MS A Thesis submitted to the faculty of San Francisco State University 7JD 13 In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree
Master of Arts
Amy Elizabeth Borges
San Francisco, California
December 2018 CERTIFICATION OF APPROVAL
I certify that I have read The Anti-Hero in Postmodern Literature by Amy Elizabeth
Borges, and that in my opinion this work meets the criteria for approving a thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree Master of Arts in
Literature at San Francisco State University.
Geoffrey Green, Ph.D. Professor
Kathleen De Guzman, Ph.D. Assistant Professor CERTIFICATION OF APPROVAL
I certify that I have read The Anti-Hero in Postmodern Literature by Amy Elizabeth
Borges, and that in my opinion this work meets the criteria for approving a thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree Master of Arts in
Literature at San Francisco State University.
Geoffrey Green, Ph.D. Professor
Kathleen De Guzman, Ph.D. Assistant Professor THE ANTI-HERO IN POSTMODERN LITERATURE
Amy Elizabeth Borges San Francisco, California 2018
I trace the anti-heroic quest in two postmodern texts: Richard Farina’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me and John Barth s Giles-Goat Boy. I psychoanalyze the protagonists and trace their heroic quests in order to demonstrate that their paranoia, anxiety and disillusionment are a reflection of their historical climate. The novels are from the postmodern era, both having been published in 1966. Historically, this was post World War II and in the midst of both the Cold War and the Vietnam War in addition to a multitude of global atrocities taking place. The anti-heroes represented by the two authors internalized the paranoia, anxiety, and disillusionment present in contemporary society and manifested it in their psychological issues and distorted heroes quests that end in utter destruction rather than enlightenment. An anti-hero appears to (not) save the day.
I certify that the abstract is a correct representation of the content of this Thesis.
Prof. Geoffrey Green, Chair, Thesis Committee Date ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I want to thank my husband for supporting me through (what felt like) my own anti heroic quest to achieving my goal of earning my Masters of Arts in Literature.
iv TABLE OF CONTENTS
Historical Climate...... 1
Psychoanalytic Basis...... 3
Anti-Hero’s Quest...... 6
Narrative Background...... 10
Chapter 1: Goat Boy or Grand Tutor...... 15
Chapter 2: Pap’s Odyssey...... 37
Introduction: The Anti-Hero in Postmodern Literature
Richard Farina’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me and John Barth’s
Giles-Goat Boy demonstrate the resurgence of the anti-heroic quest as a psychological and literary motif in contemporary postmodern fiction. They serve as a tool applied to refract the contemporary issues of the 1960s. Both—significantly—were written by
American authors and published in 1966; in the middle of a decade known as the
“sixties” or the “cultural decade,” due to the era signifying a culturally and politically complex time in history. Farina’s and Barth’s writing internalizes the anxiety, paranoia, and highly disillusioned climate of their respective environments. The two protagonists,
Gnossos and George, and their odysseys internalize the paranoia, anxiety, and disillusionment present in contemporary society and manifest in their psychological issues and distorted heroic quests that end in destruction rather than enlightenment. This can be seen through close-reading and tracing the stages of their respective quests and psychoanalyzing the characters along the way. Carl Jung’s archetypal psychology, along with Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces are imperative to this close- read and hero’s quest trace. Sigmund Freud’s writing is also imperative in order to psychoanalyze the characters in both novels. A Campbellian hero could not possibly exist in this time period, thus the anti-hero appears to (not) save the day.
The United States was in a state of turmoil during the 1960s. War, social upheaval, civil rights, and a multitude of global atrocities permeated the countiy. The 2
United States was existing in the aftermath of World War II, the most globally fatal war
in their history, and in the midst of both the Cold War and the Vietnam War. The Cold
War was with the Soviet Union and caused those involved to live suspended in fear,
believing a nuclear missile could extinguish them at any moment. The Vietnam War was
so violent that an entire generation of young men was returning with severe physical and
mental trauma—if they returned at all. In addition to the combative violence, social
upheaval in the 1960s was disruptive as well. The decade is notorious for the revolution
in the way people thought about music, drugs, clothing, sexuality, education, everything.
Many topics that had previously been considered taboo were no longer off limits to the younger generations. They did drugs, had sex, protested politics, and rebelled against the
very nature of society. The newfound freedoms—though postulating as pure revolution—
were a manifestation of the internalized futility felt by a generation who had grown up
surrounded by war and destruction. Not understanding this attitude of frivolity, the older
generations were dismayed by the alleged “moral and social decay” presented by their
children. This alleged “decay” enabled the civil rights movement to thrive. African-
Americans fought valiantly for national desegregation and equal rights. Their peaceful
protests were met with hostility and opposition, adding further to the already
deteriorating situation in the United States. News headlines about marches, sit-ins, civil
rights advocates, and the violence with which they were met were prevalent. Situations
outside of the United States were just as chaotic. Many of the previously colonized areas 3
of the world were in a period of decolonization that was problematic to say the least.
There were wars, genocides, and a multitude of atrocities taking place globally. All of this turmoil is conspicuous and percolating throughout both novels. 1
In his various writings, Sigmund Freud provides valuable psychological background from which to diagnose (interpret) the symptomatic behaviors of Barth and
Farina’s anti-heroes. His psychological discussion of anxiety and paranoia were most useful. In order to understand both, however, one must start with the basics of Freud’s explanation of the mind with the id, ego, and superego. Freud defines the id, writing that
“[it] contains everything that is inherited, that is present at birth, that is laid down in the constitution—above all, therefore, the instincts, which originate from the somatic organization and which find a first psychical expression here [in the id] in forms unknown to us” (An Outline o f Psychoanalysis 14). Essentially, the id resides in our unconscious and contains our most instinctual and innate drives. These are further broken down into two main drives known as Eros and the Destructive Drive, or Death Drive:
“The aim of the first of these basic instincts [Eros] is to establish even greater unities and to preserve them thus—in short to bind together; the aim of the second [Death Drive] is,
1 Historical background found in Kenneth Walsh’s “A Decade of Change for Women” and History.com 4
on the contrary, to undo connections and so to destroy things” (An Outline of
Psychoanalysis 18). These two innate drives are only stopped by the ego, which:
Acts as an intermediary between the id and the external world... It has the task of self-preservation... [The Ego] gains control over the demands of the instincts, by deciding whether they are to be allowed satisfaction, by postponing that satisfaction to times and circumstances favorable to the external world or by repressing their excitations entirely. (An Outline of Psychoanalysis 14-15)
Finally, the superego is formed when an individual is growing up through the examples of their guardians. The job of the superego is to “[satisfy] simultaneously the demands of the id, of the super-ego and of reality—that is to say, if it is able to reconcile their demands with one another” (An Outline o f Psychoanalysis 15). The id, ego, and superego are found in different parts of the mind that Freud split up into the conscious, preconscious, and subconscious. Our conscious is our present state, thoughts, and feelings. Our preconscious consists of stored information that can be readily recalled by the conscious, such as names, dates, etc. Our subconscious is retained information that is difficult to recall such as repressed memories. The id is fully in the subconscious while the other two are able to exist simultaneously in all three. Freud’s psychology of the
conscious and unconscious applies significantly to my novels due to the fact that both protagonists have severe psychological problems.
With that psychological basis for the conscious and unconscious mind in mind,
one can move on to focusing on two of the symptoms of imbalanced psyches: anxiety and paranoia. In his book Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Freud defines anxiety as “one of 5
the ego’s reactions in repudiation of repressed wishes that have become powerful” (38).
This definition is further explained in An Outline o f Psycho-Analysis when Freud explains where the repressed wishes are coming from: “Within the id the organic instincts
operate, which themselves are compounded of fusions of two primal forces (Eros and
destructiveness)” (84). Anxiety is a reflection of the inability to comprehend and accept
one’s deep desires. This form of anxiety is present in both Gnossos and George. They are
a reflection—albeit a hyperbolic one— of the anxiety saturating the 1960s. In addition to
anxiety, paranoia is also very prevalent in both novels and is an exaggerated reflection of the paranoia present in the 1960s.
The definition of paranoia can be found by looking at the Schreber Case from
Freud’s Three Case Histories. In it, Freud is psychoanalyzing Daniel Paul Schreber, a
man whose mental illness was later diagnosed as being paranoid schizophrenia. Freud
believed Schreber’s mental illness to be a manifestation of his repressed homosexual
desires for his father and brother. These manifestations resulted in a split in his
personality. Freud explains, “He had... disintegrated into three personalities: into one
unconscious personality, that is to say, and into two preconscious ones between which his
consciousness could oscillate” (81). This explained Schreber’s erratic behavior of
switching from being “kind, cheerful, and sensible” to superstitious and practicing
asceticism (81). Freud also defines paranoia in his book An Outline o f Psycho-Analysis 6
Two psychical attitudes have been formed instead of a single one—one, the normal one, which takes account of reality, and another which under the influence of the instincts detaches the ego from reality. The two exist alongside each other. The issue depends on their relative strength. If the second is or becomes stronger, the necessary precondition for a psychosis is present” (90)
This means that a person who demonstrates paranoia has always had the potential to do so. Depending on whetner it is their normal psychical attitude or their abnormal one that is stronger, they will either be in touch with reality or become delusional. Looking at the novels, George and Gnossos are both out of touch with reality, meaning their abnormal psychical attitudes have more pull in their psyches. Applying this to the bigger picture of the United States, with all the problems going on nationally, society’s abnormal psychical attitudes had strengthened and as a whole people were also losing touch with reality. This led to mass paranoia and people thinking the worst of everything and everybody. One single example of this would be the Red Scare, which was a period of mass paranoia caused by anti-communist hysteria. This fear led to a witch hunt to find the communists and subsequently finger pointing and accusing people who were more often innocent that guilty.
