious childbearing parents. (That the boat is also a
toy does not bother Peter in The Tidewater Tales; it is the
only place he can write comfortably, in fact, the place
where he begins his labor, which must precede the delivery
of the story with which he has been pregnant.) Fenn has
already tried to convince Susan, and us, that the categories
are not absolute: "We haven't been just playing; we've been
also playing. We're on a well-earned sabbatical
leave. . Things have happened in our lives. We have
decisions to make. The idea of sabbaticals is to . take
stock. . That's what we've tried to do (S 159). As we
have seen, the writing of the story has been playing at the
return, "also playing," though the presumption has been that
it is serious work. Here is the overlapping of play and
work and why Derrida calls the fort:da "serious play" (The
Post Card 320). For Susan, bearing children is the one
25 See the discussion of Poe Cove and Key Island in
Chapter II.


92
itself in or acknowledge reason. In fact, reading demands
orderliness, organization, reason; but it also entails their
disruption. In "Reading (Proust)" Paul de Man explores the
consequences of a text that narrates the impossibility of
reading. He asks whether stories that offer themselves as
examples of that impossibility can be read. If a story
makes contradictory demands on a readerthis is in a sense
a definition of abortion fictionhow are those demands
taken into account? Just as one recognizes that it is
"forever impossible to read Reading" one must "'understand7
that this word bars access, once and forever, to a meaning
that yet can never cease to call out for its understanding"
(de Man 77). "Understanding" is brought into question by
the inevitable difficulty of a text's being able to contain
the questioning of understanding, of a reading that calls
for orderliness just as it disrupts the order on which one
bases that reading. How does one decide that a text cannot
be read? Certainly not by referring to an unreadable text.
That would beg the question of readability. The demand for
understanding and for orderliness is reinscribed in their
disruption.
We can incorporate, here, the idea of a discharge.
Though an author or an author's book can be released from
the demands of a particular type of organization, something
of that organization will remain and will place other
demands, perhaps in other terms, on the author and the work.
Though Susan has her abortion, the problem of her relation


24
of fiction, rather it indicates a narrative problem whose
root is in the language.
Whereas abortion describes the text and the writing of
the story, "Production, Reading, Supplementarity" describes
the text and the reading of the story. To think of the
reader as one of the story/s parent's, as Peter does in The
Tidewater Tales, is to develop the notion of the production
of the supplement. The Tidewater Tales illustrates the fact
that reading is never simply an addition. Calling reading a
production of supplements is not to say that reading occurs
outside the text or that there is what might be called an
outside-text. Though reading is an addition, it cannot add
just anything; it is rather, as Derrida says, adding and
following a thread. Because the writer does not command
every aspect of the language used, the text always says
something other than what the writer would mean.
One of the more dramatic effects of the supplement on
the story is its making indeterminate the story's "end." We
cannot count on the story's ever being finished because
supplementation is also a replacement. Every supplement
describes its own need for a supplemental reading, for a
replacement, so marks itself as incomplete.
"Repetition, History, Narration" is a discussion of
repetition as it relates to the displacement of the origin
and the repetitious coming back, which is also a deferral,
of the end and a discussion of the questioning of historical
truth as it relates to the development of a narrative. What


103
that he had obeyed her earlier order not to go with me, and
that if he was to be solomoned between us (not Orrin's
term), he would try to divide himself equally" (S 42) If
to be solomoned is to be divided (or shared) at the complete
detriment of the thing divided, Orrin, of course, is not
actually solomoned. (Though he could not endure such
situations without some, possibly even extensive, emotional
distress, he grows up to be, as Fenn calls him, a
"principled, reasonable son" [S 42] and a reasonably happy
man.) On the other hand, Solomon did not actually divide
the child but rather threatened to divide it and thereby
discovered the true mother, who was identified by her
willingness to give up her child to save its life. Taking
into account this much of the story, to be solomoned would
refer to Fenn's willingness to give up Orrin to his mother
in order to keep him whole, to spare him an impossible and
self-defeating (perhaps even self-destructive) choice
between mother and father. The stories are not as clearly
analogous after the identification of the "true" parent.
Solomon gives the child, who being an infant cannot speak
for itself so has no say in the matter, to its parent. (In
Fenn's analogy Orrin functions both as the child and as
Solomon. He is both the object of a judgment and the one
who speaks the judgment: he would try to divide himself
equally.) Because both Fenn and Marilyn Marsh are Orrin's
parents, Marilyn Marsh, unlike the lying harlot, the false
mother of the Solomon story, has some legitimate claim to


