Top Twenty One Metafictional Works: The Story That Swallows Its Tale

Fiction about fiction is metafiction, which allow writers and readers to examine the trickiness of storytelling. Here are the best works of metafiction in chronological order. For a much longer list, see my post 111 Best Works of Metafiction.

1. Cervantes, Miguel. Don Quixote. 1605.

Parodying chivalric romance by contrasting the lofty story-lines with the hard-edge of reality, Cervantes established two genres: metafiction and realism. Often called the first modern novel, it could also be called the first post-modern novel. It’s a book about books and the effects they have upon our lives, especially when we try to live out our fictions in the real world. Cervantes challenges the notion of objective history and blurs the distinction between fiction and nonfiction. The events are told by a series of authors nested one within the other like Chinese boxes, which draws attention to how stories are told and how each teller alters the tale. In the second volume, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza hear of the publication of the first. They meet a reader and talk to him about their own book. Don Quixote, expecting a heroic romance, is angered by his portrayal as a deluded, old fool, thus becoming a critic of his own book. (Learn more about this funny and insightful novel in my book Narrative Madness and my many posts about it.)

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A Change of Names, a Change of Destiny

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.

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An All-Encompassing Definition of Reality: The Conclusion to Narrative Madness

The Non-Existence of Nonfiction

In my book Narrative Madness, edited by Katie Fox, I showed that nonfiction is an impossibility since every text and utterance requires the invention of a fictional speaker who is never the whole person; it filters meaning through the speaker’s or writer’s name, uses narrative language which influences perception and behavior, relies on man-made symbolic code, necessitates the selection of subjectively interpreted facts while overlooking vast amounts of information, organizes information in artificial ways, redirects the future through a present discussion of the past,  acts upon world, community and self rather than merely reporting on them, involves imperfect mindreading and empathy games, utilizes preexisting forms and genres which affect content and meaning, channels voices of predecessors who have previously used the language and textual resources, constructs a reader or listener, and requires recreation and performance by the actual reader or listener.

It is all fiction. All of it.

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Liberate Yourself with Meta-Awareness, But Don’t Let It Kill the Romance

Becoming a reader and critic of his own story leads Don Quixote eventually to sanity. Toward the end of the second volume, he slips out of his chivalric role more and more often, even doubting his most fabulous adventure: the Cave of Montesino. When an “enchanted boat” capsizes and gets pulverized in a mill, the bedraggled knight, dripping on the bank, sputters, “Yo no puedo más” (Cervantes Saavedra 752) (“I can’t take it anymore”), betraying a defeatist attitude for the first time. His increased meta-awareness causes our heroic knight to lose faith in his chivalric role, drop the pretense, and return, alas, to sanity.

Don Quixote Dying

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Don Quixote: A Compendium of Genres, a Book of Books

friendship-of-don-quixote

Don Quixote may be the first modern novel, but Cervantes did not pull it out of the air like a magician’s bouquet. The Spanish bard borrowed language, story, form and genre, giving them his own indelible stamp. The stories he borrowed became his own.

Obviously, the principal genre Cervantes plundered was chivalric romance. Romances are the authors of Don Quixote’s madness, they serve as guidebooks for his speech and behavior, and they are the templates for the novel. The book follows the typical structure, story line, chronotopes and many conventions, but the heroic tale becomes a parody as it passes through the hands of multiple authors, some realistic and some rhetorical.

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The Official OnlineBookClub.org review of “Narrative Madness” by Ronald B. Richardson, editor Katie Fox

[Following is the official OnlineBookClub.org review of “Narrative Madness” by Ronald B. Richardson, editor Katie Fox.]

Narrative Madness is a non-fiction book that uses Don Quixote as its primary literary device in explaining how people in general construct a narrative in everyday life. Richardson looks at a variety of different factors to explain what causes our “madness” and how everyone suffers from the same ailment. He examines our habits in everyday life and how our use of different languages not only shapes our minds but defines our world. What is in a name? How does that affect how we view objects? Can narratives be defined and constrained or are they reconstructed based on who is issuing the narrative? What responsibilities are readers given by the authors when they decipher the story? All of these questions are examined in this book and explained in much detail to try and further understanding.

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The Plagiarized Hero: The Hero with a Thousand Borrowed Faces

 

Language and storytelling arose as a means of creating and maintaining social ties. Tribes then spread across the planet, trading materials, goods, technology, information and stories, so it should not come as a surprise that our narratives are similar worldwide. As humans, we make up stories habitually in order to understand the universe, ourselves and others, but we can only do so within established narrative language (as we have seen) and (this is the new part) preexisting forms and genres.

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The Simulation Theory, or How We Animate the People We Know and the Fictions We Read

The simulation theory takes the theory of mind a step further. Instead of trying to guess what others are thinking, we humans put ourselves in the other’s shoes, as the saying goes, in order to feel what the other is feeling.

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Narrative Madness: The Influence of Narrative Language on Perception and Behavior

You’re crazy! By that, I mean you cannot easily distinguish fiction from reality, and you let delusions brought on by narrative influence your perception and behavior. Like Don Quixote, you wander lost through clouds of story. The madness, however, is generative because narrative language is the principle means by which humans understand and reshape ourselves and our world.

Gustave Doré

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Understanding is Making Up Stories about Chaos

(An extract from my book Narrative Madness, which can be acquired at narrativemadness.com or on Amazon.)

We, as language-users, constantly name ourselves, others, settings, actions, and events in an order that makes sense to us. We may not always use Don Quixote’s romantic language nor share his chivalric plot line, but he is only doing what all of us do: trying to make sense of the noise and confusion of life through narrative language. (Actually, you may think that you do not participate in the world of the chivalric romance, but I know you as you are: a furtive romantic, a closet hero.)

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