Royal Institute of Philosophy Lecture Series


The End of the Road: The Death of Individualism

Jacquelyn Kegley

Though John Barth won the National Book Award for his novel, Giles Goat Boy, his second novel, The End of the Road, proves a more interesting case study for our purposes, namely, to explore the relationship between philosophy and literature. This is so for at least three reasons. First, by the author's own admission, the novel is intended as a refutation of ethical subjectivism, particularly as expoused by Jean Paul Sartre. Secondly, in the novel, Barth, like Virginia Woolf in To the Lighthouse, places reason and imagination in contention, suggesting that either faculty in isolation is inadequate in dealing with human experience. Both Barth and Woolf are reflecting and probably criticizing the assumption of a number of contemporary writers and critics, namely, that rational discourse is inadequate to the task of ordering the chaotic, fragmentary world and giving meaning to life and only the poet (novelist) employing his imagination can do this.

Jacquelyn Kegley is Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the California State College, Bakersfield. She has written, mainly on American philosophy, in various learned journals, and is author together with Charles W. Kegley of Introduction to Logic (1978).