GILES GOAT-BOY by John Barth


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Mr. Barth's grandiose novel is constructed as an elaborate Conceit: the World is a University. Thus, Mankind is Studentdom; God becomes the Founder; failing and passing elevate to existential phenomena; East-Campus militates against West-Campus, and both await the coming of the Messiah-like Grand Tutor, who will free them from the terror of the ultimate machines -- EASCAC and WESCAC. To this troubled cosmos comes Goat Boy George, who was raised by a renegade Jewish intellectual among the beasts of the field in gamboling innocence. On learning that he is really of Studentdom and not Goatdom, George gets it into his head that he is the Grand Tutor and sets out to free the University. First he must qualify as a simple student. He enters the mainstream of University life for a couple of terms and discovers all the absurdities of the higher order, magnified of course by his experiences as a goat. In an attempt to prove that he is the authentic Grand Tutor, George is given a number of Delphic super-feats to perform. He does, but he emerges from his Odyssey with a Zen-like philosophy of the cyclic futility of progress, the unteachability of wisdom...There is erudite word-wit here, a fertility of ideas that is almost febrile, a colossal serio-comic point of view, big, bawdy and boisterous. Barth plays a Swiftian game ambitiously. But it runs on and on and on. His major conceit, finally, is the assumption that the reader will tolerate almost anything for an intolerable length of time merely because it is awfully philosophical and terribly clever.
Pub Date: Aug. 5th, 1966
ISBN: 0385240864
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1966


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