Mark, ed. Metafiction. New York : Longman Group, 1995.
Presented by Joyce Liu, 29 October, 1998
Thesis: Presenting and discussing metafiction as a borderline
discourse, as a kind of
writing on the border between authors and readers, fiction
and criticism, or art
and life in the 20th century.
I. Definitions and Marginal Cases
A. Old Definitions
B. Three problems (1)
In the late 1960s, metafiction is ¡§somehow about fiction itself.¡¨
In the 1970s, metafiction is ¡§fiction with self-consciousness,
self-awareness, self-knowledge, ironic self-distance.¡¨
C. Metafiction¢wplacing itself on
the border between fiction and criticism
The idea of self-consciousness is strangely inconsistent with most postmodern
According to the term ¡§self-consciousness,¡¨ it is
not enough for metafiction to know it is fiction; it must also know that
it is metafiction.
¡§Self-consciousness¡¨ is neither new nor meaningful
The relationship between fiction and criticism. (2)
The borderline between fiction and criticism has been a point of convergence
where fiction and criticism have assimilated each other¡¦s
insights, producing a self-conscious energy on both sides.
For criticism, this has meant an affirmation of literariness in its own
language, an increased awareness to which critical insights are formulated
For fiction, it has meant the assimilation of critical perspective within
fictional narrative, a self-consciousness of the artificiality of its constructions
and a fixation with the relationship between language and the world.
¡´ A ¡§mode of interestedness
ultimately turns outwards.¡¨ (John Updike)
3. The inseparability of fiction and criticism¢wwriter
and critic are the same
Novelists often depend on financially or intellectually on employment as
Academic literary critics have been increasingly successful as novelists,
leading to a high level of critical awareness within their fictional productions.
The writer/critic is thus a dialectical figure, embodying both the production
and reception of fiction in the roles of author and reader in a way that
is paradigmatic for metafiction.
It could be also the boundary between art and life. (3-4)
|Lodge¡¦s Small World
||Fowles¡¦s The French
|Takes the world of
professional literary criticism as its fictional object without explicitly
highlighting the artificiality of the fictional process
||Highlights the artificiality
of its construction without reference to literary criticism
|The academic ¡§criticism¡¨
within the novel evokes implicitly the critical judgements that will be
made of the novel.
||An intrusive authorial
voice appropriates in self-commentary a less academic critical perspective
to make a reader only as an addressee.
|Dramatizes the critic
more explicitly than Fowles¡¦s
||Allows the critic
no explicit self-conscious or illusion-breaking dramatic function
|Seems pertinent to
the boundary between fiction and criticism.
||Articulates a critical
perspective on the boundary between art and life.
This difference illustrates an important preliminary distinction in the
way (that metafictions dramatize the boundary between fiction and criticism,)
either as illusion-breaking authorial intervention or as integrated dramatization
of the external communication between author and reader.
In both cases it is often through an internal boundary between art and
life that the novel develops the self-commentary that gives it critical
This dramatization of the fiction/criticism boundary allows for marginal
ex. Conrad¡¦s Heart of Darkness.
Two contradictory problems
II. From Modernism to New Historicism
It implies that metafiction might not be as a generic category, but a funtion
inherent in all novels.
It also implies that metafiction in some cases is not inherent, but an
objective property of the literary text.
Two principal sources of linguistic self-consciousness in the 20th
Saussurean linguistic (6)
It considers that referential function of languages is implicitly also
self-referential because it depends upon the hidden system of differences,
systemic and contextual, which give each sign its value.
Language hides the conditions which permit meaning production, and the
task of the structuralist analysis is therefore to make those conditions
Transparent and invisible verbal structures are transformed into defamiliarised
and visible techniques, so that referential meaning is articulated alongside
a self-reference to the conditions of its own possibility.
These tendencies in modernist fiction led critics in the first half of
the century towards a formalist or language-based analysis.
Literary formalism¢wthe convergence
of Saussurean linguistic & Literary modernism
Modernist fiction not only articulates its own reading by foregrounding
the conditions of its meaning-production; the processes of reading and
writing are further conflated by the idea that reading is itself a process
of creating the text, structure, and imbuing it with meaning.
