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.
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 bodies, our hands, 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.
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.
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.
Since we humans construct our narratives and memories socially, we could ask, “Do we have a collective memory?” Frederic Bartlett, often called the first experimental psychologist, criticized the concept, since “collective memory” seems to suggest a group brain. Societies don’t have brains. We must understand group memory, then, as distributed in the minds of individuals, in discourse, and in symbolic records. “Collective memory” is just a metaphor and taking it too literally is sign of narrative madness.
[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.
They were not like this before; the story has brought them together.
At the You’re Going to Die literary and music event, I read parts of “The Myth of Myths: The Development of Human Culture through Mythmaking,” which is an extract of my book Narrative Madness, available at narrativemadness.com or Amazon. This piece was influenced Jean Luc Nancy’s essay “Myth Interrupted” from his book The Inoperative Community.
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.
The Machiavellian Prince of Primates
Many other species are social as well, so why didn’t they develop sophisticated systems of symbolic communication? Primate societies developed language because of the exaggerated complexity of our manipulative social interactions. The MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Sciences says that “primate social relationships have been characterized as manipulative and sometimes deceptive at sophisticated levels” (Wilson and Kiel). Writes Kerstin Dautenhahn, biologist and professor of computer science, paraphrasing Frans de Waal, “Identifying friends and allies, predicting behavior of others, knowing how to form alliances, manipulating group members, making war, love and peace, are important ingredients of primate politics.” A hominid skilled at manipulation would be better suited than its more submissive counterparts to win resources, sex and power.