Metafiction

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Metafiction is a type of fiction that self-consciously draws attention to its own status as a work of fiction. It term was coined in 1970 by William H. Glass in his essay, "Philosophy and the Form of Fiction." Similar terms for this type of fiction include “self-reflexive fiction," “surfiction," “self-conscious fiction," “introverted fiction," “narcissistic fiction," and “parafiction."

Many critics (Marshall Boswell) recognize Wallace for his unique approach to metafiction. In works such as The Broom of the System, he not only explores the nature metafiction but moves beyond it. His analyses of metafiction tend to lead the reader to question the very nature of what we call fiction. Through his use of traditional techniques of metafiction, Wallace draws attention from the separation that authors of metafiction make between their writing and the real world which they are addressing. He self-consciously calls attention to the very literary devices he uses. He demonstrates an unease with the way most authors address metafiction. Rather than running in the opposite direction from metafiction, Wallace attempts to run at it head-on. He takes a large stab at metafiction with his novella, "Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way." Wallace's attempts in "Westward..." are thought be some, including Wallace himself, to be muddled and unsuccessful in getting at the criticism he wished to make; by trying to write metafiction and then undermine it, he becomes trapped and never quite escapes. In an interview with Larry McCaffery, Wallace said that he fell into a "pretentious loop" with Westward. His work fell short of his ambitions.

Wallace writes about metafiction in E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction:

The emergence of something called Metafiction in the American '60s was hailed by academic critics as a radical aesthetic, a whole new literary form, literature unshackled from the cultural cinctures of mimetic narrative and free to plunge into reflexivity and self-conscious meditations on aboutness. Radical it may have been, but thinking that postmodern Metafiction evolved unconscious of prior changes in readerly taste is about as innocent as thinking that all those college students we saw on television protesting the Vietnam war were protesting only because they hated the Vietnam war (They may have hated the war, but they also wanted to be seen protesting on television. TV was where they'd seen the war, after all. Why wouldn't they go about hating it on the very medium that made their hate possible?) Metafictionists may have had aesthetic theories out the bazoo, but they were also sentient citizens of a community that was exchanging an old idea of itself as a nation of do-ers and be-ers for a new vision of the U.S.A. as an atomized mass of self-conscious watchers and appearers. For Metafiction, in its ascendant and most important phases, was really nothing more than a single-order expansion of its own theoritcal nemesis, Realism: if Realism called it like it saw it, Metafiction simply called it as it saw itself seeing it. This high-cultural postmodern genre, in other words, was deeply informed by the emergence of television and the metastasis of self-conscious watching.

From the McCaffery interview:

"Metafiction’s real end has always been Armageddon."

"And maybe Westward’s only real value’ll be showing the kind of pretentious loops you fall into now if you fuck around with recursion. My idea in "Westward" was to do with metafiction what Moore’s poetry or like DeLillo’s "Libra" had done with other mediated myths. I wanted to get the Armageddon-explosion, the goal metafiction’s always been about, I wanted to get it over with, and then out of the rubble reaffirm the idea of art being a living transaction between humans, whether the transaction was erotic or altruistic or sadistic. God, even talking about it makes me want to puke. The "pretension." Twenty-five year-olds should be locked away and denied ink and paper. Everything I wanted to do came out in the story, but it came out just as what it was: crude and naive and pretentious."

Sources

Engler, Bernd. "Metafiction". The Literary Encyclopedia. 17 December 2004. accessed 8 May 2009.

Boswell, Marshall. Understanding David Foster Wallace. Columbia: University of South Carolina P, 2003.