The Literature of Exhaustion

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

The essay was highly influential [1] and 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". He also stated that the novel as a literary form was coming to an end.[3]

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" in order to clarify the earlier essay.[4] "The Literature of Exhaustion" was about the need for a new era in literature after modernism had exhausted itself.


Gore Vidal criticized "The Literature of Exhaustion" and Barth's novels for making an analysis of only the plots of novels and myths, while refusing to engage with the style of either, resulting in reductionist and disinterested understandings of novels' contents.[5] Vidal instead advocated increased stylistic innovation and appreciation as better venues for further progression of the novel as a form, pointing particularly to the work of Italo Calvino as a model.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1] in Contemporary Literature, 2000
  2. ^ "The Literature of Exhaustion". Archived from the original on 2012-05-21. Retrieved 2012-05-25. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ Jacques Jout and the Literature of Exhaustion on JSTOR
  4. ^ I. Some general ideas of postmodernism
  5. ^ Vidal, Gore (June 15, 1976). "American Plastic: The Matter of Fiction". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 29 November 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External links[edit]