Borges’ “Borges and I” is such a wonderful piece of metafiction that I will just reproduce it whole for you here, with just enough of a comment to suggest that writing writes the writer, as I discussed in Who is Writing This? and It’s All Fiction, in which I discuss how every piece of writing requires the invention of a speaker, even a dictionary entry (the “nobody” speaker), so the requirements of the piece determines the voice and therefore the speaker. In the short fiction below, Borges is talking about how his fame has taken over his life (or, as Foucault would put it, his author function, his reputation as a great writer, has erased the real person).
Is a novel defined by its length or by a certain approach? Can we consider a story that is not long a novel if it is epic in scope, representing a range of experiences and emotions? If so, isn’t Snoopy’s It Was a Dark and Stormy Night a novel?
“The Things They Carried” is a short work of fiction. The Things They Carried is also the name of what could be called a short-story collection or perhaps a meta-fictional novel. It’s a pastiche of fiction, nonfiction, fantasy, memoir, author’s notations, and literary commentary.
Although the opening story stands alone as a work of fiction, it also functions as an introduction to the larger book. It establishes the major characters that recur throughout the “novel” and introduces many of the topics the book explores, themes as concrete as the Vietnam War and as abstract as how someone tells the truth about a historical event. O’Brien felt that straight facts could not convey an experience as ambiguous and disturbing as the Vietnam war. Yet O’Brien does not wholly rely on fiction either. He interweaves fact and fiction in the story (and throughout the book) to give the reader a more comprehensive sense of what it was really like to fight in Vietnam, to live in the face of death, and to carry on a purposeless existence.
Although John Barth’s “Night-Sea Journey” from Lost in the Funhouse is barely six pages long, it is quite a journey, actually one which quickly expands into several voyages occurring simultaneously. Our first impression of the story is not at all like the second reading; it is a journey of a character we first assume to be human, a character we later realize is a sperm. This does not, however, stop us from reading the sperm as human, since he has a human voice and poses very human questions, it merely adds another layer. The sperm telling the story is an individual, but also a carrier of genetic heritage, the human voice, a purveyor of cultural heritage. The story itself is also implicated in the question of how it can be a unique work of art and still part of its literary heritage. The author does not resolve the question of identity and heritage, but hints at an acceptance, possibly a celebration, of our uncertain existence.