Farina and Barth implement the use of the hero’s quest structure to tell their narratives. Therefore, the hero and hero’s quest as archetypes are imperative to both. The roots of their origins are found first in psychology and subsequently in the research presented by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. To start 7
with the psychological basis, Carl Jung defined archetypes as being a collectively inherited unconscious idea universally present in individual psyches. He arrived at this conclusion by building on top of Sigmund Freud’s theories of the unconscious. Jung’s belief was that mankind must have a common root from where both behavior and thought processes evolved due to their similarities:
It must be pointed out that just as the human body shows a common anatomy over and above all racial differences, so, too, the psyche possesses a common substratum transcending all differences in culture and consciousness. I have called this substratum the collective unconscious. This unconscious psyche, common to all mankind, does not consist merely of contents capable of becoming conscious, but of latent dispositions towards certain identical reactions. Thus the fact of the collective unconscious is simply the psychic expression of the identity of brain- structure irrespective of all racial differences. This explains the analogy, sometimes even identity, between various myth-motifs, and symbols, and the possibility of human beings making themselves mutually understood. (Jung 84)
Jung’s theory of a collective unconscious asserted that there are structures in the unconscious mind that are shared across humanity. This connection is the cause of the uncanny similarities in myths and legends found across cultures and time periods. It explains how different cultures from opposite ends of the world can have nearly identical creation myths and origin myths. All human beings share in a collective unconscious that contains our instincts and archetypes. Joseph Campbell used Jung’s theories to construct his concept of the archetypal hero and hero’s quest which he labeled the monomyth: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder:
fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back
from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man” 8
(Campbell 23). Campbell’s hero is typically a character that has either had something taken from them or lacks something. They go out in search of that which is missing and achieve it, along with self-discovery or enlightenment of some variety. The hero archetype and subsequent quest can be found throughout history and across a multitude of mediums: religion, literature, popular culture, films, art, etc. Farina and Barth took this tradition that transcends history and inverted it. Writing within the climate they were both living in, a hero could not possibly exist. Thus, the anti-hero came forth in both of their novels.
A well-known prototype of the hero’s quest is Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, which embodies Campbell’s archetypal hero and monomyth hero’s quest. The protagonist and hero, Odysseus, must overcome trials and tribulations on his journey home to be reunited with his wife and son. Odysseus is a war hero whose bravery and honorable goals shape him to fit the hero mold seamlessly. Significantly, both Farina and
Barth have striking allusions to The Odyssey in their respective novels. Both archetypal hero and anti-hero follow a similarly staged quest, however, their goals and outcomes are dissimilar. As shown by Odysseus, Joseph Campbell’s archetypal hero ventures out in
search of knowledge and glory, returning home victorious, master of two worlds, wiser and uplifting to those he encounters. The inversion of this—the anti-hero— goes out in
search of personal gain and winds up stripped of his identity, no help to himself, or others. Both heroic and anti-heroic quests can be broken up into three phases: departure, 9
initiation, and return. Within these phases they also go through the same stages—call to adventure, entrance into the unknown world, the abyss, atonement, and return—however, their processes and results are different. The archetypal characters are also the same: hero becomes anti-hero, herald, mentor, threshold guardians, trickster, shapeshifter, and shadow. The characters are malleable and can be played by more than one character or by none at all. The herald typically starts the anti-hero on their journey and the mentor and threshold guardians help them along the way. The trickster and shadow lead the anti-hero astray, while the shapeshifter often switches roles during the narrative. These different roles help move the narrative along and appear throughout the different phases and stages in the anti-hero’s quest.
An anti-hero is not the inverse of a hero, but rather, “A central character who lacks conventional heroic attributes. Some even display qualities that are almost more in line with villains. Traits like conceitedness, immorality, rebellion, and dishonesty signal that the author does not intend the audience to admire the protagonist” (Ray). In both novels the deeds the anti-heroes complete are not heroic and productive, but rather destructive. Similarly their “return” stage is not one of success and revelation, but rather one of loss and confusion. This reversal of the hero’s quest in postmodern literature is used as a psychological and literary motif in both Farina’s and Barth’s work. In support of the anti-hero’s journey evident in both novels, there are heavy allusions to Homer’s
The Odyssey. By comparing both protagonists to Odysseus, and their anti-heroic quests to 10
his odyssey, one can better trace the hero’s journey—or the anti-hero’s journey— throughout the two texts.
They use fragmentation, unreliable narrators, and paradoxes just to name a few of these techniques. In his essay, “Pursuit of the Real, and Escape From Reality,” David Cooke explains the use of the postmodern writing style in Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me in a way that also applies to Giles Goat-Boy: “Like Nabokov and Pynchon, Farina gathers the trappings of contemporary American life in all its tawdry plastic commercialism, forging from the materials of pop culture a common language between himself and his contemporary audience to tell a tale of high seriousness through low humor” (Cooke). By implementing the absurd, tragic, and comedic writing style that is postmodernism, Farina and Barth are able to refract what they see going on around them in reality in a way that brings attention to these contemporary issues through literature.
Both novels bring up colossal topics such as social revolution, war, gender roles, etc.
They aren’t necessarily offering solutions, however, they are showing their reader— through hyperbole—the absurdity of the world around them.
The settings of the two novels are significantly similar. Both novels are set on a
college campus in time periods that resemble the late 1950s early 1960’s. In Been Down 11
So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, the protagonist, Gnossos Pappadopoulis, is returning home to Mentor University from a recent quest from which he has seen unmentionable horrors that have left him changed. At the University, he wreaks havoc and is absorbed
into the counterculture; taking drugs, having sex, and rebelling against any and all
established norms. In Giles Goat Boy, the protagonist, George, is on the campus of New
Tammany College, which represents the United States of America. The rival campus is known as Nikolay College and it represents the Soviet Union. Many readers interpret the novel as an allegory for the Cold War. The 1960s were notorious for the social unrest
amongst college students (educated people) when it came to the war and politics. The
similar settings (location and time period) further add to my argument that the two novels
shed light—through hyperbole—on the internalized paranoia, anxiety, and
disillusionment felt generally in society during the 1960s.
In addition to their similar settings, the main characters in the two novels—
Gnossos and George— share many similarities. They both follow the stages of the anti
heroic quest that ends with a loss of their identities rather than any form of enlightenment
or quest fulfillment. By looking at how their respective narratives are structured, the main
differences between them can be summed up. Barth’s Giles Goat-Boy is a quintessential
bildungsroman and begins with George in childhood and follows him through adulthood.
George sets off, believing himself a prophet begot to save studentdom. He begins—
naively positive—preaching and advising on the basis that there is a clear distinction 12
between good and evil and, therefore, passage and failure. He starts off preaching this to his followers and soon realizes he is wrong. He reverses his preaching to say the opposite, that good is evil and evil is good, basing this reversal on the idea that passage is failure, and again finds he is wrong. He is left not knowing what to tell people because everything he has tried so far has made things far worse off. By the end of the novel,
George has gone through so much trauma and psychological damage that he is left disillusioned and merely existing. Everyone thinks of him as having been a false prophet, with the exception of two of his original helpers: Stacey and Peter Green. The novel ends with George discussing his plans for suicide. It is at this point that Farina’s novel Been
Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me starts off: mid-narrative with Gnossos already past the discovery that life is not able to be dichotomized into categories as clear as good and evil, passage and failure. Gnossos is back from a horrific quest on which he sustained severe trauma and psychological damage. He is already disillusioned and has come to the existential conclusions that took George nearly 700 pages to reach.
The difference in the starting point for the two protagonists in the novel is reflected in the writing style. Barth’s novel is 700 pages and reads like an encyclopedic account of George’s life, until the very end with the post-tape. The story line is very detailed and easy to follow along with and visualize. Farina’s novel—on the other hand— is disjointed and, at-times, incredibly difficult to follow. The dialogue is simply written out and not attributed to any one character, which forces the reader to infer who is 13
speaking. The confusion evoked while reading the novel is intentional and emulates the feelings of confusion Gnossos is experiencing. Even the way in which the novel breaks in the middle when Gnossos goes to Cuba makes the book feel like two completely separate novels that were put together. As mentioned above, the writing style of Giles Goat-Boy begins to be structured more similarly to this in the post-tape, once George is in the same aftermath situation that Gnossos is existing in. The post-tape is much more personal and fractured. The fact that both end in destruction is significant of the fact that they are anti heroic quests and therefore must end in destruction.
Due to the different timelines and beginning points of the two novels, they have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to tracing their hero’s quests and psychoanalyzing their protagonists. Since Giles Goat-Boy is a 700-page bildungsroman novel, it much easier to trace the hero’s quest throughout it stage by stage. However, because it is not until the very end that George is psychologically broken, the psychoanalysis of him as a character is most significant only for a few pages in length.
On the other hand, because Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me starts mid- narrative and is written in a much more disjointed and chaotic way, the psychoanalysis of
Gnossos is imperative and prevalent throughout the entire novel. The hero’s quest phases are much more difficult to pinpoint and therefore it is best to use a quintessential hero’s
quest storyline— The Odyssey—as a point of comparison to trace the quest more 14
accurately. This is also why Farina chose to so closely model his novel on the narrative of
Odysseus, with a great number of allusions to The Odyssey throughout.
A Campbellian hero could not possibly exist in this time period, thus the anti-hero appears to (not) save the day. Richard Farina’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to
Me and John Barth's Giles-Goat Boy internalize the paranoia, anxiety, and disillusionment present in their contemporary society. The authors use hyperbole to shed light on the contemporary issues they saw around them. Their two protagonists—George and Gnossos—manifest this in their psychological issues and distorted heroic quests that end in destruction rather than enlightenment. This can be seen by close reading and tracing the stages of their quests and psychoanalyzing the characters along the way, using
Carl Jung’s archetypal psychology, along with Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a
Thousand Faces, in addition to using Sigmund Freud to psychoanalyze the characters in both novels. The resurgence of the anti-heroic quest is a psychological and literary motif in contemporary postmodern fiction used as a tool applied to refract the contemporary issues of the 1960s. 15
Chapter 1: Goat-boy or Grand-Tutor
John Barth’s postmodern novel, Giles Goat-Boy, refracts and hyperbolizes the contemporary issues of the 1960s in order to bring attention to them. He achieves this through his implementation of the anti-hero’s quest motif to create a protagonist, who— in failing to complete his quest— manifests the futility of his environment. The anti-hero advances through all the stages of a Campbellian hero, only his outcome is tragic, rather than fortuitous. Barth chooses to use an anti-hero because a hero could not possibly exist in the historical c.'mate that was the 1960s. His novel internalizes the contemporary feelings of anxiety, paranoia, and disillusionment and manifests them in a narrative symptomatic of confusion and chaos. The basic plot follows the protagonist, George
Giles, on his quest to save studentdom from impending destruction. George is a boy with mysterious parentage who ends up abandoned as an infant on a goat-farm after being found in the belly of WESCAC—a giant computer-run machine on New Tammany’s campus—by a janitor. George is raised partly by the goat-tender, Max, and partly by the goats themselves. When he reaches his late teenage years, George’s mother (whose identity is initially unknown) visits him at the goat farm and teaches him to be human.
