What is Metafiction?


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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The Representation of Amusement Parks in Amusement Parks: Meta-Attractions at Disney Parks


Disney Parks have a couple of meta-attractions, attractions that include representations of miniature amusement parks. Visitors can see how Disney, the most famous of amusement parks, represents its own business. I am going to look at two examples, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, which ironically warns the visitor against amusement parks, and It’s a Small World, which presents the amusement park as a unifying symbol of humanity.

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Actors Playing Themselves

What does it mean when stars portray themselves? Are we getting a glimpse of  “the real person”? Far from it! We learn instead that the actor and the image are not the same person. Few performances are as artificial as those in which actors play themselves.

In an interview with the acclaimed actor Michael Cain, Michael Parkinson said, “Yours is the most impersonated voice in the business.” Cain responds, “Oh yeah, everyone– I– I can do it.”

“Can you do it?”

“Yeah, yeah . . . ‘Ello, My name is Michael Cain.” (When he says his name, it sounds like “my cocaine.”) The interviewer and the studio audience laugh. Michael Cain does not. He says, rather seriously, “I sound like a bloody moron.” What does it mean when an actor criticizes his own image?

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Metamucil: Making Meta-Shit Happen

(Photo borrowed from the hysterical website de-motivational.com.)

If metafiction is fiction about fiction and metapainting is painting about painting, “Metamucil” must be mucil about mucil, right? But what is mucil?

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Like This!: The Liking of the Liking of Liking

I just liked a new Facebook page called, “Liking.” I liked it before I liked it and I still like it. You should like it too. Why not?

The “Like” button on Facebook has changed the verb. Before Facebook, “like” was a positive emotion one felt towards a person or object, but now “liking” means pressing a button. Doing so means you like something in the traditional sense, so the like button refers back to the furry and friendly emotion. The button hasn’t replaced the feeling, so there is no reason not to like it.

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Don’t Invalidate My Existence: A Meta-Dream

Sometimes I realize I am dreaming. Once, my college friend Robert Lochner and I were in line at the check-out counter of a grocery store. I told Robert I was dreaming as the cashier began to ring me up and that everyone in my dream was a figment of my imagination and that they would cease to exist as soon as I woke up. Robert, who was familiar with my philosophical posturing, rolled his eyes, but kept quiet, waiting for his turn at the register. The cashier, however, got very upset.

“I don’t care what you believe,” she said, pointing at me, “but don’t you invalidate my existence! You hear me? You can think whatever you want–I don’t care–but it is extremely, extremely rude to tell someone they don’t exist. How would you feel if I told you were just a character in my dream? A figment of my imagination? How would you like that?”

That is all I remember. I woke up. My friend Robert survived the dream although I haven’t heard from him in years. I was about to say that the cashier did not survive, but I have told this story several times and now I have written it down and sent it out into the cloud. The cashier doggedly continues her existence in spite of my insensitive comments. She exists. She is real.

(To read more about the reality of fiction, read my book Narrative Madness, available at narrativemadness.com or on Amazon.)

Repainting the Tenderloin: Mona Caron’s Meta-Mural “Windows into the Tenderloin”

Where did the name “The Tenderloin,” come from? Stories abound, but the one I first heard was that the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco was so full of homeless people, drug addicts and prostitutes that the police get “hazard pay” to work there, which makes it possible for them to afford the better cuts of meat. Another story is that the police can afford fancier meat because they accept bribes from the entrepreneurs in the hood. Perhaps the name is a reference to the soft, vicious underbelly of San Francisco. Or to the tender loins of the prostitutes who work there. Or did we borrow the name from New York City’s Tenderloin, which has a similar reputation? Whatever the origin, the Tenderloin is not considered the choicest cut of San Francisco’s neighborhoods.

(Photo from Mona Caron’s website.)

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A Meta-Island or a Meta-Lake?

Is this a meta-island? Or a meta-lake? Can nature be self reflective? Look down these photos from Taal Volcano in Taal Lake in the Philipines to see: “An island within a lake within an island within a lake within an island within the ocean.” And we can add one more island, as the earth is often called an island. We often compare space to water with metaphoric language like “The earth floats through space.” Couldn’t we also call the solar system an island? Could interstellar star dust be called a lake? What about a galaxy floating in dark matter? How far out could we zoom?

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Hisstory Repleats Herself: James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake

One of the most metafictional books: a story about a story that is repeated endlessly, the one story that is all stories at once, the cyclical story of the rise and fall of humanity.

Joyce essentially invented his own mishmash of languages, making the book notoriously difficult to read, but if you drink several glasses of Irish whiskey, smoke a few bowls and squint a lot the book becomes more readable . . . even funny! You should think of the novel as a great collection of puns.

Here is the first line: “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” Joyce packs in meaning by using puns and allusions (which are themselves a kind of pun). On a cursory count I find at least fourteen. “Past,” for example, is the preposition as in “the river flows past the church.” It also refers to the past, a central theme of the work. It can also be a homonym for the past tense of the verb “to pass”: passed. A Reader’s Guide to Finnegan’s Wake by William York Tindall explains some of the allusions: “‘Riverrun,’ the first word is the central word of the book; for Anna Livia’s Liffey, the feminine creative principle, is the river of time and life. The Liffey flows past the church of Adam and Eve (reversed here to imply temptation, fall, and renewal) and into Dublin Bay, where . . . it circulates up to Howth, the northern extremity of the bay. ‘Eve and Adam’s’ unites Dublin with Eden and one time with another” (Tindall 30).

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A Meta-Mural on Clarion Alley: Lo Llevas por Dentro by Jet Martinez

Clarion Alley in the Mission District of San Francisco used to be a shady street where junkies would shoot up. In October 1992, a volunteer collective of residents organized the Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP) to bring art and color to the alley. The murals of Balmy Alley, which are focused on Central American struggle, inspired the project, but the murals of Clarion Alley are generally more playful and cartoon-like, although they deal with serious social issues as well (“What I Know is What I Owe,” said one mural and another challenged the “Demonocracy” of the United States–both of these are now painted over). Many murals explore the rich culture of the Mission, especially, of course, the predominate Latino culture.

(Photo from Clarion Alley Mural Project)

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