I took so many lit courses in college that I accidentally double-majored in my own major, but still did not make it to Barth. (Shameful, I know.) So I flip through Annie Dillard's Living by Fiction (published in 1982) and reread:
When a writer like Barth speaks up in his fiction today, he returns to Sterne, he parodies the eighteenth-century novel, and he makes a virtue of his own self-consciousness. Barth parodies his self-consciousness too, brilliantly: he even celebrates the self-awareness of the writer whose chosen art is so developed and all its possibilities so known that he cannot enter into it forgetfully.I admire how she gets his "playful irony" and the joyful nature of his work (pulsing with life, energy, and reader involvement).
But I need more, and so I find some great links to audio interviews with him and begin to listen (starting here). I dig up Dan Green's posts on Barth and reread this (because it's what helped me to pick up Barth in the first place):
[I]t is Lost in the Funhouse in which Barth most purposefully engages in literary experiment. So singlemindedly does he do so, in fact, that readers who encounter this book now, shorn of the context in which it was both so controversial and so influential, might think it dated, a relic of an era in which experiment in fiction could be so noteworthy. (They would be mistaken to judge it so, however, as it is an example of the sort of fiction that, in Barth's own words, is still "au courant" but also "manage[s] nonetheless to speak eloquently and memorably to our human hearts and conditions, as the greatest artists have always done.") [...]Regardless of what anyone has to say about the "flaws" of litblogs, the solace and shared appreciative enjoyment of literature that I continually find will always keep me coming back. Yet it's also the constant learning that I love: discovery, revelation, and insight galore for the hungry reader.
I do believe Barth will ultimately be judged an important postwar writer, largely because of the accomplishment of a book like Lost in the Funhouse, which, however much it absorbs the influence of writers such as Borges and Nabokov, also transforms that influence into a frequently outrageous kind of comic fiction that discloses the many ways in which storyelling can trip over its own narrative feet, but in the process demonstrates that fiction still has plenty of innate if unexploited resources from which it might continue to draw.