Acting as the Herald in George’s inverted monomyth, it is through her lessons that
George comes to the conclusion that he is a Grand-Tutor and as such must save the two campuses from Campus Riot III. He believes this is possible through graduating from
New Tammany College and destroying the WESCAC machine. With his goal in mind 16
and no idea how to achieve it, George sets out on his anti-heroic odyssey. Bartn constructs a fictitious universe in which colleges represent countries, prophets are tutors, newspaper reporters are journalism majors, and wars are riots. With this novel, he demonstrates the power of literature to reveal insights about our culture and ourselves.
The historical setting of the novel is imperative to its message: “It was a decade of extremes, of transformational change and bizarre contrasts: flower children and assassins, idealism and alienation, rebellion and backlash. For many in the massive post-World War
II baby boom generation, it was both the best of times and the worst of times” (Walsh).
Published in 1966, Giles Goat-Boy was in the aftermath of World War II, one of the most infamously fatal wars of all times, and in the midst of both the Vietnam War and the Cold
War. The Vietnam War was also notorious for its extreme violence due to guerilla warfare. The Cold War was another type of beast, as there was no actual fighting, however, the fear of being decimated by nuclear bombs at any moment had the entire country in a suspended state characterized by intense fear and paranoia. One way of reading Giles Goat-Boy is as an allegory for the Cold War with the setup of East campus versus West campus: West campus representing the United States and East campus representing the Soviet Union. West campus is the primary setting of the novel, called
New Tammany College, and East campus, called Nikolay College, is its nemesis and rival. The tension between the two campuses is the premise for why George believes he is a Grand-Tutor born to save the University. Continuing with the Cold War allegory, New 17
Tammany College is existing in the aftermath of the “Campus Riots II” (WWII) and fearing the “Campus Riots III” (WWIII) are imminent. Both campuses similarly have a machine that has the ability to cause mass destruction (nuclear weapons). New Tammany
College has WESCAC and Nikolay College has EASCAC. The two are computer- powered machines that have the ability to “EAT” either individuals or groups of people that they are “AIMed” at. In the Cold War allegory these machines symbolize the nuclear weapons and the mass fear of being bombed held by the people residing in the United
States. It is an aliusion to the concept of M.A.D. —or Mutually Assured Destruction— that kept either side from bombing the other. The idea was that if one country released their bombs, the other would retaliate and both would be left utterly decimated. As mentioned in the introduction, Barth’s novel was—in part— a critique of the time period it was set in. The focus on war was his way of showing his negative feelings towards the wars that the United States was involving itself in.
Furthering the allegorical anti-war message of the novel, the mentor-archetype,
Max, discusses the atrocities of humanity to George by explaining the destructive power of the WESCAC and EASCAC machines. Similar to the effects of nuclear weapons, Max explains how the people who did survive being EATen were permanently damaged, as well as the generations after them: “How many generations it will go on, nobody knows... That’s what it means to be EATen, Billy! The goats, now: they’ll eat almost anything you feed them; but only us humans is smart enough to EAT one another!” 18
(Barth 54). This damage that permeated generations was something that readers would
understand due to the effects of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War
II, as well as the effects of using Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. The poison left in people’s bodies by radiation and chemicals did not die with them, but rather was passed
on to their children, and sometimes even their children’s children. Generations existed as
living examples of the horrors of war. With this analogy, Max demonstrates the human
ability of committing evil. These feelings are internalized by Barth’s novel and permeate
throughout both the story line and the various characters. George believes he has been—
ironically—created by WESCAC to save the University from their present state of
suspended fear and paranoia. WESCAC created George, so he would essentially be
destroying his father. This is affirmed by the multiple allusions to the Oedipus Rex play
where Oedipus kills his own father. The allusions go so far as to have an entire section of
the book dedicated to an Oedipus-inspired play. George’s quest is ultimately to help
students “pass,” which essentially means to live their lives correctly. If all human beings
did this, there would be no war, and thus none of the repercussions and psychological
effects that come with it—thus confirming Barth’s anti-war message.
Historically, and in the novel, society is left feeling disillusioned after the
violence of the two World Wars (or Campus Riots). An existential outlook on life
accompanied these feelings. This outlook was due to the absurdity of what was taking
place. By definition, “Existentialism is an outlook which begins with the disoriented 19
individual facing a confused world that he cannot accept. It places its focus on humankind’s contingency in a world where there are no transcendental values or moral absolutes, a world devoid of any meaning but that one man himself creates” (Silver 81).
People were paralyzed in the fear of being bombed by the Soviet Union, which led to them feeling that they had no control over their lives. In addition to this fear, the 1960s was the time of the “Red Scare,” which was hysteria and paranoia over the perceived threat of communism in the United States (History.com). Mass paranoia was caused by the belief that communism and communists were hiding everywhere and seeking to take control. People were alienated from one another and many were falsely accused of being communists and as a result lost their jobs, homes, etc. Freud described this type of paranoia as a psychical split: “Two psychical attitudes have been formed instead of a single one—one, the normal one, which takes account of reality, and another which under the influence of the instincts detaches the ego from reality” (An Outline of
Psychoanalysis 90). People had lost touch with reality and were not only fearing that they would be accused, but inadvertently scapegoating other people so as to make themselves appear more innocent. Inevitably, this lack of control and deep-seated paranoia ultimately led people to feeling like their lives were not in their control and as such had little to no purpose. In the novel, Max alludes to this existentialism when talking about the fear of being “EATen” by the computers. He says, “The result was confusion, anxiety, frustration, despair, and a fitful search for something to fill the moral vacuum in their 20
quads” (Barth 55). The characters in Barth’s novel are symptomatic of the suspended fear that people were existing in historically, however, they are much more exaggerated and hyperbolic as a means to bring attention to the historically contemporary issues. Through hyperbole and refraction, Barth—as with his anti-war message— again, is shedding light and demonstrating his dislike of the suspended fear caused by the Cold War.
With this problematic historical background the reader is given an unlikely hero:
George, the goat-boy. George is an anti-hero who follows the basic plot of the hero’s quest as outlined in Joseph Campbell’s A Hero with a Thousand Faces, however, in an inverted fashion. As mentioned in the introduction, Barth implements the hero’s quest as a motif to demonstrate the futility of the 1960s through George’s failure to achieve his quest. Campbell explained that the quest could be broken up into three distinct phases: departure, initiation, and return. The departure phase includes the call to adventure, meeting the mentor, and leaving the known world for the unknown one (Campbell 41).
The initiation phase contains various trials the hero (or anti-hero) must overcome
(Campbell 81). Finally, the return phase for the hero would mean returning home enlightened; however, for the anti-hero it signifies destruction and a total loss of identity
(Campbell 188). George’s quest is unorthodox and inverted, making him the quintessential anti-hero: confused, conflicted, and deeply flawed. His origin—part of the departure phase—is appropriately parallel to the ancient Greek mythology about heroes such as Hercules that start out with unknown or mistaken parentage: “George is my 21
name... Who misbegot me, and on whom, who knew, or in what corner of the University
I drew first breath? It was my fate to call no man Daddy, no woman Mom” (Barth 5). It is due to this unknown parentage that George believes himself to be a Grand-Tutor and hero
and that with no training or background in hero-hood, he can simply save the University
from the present state that it is in and help its students “pass.” George insists that he is
able to accomplish this due to the reasoning that since he is the Grand-Tutor, everything he says will be correct and divinely inspired: “A deed became Grand-Tutorial from its
having been done by the Grand-Tutor and in no other way... I would choose infallibly the Grand-Tutorial thing” (Barth 207). He comes to this naive conclusion by comparing himself to the previous and most famous Grand-Tutor, Enos Enoch (allegorical for Jesus
Christ), who was able to be divinely inspired in the same way. This comparison sets
George up as a Christ-like figure, at least in his own eyes. This is further evidence that
George serves as a hero-figure, as Jesus is a quintessential example of Joseph Campbell’s hero's quest. Barth is using the inverted hero’s quest as a way to bring attention to all that
was wrong with the world in the 1960s. He did not implement Campbell’s original hero’s
quest because a hero could not possibly exist in the destruction that was the sixties.
In addition to his inverted use of the hero’s quest to shed light on the problematic
time period he was living in, Barth also implemented the bildungsroman trope in an
atypical way. Heide Ziegler discusses this topic in her book John Barth, where she
combines the two terms of “bildungsroman” and “tragedy” in writing about Giles Goat- 22
Boy. In discussing George as a tragic hero and bildungsroman figure, Ziegler writes,
“[He] is a legendary figure who ascends from the animal to the human, and thence to the heroic, and his life is a Bildung. He is a modern-day Jesus Christ as well as an Oedipus”
(40). Ziegler defines the Bildung as “Dependent on individual advancement through conscious choice... A person’s acquiring the faculty to be an integrated member of human society” (40, 47) and Bildungsroman as “The novel of the learning hero, acquiring education needed to become a useful member of society” (49). She explains that with
Giles Goat-Boy, Barth, “Exhausts and ultimately transcends every possibility of the
Bildungsroman, since—through the debunking of authorship— it undermines the idea of authentic character” (47). After this exhaustion, all that is left is George, a destroyed anti- hero who achieves the opposite of what the Bildung is supposed to achieve. He does not advance in society; rather, his life results in tragedy and loss. His suffering and failure to fulfil his role of Bildung further Barth’s demonstration of the failure of contemporary existence. George cannot possibly thrive in the environment, which he is existing in, and thus becomes a failed Bildung and a tragic anti-hero.
As a tragic anti-hero, George goes through the different stages of Campbell’s hero monomyth. Due to his being an anti-hero, the outcome of the different stages of his quest
is divergent from a typical hero. George’s Campellian call to adventure is when he hears
a horn being blown and he follows its noise proclaiming, “I’m going to be a hero” (Barth
88). It ends up that the goat-tender, Max, is the one who blew the horn that George hears 23
and follows. Max, filling the Campbellian role of mentor tries to assist George and defines the archetype of “hero” to him by claiming there are two types:
One consisted of people who in pursuit of their normal business find themselves thrust into a situation calling for the risk of their welfare to insure that of others, and respond courageously... The other class consisted of those men and women the fruit of whose endeavors is some hard-won victory over the sufferings of studentdom in general... These latter, in Max’s view, were not more or less admirable than the former sort. (Barth 89)
He defines the term to George to explain to him that calling oneself a hero—at least before the fact—was not how one achieved herodom. He goes on to explain that the problem must come first and the heroism is merely a side effect. George reveals his immaturity by responding, “ But there always are plenty of dragons, aren’t there, Max? If a man knows he’s a hero can’t he always find himself a dragon?’ Max agreed that he could indeed, and ruthlessly would—even if the dragon were minding its own business”
(Barth 90). This conversation demonstrates Max as George’s mentor. He attempts to tell to George that he cannot simply call himself a hero or even go out in search of “dragons.”