149
anticipation that allows such a script to be written? And
to what extent does a reading, any reading, require such an
anticipation? On the other hand, if the reader can finish
the work without the writer, why would anyone worry about
the story being spoiled? When Katherine reads Act One she
wears the hat that was floated off in the flare canister
with the manuscript, the hat that Frank would wear while he
was writing. Frank's floating the hat off with the
manuscript was not simply an act of despair. Though it
indicated his exasperation at his becoming an author of
fiction, it also indicated the inevitable relinquishing of
authority over the work, giving whoever would read the
manuscript the power of authorship. We might also point out
that as they tell each other the stories promised at the end
of "Day 6," Peter and Katherine and Frank and Lee pass the
hat to the one telling the story.16 Thus, in reading the
manuscript, Katherine and Peter help to produce the text.
What should we, the readers of The Tidewater Tales; A
Novel (as the narrators point out to us again), expect of
Act Three? Of its being written? How are we to understand
its being written? Having been inseminated by the reading
of SEX EDUCATION: Play. Peter's muse summons him to write,
but only as "a warm-up" to "the real thing" (TT 549), "ACT
III: The Cove, or, Sex Education." As Peter "reads" for us
what he has written, it is immediately apparent that this is
not what the writer of Acts One and Two would have said.
16
See, for example, TT 406.


the circle is the connection between, which is the
effacement of, beginning and ending.
28
The question of the circle, as an issue in the theory
of interpretation and in the breakdown of logic has, of
course, its history. I make these statements about
Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales within the context of a
theoretical and philosophical traditionthat of
hermeneuticsand within the context of an issue inseparable
from a general theory of interpretation: the hermeneutic
circle.
Schleiermacher is thought of as the first in a line of
four major theorists of hermeneutics, including Wilhelm
Dilthey, Martin Heidegger, and Hans-Georg Gadamer.1
Schleiermacher described hermeneutics as the "art of
understanding" and thereby helped to make the circle the
figure of interpretation. Since understanding is
referential (that is, since we understand by the comparison
of things), what we understand forms itself into "systematic
unities, or circles made up of parts" (Palmer 87). The
circle as a whole defines the individual parts, while the
parts together describe the circle. The hermeneutic circle
can also be described in terms of the context of an idea or
a work, what Schleiermacher called the work's "horizon."
The meaning of a text is derived from its context, its
relation to other texts, and yet the context is composed of
1 See, for example, Palmer, on whom the following
discussion of Schleiermacher and Dilthey is based.


52
abortion and Frank had decided that he was a failure as a
writer of fiction. Frank tells Peter and Katherine,
I kept wishing something amazing would happen, out
of the blue. . But the world went on being
the world: sunshine and sailboats and problems.
Remarks Peter We were there. That's just about
when I said to Katherine down on Nopoint Point For
pity's sake set me a task, and she said Take us
sailing, and here we are. (TT 416)
Here, in The Tidewater Tales, is Sabbatical. Lee tells all
of them,
We could have ducked in here, . but since
there was time to get up to Cacaway, and since
nothing was settled, we stayed with our island-to-
island thing. When the storm hit, as you probably
remember, it was a humdinger.
We remember, all right. But you got more of it
than we did. (TT 417)
Before the storm hit, Frank put Act One of his "ovarian" TV
play, called SEX EDUCATION: Plav. into an empty flare
canister, "and at the last minute [he] stuck this boina in
there too, for the obvious reason, and [he] floated the
whole thing off down the tide like baby Perseus in his sea
chest or Moses in his basket. Return to sender" (TT 417).
The floating on the tide of Frank's TV play is the
tidal return of a long line of messages in bottles and tidal
returns both in the history of literature (Barth compares
Perseus and Moses to the sex education script) and in the
history of Barth's fiction. In LETTERS Ambrose Mensch makes
a movie that contains a "water message sequence," which
reflects his sending and receiving messages in bottles as a
boy in Lost in the Funhouse. The "re" of one of Ambrose's


