Although implicit in many other types of fictional works, self-reflexivity
often becomes the dominant subject of postmodern fiction. The narrator
of a metafictional work will call attention to the writing process itself.
The reader is never to forget that what she is reading is constructed--not
natural, not "real." She is never to get "lost" in the story.
Explicit use of metafictional technique stems from the modernist questioning
of consciousness and 'reality.' Attempting to defend twentieth century
metafiction, theorists link metafictional technique to older literary works.
Some supporters trace self-reflexivity as far back as Miguel Cervantes' fifteenth
century novel, DON QUIXOTE.
Employing the term "metafiction" to refer to modern works that are radically
self-reflexive as well as to works that contain only a few lines of self-consciousness
creates ambiguitity. In her review of Patricia Waugh's METAFICTION:
THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF SELF-CONSCIOUS FICTION (1984), Ann Jefferson argues
that "the trouble is that Waugh cannot have it both ways, and present metafiction
both as an inherent characteristic of narrative fiction and as a response
to the contemporary social and cultural vision" (574). Other theorists often
employ the same double definition of metafiction, which makes it difficult
to know whether his or her definition refers to contemporary metafiction
or to all works containing self-reflexivity. John Barth contributes
a short blanket definition of metafiction as being a "novel that imitates
a novel rather than the real world" (qtd. in Currie 161).
Patricia Waugh also provides a comprehensive definition by describing metafiction
as "fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention
to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship
between fiction and reality" (2). Metafictional works, she suggests,
are those which "explore a theory of writing fiction through the practice
of writing fiction" (2). Mark Currie highlights current metafiction's
self-critical tendency by depicting it as "a borderline discourse, a kind
of writing which places itself on the border between fiction and criticism,
which takes the border as its subject" (2). Yet, he too encompasses
works that are marginally metafictional by proposing that, "to see the dramatized
narrator or novelist as metanarrative devices is to interpret a substantial
fiction as meta-fiction" (4).
Despite the subtle differences between their definitions, most theorists
agree that metafiction cannot be classified as a genre nor as the definitive
mode of postmodern fiction. They suggest that metafiction display "a
self-reflexivity prompted by the author's awareness of the theory underlying
the construction of fictional works," without dividing contemporary metafiction
from older works containing similar self-reflexive techniques (Waugh 2).
Spectrum of Metafictional Techniques:
Further individuating the differences between metafictional characteristics
present in post-modern fiction becomes even more complicated because some
self-reflexive works also fall under more radical definitions. Some
contemporary metafiction can also be called surfiction, antifiction, fabulation,
neo-baroque fiction, post-modernist fiction, introverted narrative, irrealism,
or as the self-begetting novel (Waugh 13).
Although characteristics of metafiction vary as widely as the spectrum
of techniques used within them, a pattern of several common traits can be
traced. These techniques often appear in combination, but also can
appear singularly. Metafiction often employs intertextual references
and allusions by
- examining fictional systems
- incorporating aspects of both theory and criticism
- creating biographies of imaginary writers
- presenting and discussing fictional works of an imaginary character
Authors of metafiction often violate narrative levels by
- intruding to comment on writing
- involving his or herself with fictional characters
- directly addressing the reader
- openly questioning how narrative assumptions and conventions transform
and filter reality, trying to ultimately prove that no singular truths or
Metafiction also uses unconventional and experimental techniques by
- rejecting conventional plot
- refusing to attempt to become "real life"
- subverting conventions to transform 'reality' into a highly suspect
- flaunting and exaggerating foundations of their instability (Waugh
- displaying reflexivity (the dimension present in all literary texts
and also central to all literary analysis, a function which enables the reader
to understand the processes by which he or she reads the world as a text)
Currie, Mark, ed. METAFICTION. New York: Longman, 1995.
Jefferson. Ann. "Patricia Waugh, Metafiction The Theory and Practice
of Self-conscious Fiction." POETICS TODAY. 7:3 (1986): 574-6.
Hutcheon, Linda. " "The Pastime of Past Time": Fiction, History,
Historiographic Metafiction." GENRE XX (Fall-Winter 1987).
Ommundenson, Wenche. METAFICTIONS? REFLEXIVITY IN CONTEMPORARY TEXTS.
Australia: Melbourne UP, 1993.
Waugh, Patricia. METAFICTION: THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF SELF-CONSCIOUS
FICTION. London: Methuen, 1984.
Barth, John. "The literature of exhaustion." METAFICTION. Ed. Mark
Currie. New York: Longman, 1995. 161-172.
Dipple, Elizabeth. "A novel which is a machine for generating interpretations."
METAFICTION. Ed. Mark Currie. New York: Longman, 1995. 221-245.
Hutcheon, Linda. NARCISSISTIC NARRATIVE: THE METAFICTIONAL PARADOX.
McCaffery, Larry. "The art of metafiction." METAFICTION. Ed. Mark
Currie. New York: Longman, 1995. 181-193.
Scholes, Robert. "Metafiction." METAFICTION Ed. Mark Currie.
New York: Longman, 1995. 21-38.