He explains that people don’t choose to be heroes but rather become them through their actions. Unfortunately, George is young and new to the heroism and really being human in general and thus does not understand. He presumes he is a hero based on superficial aspects about himself: “I had, he confirmed, met nearly all the prerequisites of herohood: the mystery of parentage... the irregularity of my birth... the circumstances of my rescue, and my being raised by a foster parent in a foster-home, disguised as an animal and bearing a name not my own” (Barth 108-109). He disregards what Max tries to tell him 24
about being a hero which can be summed up in his final statement, “Not every dumbhead with a scar is a bonafide hero” (Barth 109). George must discover the truth on his own terms and through many failures and hardships.
The psychoanalytic aspects of Barth's novel are important because they are representing the bigger picture of contemporary 1960s society. The psychological problems George has are hyperbolized examples of tne same symptoms that Barth was using his novel to bring attention to in society. An example of this is George’s childlike belief that he can save the world, which can be explained by Freud as being symptomatic of childhood trauma. George survived being placed in the belly of WESCAC by his mother as a baby. He also was raised with goats. These two things individually would be enough to cause major psychological damage to a child, and George experienced both.
Additionally, his first sexual experiences are with goats and the janitor who saved him from the belly of WESCAC, nothing about George’s life is a typical upbringing. He is left disconnected from reality in a way that Freud defined as neurosis, or the formation of behavioral or psychosomatic symptoms as a result of the return of the repressed (Freud).
George’s neurosis is due to his inability to deal with the trauma of his childhood, which causes him to repress his past and have subsequent symptoms. These symptoms are present in his belief that he is the chosen one, an infallible Grand-Tutor who will save
studentdom and the University. As quoted previously, George believes that whatever he
says and does is divinely inspired and that he cannot choose wrong due to his divinity. 25
These beliefs are completely delusional and demonstrate his semi-disconnect from reality and neurosis. George is neurotic, rather than psychotic because he does maintain a hold on reality in the fact that he is not hallucinating and can still function—although not well— in the world around him. George’s neurosis is a manifestation and exaggeration of the psychological issues of the 1960s.
The second phase of George’s anti-heroic quest is the initiation phase. In this phase the hero (or anti-hero) faces trials and tribulations. In addition to these, the hero meets additional helpers who assist him on his journey. The first helpers that George stumbles across are Croaker and Stacey Stoker. Stacey initially takes the form of a siren, similar to those in Homer’s The Odyssey, in the fact that she is standing on the shore of a river and using her sexuality—baring her naked body—to lure men into the water. Max makes a direct comparison to the sirens saying, “Speaking bitterly of those fair dread singers Laertides met, who, had he not stopped his colleagues’ ears and lashed himself to the mast, had lured his research vessel onto the rocks... her temptation was quite as dangerous as the Sirens’” (Barth 117). Although later it turns out Stacey is actually trying to save students by luring Croaker to her, she inadvertently ends up luring G. Herrold, the janitor who found George in WESCAC and was one of his initial helpers, to his death as he wades out into the water and cannot swim. Both Stacey and Croaker are very complex
characters who appear to allegorically represent larger groups: Stacey representing
society’s sexist views of women and Croaker representing the stereotypical view racist 26
society projected on black men. These characters are put in by Barth as hyperbole on the sexism and racism that was percolating during the 1960s. He uses them to shed light on these contemporary issues by demonstrating how ridiculous the stereotypes people held were. The two characters could not possibly exist in reality.
Stacey is represented in extremes, either overtly sexua"zed or nun-like. She is described most often by her appearance, focusing on her hair and lips. She is sexually promiscuous with anyone who makes advances, even those with whom she does not want to have sex. The 1960s was a decade of change regarding the role of women. The fifties had been an era of the all-American housewife whose primary focus was being a good wife, mother, and homemaker. In 1963 Betty Friedan captured this transition in her book
The Feminine Mystique, when she claimed, “The problem that has no name burst like a boil through the image of the happy American housewife” (17). An increasing amount of women were entering the workforce in the 1960s, which brought attention to the unequal pay and sexual harassment in the workplace. In addition to working, by the end of the decade more than eighty percent of wives at childbearing age were using contraception, which allowed them freedom from unwanted pregnancies and gave them more autonomy in their personal lives (Walsh). Both of these drastic changes had to be fought for by women, as they were not traditional or seen as being “feminine.” Friedan touches on this in her book as well, writing that girls were taught that “truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights— the independence and the opportunities 27
that old-fashioned feminists fought for... All they had to do was devote their lives from earliest girlhood to finding a husband and bearing children” (15). Stacey embodies these changes. She is working as a nurse and married; however, sexually free to be with other men without getting pregnant. With Stacey, Barth demonstrates both the unequal restrictions placed on women in the 1960s and the ridiculous stereotype being attributed to the “new woman.”
Croaker is a complex character and embodies the negative stereotypes of black men at the time the book was published. His behavior is very animalistic and aggressive, the stereotype of a savage. When first introduced in the book Croaker is described by
A more or less uneducated student from one of the newly established colleges in dark Frumentius, visiting New Tammany under an official exchange program: as such he was immune to arrest, however contrary to West Campus law the customs of his native college or his personal behavior; the most his embarrassed hosts could do (not wanting diplomatic reasons to offend the Frumentians by asking for his recall) was try to channel and appease his appetites... [if one] mounted on his shoulders Croaker was almost entirely governable. (Barth 121)
When she says this, she has just “recaptured” Croaker through allowing him to rape her.
Before, he had been running around the campus assaulting co-eds and policemen and eating raw animals. Croaker makes impulsive decisions based on his innate needs and desires: food, sex, violence, etc. According to Freud’s psychology, Croaker was acting primarily from his unconscious, his id making all of his decisions. This suggests damage to his ego and superego that would have happened during developmental stages. This 28
damage can be interpreted as being caused by years of racism and prejudice. Croaker needs a white man—Dr. Eirkopf—to control him by sitting on his back and directing him, therefore, Croaker becomes the mere black body to this withered and deteriorating white man’s mind. He is an exaggerated stereotype and demonstrates the damaging effects of society’s racist views of black men. These views were left over from the time of slavery and the Jim Crow era where black people were believed to be another species from whites. Barth exemplifies this negative view with the ridiculous character of
Croaker who could not possibly exist in real life. This communicates the absurdity of the stereotype to readers. This type of absurd writing was a common trope in postmodern writing. With Croaker, Barth is showing the ridiculous nature of racism during the time period he was writing in.
After meeting Croaker and Stacey, George is overtaken by Maurice Stoker and his motorcycle gang. He goes to their lair, which mirrors the underworld in The Odyssey,
River Styx and all. Throughout the novel there are many of these moments that parallel
Homer’s The Odyssey. Another comes right after this meeting with Stoker: George attends a frat party and drunkenly loses sight of his goals and has sex with Stacey. The description of his confusion and loss of touch with reality due to liquor is a direct allusion to the Land of the Lotus Eaters. George is only able to regain full consciousness when the sound of the EAT-whistle is blown (which we later find out is his father and a divine intervention) and George says, “It had blown from my head all liquor and delusion and 29
left me stricken by my folly” (Barth 200). There are a myriad of allusions to The Odyssey to affirm George as an anti-hero. As mentioned before, Stacey is likened to a siren. Other characters George meets along the way also have similarities to mythological creatures in
The Odyssey. Peter Greene is like the one-eyed cyclops, Croaker is likened to the minotaur, Stoker resembles Hades, and Dr. Eirkopf and Dr. Sear are both monstrous in their descriptions. Many of the locations are also referencing The Odyssey. George meets
Stacey on the river in a siren-esque scene, Stoker resides in a pseudo-underworld, the frat party is like the land of the lotus eaters, and the overall structure of George’s traveling from location to location resembles that of Odysseus’s travels. As mentioned before,
Barth implements the inverted hero’s quest as a way to shed light on contemporary issues. A typical hero could not exist in the 1960s and, thus, the anti-hero is bom.
George continues on his journey to New Tammany College where he must finagle his way into being accepted as a student so that he can attempt to graduate and save studentdom from WESCAC. He accomplishes this with the help of Stacey who assists him in tricking the entrance exams. Once he is able to overcome the challenge of getting into the University, George must complete certain tasks to graduate: “1) Fix the Clock 2)
End the Boundary Dispute 3) Overcome Your Infirmity 4) See Through Your Ladyship
5) Replace the Founder’s Scroll 6) Pass the Finals 7) Present Your ID-card,
Appropriately Signed, to the Proper Authority” (Barth 383). He goes about this to-do list considering himself a Grand-tutor who—through divine inspiration—can help other 30
students “pass.” The first time around George promotes the philosophy that there are clear distinctions between good and bad, passage and failure. In his book The Fabulators
Robert Scholes labels this “George’s first Grand-Tutorial posture... [his] Thesis,” and describes it as “a posture of fundamentalist righteousness” (163). George instructs everyone on how to be what he decides as “good” and runs through all his assignments.
He botches everything and the University and everyone he tutored are worse off than before.
The second time around George decides that he simply needs to reverse his thinking: bad is good, passage is failure, etc. Scholes explains this writing, “George’s second Grand Tutorial posture is the Antithesis of the first... This new answer, with its beguiling paradoxes, proves finally to be as rhetorical as the first, though the rhetoric this time is not that of fundamentalist preaching but of semantic philosophizing” (164-165).
He then instructs everyone to be exaggerated forms of the worst kind of people they can be. He explains his change of mind saying, “My first proposal, I told him, was to cease being reasonable—as if there were a floodlit Boundary between Reason and Unreason!...
Embrace nonsense! Be immoderate when you feel like it!” (Barth 594-595). He, again, rushes through his assignments. This time around things are even worse. Everyone wants to kill him and he has to go into hiding. Finally, George has an epiphany and realizes entirely too late that one cannot discover a fix-all for good and evil, passage and failure.
The reality is, passage and failure are a case-by-case basis, one cannot complete a 31
formula or live their life according to another’s instructions, it is more of an individual trial and error type deal. George’s realization is summed up by Scholes when he explains:
“Passage and failure are distinct but interdependent... We are left finally without a moral.
