What is Metafiction?

Meta:

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).

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

The Non-Existence of Nonfiction

narrative-madness-book-ronald-b-richardsonIn 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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Narrative Madness: Endorsements by Michael Krasny, Geoffrey Green and Robert Alter

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. Your madness, however, does not actually separate you from the world; rather, it connects you because narrative language is the principle means by which humans understand and reshape ourselves and our world.

Ronald B. Richardson, aka Ronosaurus Rex, has published a new book, edited by Katie Fox, which is available at narrativemadness.com or on Amazon. He has also had an excerpt called “Narrative is Memory, Memory is Narrative” published in the post-beat pre-apocalypic Sensitive Skin Magazine.

“Although I hesitate to use the word, it is, on the whole, a brilliant work,” said Dr. Michael Krasny, host of Forum on KQED and Dr. Geoffrey Green, Executive Editor of Critique, wrote, “Thoroughly innovative . . . insightful, provocative, and, in the best sense of the word, scholarly.”

“The writing is lively and at times quite amusing–a blessed relief from dreary academic prose,” wrote Dr. Robert Alter, author of Partial Magic: The Novel as Self-Conscious Genre, “The fundamental argument that Don Quixote is no madder than the rest of us but rather an exemplar of our condition as language-using, storytelling creatures is quite persuasive.”

Narrative Madness: Endorsements by Michael Krasny, Geoffrey Green and Robert Alter

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. Your madness, however, does not actually separate you from the world; rather, it connects you because narrative language is the principle means by which humans understand and reshape ourselves and our world.

Ronald B. Richardson, aka Ronosaurus Rex, has published a new book, which is available at narrativemadness.com or on Amazon. He has also had an excerpt called “Narrative is Memory, Memory is Narrative” published in the post-beat pre-apocalypic Sensitive Skin Magazine.

“Although I hesitate to use the word, it is, on the whole, a brilliant work,” said Dr. Michael Krasny, host of Forum on KQED and Dr. Geoffrey Green, Executive Editor of Critique, wrote, “Thoroughly innovative . . . insightful, provocative, and, in the best sense of the word, scholarly.”

“The writing is lively and at times quite amusing–a blessed relief from dreary academic prose,” wrote Dr. Robert Alter, author of Partial Magic: The Novel as Self-Conscious Genre, “The fundamental argument that Don Quixote is no madder than the rest of us but rather an exemplar of our condition as language-using, storytelling creatures is quite persuasive.”

Purpose: To Rehabilitate Reality through Metafiction

It might seem that I am trying to demonstrate the unreality of reality. Many others have done so, including Taoists, Hindus and Buddhists. Jews, Christians and Muslims, following Plato’s lead, think God’s ideal realm is realer than this world. Religious people are not the only ones to call reality an illusion. Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world,” and Jacques Derrida suggested, “There is nothing outside the text.”

Instead, my purpose is to show that the distinction between fiction and reality is artificial, created by language. Fiction and reality both exist as concepts within the same linguistic structure; symbols and stories are essential parts of our reality system. Everything we talk and write about is fiction, yet fiction has material existence, therefore it is real. Separating fiction from reality only drives us, like Don Quixote, to narrative madness.

Recognizing how fiction is our reality will not cure our insanity, but the realization will give us more freedom to reconstruct reality. The purpose of speech and writing is after all is not to record or comment on the world, as the Greeks suggested, but to act upon the world, to shape it and make sense of it. On the other hand, most of our actions are symbolic, referencing linguistic roles. When I stand before a class, I am saying, “I am the teacher. Listen to me.” A whole scene is suggested by the placement of my body. Speech is action and action is language. To understand what we are doing and saying, we must recognize that language and action are part of the same symbolic system.

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Fiction Precedes and Defines Non-Fiction

Yet even fiction is a fiction, a word which developed out of the Latin fingere, “to fashion or form.” In the Oxford English Dictionary, the first definition of “fiction,” now obsolete, is “the action of fashioning or imitating,” and is related to the verb “to feign.” The word first referred to all kinds of art,  “The . . . Art of Painting . . . surpassing by so many Degrees . . . all other Human Fiction, or imitative Art” (Lord Shaftesbury in his Characteristicks).

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The Conventions of Unconventionality: An Overview of Metafiction

An overview of major themes I found while studying metafiction for the Metaclass, a self-study course for a masters of literature at San Francisco State University. This summary will also serve as a guide to the posts I have written over the last four months (with notes about a few others I intend to write). It is not meant to be a comprehensive list of meta conventions, but an addition to the the list found under Meta-Meta and Metafiction. (Nor is this intended to be a summary of themes I developed about writing and teaching, the metaclass aspect. Those themes may be found in Putting It All Together: Collaborative and Integrated Reading and Writing.)

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When a Reader Enters a Book: Sampson and Quixote

How would you feel if you heard that a book had been written about you without your knowledge or permission? You would worry, I’m sure, about how it portrayed you. Unfortunately, Don Quixote has just learned from Sancho Panza that a book of their exploits is spreading across Europe and the book portrays him a madman and Sancho a fool. The knight dispatches his chubby squire to fetch the bachelor who has read the book El Ingenioso Hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha.

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La Mancha: The Stain of Truth

Mancha, in Spanish, means “stain,” and in La Mancha, the region Don Quixote comes from, everything is true. So, for our purposes the excellent word “Mancha” will symbolize truth, which stains every page of Cervantes’ masterpiece (not to mention your screen).

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The Power of Stories to Change the World: Another Arabian Night

Arabian NightsAt the end of 1001 Ways to Save Your Life, Shahrayar was trying to save her life by telling a story to the murderous, mysogonistic Kaliph. She says her story “will cause the king to stop his practice, save myself and deliver the people” (21). The first story she told was of a merchant who inadvertently killed the son of a genie, by tossing away the pits of dates he was eating. The demon was about to slay the merchant, he raised his sword in the air–

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