John Barth’s “Menelaiad” and Quantum Mechanics: The Sacrifice of Common Sense

Document Type : Original Article


1 Department of English Language and Literature, Kish International Campus, University of Tehran, Iran

2 Professor of English Literature, Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics, Shiraz University, Iran



In the annals of the Greek myth, there has been a lacuna surrounding Menelaus and Helen’s relationship following the sack of Troy. What distinguishes Barth’s retelling of the Greek myth is filling this void through constructing a posthistory to the relationship the couple bear to each other and his giving voice to the concerns of Menelaus, a character who has always been in the recess of the canon. While a large body of research has approached Barth’s “Menelaiad” in light of literature of the absurd, this study, through adopting the stance of quantum mechanics on the nature of reality, will demonstrate that Barth’s work is anything but absurd. Establishing the framework of the article based on the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics, the present study argues how the adoption of the subatomic reality, implied in Proteus’ advice, allows Menelaus to jettison his festering obsession with the causality behind Helen’s choice and re-embrace her.


Aćamović, Bojana. “Replenishing the Odyssey: Margaret Atwood’s and John Barth’s Postmodern Epics”. ELOPE: English Language Overseas Perspectives and Enquiries, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2020, pp. 41-55,
Alter, Robert. Fielding and the Nature of the Novel. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 1968.
Arnold, Matthew. “Dover Beach.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature, edited by M. H. Abrams, 5th ed., New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1987, pp. 2132-33.
Barth, John. Chimera. Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawcett, 1973.
---. The Floating Opera. New York: Bantam Books, 1972.
---. The Friday Book: Essays and Other Nonfiction. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1984.
---. Lost in the Funhouse: Fiction for Print, Tape, Live Voice. Toronto; New York: Bantam Books, 1981.
Blackburn, Simon. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. New York: Oxford UP, 2005.
Bohnenkamp, Dennis. “Post-Einsteinian Physics and Literature: Toward a New Poetics.” Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, Vol. 22, No. 3, 1989, pp. 19–30. JSTOR,
Burwell, Jennifer. Quantum Language and the Migration of Scientific Concepts. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT P, 2018.
Coale, Samuel C. “Quantum Flux and Narrative Flow: Don DeLillo's Entanglements with Quantum Theory.” Papers on Language and Literature, Vol. 47, No. 3, 2011, pp. 261-294. ProQuest,
Cramer, John G. The Quantum Handshake: Entanglement, Nonlocality and Transactions. Switzerland: Springer, 2016.
Enck, John J., and John Barth. “John Barth: An Interview.” Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1965, pp. 3–14. JSTOR,
Euripides. Helen. Translated by James Michie and Colin Leach, New York: Oxford UP, 1981.
Farwell, Harold. “John Barth's Tenuous Affirmation: ‘The Absurd, Unending Possibility of Love.’” The Georgia Review, Vol. 28, No. 2, 1974, pp. 290–306. JSTOR,
Ford, Kenneth W. The Quantum World: Quantum Physics for Everyone. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 2004.
Front, Sonia. Shapes of Time in British Twenty-First Century Quantum Fiction. New Castle: Cambridge Scholars, 2015.
Greene, Brian. The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.
Hayles, Katherine. The Cosmic Web: Scientific Field Models and Literary Strategies in the Twentieth Century. Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1984.
Holmberg, Ingrid E. “Euripides' Helen: Most Noble and Most Chaste.” The American Journal of Philology, vol. 116, no. 1, 1995, pp. 19–42. JSTOR,
Homer. The Odyssey. Translated by Richmond Lattimore, HarperCollins e-books, 2009.
Maguire, Laurie. Helen of Troy: From Homer to Hollywood. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.
Richard, Claude. “Causality and Mimesis in Contemporary Fiction.” SubStance, Vol. 12, No. 3, 1983, pp. 84–93. JSTOR,
Safer, Elaine B. “The Essay as Aesthetic Mirror: John Barth's ‘Exhaustion’ and ‘Replenishment’.” Studies in American Fiction, Vol. 15 No. 1, 1987, pp. 109-117. Project MUSE,
Tanner, Tony. “Lost in the Funhouse by John Barth: No Exit” Partisan Review, Vol. 36, No. 2, 1969, pp. 293-99.
Vautier, Marie. Preface. New World Myth: Postmodernism and Postcolonialism in Canadian Fiction, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1998, pp. ix–xxii,
Wolff, Christian. “On Euripides' Helen.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 77, 1973, pp. 61–84. JSTOR,
Woolley, Deborah A. “Empty ‘Text,’ Fecund Voice: Self-Reflexivity in Barth’s ‘Lost in the Funhouse.’” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 26, No. 4, [Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System, University of Wisconsin Press], 1985, pp. 460–81,
  • Receive Date: 16 October 2021
  • Revise Date: 05 April 2022
  • Accept Date: 28 April 2023
  • First Publish Date: 28 April 2023