We are given only the story of a life to imitate, with the qualification that to imitate it we must diverge from it, since George’s life is his; ours is ours” (167). This leads to the transcendent message of the novel: Pass all, fail all. The question is unable to be answered. This message is further discussed by Charles B. Harris in his essay, “George’s
Illumination: Unity in Giles Goat-Boy.” In it he explains that in all but the last forty pages of the book George is struggling to decide between “Flunkedness” and
“Passedness,” or good and evil. It is only at the end of the novel that “George transcends the disparate nature of things and arrives at an awareness of the unity of an apparently various universe” (172). Meaning— as Scholes similarly concluded— that he realizes passage and failure are separate, but overlap and intersect in many ways. This message was one that resembled the contemporary time period. Barth is demonstrating the necessity of finding a middle ground and not portraying the world in extremes as was happening with war, and race and gender binaries.
During this initiation phase where George is attempting to save studentdom while
completing his task-list, he meets “The Shadow.” The Shadow in the hero’s quest is the hero’s enemy and antagonist to the novel. According to both Campbell and Jung, however, the negative aspects of the shadow are often a projection of the hero’s 32
unconscious and darkest desires. Harold Bray is George’s Shadow. He claims to also be a
Grand-Tutor and uses deception and performs tricks to convince studentdom to follow him instead of George. In his essay, “A Service to the University,” Dabney Stuart explains that Bray “embodies the idea of deceptive nature of appearances not least in the fact that his value to the goat-boy’s increasing insight belies one’s ability to relegate him to hell as an out and out fiend” (Stuart 151). Bray is aole to trick the majority of studentdom into following him and rejecting George. Even Stacey momentarily abandons
George for Bray. The way in which Bray misleads people into following him—the false
Grand-Tutor—is reminiscent of the ways in which Satan is described in narratives as deceiving mankind. Bray is so cunningly deceptive that he even has George questioning whether or not he is the Grand-Tutor. The confusion surrounding who and what Harold
Bray is amplifies and demonstrates his nature of deceit. He will lead the campus into destruction. Bray represents the confusion during the 1960s of what to believe and who to follow.
The final phase of George’s anti-hero’s quest as outlined by Joseph Campbell is the return. The return phase is divided into two parts: the resurrection and the return. The resurrection is when the hero must be cleansed from their journey in order to return to the ordinary world. The resurrection is typically marked with a symbolic change in behavior of the hero. In his book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure, Christopher Vogler further explains that once the hero's transformation is complete, he or she returns to the 33
ordinary world with the elixir, a great treasure or a new understanding to share. This can be love, wisdom, freedom, or knowledge (Peterson). George’s resurrection is marked when he returns to the belly of WESCAC for the final time to attempt to “pass.” Before he leaves to go, he bathes himself: “[I] cleansed myself in that potent bath, immersing even my head, until no trace of my term on Great Mall remained” (Barth 686). Once he is able to pass through WESCAC he believes he will be “passed” and prove his Grand-
Tutorhood. This would allow him to continue on his work and tutor other students on how to pass for themselves. However, because George is an anti-hero, this is not what happens. The narrative, rather, ends quite suddenly after George’s resurrection at a student rally in which it seems the other claimed tutor, Bray, is using magic or performing miracles to transform himself. At one point he even transforms himself into
George and parodies him. George confronts Bray and attacks him and then attacks a pillar that Bray appears to be drawing energy from. Bray disappears and large smoke-like clouds dissipate as the crowd turns into chaos. The narrative ends with George smiling as he is about to be arrested. After seven hundred or so pages, Barth gives his readers an anticlimax as an appropriate—albeit infuriating—end to his anti-heroic novel.
The reader is then given a posttape whose authenticity—like that of the entire novel—is questioned. On this, George laments his failures and those of his followers and
discusses his banal existence following the narrative in which all but Peter Greene and
Stacey abandon him. He has become a professor at the University, however, he fears that 34
he will soon fail at this as well. He ends his postscript by discussing his religiously influenced and dramatic plan to end his life. He says he will first climb to the top of
Founder’s Hill and find a tree in the middle of the rock that is “crowned with vine”
(Barth 708). His religious imagery evokes the image of the crucifix of Jesus and the crown of thorns. He then says, “My parts will be hung with mistletoe,” meaning he will castrate himself. Castration is very Freudian in that it often represents a fear of death, in castrating himself George rejects this fear and embraces death. After this he invokes
Jewish customs saying he will blow on a shofar, which is a ram’s horn trumpet used in ancient Jewish religious ceremonies. He describes the three symbolic sounds he will make: “Teruah! Tekiah! Shebarim!” The first two sounds have to do with living one’s life. “Teruah” is about making progress and not being passive, whereas “Tekiah” acknowledges stability and even complacency. Finally, the last sound George chooses to make on the horn, “Shebarim,” represents tragedy and failure that are inevitable in life.
With these three sounds George says, “It will be finished. The claps will turn me off.
Passed, but not forgotten, I shall rest” (Barth 708). With his anticlimactic embrace of death, George cements himself as an anti-hero. George could only have ever been an anti- hero in his environment; he never had the ability to be a typical hero.
In the posttape of the novel George has been psychologically broken. He has failed at his hero’s quest and no longer believes he has been sent to save the world. He is
left disillusioned and believing the world is damned. He speculates that he, along with the 35
rest of studentdom, may have been EATen previously and that they all might actually be living in the aftermath of this psychological damage: “I was too [EATen], either in infancy or in one or more of my descents into the Belly... all studentdom was EATen terms ago—by WESCAC, EASCAC, or both—and its fear of Campus Riot III is but one ironic detail of a mad collective dream” (Barth 700). To be EATen is to be metaphorically ingested by the WESCAC machine in a way that leaves the victim physically and psychologically damaged (if alive). This is an allusion to the real life destruction caused by the nuclear weapons being used during the sixties. Many of his friends have died tragically, including his mentor Max. He is left only with Stacey and
Peter Green who beiieve in him more than he believes in himself. He says he will fail at his attempt to teach others and will in the end kill himself because “The wheel must come full circle” (Barth 707). According to Freud, George has a death wish, which is part of his id in his unconscious: “[There are] two basic instincts, Eros and the destructive instinct
(Death Drive)... The aim of the first of these basic instincts is to establish even greater unities and to preserve them thus- in short to bind together; the aim of the second is, on the contract, to undo connections and so to destroy things” (An Outline o f Psychoanalysis
18). George’s existential feelings of futileness are causing him to want to kill himself.
John Barth’s Giles-Goat Boy demonstrates the resurgence of the anti-heroic quest as a psychological and literary motif in contemporary postmodern fiction as a tool applied to refract the contemporary issues of the 1960s. In an encyclopedic-style fable, 36
Barth sheds light on a variety of issues present in the 1960s: sexism, prejudice, racism, women’s changing roles, war, scientific advancement, morality, just to name a few. He does this to bring attention to these contemporary issues by—in his own words— implementing pastiche (Schulz xvi). Barth accomplishes this pastiche and refraction through his characters and his existential narrative. He said that a novel “works like a camera obscura. The arbitrary facts that make the world— devoid of ultimate meaning and so familiar to us that we can’t really see them any longer, like the furniture of our living room-— these facts are passed through the dark cnamber of the novelist’s imagination, and we see them, perhaps for the first time” (Schulz 202). By starting with
George as a young child, the reader watches George go from a naive and enthusiastic boy who believes he is going to save the world, to a disillusioned and existential man who is plotting his own death. George’s failed hero’s quest and psychological issues are hyperbolized reflections of what was going on in contemporary reality. The end of the novel is where the second novel that I examine in my thesis, Richard Farina’s Been Down
So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, starts off. The protagonist, Gnossos, has already gone through a traumatizing quest and this trauma is reflected in the disjointed writing style.
Due to this, there is much more psychoanalytic content to be found. We never see
Gnossos before he has been psychologically broken. Being from the same decade, Farina
is attempting to bring attention to many of the same issues. 37
Chapter 2: Pap’s Odyssey
Richard Farina’s hipster-picaresque novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, begins where John Barth’s atypical bildungsroman, Giles Goat-Boy, leaves off.
The anti-hero and protagonist, Gnossos Pappadopoulis, has recently returned from a failed quest and is attempting to embark on a new one with the false goal of coming home. Therefore, Gnossos is already at the level of psychological damage that George reaches by the end of his narrative. This timeline is reflected in the fragmented and nonlinear writing style of Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me that is also present at the end of Giles Goat-Boy. To borrow terminology coined by Barth, Gnossos has been
“EATen.” He is a product— or rather, a victim— of his environment. Despite a seemingly innocent goal, Gnossos does not have honorable intentions, but rather a false sense of being “exempt” after witnessing unspeakable horrors during his original failed quest. His true objectives are that of self-preservation and instant gratification through various forms of consumption: drugs, alcohol, food, sex, art, etc. Like Barth’s, Farina’s narrative internalizes the anxiety, paranoia, and disillusionment percolating throughout the 1960s and refracts and subsequently manifests them in an anti-heroic quest novel that is saturated with both confusion and chaos. Also like Barth, Farina implements the anti- hero and his failed quest as a means to demonstrate the futility internalized by a society
suspended in fear. He accomplishes this by taking Joseph Campbell’s theories of archetypes and the hero’s quest and inverting them. Both archetypal hero and anti-hero 38
follow a similarly staged quest, however, their ambitions and outcomes are opposites.
Joseph Campbell’s archetypal hero ventures out in search of knowledge and glory, returning home victorious, master of two worlds, wiser and uplifting to those he encounters: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man” (4). The inversion of this—the anti-hero— goes out in search of personal gain and winds up stripped of his identity, no help to himself or others. With his novel,
Farina uses refraction and hyperbole to critique and shed light on the contemporary issues of the 1960s.
The historical setting of the novel is similar to that of Giles Goat-Boy. It was also published in 1966 and set in the late 1950s, early 1960s. As I mentioned in chapter 1, this was a time of global upheaval. The United States was existing in the aftermath of World
War II and in the midst of both the Cold War and the Vietnam War. Vietnam and WWII were extremely violent and left a generation physically and psychologically damaged.
The Cold War, although not fatal, caused mass fear and paranoia. This fear was due to the belief that at any point a nuclear bomb could decimate one. Schools actually had practice drills for what to do in the occurrence of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union.