195
apparently, Bell places the real world. He suggests that at
least initially Barth has hopes of "finding a role or place
for literature in life" (87-88).30 By anchoring repetition,
if only "initially," perhaps especially initially, in the
real, Bell finds for repetition a beginning and points out
that infinity, whether an infinity of play, of repetition,
or of substitution, cannot logically be contained within a
"finite system." Barth agrees with Borges who notices that
all books are part of a library which is itself endless.31
At the same time Barth claims that an artist may
paradoxically turn impossibilities into a work of
literature"paradoxically. because by doing so he
transcends what had appeared to be his refutation, in the
same way that the mystic who transcends finitude is said to
be enabled to live, spiritually and physically, in the
finite world" (FB 71). We have to remark the fact that
transcendence is only said to be. The living in the finite
cannot be considered part of the transcendental act, but
only a contradiction of it, if what is called finite is
truly finite. Barth is careful in what he says, but makes a
complicated statement, and so is vulnerable to
misinterpretation. What is transcended is always only "what
30 It is curious that Bell cites Christopher Norris who
speaks of "the purely linguistic problem of substitution" in
Lost in the Funhouse. because it seems that Bell would claim
that substitution is not purely linguistic.
31 See Jorge Luis Borges, "The Library of Babel,
Fictiones 29-88.
If


32
(195) but to work out the fore-structures of the
interpretation. "Working out" the fore-structures does not
bring us to the truth about the text or even about the fore
structures. The only "objectivity" in Heidegger's system,
Gadamer says, is "the confirmation of a fore-meaning in its
being worked out" (237) .
There are two ways of thinking about our involvement in
the circle graphically, both of which pose problems for the
interpretation of texts. We can think of texts, and
ourselves with them, as moving along a circular path and
thereby questioning the relation between beginning and end
and even the validity of beginning and end as terms with
which to describes texts. And we can think of the circle as
an enclosure, which would lead us to position texts, and
ourselves with them, with regard to the relation between
inside and outside.
Titles and Quotations and Quotations of Titles
Where one should beginwith what metaphor, for example, or
at what chronological point in the storymust be
confronted, given a structure that would tend to deny a
beginning and an end and to de-temporalize time. To say
that I will begin CIRCLING does not consider the problem
with beginning that has already presented itself: it
assumes, for instance, that the title is exterior, outside
the circle of the "text proper." In The Tidewater Tales
titles are shown to be involved with the development of the


135
Well, my friend, that's a two-edged trope you're
playing with there. Stories can abort, too. (S
357)
Fenn's fourth choice places Sabbatical within the Y. The
terms themselves, the possibility of "understanding" the new
perspective and, principally, the connection between "story"
and "child," by which Fenn describes the fourth choice are
the remainder of an aborted text.


121
Tidewater Tales, it will be noted that there is medical
evidence suggesting that even the ova are "aggressive. To
Fenn's credit, he never claims that the attributes he calls
male and female are the exclusive domain of men or women.
Though he retains the terms male and female as adjectives,
he puts them in guotation marks (S 137). The quotation
marks become an indication of the categories, the
prejudices, that remain when one tries to do away with them
by bringing the terms of the categories together. The
remainder is an essential element of the synthetic
structure.
One way we can get at this idea of the remainder is
through Charles Harris, one of Barth's principal critics.
Harris's book on John Barth, Passionate Virtuosity,
represents almost all of Barth's critics in that he sees
"unity as the central problem of . Barth's fiction"
(ix). The fact that unity could be considered a "problem"
implies a system of values on which Harris builds a method
of analysis that contains problems of its own. Harris means
that Barth's fiction contains in one way or another, as
themes, structures, characters, etc., oppositions; and these
oppositions need to be unified. The End of the Road is an
"articulation of absolutes" which takes place as a
"nondualistic conjunction of opposites, ... a
transcendence, a mystical view of the whole" (Harris 48).
The Sot-Weed Factor is an exploration of "experience and
reality." LETTERS "strives for a middle ground between


