Words shape thoughts. For example, what is the defining act of sex? When have you moved from making out and heavy petting to doing the nasty? Most people would say the act of penetration. And who penetrates? A man! And who receives? A woman! What does this imply about the power relationship?
Although John Barth’s “Night-Sea Journey” from Lost in the Funhouse is barely six pages long, it is quite a journey, actually one which quickly expands into several voyages occurring simultaneously. Our first impression of the story is not at all like the second reading; it is a journey of a character we first assume to be human, a character we later realize is a sperm. This does not, however, stop us from reading the sperm as human, since he has a human voice and poses very human questions, it merely adds another layer. The sperm telling the story is an individual, but also a carrier of genetic heritage, the human voice, a purveyor of cultural heritage. The story itself is also implicated in the question of how it can be a unique work of art and still part of its literary heritage. The author does not resolve the question of identity and heritage, but hints at an acceptance, possibly a celebration, of our uncertain existence.