This paranoia was furthered due to the belief that not only was the enemy—
communism—in Russia, but there were also communists hiding out in America. As 39
discussed in chapter one, people were extremely paranoid about who was and was not a communist. This paranoia, known as the “Red Scare,” led people to “other” their neighbors and accuse people of being communists in hopes to prove themselves as not being “the other.” Farina alludes to Cuba in his novel, which was the location of the 1962
Cuban Missile Crisis, which was an essential part of the Cold War. The proximity of
Cuba to the United States and the presence of missiles there furthered the already intense fear felt by the nation. As in Barth’s novel, Farina centers most of his narrative on a university campus, wmch was where the majority of the social revolutions were taking place historically. Gnossos takes part in—or rather, is present at—protests, which the reader can infer, were in opposition to war. He also ends up enlisted in the army, which means he will be going to war. These inclusions in Farina’s novel make it clear that he wanted to bring attention to the contemporary issues at hand. One way the novel can be read is as an anti-war novel, a critique on the wars being waged by the United States.
Gnossos’s behaviors can be interpreted as being signs of PTSD. This is similar to how many read Giles Goat-Boy as an allegory for the Cold War.
The overall writing style of the novel is symptomatic of the paranoia and anxiety felt during the 1960s. It is episodic and nonlinear, leaving the reader disconcerted, attempting to delineate a timeline out of the fragments presented. The novel has a significant amount of dialogue where the speaker is not indicated, thus, the reader must infer the speaker. The language overall is quite baffling, as Gnossos says and thinks 40
various phrases that don’t make literal sense. In addition to the writing style, the actual narrative is also symptomatic of these 1960s issues. Despite the fact that the novel appears to start in the middle of a story, the narrator does not give sufficient background information on what has occurred before the text began. It merely describes the protagonist, Gnossos, as being home from some type of quest that many characters assumed he had died on. When asked by his friend Fitzgore where he has been, all
Gnossos will say is that he has been on a voyage. Several times throughout the novel
Gnossos lapses into flashbacks that are also not contextualized or explained. All of this confusion is symptomatic of the internalized paranoia and anxiety of the time period. The reader is meant to experience these feelings along with Gnossos. As one reads, they feel confused and anxious, as if they are missing something while reading. It is to the point that one might re-read sections in hopes of gleaning more information. However, the lack of information is intentional and no amount of re-reading will fill in the gaps. This fractured and symptomatic writing style is adopted by Barth at the end of his novel in the
“Posttape” and “Postscript to the Posttape,” after George has failed his quest. The change
in writing style supports that Gnossos starts off where George has left off. Their failed
hero’s quests are significant because their failure is demonstrative of their hostile
In accordance with the hero’s journey, Richard Farina alludes heavily to The
Odyssey at the very outset of his novel: “Home to Athene, where Penelope has lain in an 41
exalted ecstasy of infidelity, where Telemachus hates his father and aims a kick at his groin” (Farina 3). The parallel is one the author will not allow the reader to miss. It is imperative that the reader understands Gnossos is a postmodern Odysseus, an anti-hero.
Rather than Penelope, Gnossos has a Pamela, and in the place of a fantasy world, he has neurosis and opioids. The Odyssey's locations and characters can be loosely traced throughout Farina’s novel. In addition to Pamela (Penelope), there is one-eyed Heap
(cyclops), hookers in Vegas (sirens), and Mojo (Helios). Farina uses several names that allude to The Odyssey as well: the girls dormitory is called the Circe III, the local restaurant is called Plato Pit, there is Harpy Creek, Dryad Road, Minotaur Hall, and
Labyrinth Hall. The juxtaposition leads the reader to compare and contrast hero and anti- hero, heroic quest and anti-heroic quest. Though he has returned from a quest, Gnossos is embarking on an additional journey in an attempt to return home. Like Giles Goat-Boy,
Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me can be broken up into the three phases of the hero’s journey: departure, initiation, and return. The big difference between the anti-hero and the typical hero’s quest is the failure to return home enlightened and triumphant. Like
George, Gnossos returns anxious, paranoid, and neurotic; unable to exist in the world.
After his second quest, the reader can infer Gnossos will not return at all, as he is being drafted during wartime. This ultimate failure is comparable to George’s planned suicide
at the end of his respective novel. Both character’s failures demonstrate their inability to 42
exist in their hostile environments, which are a hyperbolic reflection of their historical time period.
At the beginning of the novel—during the departure phase of his anti-hero’s quest—Gnossos is introduced to the reader as “Young Gnossos Pappadopoulis, furry
Pooh Bear, keeper of the flame, voyaged back from the asphalt seas of the great wasted land” (Farina 3). The title of “keeper of the flame” is one that the character repeats many times throughout the novel. Gnossos is comparing himself to the deity Prometheus, the god who stole fire—representing knowledge—from the gods for mankind. Gnossos is asserting his belief that he has returned to bring knowledge to the masses as Prometheus cud with fire from the gods, or as Odysseus did as a war hero from Troy. The root in his name “Gnos” literally means knowledge. However, this is misleading as he has returned to do no such thing. His assertion of this is an example of his dishonest nature. Gnossos is placing himself in the context of the gods and as someone who is going to ultimately help the human race as a war hero might; this is false. Gnossos, rather, has returned psychologically damaged, ready to do whatever he pleases and embark on another quest that ultimately ends in his complete loss of identity. A more accurate interpretation of
Gnossos’s name is as an allusion to the capital of Minoan Crete, Knossos. In mythology,
Knossos was the setting of Daedalus’s labyrinth designed to imprison the Minotaur. This is significant to Gnossos because of the fact that he is trapped due to his psychological damage. This trapped feeling is emulated in the voice ins-de his head orchestrating all of 43
his decisions. There is no starting over or escaping for Gnossos. All his attempts will end up being futile. His inability to escape his fate is a reflection of the same existential reality society was faced with during the 1960s. People felt trapped and suspended in the tangible fear surrounding them.
The psychoanalytic aspects of this novel are important because they are representing the bigger picture of contemporary 1960s society. The psychological problems Gnossos has are hyperbolized examples of the same symptoms that Farina was using his novel to shed light on to in society. He sets this up with the character of
Gnossos, who, like Odysseus returning from war, is back from a difficult pilgrimage to find the sun god. His memory in regards to this original quest is unclear; he appears to have repressed it from his conscious. Throughout the novel the reader only sees momentary flashbacks of this quest. One of these snippets happens mid narrative when— without contextual warning—Gnossos is in Las Vegas where he witnessed a bomb go off.
The way the memories are presented—not contextually introduced or concluded—
resembles the way a person back from a war with posttraumatic stress disorder would
experience a memory as a flashback or episode. In Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis,
Freud discusses these phenomena in relation to his hysteric patients:
Hysterical patients suffer from reminiscences. Their symptoms are residues and mnemic symbols of particular (traumatic) experiences... Not only do they remember painful experiences of the remote past, but they still cling to them emotionally; they cannot get free of the past and for its sake they neglect what is real and immediate. This fixation of mental life to pathogenic traumas is the most significant and practically important characteristics of neurosis. (Freud 12-13) 44
This theory can be applied to Gnossos. He cannot psychologically handle whatever it is he experienced on his trip to find the sun god and it is manifesting as neurosis. He has repressed the memories but they are returning from his unconscious. His erratic behavior, flashbacks, and overall lifestyle choices can be psychoanalyzed as his displaying a form of neurosis. The psychological issues of both George and Gnossos are important because they are the result of the hostile environment the two characters exist in.
According to Freud, neurosis is a psychological disorder where a person is unable to deal with some variety of traumas and therefore represses it and has subsequent symptoms. These symptoms range from minor issues to debilitating behaviors. Although the neurotic individual’s relationship to reality remains intact, it can be seriously impaired. One of the causes of neurosis is an external trauma, such as war. Although
Gnossos was not in a war, he behaves like someone who has been, due to whatever horrors he witnessed on his previous quest. He displays the symptoms of anxiety
(castration anxiety), flashbacks, compulsive behaviors, and has an impaired relationship with reality. One of the most prominent examples of Gnossos’s impairment is the voice he hears that instructs him when to act, lie, be honest, etc. He follows the directions of this voice, the personification of his conscious, assisting him in his existence. In addition to the voice in his head, the anxiety Gnossos displays manifests in the lies he tells about his recent journey. When asked about it by Calvin, Gnossos makes up an elaborate tale about how he saw a boy scout tortured with cigarette butts. He is sure to point out that the 45
cigarettes were also burnt onto the Boy Scout's penis. Although Gnossos has repressed the real memories of his journey, the trauma is still there, resurfacing in these stories he makes up. His fixation on castration and death are apparent, which are both distinct symptoms of neurosis. Society during the 1960s can be seen as exhibiting neurosis. As a whole there was a grip on reality, however, the global atrocities taking place were not in touch with reality and how a stable society should act.
Another aspect of Gnossos that is indicative of his neurosis is his belief that he is
“exempt” due to the numerous times he associates himself with superheroes. He believes that he is exempt due to the horrific memories he has repressed from his recent journey.
The only way he can fathom that he was able to survive, despite all the horrors he went through, was if he were immortal, therefore his thought process becomes that he must be immortal. Gnossos’s process of understanding his ability to exist despite the horrors he has witnessed recalls Freud’s Schreber case. Like Gnossos’s inability to understand how he survived, Schreber in Freud’s Three Case Histories could not come to grips with his homosexuality and thus explains it as: ‘“I (a man) love him’ is contradicted by... ‘I do not love him-1 hate him,’” (Freud 139). The process of defining what one cannot understand through this process is part of the neurosis that Gnossos suffers from. Gnossos conceives, “I am invisible, he thinks often. And Exempt. Immunity has been granted for me, for I do not lose my cool. Polarity is selected at will, for I am not ionized and I possess not valence. Call me inert and featureless but beware, I am the Shadow, free to 46
cloud men’s minds. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” (Farina 4). The
Shadow is a superhero that was also a war hero, two things that Gnossos is not but believes himself to be. The Shadow is also the name of the villain in Joseph Campbell’s writing on hero archetypes. Gnossos’s calling himself the shadow sets himself up as his own enemy, which is also very accurate. Gnossos also compares himself to Superman,
Plastic Man, and Jesus—who is essentially a Christian superhero. These are all symptoms of his neurosis. George begins to exhibit similar symptoms after his failed quest when he
says he believes that they have all been EATen. He also cannot fathom a world in which
everyone is able to survive after what he has gone through.
The departure phase of Gnossos’s quest mirrors that of The Odyssey. The first destination Odysseus and his men land on is the Island of Ismaros, the Land of Cicones,
in search of food and water. They end up pillaging the town and angering the gods.