185
'abarme' the writing of the relation (let us say the history,
Historie of the relation, and even the history, Geschichte.
of the relator relating it). Therefore the related is
related to the relating. The site of the legible, like the
origin of writing, is carried away with itself" (The Post
Card 304).
Fenn and Susan maintain that going back is essential to
moving forward: "Once again, it is harking back that turns
the key, that is the key, to harking forward" (S 253).
Their harking back, though, does not bear them out. They
seem, rather, to be rushing into the abvme of reflected
reflections.
Harking back to "Part I, The Cove, Key," the narrator's
recall, "Sue proposed that we begin in the middle, here
aboard Pokey. reentering the Chesapeake, say, on the last
leg of our sabbatical cruise, and then fill in with a series
of flashbacks what's fetched us here, advancing the present
action one step between each flashback until the
exposition's done . ." (S 171). We have already seen that
their steps forward do not appear to be advancing anywhere.
Fenn suggests that they have one big flashback that will
flash them all the way back to the big bang (S 172).
Recalling much of the data, necessarily only representative,
concerning the telling of the story, its historical,
literary, sociological, and even biological connections to
the past, the narrators do flashback as far as one can
imagine or to the "big bang," the supposed beginning (S 207-


the idea of truth in history or historical fact, readers
still cling to the hope of its possibility.
204
In describing what follows in narration, in a text we
would call a narrative, we should be careful not to get
caught up in the question of historical truth so that we
will not reconfirm the possibility of truth in history and
also so that we can deal thoroughly with the questioning of
truth.
Peter Sagamore, in The Tidewater Tales, is interested
in what he calls the most mysterious episode in Don Quixote.
"the one wherein Don Quixote lowered himself by rope into
the spooky Cave of Montesinos in La Mancha and is hauled up
sound asleep half an hour later and awakened only with
difficulty" (TT 388) because it brings into question,
without answering the question, the truth of the story:
What is singular about the episode, in Peter
Sagamore's opinion is that of all the Knight's
encounters with the apparently marvelous, this is
the only one unrefuted by reality. It is never
accounted for, and though nothing in the plot
turns upon it, Quixote clings to his belief in it
to the end. (TT 338, emphasis mine)
In deciding how to read Peter's term "refutation by reality"
it will be helpful to turn to Don Quixote. In Chapter XXIV,
the one following the Cave of Montesinos chapter, the
narrator gives us a marginal note made by the book's "first
author," Cide Hamete Benengeli, which says in part,
"so if this adventure seems apocryphal, it is not
I that am to blame, for I write it down without
affirming its truth or falsehood. You, judicious
reader, must judge for yourself, for I cannot and
should not do more. One thing, however, is
certain, that finally [Don Quixote] retracted it


248
Robbins, Deborah J. "Whatever Happened to Realism: John
Barth's LETTERS. Northwest Reviev 19.1-2 (1981): 218-
27.
Safer, Elaine B. "The Essay as Aesthetic Mirror: John Barth's
'Exhaustion' and 'Replenishment.' Studies in American
Fiction. 15.1 (1987): 109-17.
Todorov, Tzvetan. Introduction to Poetics. Trans. Richard
Howard. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1981.
Woolley, Deborah. "Empty 'Text,' Fecund Voice: Self-
Ref lexivity in Barth's Lost in the Funhouse."
Contemporary Literature 26.4 (1985): 460-81.
Zamora, Lois Parkinson. "The Structural Games in the Fiction
of John Barth and Julio Cortazar." Perspectives on
Contemporary Literature 6 (1980): 28-36.


