A Funhouse of Reading: Ontological Foregrounding in John Barth’s “Lost in the Funhouse”

Masoud Madahiian


John Barth’s “Lost in the Funhouse” is a prime example of a postmodernist short fiction. The poetics of the work is mainly concerned with questions of ontology and frequently seeks to foreground this notion in different ways so much so that the reader gets lost in a funhouse of reading. Accordingly, the story has been divided into separate worlds, each trying to call into attention its own ontological existence and significance. Barth’s story self-consciously implements certain techniques at different levels of his work to foreground world formation and draw the reader’s attention towards the worlds of the text. His story foregrounds different planes, each of which stands independently as an ontological world: the world of language and text, the metafictional level, the projected world level, and the external world of the author. However, the resultant ontological ruptures, which are intentionally induced, cause various complications in the narrative. Ontologies are presented as unstable, and they intrude into one another. This brings about confusion, since the horizons of two or more worlds meet at a common point which brings about a critical state of affairs – ontological crisis. The above confusion, it is argued, makes an ontological funhouse in which the reader ‘gets lost.’ This leads to a sense of uncertainty regarding the ontologies, that is, they flicker between existence and nonexistence. The texture of “Lost in the Funhouse” is thus suffused with such ontological indeterminacy.


DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17576/GEMA-2015-1501-13


John Barth; “Lost in the Funhouse;” ontology; rupture; indeterminacy

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