Barthes¢wa key figure for the
history of self-consciousness in criticism. (8)
The conflation of reading and writing points the idea that literary structure
is a function of reading, or that critical metalanguage project its own
structure onto the object text in exactly the same way that language projects
its structure onto the world.
Fiction and criticism share a condition, that the role of the critical
text is to articulate the self-consciousness that either the realist text
lacked or that is immanent in the modernist text, and that at the same
time the critical text must acknowledge reflexively its own structuration
Derrida¢wparamount for any analysis
of the borderline of fiction and criticism in late 1960s and in the 1970.
His questioning to Joyce affirms the literariness of criticism, he also
affirms the metafictional critical functions of intertextuality, parody
His rejecting to Saussure on the assumption that spoken language is somehow
closer to the signifying mind than writing.
His problems with ¡§history¡¨ (11-12)
Derrida and his American disciples are perceived as formalists who showed
scant regard for the material historical processes which shape language
He asserts that ¡§language was no more within history than history
was within language.¡¨
Foucault¢wreturning to historical
writing as a strategic opposition to the values of traditional history
The ¡§structure of exclusion¡¨ of an historical explanation
represented the structure of power and authority which sought to rearrange
and efface the difference of events to produce a stable, centred narrative.
His revised historicism is a refusal to efface the ¡§multiplicity
of force relations,¡¨ and a turn towards the notion of history¡¦s
complex plurality to trace a line, a causal sequence or a tradition through
a completely different past.
New Historicism¢wmoving away from the
language-based analysis of deconstruction in the 1980s towards a self-conscious,
Post-formalist historiography (13-14)
It acknowledges the common ground interpreting between the world and a
text, and the impossibility of separating the relationship between language
The everywhere of the narrative explanation gives to the project of uncovering
its hidden philosophical and politics assumptions a universal import.
In the act of telling a story, the novel is kind of history.
It has the power to explore not only the conditions of its own production,
but the implications of narrative explanation and historical reconstruction
III. Metafiction and Postmodernism
Some writers self-consciously think over the fictional representation of
history, which is a new philosophy of historical representation in which
the ideological function of story-telling is central.
The relationship between metafiction and postmodernism (15)
Metafiction is not the only kind of postmodern fiction, and nor is it an
exclusively postmodern kind of fiction.
Metafiction cannot be defined without proposing a categorical separation
of literary types and critical construction; and postmodernism is equally
undefinable without some authority that could arbitrate between its meanings
as a kind of art, an historical period, or some total ideological and political
Two categorical difficulties in metafiction (16-17)
Metafiction is one function of literary language among others, and this
function is a dialect composite of inherent characteristics and critical
A metafictional novel cannot appropriate its own critical response by any
amount of reflexivity.
It formulates possible interpretation of the fiction by itself.
It is still necessary to distinguish between appropriated critical perspective
represented in Nicholas¡¦s quest, and the actual critical
responses of external readers.
Metafiction is not a type of fiction
Tom Wolfe¡¦s idea about a novel and a metafictional novel
Novel¡¦s most important energy is social realism, the ability
of fiction to portray the real world
Metafictional self-reference to the godlike power of the author, appropriation
of critical prospective and endless intertextual cross-referencing are
only decadent forms of self-absorption which deprive the novel of that
Wolfe¡¦s The Bonfire of the Vanities
It enacts a central proposition that so-called real events are inseparable
from their interpretations, creating an internal analogy for the text itself.
Metafiction can be located at the conscious and the unconscious level of
Actually, ¡§postmodern fiction can generally be regarded as
conscious metafiction, postmodern readings can also identify metafiction
as an aspect of the unconsciousness level of the text.¡¨
In other words, postmodernist fiction and criticism both aim to articulate
the unconscious, and in particular the unconscious self-referentiality
of non-metafictional fiction.
The postmodern context is not one divided neatly between fictional texts
and their critical readings, but a monistic world of representation in
which the boundaries between art and life, language and metalanguage, and
fiction and criticism are under philosophical attack. (17-18)
Do you agree that a metafictional novel has no real reader, who can freely
¡§construct the text from some other critical perspective not
appropriated by the text itself¡¨ ?
How do you think about Tom Wolfe¡¦s assertion that a metafiction
novel is not a type of fiction? Do you think that metafiction lack the
contact with the reality?