Tag Archives: meta-fiction

Meta-fiction in the System

After reading all about [meta-] meta-fiction and [post-] postmodernism, I’m not going to lie, my brain felt a little twisted out of whack. But I went into The Broom of the System with an eye out for what I might find along these lines in Wallace’s fiction writing.

What I first stumbled upon were the stories Rick Vigorous tells Lenore. In the first one we read, it is unclear who is talking; all we know is that two people are involved and one of them is telling a story. With the characters seeming to be unimportant, it appears that Wallace is using them even more obviously than the average author in getting his own message across through a character’s words (the importance of who the character is is greatly diminished). But the character is not speaking morals or such serious things, the character is telling a story. Wallace has written a character who tells a story. Why include the character at all? Why not just tell the story? Alternatively, why have the character tell a story instead of living his life and teaching the reader something through his dialogue and actions? Why, in other words, have meta-fiction?

For one thing, it makes the reader conscious that what she is reading is, in fact, a story. The stories Rick tells Lenore are, broadly speaking, just condensed versions of what Wallace tells us. In the end, we are not reading an account of real people; these are characters who only live and talk and act as they do because that is how someone wrote them to be. Lenore says about one of the women in one of Rick’s stories, “She’s exactly what’s said about her, right? Nothing more at all” (119). In a way, Lenore is right. A character does nothing, is nothing, except what the author writes and the audience then reads. All of a character’s thoughts are on the page for us to read, all her actions are defined for us explicitly. A reader may wonder about what goes on in a character’s life between the passages and chronological breaks, but the truth is, nothing does. The character is not actually a living human being. She has no life but what the author gives her. This may seem obvious, but as an avid reader, I know people tend to forget it.

With the above quotation, meta-fiction also enters because Lenore is really referring to herself. “No, she simply felt . . . as if she had no real existence, except for what she said and did and perceived and et cetera, and that these were, it seemed at such times, not really under her control. There was nothing pure” (66). She is worried (and as any reader knows, for good reason) that she is simply a character in a story and therefore is not in control of anything she thinks or does, nor can she escape. She is, as she fears, simply being used for some purpose that has nothing to do with her happiness or well-being. And Wallace wrote her in such a way that this character, unlike most characters, is actually worried she is a character. So she truthfully fears she is no more important than to be used for some unknown purpose, and we know that for some unknown purpose Wallace created her so that she would fear this. Well, what is this purpose?

Trick question: intentional fallacy!

Okay, just kidding. But it is difficult to come up with a definite answer. The first thing I always wonder when reading something like this is if I, myself, am actually a character in a story; that someone in a much larger universe than the one of my story is currently reading about me. It’s like those sets of mirrors, where “reality” just repeats over and over and over. . . . In a more metaphorical sense, perhaps Wallace is saying that in a way, we actually are just characters in society. We have been written, put together, created by the world that surrounds us, and the trick is to find our own purpose. Maybe it’s not a bad thing if I choose to follow the path that seems to already have been chosen for me. Does it really change how I act if I know I don’t have complete autonomy? Probably not. But then why prompt readers to acquire this self-consciousness? What good is it? It seems we’re all stuck in the loop anyway.

I don’t have an answer. Anyone else have any ideas?