Gnossos’s version of this is when he pretends to rush D.U. Fraternity in order to eat their
food, drink their alcohol, and steal their clothing. Gnossos ends up getting high and
drunk, a combination that causes him to act like a maniac. He is kicked out due to his
manic behavior and immediately goes to Pamela’s apartment and has sex with her. After this sexual encounter he thinks to himself: “Semper virgini (always virgin). Without
commission the membrane was still intact. Soon, he told himself again, soon: there must
come love” (Farina 43). Gnossos claims that he does not make love, he fucks. He cannot
allow himself to be vulnerable enough to experience emotional love. This is another 47
expression of his psychology: he is unable to open himself up due to his traumatic past.
The story line with Pamela and Gnossos’s relationship with women as a whole is one that exemplifies the difference between hero and anti-hero. In The Odyssey, Penelope remains
faithful to Odysseus and waits for him for years. Odysseus, although not exactly faithful, continues his difficult journey in order to be reunited with her. When he does finally return home he kills her suitors and they live happily ever after. Gnossos—on the other hand—has sex with an engaged Pamela and then avoids her. She falls in love with him and in an inverted version of the killing of the suitors, her fiance kills himself.
The second phase of Gnossos’s anti-hero’s journey is the initiation. In it, Gnossos interacts with several different groups of people. The various scenes—like the entire book—are disjointed and don’t fit together chronologically. One such instance is at a party where Gnossos portrays himself as the Son of God when he claims he performs the miracle of transubstantiation, saying to his friends, ‘“This is my body, gang.’ Then
sliding a can of Red Cap forward, ‘This is my blood’... With sanctified fingers he placed
a piece of cheese on each of the proffered tongues before him” (Farina 21). He is pretending his friends are his disciples and placing himself in the role of savior, which does not correlate with his self-serving behavior. Therefore, his religious fixation reveals his neurosis, rather than the false sense of altruism he is attempting to present himself with. Gnossos makes various biblical references and places himself in the role of the
savior throughout the novel. He also references himself as being a Greek deity by saying 48
he needs things like nectar and ambrosia, the food and drink of the gods. His overall
obsession with all things Greek and of constantly reminding everyone around him that he
is Greek is compulsive. Gnossos truly believes himself to be some sort of divine being.
This is evident in the way he talks, dresses, behaves, etc. He is constantly placing himself
in the context of Christianity and Greek mythology, as a Jesus and a godly figure. This is his way of dealing with his trauma, by making believe he is an immortal being.
Essentially, Gnossos needs to believe in his own immortality in order to justify his
existence to himself despite all the horrors he has witnessed. He chooses to represent
himself as both to be all encompassing.
Just like in John Barth’s Giles Goat-Boy, a parallel between The Odyssey and
Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me takes place in the second scene of Gnossos’s
initiation phase with of a nuanced land of the lotus-eaters. In The Odyssey when the men
eat the lotus flowers they cause a drug-induced amnesia and they forget their desire to go home and instead want nothing else than to stay and continue eating the lotus: “And
whosoever of them ate of the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus, had no longer any wish to
bring back word or to return, but there they were fain to abide among the Lotus-eaters,
feeding on the lotus, and forgetful of their homeward way” (Homer). Farina’s version of
this is Calvin Blacknesse’s house. Calvin gives Gnossos peyote and his high is described
as being full lotus. His thoughts become scrambled and resemble free association in the
way he transitions from one idea to the next. While Gnossos is high he goes into the 49
bathroom and contemplates castrating himself: “Circumcision. Castration. Zip, slip it out... Castration complex” (Farina 73). This is the second reference to penis mutilation, the first being the made-up story about the Boy Scout. Freud would say castration anxiety is the fear of emasculation, it points to Gnossos’s deeper issues of feeling dominated in certain aspects of his life. In Freud’s An Outline o f Psycho-Analysis, he further defines the castration complex as being caused by a father forbidding his son to handle himself and threatening to take it away if he continues: “The result of the threat of castration are multifarious and incalculable; they affect the whole of a boy’s relations with his father and mother and subsequently with men and women in general” (72). Gnossos demonstrates these affected relationships with men and women throughout the novel. He has come back a failure from his mission, he does not have a strong grip on reality and his relationships with women are problematic to say the least. The castration anxiety he is feeling is in direct relation to his calamitous life. It demonstrates his neurosis and is also a symptom of a death wish that Gnossos has.
Also part of the initiation phase of Gnossos’s journey are several flashback scenes that he experiences. The flashback scene to Vegas is revealing due to the way Gnossos’s loss of control is described in juxtaposition to the rest of the book where he is constantly described as being cool: “Gnossos watched the flaming sky, his mouth contorted in a twisted grin he could no longer bring under control, his shoulders hunched, teeth chattering, rucksack gone weight-less, the stem of his glass clamped perilously in a 50
needle-thin vise of his thumb and forefinger... unable to do anything physical about the demonic possessed expression in his soul” (Farina 113). The rucksack is a symbol for
Gnossos’s identity throughout the novel because he carries all his worldly possessions in it and always has it with him. For it to be weightless can be interpreted as Gnossos losing part of himself in that moment. Like a war hero, whatever Gnossos has returned from he did not return psychologically intact. The description of his utter loss of control shows that something happened while he was gone; he was broken. The things he witnessed changed him mentally. This moment in conjunction with Gnossos’s self-medicating, disturbing dreams, and manic behavior, enable the reader to infer that it was a traumatic journey and the root of his posttraumatic stress disorder. Gnossos is behaving like
someone who has just returned from a traumatic war, however, he is back from what one can assume was a quest to find a drug source—so less heroic.
Gnossos’s dreams during the initiation phase give key insight into his psychology.
He has dreams when he is awake, in-between wakefulness and sleep, and asleep. The most prominent waking dream is Gnossos’s story of the wolf. He tells this story to
impress women, however, it has substantial meaning for Gnossos’s subconscious. Freud explained these types of dreams in his article “The Creative Writer and Daydreaming” by
saying, “Unsatisfied desires are the motive forces behind fantasies, every fantasy being a wish-fulfillment, correcting an unsatisfactory reality” (Freud 31). In the dream, Gnossos
describes himself as being in the snow attempting to follow tracks when a deer sprints by 51
him: “As if he’s been doing it all along, like he’s running on an arc that somebody’s plotted for him, and you’re walking on your own, and that’s where they’re meant to intersect” (Farina 149). The way he describes this shows the lack of control he feels in his life. According to Freud’s dream analysis, Gnossos’s dream indicates his desire to have more power and autonomy over his own life. This makes sense, as Gnossos often seems more like a pawn in someone else’s game than an independent character. Both Oeuf and
Kristen use him. The dream continues with Gnossos shooting and then following the wounded w olfs trail of blood, desiring to kill it: “I wanted him dead. No, more than dead, really, I wanted his gums all squashed and his fangs broken, and his head cut off, and his insides pulled out for the weasels, and all kinds of terrible things” (Farina 151).
This part of the dream is more obscure. Freud explains this phenomena in the same article: “The meaning of our dreams usually remains obscure, the reason is that at night we are visited by desires that we are ashamed of and must conceal from ourselves, that have for this very reason been repressed, pushed into the unconscious. Such repressed desires and their derivatives can be allowed to express themselves only in a grossly distorted form” (Freud 31). Gnossos wanting to decimate the wolf can be interpreted as him wanting desperately to destroy something else that he cannot. Combining this dream with other moments in the novel, mainly the evil monkey, the beheading picture, and
Gnossoss’s castration anxiety, one can infer that Gnossos wants to destroy himself This 52
is similar to the end of Giles Goat-Boy when George talks about how he is going to kill himself. The two cannot exist in their environments.
The evil monkey and beheading picture are both a part of Gnossos’s in-between
sleep and wakefulness dreams that he has. Gnossos first sees the beheading picture when he is at Calvin’s house. It has such an effect on him when he is high that Calvin gives it to him and he puts it in his apartment. One night in the in-between state, Gnossos and
Kristen both experience Gnossos’s dream:
In the dimmest, least accessible part of his consciousness, the semisweet darkness where its warning had been so insidiously whispered. It came at the moment when Immunity was surrendered and no guard or shield held out against its force. It came swooping in through the windows and doors, through fissures in the wall, out of the septic breath of the commode. It came with the force and intention of violent death, and its malevolent presence could be no less ignored... Yet they were awake. (Farina 245-246).
The fear that is invoked in both of them is that something was there to kill them, to destroy them. Gnossos is convinced it has something to do with the picture and goes to talk to Calvin. It is while he is there that Calvin’s wife Beth enlightens him to what is happening. She tells him that he himself, inferably his unconscious, created the monkey.
She also tells him his efforts to change himself are futile because no matter how much he changes externally, “the torment is inside you” (Farina 260). Although this information
enables Gnossos to learn the source of his fear is within himself, it does not give him the
ability to fix himself psychologically. Therefore, as he walks away from the scene he thinks, “The demon seemed comfortable, if frustrated, in his cave; and there was really 53
very little else to do” (Farina 261). Gnossos does not see a solution to his inner troubles, however, is satisfied with knowing they are the roots of his evil monkey dream. The monkey is coming from his unconscious; it is a personification of his id’s death wish and representative of his desire to destroy himself. Again, !;ke George.
Gnossos’s death wish presents itself on more than one occasion and is in conjunction with his castration anxiety. He mennons penis mutilation twice in the novel.
First in telling the story of the Boy Scout and then in contemplating castrating himself with a razor blade. Gnossos also invokes the Greek god of Thanatos, who is the personification of death, multiple times. In his An Outline o f Psycho-Analysis, Freud explains the death instinct as being the second instinct of the id, the destructive instinct.
The aim of it being to “undo connections and so to destroy things... to lead what is living into an inorganic state” (Freud 19). This perfectly sums up Gnossos’s desire to destroy himself. When contemplating his own mortality and lack of children to carry on his lineage Gnossos thinks, “Oh, Thanatos baby; come give your easy kiss, old steel tongue into my mouth, taste the sweet oxide, Grttn’s pigtailed daughters sprinkling petals on my cindered grave. But nothing grows” (Farina 117). The imagery of a burnt grave and someone else’s children sprinkling dead flowers on this gravesite where nothing grows is exuding the concept of death surrounding him, overtaking him. When Gnossos dies, he feels there will be nothing left of him because he has no children. Although he wishes for death, he does not have the ability to go through with it. In order to deal with his id’s 54
death instinct, Gnossos relies heavily on drugs and alcohol. This self-medication is clearly not enough to suppress the death wish fully, as it shows up in his dreams.
