John Barth, Writer Who Pushed Storytelling’s Limits, Dies at 93

John Barth, who, believing that the old literary conventions were exhausted, extended the limits of storytelling with imaginative and intricately woven novels like “The Sot-Weed Factor” and “Giles Goat-Boy,” died on Tuesday. He was 93.

His death was confirmed by Rachel Wallach, who works in communications at Johns Hopkins University, where Mr. Barth was an emeritus professor of English and creative writing. She said she did not have further details.

Mr. Barth was 30 when he published his sprawling third novel, the boisterous “The Sot-Weed Factor” (1960). It projected him into the ranks of the country’s most innovative writers, drawing comparisons to contemporaries like Thomas Pynchon, Jorge Luis Borges and Vladimir Nabokov.

He followed up with another major work, “Giles Goat-Boy” (1966), which he summarized as a story “about a young man who is raised as a goat, who later learns he’s human and commits himself to the heroic project of discovering the secret of things.” It was also an erudite and satirical parable of the Cold War, in which campuses of a divided university confronted each other in hostility and mutual deterrence.

Mr. Barth was a practitioner and a theoretician of postmodern literature. In 1967, he wrote a critical essay for The Atlantic Monthly, “The Literature of Exhaustion,” which continues to be cited as the manifesto of postmodernism and which has inspired more than three decades of debate over its central contention: that old conventions of literary narrative can be, and indeed have been, “used up.”

As his foremost inspiration, Mr. Barth cited Scheherazade, the tale-spinning enchantress who nightly wove stories to keep her master from executing her at dawn. He said it was she who first bewitched him when he worked as a page in the stacks of the Johns Hopkins University library in Baltimore as an undergraduate.

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