67
Chesapeake Peter and Katherine sailed before. In Sabbatical
Fenn and Susan are told that "the Wye Island you returned to
was not exactly the Wye you left" (S 269). In reference to
that lost and found boina. Frank says of the hat that Peter
and Katherine returned to him, "This isn't it." Katherine
is disappointed because, if it were the same hat, there
would have been a story in it. But its being different does
not bother Frank: "This hat here is the lineal successor to
that one. He frisbees it over to [Katherine]. If the boina
fits, wear it" (TT 409). Frank's point is twofold: even if
this is not the same hat, it is like enough to the old one
to function in the same way and to be caught up in the same
metaphors and the same plot of their storythe boina does
fit; and even if it is the same hat, the hat cannot be the
sameit has been in the water for at least a week.
Getting off the circle is as problematic as getting on.
If we are presently circling within a text, then
communicating something about the text to someone outside or
applying knowledge about the text to an outside work is
impossible. Lois Parkinson Zamora describes Barth's works
in general as self-contained: "Barth's novelistic games
demand enclosure" and therefore his fictions "set forth
rules which operate within the work and are relevant only
within that work" (28) Miller says of The Linguistic
Moment, "My enterprise . is a search to locate a ground
beyond language for the linguistic patterns present in my
poems. Who would not wish to escape the prison house of


158
Dunyazade not only considers the possibility of a future
reading but makes a reading now, one that to a certain
extent controls the telling of the story, saying in effect,
Don't tell me that, don't make what I already know a part of
this story, leave my understanding of what you would have
said for the writing of my story, another story, which I
will include here. And, further, Dunyazade's reading of
what Scheherazade would have said becomes a critical part of
"Scheherazade's story":
"If I understand you correctly [Dunyazade will say
she said], you're saying that if for example this
whole situation here were fiction instead of fact,
and if in this piece of fiction you found the
right way, after the King deflowers you, to make
him want to go on sleeping with you night after
night instead of cutting your head off in the
morningthat whatever magic trick you found, it
would come down to particular words on the page of
the story of you and the King, right?" (TT 584).
After the flashback supposedly "ends" and the story "goes
on" (Scheherazade tells us to never mind that she mightn't
have told it just that way, as if to say, I'll let that
reading stand, the divergences from my view are unimportant,
but also to say, I can't help but let your reading become a
part of "my" story) Dunyazade reads, critically, what
Scheherazade does say:
I told him later
Later later, smirked Dunyazade. Tell me later
what you told each other later. What'd he say
then? What happened next?
What happened next was. . (TT 586)
Dunyazade's reading (the supplement) is, it should be clear
now, part of the production of the text and an allegory for
that production generally.


124
Glas 19). In the child the parents recognize themselves as
one. "They 'produce' thus 'their own death'" such that "the
death of the parents forms the child's consciousness," which
is the education of the child (Derrida, Glas 132) Love is
thus the movement of an Aufhebung: the moment of unity is
also the moment of dissolution. As in the Aufhebung of
sexual desire, the moment of gratification (of the
"attainment" of unity) is the moment of the loss of desire
(of a declaration of independence).
To say that a synthesis has been "attained" might
mislead one into thinking that the dialectic has come to an
end in which a positive achievement has been established and
beyond which one cannot go. But given the Aufhebung in
Hegel's system, the achievement is always only partly
positive. And in a speculative dialectics, such as Hegel's,
the synthesis will include another system in which a
synthesis is "relieved" (that is one of the not quite
sufficient translations of Aufhebung) again.
Syllogism is a trinary system"Each of the three
moments of the three moments itself includes three
syllogistic moments" (Derrida, Glas 20)but the Aufhebung
anchors it in the dual. Synthesis, the activity of
syllogism, always represents the coming together of
oppositions, of two aspects, two things, two paths. There
is "[n]o marriage that is not decided by the parental
instance, whatever the form of its intervention" (Derrida,
Glas 194). The parental instance of Sittlichkeit is the


