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The Imp of the Perverse.

Although the label applied to us over the decades kept changing--Fabulists, Black Humorists, Postmodernists--the list of Usual Suspects remained fairly constant: in alphabetical order, Barth, Barthelme, Coover, Gaddis, Gass, Hawkes, perhaps Pynchon. We ourselves, I believe, were more impressed by the differences between our stuff than by what critics and reviewers took to be their similarities, but we respected one another's work and enjoyed one another's company at our occasional path-crossings on some university campus or at some literary conference. When Bob belatedly joined the ranks of fiction-writing academics by becoming Brown University's (and the planet's) first-ever Professor of Electronic Fiction, his boundless energy and hospitality much facilitated those path-crossings: not long after his appointment, he organized a gathering of those Usual Suspects under the Barthelmish heading Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts--the first of several such get-togethers under his auspices.

"Electronic literature?" I remember asking him. "What's that?"

"Check it out" he advised. I did, and while I remained (and remain) a pen-and-ink, printed-page person, for whom the computer is a handy office tool, not a literary medium, I was impressed enough by his Thinking Outside the Box to become an official (though passive) advisor to the Electronic Literature Organization. Bob too, as far as I know, did not himself practice what he took so energetic an interest in. To think outside the box is not necessarily to go there: his impish, always-lively oeuvre consists of printed pages.

Impish, yes: from his earliest novel (The Origin of the Brunists, winner of the 1966 PEN/Faulkner award for best first novel of that year) through his latest (Noir, 2010), his signature mode has been the Bad-Boy wink. Some years ago, when a reviewer characterized one of his novels as "unremittingly malevolent;' its author was delighted.

The Peck's Bad Boy of Postmodernism? The PoMo Puck? Take your pick. Abrazos, Comrade Coover!
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Author:Barth, John
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2012
Words:377
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