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The Aesthetic Alibi in The End of the Road

From: MFS Modern Fiction Studies
Volume 58, Number 1, Spring 2012
pp. 79-111 | 10.1353/mfs.2012.0000



John Barth's short second novel The End of the Road acted as a sourcebook for his later ideas regarding the relation of art to morality in the context of the postwar cultural divide between modernism and mass culture. The narrator's paralysis in the face of practical life, and the therapies of "motion" he adopts to traverse the mass cultural landscape, expressed the incommensurability of the aesthetic sphere with everyday life. The critical potential of Barth's emphasis on form is inseparable from the ambiguous figure of Jacob Horner, the narrator who lightens his moral commitments to others by claiming the aesthetic alibi.

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