Gnossos’s dreams when he is asleep all have recurring images in them. The most common of these images being: a Victorian house, mutilation or torture, and being trapped. The dreams demonstrate his anxiety of societal conformity. He sees himself being “On the line, man” (Farina 66). Gnossos does not want to be like everyone else.
Even just pretending to rush the fraternity to get food and alcohol was too much for him and he ends up behaving manically. He cannot conform to any form of expectations or standards: socially, or otherwise. Freud’s dream analysis of anxiety dreams in Five
Lectures on Psycho-Analysis states, “Anxiety is one of the ego’s reactions in repudiation of repressed wishes that have become powerful” (Freud 38). Gnossos is wary of his return to school and the normalcy he thinks he has with Kristen. His dream can be interpreted as a warning from his subconscious. The fact that the Victorian house shows up later demonstrates the premonition aspect of this dream. Further demonstrating it is the double-crossing of Kristen ana the enlisting of Gnossos in the army by Mojo and
Pamela. The army is the ultimate example of conformity, a place where he will have to dress the same as everyone else and follow the same rules as well. If he does not conform to the strict rules and regulations of the army, especially during the Vietnam War, he will 55
In the final stage of Gnossos’s anti-hero’s quest—the return— he must pay for his sins against Pamela. Enraged that her fiance has killed himself, Pamela attempts to murder Gnossos, but fails. Not thwarted by her initial failure, she marries another character, Mojo, and together they start a pseudo-revolution at the college. She is one of the people whom enlists Gnossos in the army against his will. Meanwhile, Gnossos had moved on from her to Kristen who he believes himself to have fallen in love with. His fixation with her appearance tells the reader otherwise. He is in love with the idea of
Kristen due to her physical attractiveness. It comes out in the end that she had been working alongside Pamela for Oeuf, a man from Gnossos’s past, the entire time. She was merely using Gnossos, tricking him into getting involved in the revolution. Instead of love, she gives him gonorrhea. He gets his revenge by drugging her, and leaving her to die. This is clear with his final thought in leaving her: “You never know just who might turn you into salt” (Farina 327). This is a reference to the story of Sodom in the bible.
Before God destroyed Sodom for their sins, he sent an angel to save one family who had been virtuous, but warned them when they left not to look back. When the wife disregarded this warning and looked back, she was immediately turned into salt. Gnossos is leaving Kristen behind to die—overdosed on drugs. This is the opposite of something a hero would do.
It is in the return that one of the biggest contrasts can be seen between hero and anti-hero: the outcome for the protagonist. The hero returns home triumphant—master of 56
two worlds. The anti-hero is stripped of his identity and does not necessarily return at all.
This final and complete destruction happens when Gnossos returns home from his trip to
Cuba and he has been enlisted in the army against his will. This happens after he comes down from a weeklong high to the news of President Magnolia’s death and Oeuf s accession to the presidency. In an effort to find out more information, he leaves and ends up cornered by several army personnel. They essentially present him with a multitude of crimes that they can arrest him for as leverage to draft him into the army. The men present Gnossos with papers signed by Oeuf that are authorizing them to take him in.
Gnossos reminisces that Oeuf is the “chairman of the Athene draft board” whom Gnossos has never met (Farina 329). This unknown character having such enormous control of
Gnossos’s outcome is very symptomatic of the existential feelings of the time period.
People had ceased believing that they had control over their lives. Gnossos will now have to conform to the rules of the army and not be able to maintain any of who he is. This conscription into the army is even more symbolic because of the time period the book is set in. The ugliness of World War II was still fresh in people’s minds and the United
States was in the midst of one of the most horrific wars in recent history, the Vietnam
War. The atmosphere in the United States at the time was one of disillusionment and hopelessness. Both these feelings are internalized and manifested by Gnossos.
Both Richard Farina’s and John Barth’s postmodern novels demonstrate the resurgence of the anti-heroic quest as a psychological and literary motif in contemporary 57
postmodern fiction as a tool applied to refract the contemporary issues of the 1960s. Been
Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, begins where Giles Goat-Boy starts off. The protagonist, Gnossos, has already gone through a traumatizing quest and this trauma is reflected in the disjointed writing style of the novel. His mistaken belief that he is
“exempt” comes at the cost of those around him and himself. It is the end of his quest that exemplifies the difference between hero and anti-hero. Unlike a Campbellian hero,
Gnossos does not come away from his quest victorious and master of two worlds, but rather is enlisted in the army against his will—the ultimate conformity. Due to the time period—and his disposition—the reader can infer it is a quest that he will not return from at all. The overall storyline, writing style, and bizarre behavior of the protagonist exemplify the internalized feelings of anxiety, paranoia, and disillusionment in 1960s
America. Reading the novel, the readers themselves experience these emotions due to the episodic, nonlinear, and disconcerting text. This created experience enables the novel it to successfully refract a moment in history, drawing reader’s attention to the issues at the time. Both Barth and Farina demonstrate the power of literature to reveal insights about our culture and ourselves. 58
Conclusion: The Anti-Hero in Postmodern Literature
The manifestation of the historical anxiety and paranoia of the 1960s present in
John Barth’s Giles Goat-Boy and Richard Farina’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me is applicable to contemporary, nuanced, literature: social media. Our current state of being suspended in paranoia and anxiety is manifested in this modern form of text.
Social media has become the primary source of text for many Americans. The fact that the majority of people get their news from websites such as Facebook and Snapchat is concerning due to the fact that anyone can post whatever they want with no fact checking necessary. This, unsurprisingly, has led to a nation rampant with fake news and Internet trolls. Although there are many examples of current problematic discussions going on online, I will be looking at one that alludes heavily to the 1960s Cold War, linking the time period of both my novels to the present climate. These being the Facebook postings and groups regarding the accusation of collusion between the President of the United
States, Donald Trump, and the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin. The accusations surround President Trump winning the 2016 election due to what appeared to be interference from Russia. Popular belief was that Putin helped Trump win the election in order to increase political instability in the United States and as an attack on Hillary
Clinton whom Putin has a personal vendetta against. President Trump immediately went on the defensive and denied any collusion and claimed the entire thing to be a witch-hunt. 59
Despite President Trump’s denial, sufficient evidence supports the fact that
Russian hackers were the ones who breached the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and leaked emails between Hillary Clinton and others—like her associate John Podesta— to wikileaks. Evidence also showed, and was testified in support of, that Russia promoted fake news on social media sites such as Facebook. This false information was planted to slander and defame Hillary Clinton and influence American voters to cast their ballots for
Donald Trump. This was due to Putin’s wish to keep his rival, Hillary Clinton, out of the
White House and also h*j desire to cause political unrest in the United States. Despite all the evidence supporting Russian collusion, Donald Trump refused to acknowledge any interference and insinuated that the DNC was merely interested in scapegoating Russia because they had lost the election. His dismissal of the entire situation further added to the already mounting confusion surrounding Russia’s part in the United States 2016
Presidential Elections. To make matters worse, in a speech during his election campaign,
Trump actually called for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton again and recover her missing emails: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing, I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press” (Trump). These remarks were laughed off by some, but regarded as treasonous by others. This dichotomy,
in addition to the fact that the two presidential candidates could not be any more 60
different, is a reflection of the split in America presently. The left and the right are more
t 2 polarized than ever.
This separation is clear when one turns on news stations with opposing political affiliations such as Fox and CNN. Each station can be reporting on the exact news story and the narrative will be skewed to fit completely different points of view. The separation is also apparent on Facebook. With a simple search of “Russian Collusion,” the articles and comments that show up are extreme on both sides of the spectrum, demonstrating the current rift in American politics. The right—following President Trump’s example— dismisses the allegations and claims the whole thing to be made up by the left. The left calls for further investigation and for those who are found at fault to have consequences for their actions of interfering in the United States presidential elections. Neither side is willing to compromise or find common ground and with the direction the country is going in it doesn’t seem like this will happen anytime soon. The personal attacks and overall behavior by both sides of the spectrum on Facebook is juvenile and not helping the problem in the least.
In addition to comments on random postings, there are multiple pages regarding the investigation that allow people to join and follow along with their investigations. The one I am close reading is titled “Investigation of Trump-Russia Collusion in the 2016
2 Information found in Shane, Scott, and Mark Mazzetti. "The Plot to Subvert an Election: Unraveling the Russia Story So Far." The New York Times. The New York Times, 20 Sept. 2018. Web. 04 Oct. 2018. 61
Election.” It has 40 thousand members and I had to request to join and agree to certain rules and regulations: 1) No memes, Gifs, or personal statements as posts with colored backgrounds, 2) No repetitive posting, 3) No click bait, 4) No trolls and do not feed the
Trolls. After anxiously waiting for several days, the page accepted me. I found that the page was updated daily with new articles regarding the U.S. and Russia collusion scandal. The sheer amount of information present demonstrates the overwhelming amount of information pouring in that adds to the already confusion atmosphere surrounding the topic. It is impossible to keep everything straight and organized and thus the page—rather than shedding light on the subject—further adds to the anxiety and paranoia of the current climate. Looking at the page is entering into the chaos that is
American politics. The page is undeniably left in its view, however, the fact that the users aren’t attacking one another is refreshing. However, it would be even better if that were possible among people with opposing views. This was echoed in one of the articles posted quoting Obama’s warning that if America stays so divided our democracy and economy won’t survive. The comments on this post range from agreeing to refusing to
“be more like those Nazi bastards.” It is clear Obama’s opinion, though held by some, will be acted on by few.
The overall contemporary atmosphere of anxiety, paranoia, anger, confusion, hatred, violence, fear, unrest—I could go on—is reminiscent of the same one in the
1960s. Like the sixties, the past decade has been a decade of political unrest, war, civil 62
rights, and social upheaval. The similarities between the 1960s and today are undeniable.
People are either in a war or on the brink of one in multiple places around the globe.
Instead of fear of “the other” being about communists, it is about terrorists and illegal immigrants. The fight for desegregation has become one against police brutality towards minorities and institutionalized racism that never went away. It is said that we study history so that we don’t make the same mistakes twice, however, here we are reliving something that took place nearly 60 years ago. Literature has the ability to capture its time period and refract it in a way that sheds light on what needs attention.
A Campbellian hero could not possibly exist in either time period, thus the anti-hero appears to (not) save the day. 63
Ashley Parker; David E. Sanger (July 27, 2016). "Donald Trump Calls on Russia to Find
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