|Original title||Giles Goat-Boy or The Revised New Syllabus of George Giles our Grand Tutor|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|LC Class||PS3552.A75 G5 1987|
Giles Goat-Boy (1966) is the fourth novel by American writer John Barth. It is metafictional comic novel in which the world is portrayed as a university campus in an elaborate allegory of the Cold War. Its title character is a human boy raised as a goat, who comes to believe he is the Grand Tutor, the predicted Messiah. The book was a surprise bestseller for the previously obscure Barth, and in the 1960s had a cult status. It marks Barth's leap into American postmodern fabulism.
An allegory of the Cold War, Giles Goat-Boy is one of Barth's most complex novels; it is considered by many to be Barth's best work, while denigrated by others. It marks Barth's full emergence as a metafictional writer. The metafiction manifests itself in the "Publisher's Disclaimer" and "Cover-Letter to the Editors and Publisher" which preface the book, and which each try to pass off the authorship onto another—the editors onto Barth, who claims it was by a mysterious Giles Stoker or Stoker Giles, who in turn claims it was written by the automatic computer WESCAC. The editors in the disclaimer present their opinions on whether or not to publish the book, the responses ranging from repugnance to revelation, some disparaging both the novel and its presumed author. The "author" JB, having amended the book to an unknown extent, claims it has become accidentally mixed up with a manuscript of his own, and the book is further appended with a "Post-Tape" and then a postscript, both potentially spurious, further undermining the authority of the author.
The humor and many events of the book are frequently in extreme poor taste, employing a number of potentially offensive representations of blacks, Jews and women. Even events such as the Holocaust are treated as material for frivolously absurd humor.
George Giles is a boy raised as a goat who rises in life to be Grand Tutor (spiritual leader) of New Tammany College (the United States). He strives for (and achieves) herohood, in accordance with the hero myth as theorized by Lord Raglan and Joseph Campbell. The novel abounds in mythological and Christian allegories, as well as in allusions to the Cold War, 1960s academia, and religion. Rather than discovering it, George chooses his identity, much like Ebeneezer Cooke does in The Sotweed Factor.
The principle behind the allegorical renaming of key roles in the novel as roman à clef is that the Earth (or the Universe) is a University. Thus, for example, the founder of a religion or great religious leader becomes a Grand Tutor (in German Grosslehrer), and Barth renames specific leaders as well: Jesus Christ becomes Enos Enoch (meaning in Hebrew "The man who walked with God" or "humanity when it walked with God"), Moses becomes Moishe, Buddha becomes the original Sakhyan. As the founder of the maieutic method, Socrates becomes Maios; Plato (whose Greek name Platon means "broad-shouldered") becomes Scapulas (from scapula, shoulder-blade); Aristotle, as the coiner of the term entelekheia (lit. "having an end within," usually translated "entelechy," or glossed as the actualization of a potentiality), becomes Entelechus. The heroes of epic poems tend to be named after the Greek for "son of": Odysseus becomes Laertides (son of Laertes), Aeneas becomes Anchisides (son of Anchises), and so on. The subtitle The Revised New Syllabus means, in the novel's Universe=University allegory, a parodic rewriting of the New Testament. Satan is the Dean o' Flunks, and lives in the Nether Campus (hell); John the Baptist is John the Bursar; the Sermon on the Mount becomes the Seminar-on-the-Hill; the Last Judgment becomes the Final Examination. Among the parodic variations, a computer replaces the Holy Spirit, and an artificial insemination the Immaculate Conception.
A hypertext encyclopedia also figures in the novel, years before the invention of hypertext and three decades before the Web became part of society at large. The character Max Spielman is a parody of Ernst Haeckel, whose insight "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" is rephrased as "ontogeny recapitulates cosmogeny" and "proctoscopy repeats hagiography". The "riddle of the universe" is rephrased as "the riddle of the sphincters".
The text is "discovered" by the author (much like in Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night). The novel contains a forty-page parody in small type of the full text of Oedipus Rex called Taliped Decanus. The digressive play-within-a-book is grossly disproportionate to the length of the book, parodying both Sophocles and Freud.
Barth tells how a reviewer of The Sot-Weed Factor saw in that book a parody of the pattern of the "Wandering Hero Myth", as described by Lord Raglan in The Hero (1936). This observation impelled Barth to begin research into comparative mythology and anthropology, which included reading Otto Rank's Myth of the Birth of the Ritual Hero (1909; 1914) and Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). This led to his deconstructing the idea of the Ur-Myth in Giles Goat-Boy. Barth would delve further into the Hero in his essay "Myth and Tragedy", and in his novels LETTERS (1979) and Once Upon a Time (1995).
In the 1987 preface to the novel Barth declared that his first three novels formed a "loose trilogy of novels", after completing which he felt ready to move into new territory. He called Giles Goat-Boy the first of his Fabulist novels, in contrast to the 1950s-style black comedy displayed in the earlier novels. He declared in a 1965 essay, "Muse, Spare Me", that he desired to be spared from social-historical responsibility in order to focus on aesthetic concerns. The Sot-Weed Factor was released in paperback the year before Giles Goat-Boy, and increased interest in his work shortly before Giles Goat-Boy was released.
Giles Goat-Boy was released the same year as a number of watermark works in the early history of postmodern American literature, most notably Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49. Brian McHale has seen 1966 as being a year in which the new postmodern aesthetic had definitively arrived, a year in which metafiction, poststructuralism and other concepts strongly related to postmodernism made their mark in the US.
Giles Goat-Boy was initially reviewed enthusiastically...by 1984, Robert Alter referred to it as "reced[ing] into the detritus of failed experiments in American fiction", calling it "little more than an inflated translation game"..."so brittle a cleverness that it constantly reveals the tediousness of the novel's informing conception". While it enjoyed a cult status in the 1960s, it has since become one of Barth's least-read works. John Gardner called the book a morally "empty but well-made husk". Gore Vidal called it "a very bad prose-work", condemning it as one of a number of overly academic "teachers' novel[s]".
