The Literature of Exhaustion

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The Literature of Exhaustion is an influential 1967 essay by the American novelist John Barth sometimes considered to be the manifesto of postmodernism.

The essay was highly influential,[1] and for some controversial.[2] It depicted literary realism as a "used up" tradition; Barth's description of his own work, which many thought nailed a core trait of postmodernism, is "novels which imitate the form of a novel, by an author who imitates the role of Author".

Barth argued that a particular stage in history was passing, and pointed to possible directions from there. In 1980, he wrote a follow-up essay, "The Literature of Replenishment."


Barth first delivered "The Literature of Exhaustion" in 1967 as a lecture in a Peters Rushton Seminar held at the University of Virginia;[3] it was first printed in The Atlantic in the same year. Since then has been reprinted several times, and was included in Barth's nonfiction collection The Friday Book (1984).


  1. ^ [1] in Contemporary Literature, 2000
  2. ^ "The Literature of Exhaustion". Retrieved 2012-05-25. 
  3. ^ John Barth (1984) intro to The Literature of Exhaustion, in The Friday Book.

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