177
Sabbatical. made. Fenn's suggestion that the story is their
child (S 357) is for Susan, which is to say for Sabbatical.
unsatisfactory. Though it was their intention that by the
end of the voyage they would have known their hearts and
minds about "several decisions which lie ahead" (S 84), the
decisions still lie ahead;
Does that make sense?
Some.
Edgar's dripping pickle on your blouse.
So he drips.
We've spent our sabbatical that way, haven't
we?
Dripping pickle?
Putting off crossing bridges till we come to
them and then not coming to them.
Our eyes meet, sort of. Susan bites her meat.
What's doing for Doog? (S 278)
The first deferral, here, is almost unrecognizable as a
deferral. It is as much a confusion of subject. Susan asks
what Fenn is talking about; there are two possibilities.
Her guestion, though, names one of the possibilities,
"dripping pickle," the apparently trivial one, and thereby
defers the matter at hand. Fenn wants to know about their
repetitious, if not continual, putting off of decisions.
The subject of deferral is itself put off: "Susan bites her
meat. What's doing for Doog?" What is more, Fenn does not
try to get her back on track, back to the "meat" of the
story. He answers her question without demanding one for
his.
This deferral continues, remarked again by Fenn's
coming back to the subject only circumspectly;
Thinking of his conversation with Margot
Scourby, Fenn declares that it's like what


5
left unfinished. "The Ending" of The Tidewater Tales reads
like the captions following a 1960's B movie: Mickey So-
and-so becomes a movie star and falls in love with So-and-
so; MaryJean So-and-so starts her own business and lives
happily ever after; etc.
Speaking about the books separately, in separate
sections for example, would be entirely inappropriate, if
possible at all. Not only are the books alike, but they are
literally intertwined. In The Tidewater Tales the plotlines
of the bookscharacters, the names of characters, and all
are twisted together such that to tug on the structure or a
metaphor, say, of The Tidewater Tales is to put Sabbatical
in tow. I am reguired to talk about them both at the same
time or to talk about one knowing that the other is riding
its wake. To talk with the knowledge of and to talk about
are nearly the same thingthat is, they have similar
effects; either way, the talking is based on terms that
affect them both.
On the other hand, inherent in the idea of the
postscript is the coming afterward of the script.
Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales are written in sequence,
The Tidewater Tales the sequel. It is also suggested that
Peter Sagamore's last name might indicate the attempt to add
to the text; Peter's father was a German immigrant: "The
word is not given in our German-English dictionary: Sage
mehr ('Say more'), we wonder, metamorphosed by some
immigration clerk like many another new American's name" (TT


95
affirmation than to the negation. Gross struggles with the
fact that Barth continues to write novels. Calling Barth's
books "Anti-Novels" is only telling half of the story.
Much of the talk about the death of literature and
self-destruction in terms of Barth's work has come about in
response to his essay "The Literature of Exhaustion," which
he has had to clarify and defend repeatedly since its
publication. In a 1981 interview Barth tries to explain his
position:
What was unfortunate about that essay was that I
never meant to implyas many readers, one of them
Jorge Luis Borges, concludedthat I thought
fiction had all been done with, that there was not
much more for us latecomers to do except parody
our predecessors. That wasn't, and isn't, my
thought. ... My own experiments with the oral
and epistolary traditions should indicate that I
consider the novel far from dead. And I never
said the novel was dead in the first place.
(Barth, "An Interview" 5-6)
Abortion fiction is not a neat metaphor for the
tendency toward self-reflective destruction or the anti
novel. Abortion, as a metaphor, is caught up in the
difficulty of organization. In explaining "The Exhaustion
of Literature," Barth comes back to the idea of
disorderliness:
I believe that what I was talking about was the
coming to birth ofit's hard to find a phrasea
"postmodern fiction." What I was trying to get
at, I guess, was the thought that we tend to think
of modern fiction in a disorganized manner, and
when one combines the word "modern" with the word
"fiction," he no longer has a very useful term.
In a sense I can see at least three waves of
"modern" fiction. . (Barth, "An Interview" 6-
7)


or the primacy of his nonfiction is dangerous, if not
directly oppositional to the texts themselves.
9
When Barth speaks of moving "beyond," for example, we
read the term knowing that he understands and even respects
the connection of thingsof texts to "reality," one text to
another, etc. So we cannot think of moving beyond, in
Barth, as getting outside.
In The Floating Opera. Barth's first novel, Todd
Andrews is preoccupied with talking about his idea of order.
We find early on that his interest is not simply a facet of
his "character" or an incidental aesthetic orientation
shared by his author, but that on his idea of order wavers
his lifenot only the "fictive" life of Todd Andrews, but
the life of narration:
It seems to me that any arrangement of things at
all is an order. If you agree, it follows that my
room was as orderly as any room can be, even
though the order was an unusual one. (FO 10)
The narrator speaks, implicitly, against the idea of order
as an absolute, against the possibility that there is one
perfect system. His room does not illustrate absolute
order, but rather "an" order based on a particular system of
ideas or images. Since any group of things is an
arrangement (if for no other reason than its relation to the
group), and therefore everything is arranged, since, in
other words, arranging always takes place, it makes no sense
to speak of a system as more or less orderlythe narrator's
room, therefore, "was as orderly as any room can be."


