Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 13:6 June 2013
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.
         S. M. Ravichandran, Ph.D.
         G. Baskaran, Ph.D.
         L. Ramamoorthy, Ph.D.
Assistant Managing Editor: Swarna Thirumalai, M.A.


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Merging Identities and Multiple Interpretations in John Barth’s “Night-Sea Journey”

Abdulmomin Alrubaiee, Ph.D.


The present article approaches John Barth’s “Night-Sea Journey”, a particular story from Lost in the Funhouse collection (1968), from different perspectives. Such postmodern themes as fluidity of identity, spatio-temporal ambiguity, and plurality of interpretations are detected in this analysis. As stated properly by Charles A. S. Ernst (2004), “Night-Sea Journey” in Barth’s corpus is “a functioning narrative within a single larger Barthian discourse” (2004: 1). While Ernst focuses mostly on the text as “an experimental reading strategy”, this paper unravels the writing, or better to say, the narrating strategies of Barth’s achievement.

The objectives of this scrutiny are to show the inexhaustibility and responsiveness of this postmodern text to different readings, present the constructedness of interpretations, pinpoint the interdiscursivity of the text, and emphasize the role of ideology in the text. This paper draws its arguments on the theories of different disciplines; for the definition of a text, it deploys the notions of Roland Barthes. The narratological aspects of the analysis depend on the views of Rimmon-Kenan , Luc Herman and Bart Vervaeck.

Key words: postmodernism, textuality, Barthes, narratology

Work to Text

In his essay, "From Work to Text," Barthes clearly pinpoints the differences between both work and text and shows his interests lie with the text. These differences are quite conducive to a more comprehensive appreciation of Barth’s “Night-Sea Journey”. The first difference is that "the work can be seen (in bookshops, in catalogues, in exam syllabuses), the text is a process of demonstration, speaks according to certain rules (or against certain rules); the work can be held in the hand, the text is held in language, only exists in the movement of a discourse. . . . The Text is experienced only in an activity of production" (1977: 286). The way that Barth involves the reader in the process of producing his story is a testimony of its textuality. The other difference is that the work closes on a signified, but the text practices the infinite deferment of the signified. Barthes attributes the infinity of the signifier to the idea of playing: "the generation of the perpetual signifier . . . in the filed of the text is realized . . . according to a serial movement of disconnections, overlappings, variations" (1977: 287-288). “Night-Sea Journey” provides a textual field for the reader to freely play with different interpretations. This view is in the line of Charles A. S. Ernst’s which takes Barthian discourse as “an ever increasing text-filed” (2004: 1). Barth creates this productive field play through his experimentations with the narratological aspects of the text.

This is only the beginning part of the article. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.

Dr. Abdulmomin Alrubaiee
Ibb University

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