Barth's own statements on the primacy of aesthetics in his writing have tended to obscure the otherwise obvious politics (as 1960s Cold War allegory) in the book. Robert Scholes was among the early critics who dismissed the elaborate allegory as irrelevant, and critics since then have emphasized the rôle of the hero and the quest in the book's construction. In the 1980s, Barth would revisit his 1960s works and come to acknowledge their historical context, including in a preface to the 1987 edition of the Giles Goat-Boy.
In 1967, after the success of Giles Goat-Boy, Barth was able to have released a revised one-volume edition of his first two novels that restored the books' original, darker endings.
Barth has come to see Giles Goat-Boy as "the first American postmodernist novel"—an assertion picked up by many of his critics and biographers, but not universally accepted. The novel was the central exhibit of Robert Scholes' The Fabulators (1967), a study of a tendency in contemporary writers to eschew realism in fiction.
- Grausam 2011, p. 26.
- Bryant 1997, p. 212.
- Grausam 2011, p. 20.
- Székely 2010, p. 301.
- York 2003, pp. 66–67.
- York 2003, pp. 68.
- York 2003, p. 66.
- York 2003, pp. 64–65.
- Guido Sommavilla, Peripenzie Dell'epica Contemporanea, p. 295
- John Clute. "Giles Boat-Boy or, The Revised New Syllabus" in: Frank N. Magill, ed. Survey of Science Fiction Literature, Vol. 2. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1979. (pp. 873–877) ISBN 0893561851 .
- The fullest study of the novel is Douglas Robinson, John Barth's Giles Goat-Boy: A Study (Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä Press, 1980).
- Harris & Harris 1972, p. 107.
- Sommavilla, pp. 285–9. Robinson (1980: 363) suggests that Enos Enoch is also a pun on "enough's enough."
- Although Barth's narrator also provocatively notes that while George Giles was conceived in a virgin, he was not exactly born to one, as he broke his mother's hymen being delivered. For a glossary of Barth's Universe=University renamings, see Robinson (1980: 363–73).
- Mercer 1971: 7
- Mercer 1971: 6.
- Harris & Harris 1972, p. 24.
- Harris & Harris 1972, p. 24; Robinson 1980, p. 71; Moddelmog 1993, p. 146.
- Safer 1989, p. 88.
- Clavier 2007, p. 166.
- Grausam 2011, pp. 25–26.
- Grausam 2011, p. 40.
- Garner, Dwight (2008-10-05). "Inside the List". The New York Times.
- Lodge 1971, p. 9.
- Latham 2011, p. 53.
- Alter 1984, p. 29–30.
- Haen 2002, p. 33.
- Gardner 2005, p. 9.
- Pritchard 1994, p. 165.
- Grausam 2011, p. 27.
- Grausam 2011, p. 28.
- Grausam 2011, p. 25.
- Barth 1995, p. 268.
- Clavier 2007, p. 169.
- Lodge 1971, p. 6.
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- Davis, Cynthia (1986). "Heroes, Earth Mothers and Muses: Gender Identity in Barth's Fiction". In Spector, Judith. Gender Studies: New Directions in Feminist Criticism. Popular Press. pp. 110–119. ISBN 978-0-87972-352-1. Retrieved 2012-05-19.
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- Slethaug, Gordon (1993). "'Neither One nor Quite Two': Barth's Lost in the Funhouse". The Play of the Double in Postmodern American Fiction. SIU Press. pp. 121–150. ISBN 978-0-8093-1841-4.
- Cooper, Peter L. (1983). Signs and Symptoms: Thomas Pynchon and the Contemporary World. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-04537-8. Retrieved 2012-05-19.
- Grausam, Daniel (2011). "Institutionalizing Postmodernism: John Barth and Modern War". On Endings: American Postmodern Fiction and the Cold War. University of Virginia Press. pp. 23–41. ISBN 978-0-8139-3161-6. Retrieved 2012-05-02.
- Haen, Theo D' (2002). Bertens, Johannes Willem; Natoli, Joseph P., eds. Postmodernism: The Key Figures. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 32–37. ISBN 978-0-631-21797-8. Retrieved 2012-05-02.
- Székely, Péter (2010). "The Well of New Tammany College: The Question of Authorship in John Barth's Giles Goat-Boy". In Judit, Borbély; Zsolt, Czigányik. A tűnődések valósága – The Reality of Ruminations. Dept of English Studies ELTE. pp. 300–309. ISBN 978-963-284-154-0. Retrieved 2012-05-19.
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- Fremont-Smith, Eliot (1966-08-03). "The Surfacing of Mr. Barth [Laughter]". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
- Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973. (First published in 1949.)
- James L. McDonald, "Barth's Syllabus: The Frame of Giles Goat-Boy. Critique 13.3 (1972): 5–10.
- Peter Mercer, The Rhetoric of "Giles Goat-Boy" NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 4.2 (Winter: 1971): 147–158 doi:10.2307/1345149
- David Morrell, John Barth: An Introduction. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976.
- Lord Raglan, The Hero: A Study in Tradition. London: Oxford University Press, 1937.
- Douglas Robinson, John Barth's Giles Goat-Boy: A Study. Jyväskylä (Finland): University of Jyväskylä Press, 1980.
- Robert E. Scholes, The Fabulators (final chapter). Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.
- Jac Tharpe, John Barth: The Comic Sublimity of Paradox. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1974.
- John Tilton, "Giles Goat-Boy: An Interpretation." Bucknell Review 18 (Spring 1970): 93–119.