178
spending years writing a novel without any clear
idea where it's going, but perfectly confident
that you'll know exactly what to say when the time
comes, must be like. Susan says that that doesn't
strike her as a very exact comparison. I know
what you mean, says Fenn. It is, though.
This is the voice of the Enlightened Eighteenth
century? Jesus, Edgar, let's go back to work. We
stroll with him toward our separate desks. (S
279)
As soon as the issue, which has become the deferral of
stories and telling without telling comes back, it is put
off again. Fenn and Susan go to their separate desks in
order not to talk: "Susan reports I sent in all my
Swarthmore forms this morning. Me too Delaware, says Fenn.
We'll decide soon" (S 279). (Swarthmore and Delaware are
locations that have come to represent the two different
directions they could go either together, one or the other
giving up a position already offered, or separately.) We
could go on pointing out deferrals almost indefinitely, and
that is our point here. Not only are the decisions so often
called for not made, but the deferral itself becomes
intertwined in the general system of deferral. Susan and
Fenn want neither to talk about the decisions not made nor
about not making the decisions; they want not to remark the
deferral, but as we have seen, that is impossible. They
have spent their entire sabbatical that way. All of
Sabbatical is the deferral and the remarking of the
deferral.
Though tying up at Chief and Virgie's dock, at Key
Farm, Wye Island, completed Fenn and Susan's return in a
sense, Fenn says, "it ended neither our sabbatical nor our


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
FIGURING NARRATION:
JOHN BARTH'S SABBATICAL AND THE TIDEWATER TALES
By
Creed C. Greer, III
December 1989
Chair: John P. Leavey, Jr.
Major Department: English
This dissertation describes the narrative and textual
effects, in John Barth's Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales,
of the inscription of four figures: the circle, abortion,
production, and repetition. Each of these figures
represents an attempt to escape various linguistic binds
invariably reintroduced in the telling and writing of the
stories.
"Circling" explores the way in which a circle questions
our ability to understand the text and places itself in
opposition to a narrative organization of events. Any
attempt to exceed the orbit of the text reinscribes the
circle. The sequentiality of Sabbatical and The Tidewater
Tales tends to disrupt the notion of their circling because
the circling text would suggest a linguistic collapsing of
time.
In "Abortion Stories" I show that abortion is connected
to a decision concerning the organization of the woman's
life and the orderliness of the text. Abortion is a
vi


186
08). But Susan points out, thinking back about the flashing
back, "it didn't tell us where to go." Fenn has wondered
already where they have to go in order to advance: "Key
Island, to find my boina?" (S 247) At Key Island, though,
we find only another return that does not help them move
forward. When Fenn loses his hat, Susan takes the helm:
"Steadying the tiller then between her thighs, she sheets in
the main, trims the genoa for beating and threads us back
through the pots to where Fenn's hat has settled awash" (S
24, emphasis mine). Having come back to the hat this
"first" time, first in the present but not in the presence
of Sabbatical. Fenn sinks it with the boat hook. Going
back, to the supposed beginning, to Key Island, like going
back to the "beginning," of it all, to the big bang, has not
moved them forward, partly at least because we cannot go all
the wav back, back to beginning that is absolute. At the
supposed beginning we encounter another reflection, another
repetition of the thing reflected, a thing never brought to
the surface, but pushed farther into the abyss. The history
of the relaters, and the history of the relation, is
reflected and "carried away" so that one cannot go back to
the origin of the thing reflected, the "first" reflection,
or the "thing" that was for the "first time" reflected.
In "The Literature of Exhaustion" Barth says of Jorge
Luis Borges in regard to "Pierre Menard, Author of the
Quixote," "he writes a remarkable and original work of
literature, the implicit theme of which is the difficulty,


