LOST & FOUND IN THE FUNHOUSE celebrates the American writer John Barth, known for his masterful literary experiments. Barth’s novels and stories are full of surprises—not just because of their unpredictable storylines or the strange creatures inhabiting them (although there are plenty of those) but because of his inventive story-telling techniques.
Take “Lost in the Funhouse,” from Barth’s 1968 collection of the same name. A thirteen-year-old boy named Ambrose Mensch visits Ocean City, Maryland with his family and a girl he likes. Simple enough: a coming-of-age tale. But while Ambrose explores the boardwalk, the pool, and the funhouse, he also comments on his own story as he tells it, like a writer agonizing over his work of art. It’s a perfect example of metafiction: fiction that is, on some level, about fiction. Like a magician raising the backstage curtain, Barth lets us see how the story’s illusions are built—reminding us that a made-up plot populated with made-up characters is, after all, made up. As we follow the twists and turns of the story’s two intertwined accounts, we lose touch with what is “really” happening… but we gain an exhilarating and profound experience. Reading “Lost in the Funhouse” feels like a voyage through an astonishing funhouse, designed by a virtuoso engineer.
Here we present you with a tour of the engineer's toolbox—highlights from the John Barth Collection, an archive and library, at Johns Hopkins University. This collection contains Barth’s manuscripts and letters, copies of his publications, books from the library he assembled with his wife Shelly, artifacts from his youth and student years, and documents from his teaching career, much of it in the Hopkins' Writing Seminars.
The materials are divided into three groups that correspond to different stages of literary production: CREATION, PUBLICATION, and CIRCULATION. A writer dreams, takes notes, and composes; if he is clever and lucky, his work is published; then it circulates, through various channels, into the world and beyond his control.
The physical exhibition is at the George Peabody Library, 17 East Mount Vernon Place, Baltimore MD, from October 12, 2015 through February 28, 2016.