This is the introduction I gave for John Barth when I read with him at the 92nd Street Y in New York City in April, 2002. I thought it would make a small testimony to another literary institution who has lasted for the same half a century as The Paris Review. —R.P.


I’ve been searching about for some weeks for a way to convey my sense of sheer terror at the prospect of reading in the same room as John Barth, and I keep returning to this late eighteenth-century anecdote told by Johann Reichardt about Bach:

Bach one day came into a large company while a musical amateur was sitting and improvising at the harpsichord. The moment the latter became aware of the presence of the master, he sprang up in awe and left off with a dissonant chord. Bach was so agitated by this musical distress that he passed right by his host, rushed to the harpsichord, resolved the dissonant chord, and made an appropriate cadence. Only then did he approach his host and make a bow of greeting.

The fact that this story is also told about Mozart, Beethoven, and a host of others merely—as I think the master would agree—attests to its truth.