55
on the tide, no different but for a few barnacles" (TT 231).
The emphatic "nothing" and "all" seem not to take into
account the messages in bottles cast out from the family
dock, but Peter is speaking about a return of a different
order, a metaphoric circling: "It's just us Hoopers Island
water folk going out to work and coming home again,
generation after generation" (TT 231). Even the Hoopers
Island waterfolk do not necessarily come in on the tide.
With oars or sail or an engine they might even return
against the tide. But the tidal return is, in principle.
like the return of the waterfolk.
That tidal return is metaphoric does not negate its
impact on the text. The message is, in fact, made more
complex in its coming back a metaphor. The Tidewater Tales
tends to disrupt a simple reading of metaphoricity; within
the text, the traditional division between the figurative
and the literal is shown to be untenable. The figurative
and the literal have a circular relationship in that one
occupies part of the space of the other. Not only is the
message in the bottle a metaphor of linguistic return
generally, but is itself part of the linguistic return for
which it is a metaphor. What one might have called the
literal interpretation, the notion of linguistic return, is
itself at least partly metaphoric. No reading can separate
return from metaphoricity. The message in the bottle comes
back on the tide of Barth's fiction. The returning of the
message is one of the things that returns.


74
Jake wonders whether Rennie is genuine. "I don't know.
Joe's strong enough to take care of me, I guess. I don't
care" (ER 68). He convinces Rennie to eavesdrop on Joe, but
she, of course, is hesitant and defensive: "Real people
aren't any different when they're alone. No masks. What
you see of them is authentic" (ER 71). What they see,
though, begins Rennie's "disintegration" (ER 128) Standing
in the middle of the room, Joe smartly executes military
commands; he pirouettes, bows, leaps, and winds up
masturbating in his reading chair.
Rennie closed her eyes and pressed her forehead
against the window sill. I stood beside her, out
of the light from the brilliant living room, and
stroked and stroked her hair, speaking softly in
her ear the wordless, grammarless language she'd
taught me to calm horses with. (ER 71)
It turns out that only wordlessness and grammarlessness
could allow them to escape their dilemma. The inevitable
breakdown of categories, particularly those of dualistic
division, is a linguistic phenomenon:
"You're as bad as Joe is. I think all our trouble
comes from thinking and talking too much. We talk
ourselves into all kinds of messes that would
disappear if everybody just shut up about them."
(ER 131)
Jake agrees with Rennie about the source of the problem
but denies the possibility of a solution. The apparent
ambivalence of Rennie's feelings toward Jake, he thinks, is
"only a pseudo-ambivalence whose source was in the
language":
it was both single and simple, like all feelings
it was also completely particular and individual,
and so the trouble started only when she attempted


184
thing that cannot be child's play. Because having children
is what Susan wants, play, for her, is fundamentally
abnormal. She wants not to be the child (to play normally),
but rather to have the child (to not play), and, until she
does, her life, as compared to the lives of her child
raising contemporaries, cannot be said to be serious.
Fenn's attempt to illustrate the seriousness of the
sabbatical only partly works. Though they have tried to
take stock in order to make decisions, they have essentially
failed. No decisions about the things that really matter,
whether Fenn and Susan will have children and whether they
will be together in order to have children, have been
forthcoming. Nor are they likely to be. The sabbatical is
a game, but one that has to be worked at and one that has
serious consequences. As Fenn puts it, "Not everybody has
to be D.H. Lawrence or Dostoevsky, thank heaven. . You
can be serious with a smile" (S 159).
Let us go back to Derrida in order to move (forward?)
into the question of history. We have noticed, in scenes
that reflect each other, that the return is doubled in the
story that relates the return. Speaking again of Freud's
Beyond but in terms directly applicable to Sabbatical.
Derrida brings into play the notion of the repetition en
abvme26; "The story that is related . seems to put into
26 Derrida's translator, Alan Bass, notes, as we will
here, that "En abvme is the heraldic term for infinite
reflection, e.g., the shield in the shield in the shield
. ." (The Post Card 304).