What is fiction and why does it matter? Metafiction addresses these questions. Metafiction is fiction about fiction, or fiction that is somehow self-reflective. This is a list of the most important metafictional texts and works that contain metafictional elements, including some metapoems and metaplays, with explanations of what makes them metafiction. For those who want to read more about certain selections, I have included links to relevant posts on my blog and outside sources. This list is not meant to be comprehensive but to give readers an idea of the range and richness of metafiction. Delicious! Enjoy!
An overview of major themes, conventions, and motifs in metafiction, which is basically fiction about fiction or fiction that is somehow self-reflective. This summary will also serve as a guide to some of the posts I have written.
Metafiction is an attempt through stories to understand what stories are. Why do stories matter?
Because we are stories.
Whenever you — or anyone else — says you are woman or heterosexual or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or lucky or afraid of needles or good with children, you are choosing words that tell a story about yourself and the stories you tell about yourself strongly affect, if not determine, the lives you’ll lead.
A playful and pretentious prefix! Use it today and impress your friends.
From the Greek μετά, meaning ‘with’, ‘after’, ‘between.’ The Oxford English Dictionary says, “The earliest words in English beginning with meta- are all derived ultimately from Greek (frequently via Latin or French); in most the idea conveyed by meta- is that of ‘change,’” as in metamorphosis, metaphor and metaplasm. English formations with meta- meaning ‘beyond’ (and that is the sense that will concern us here) appeared in the first half of the 17th century, as in metatheology. Scientists from the 19th century onwards also used the prefix to mean “behind,” as in metaphrenum, “situated between,” as in metasomatome, and “after,” as in metasperm (I like that one).
At the end of the 1941 John Huston film The Maltese Falcon, based on the Dashiell Hammett novel, Sergeant Tom Polhaus asks Sam Spade about the heavy, black statuette of a falcon that was the cause of all the mystery and murder.
“Heavy,” he says. “What is it?”
Our hard boiled detective, Sam Spade, replies, “The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.”
We don’t just speak with our mouths. We also speak with our faces, our eyes, our respiratory systems, our lips, our tongues, our mouths, our brains. Various sayings emphasize the importance of these body parts in the production of language. Making faces. Her eyes spoke volumes. Hot air. Words dripped from her lips like honey. Mother tongue (implying that the language gives birth to the person). Mouthing off. Getting something off your mind. We used to talk about venting the spleen, letting out our angry feelings, but the truth is we don’t use the spleen. Speaking involves only certain parts of the body, so “I” tends to represent those parts.
When Donald Barthelme took popular characters (Batman and the Joker) and placed them in unusual, postmodern situations in his short story “The Joker’s Greatest Triumph” (1967), he was doing something new: taking an old, familiar story and turning it inside out. He did something as daring when he reinvented the story of Snow White in his 1967 novel of the same name.
The importance of these literary experiments can be seen in the influence they have had on generations of writers. Now reinventions of popular stories (such as the inversion of the superhero comic in Alan Moore’s Watchmen) and retellings of fairy tales (like Gregory Maguire’s Wicked) are as common as a cold, but when my paperback edition of Snow White was reprinted in 1971, the experiment was unusual enough to warrant this statement on the back: “Donald Barthelme’s Snow White is not the fairy tale you remember. But it’s the one you will never forget.”
“She is a tall dark beauty,” the book begins, rather predictably, but then quickly veers off into strangeness, “containing a great many beauty spots: one above the belly, one above the knee, one above the ankle, one above the buttock, one on the back of the neck. All of these are on the left side, more or less in a row, as you go up and down:
The hair is black as ebony, the skin white as snow” (3).
In William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the word “dream” appears repeatedly, sometimes referring to actual dreams, the fantastical night in the forest, plays, which are dreams upon a stage, and love, which seems to be a passing fancy.
Facebook is forcing drag queens, performers, and other self-invented creatures to use their birth names, but such a policy enforces gender, parental expectations, family history, and culture. A name is not a person, nor is it simply a reference to that person; it is a description that influences behavior. Michel Foucault stated that “one cannot turn a proper name into a pure and simple reference. It has other than indicative functions; more than a gesture, a finger pointed at someone, it is the equivalent of a description” (105). If a name, rather than being a “reference” is a “description,” we need to ask ourselves what names describe.
Which would you rather have flying around your bedroom at night: a mosquito hawk? a or a sacaojos (a Spanish word that means “takes out eyes”)? A crane fly or a gollywhopper? Personally, I don’t mind the crane fly, but I vote for the mosquito hawk because I hate mosquitoes and admire hawks. A gollywhopper, however, is just silly and a sacaojos is scary. My Spanish husband gets very nervous when one is flying around and won’t go to sleep until it is smashed.