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METAFICTION IN GORE VIDALS LIVE FROM GOLGOTHA DELZI ALVES LARANJEIRA Centro Universitrio de Sete Lagoas/UNIFEMM Patricia Waugh

(1984, p. 2) defines metafiction as a term given to fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artefact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality, that is, by making use of metafictional strategies, writers create fiction and, at the same time, emphasize the construction of the fictional illusion. Metafictional writing always makes this process clear to the reader. In his novel Live from Golgotha (1992), Gore Vidal puts in the hands of his main character, Timothy, the task to undermine the readers illusions via metafiction. This fact inserts the story into the category of a novel about a person who is writing a novel, or, in that case, a gospel. The first hint to make the reader aware that the novel is a gospel occurs in its very beginning, when Timothy decides how hes going to write the gospel according to himself. By showing his narrative strategies, Timothy leads the readers to think that hes going to do exactly as he planned: the first pages of the novel/gospel tell about Timothys circumcision, which he says is his recurrent nightmare, and his wifes commentary about a hackers attack to the gospels. Nevertheless, after reflecting upon the subject, he decides not to include Jesus genealogy in his gospel, since Jesus was Gods son and his human relations came only from his mother, what makes useless to talk about Josephs ancestry. As a gospel writer after Mark, Timothy uses him as a source and, like Mark, he prefers to leave the genealogy out. Timothys comments that genealogies are boring and that Marks gospel sells more because it ignored this aspect emphasize that what determines the course of his own writing is not a careful investigation of the facts, but his personal opinions and editorial ambitions. The exposition of these facts ends up by undermining the process of a writing that intends to be sacred and historical. Vidal relegates Timothys text to a very mundane and earthly plane, signaling to the reader the implications involved in the making of any text, even those considered true and sacred.

Timothys writing is done under pressure; he needs to finish it before the tape where his historical existence is registered is erased by the Hacker. Besides, as there is a conspiracy to destroy the main texts which created Christianity, that is, the writings of the New Testament, Timothys own gospel is in danger of being adulterated or destroyed, as have been the four gospels and Pauls letters. Timothy is aware that he needs to pay attention to the disparities he finds in his text, such as sentence the Gospel According to Saint Timothy as told to. These last words, which sound strange to Timothy, echoes the Gospel of Luke which, in its prologue, mentions those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word (Luke 1:1,2). Luke makes clear that his writing is second hand, but reinforces the idea that he is being faithful to what has been told to him. Even aware that he writes from memory, Timothy finds himself in the same position as Luke concerning Jesus story because he was not an eye witness of the facts. His memories derive from his time as a missionary together with Saint Paul and these memories will be the core of his gospel. His information about Jesus is gotten from other people, as he observes: I realized that I must start putting down my recollections of Jesus, they are secondhand, of course. Without access to Mark seminal work, I shall have to rely pretty much on memory (p.111). His memories are other peoples memories: Saint Pauls and Marks, what makes memory, like writing, a very fluid parameter. In his account Timothy is aware that Jesus story and Christianity as he knows it result from such a fluidity that is present in memory and its register. The countless versions he listens from Saint Paul about his conversion in road of Damascus during his missionary preaching reinforces Timothys idea that it is virtually impossible to know which version is the true one. Through its comical and satirical vein, Timothys narrative confirms what several New Testament scholars have been saying: the canonical texts were part of a myriad of other writings that circulated among people, other versions that provided support to different Christian perspectives and which were equally reverenced as sacred. In the conflicts that occurred during the fights for the legitimization of these narratives, most of them were rejected, scorned, maligned, attacked, burned (Ehrman, 2003, p. 4). The winners, which Ehrman (2003, p. 4)

calls Orthodox Christians defined the criteria for canonizations and rewrote the history of the controversy, making it appear that there had not been much of a conflict at all, claiming that its own views had always been those of the majority of Christians at all times. In the novel, Timothy displays a similar view, when he tells that Mark says that Saint Pauls different versions dont have to make sense because he, John Mark, is redoing the whole story anyway (p. 30). As Marks version is part of the canon, it confirms the idea that his remaking of the story fitted into the winners point of view. Timothys metafictional comments also emphasize a critique of the gospel style. In a passage, he calls attention to the fact that he is borrowing from other texts in order to improve the literary qualities of his gospel, since, in his opinion, the narrative strategies available to the writers were somehow limited. (he borrows the words to describe the landscape seen by one of Jesus followers, Aquila). His remark also clearly criticizes the economy of the biblical text in terms of details and descriptions, a typical characteristic of the biblical narrative according to Auerbach. In Mimesis (1946), he analyses the differences between Homers style in The Odyssey, specifically the passage in Book XIX in which Ulyssess old nurse Eurykleia recognizes him because of a scar on his thigh, and the biblical narrative in Genesis 22, which narrates Abrahams sacrifice of his son. Although both texts are equally ancient and epic, Auerbach (1987, p. 9) concludes that while in The Odyssey the facts are complete in themselves, uniformly illuminated, temporally and spatially defined, without gaps or interstices, thoughts and feelings entirely exposed, events that develop slowly and almost without tension in only a first plane, in the biblical narrative only what is important to the aim of the action is completely finished; the rest remains obscure, that is, only the most important and decisive actions are emphasized. Everything that remains in between is inconsistent and demands interpretation: time and space are not defined, thoughts and feelings are only suggested by silence and fragmented discourses. The biblical narrative, directed with great and uninterrupted tension to a final end, though it presents more unity, remains enigmatic and loaded with second planes.

Timothys collage could be interpreted as an attempt to homerically illuminate the biblical text, in the sense of offering a complete representation of the facts, considering all their angles. Timothy does this by invading the dark spaces and filling in the gaps of the gospel narratives, within the satirical and subversive context that characterizes Vidals writing in Live from Golgotha. Gabel (1996, p. 22) notices that Timothy chooses description and not the parable, the gospels most famous literary form, what distinguishes his text from the canonical ones in form as well as in content, since in another passage Timothy admits that [i]n looking over what Ive written about the mission of Saint Paul I find I have left out many important parts of the Message in favor of maybe to much colorful details about our lives as people presainthood (p. 55). Neither parables nor the Message, but an account of his youth experiences with Saint Paul, his relationships with people from his time and from the future and his interference in the course of Christianity: that is the gospel that Timothy presents to his readers. Timothys appropriation of other texts also targets the additions made to the biblical text, which also emphasize its own process of creation. 1 Like Timothys text, the Bible is also pervaded by fictional elements, although they have, at least for the believers, the status of reality. Metafiction, in Timothys writing, shows the reader what can be considered fact or fiction, raising the issue to the canonical texts. Text addition in his narrative is made clear when Timothy narrates the shipwreck in the Island of Malta, when Saint Paul is heading to Rome. Again, Timothy mentions the fact that he can not use such descriptions, now for another reason: they dont fit into reality, besides of clashing with the biblical style. What happened in Malta was a storm, thus, the landscape could not be described by the lovely writing Timothy appreciated so much. Nevertheless, the passage remains in his narrative, as a kind of metacomentary about the implications concerning the changes from the context of reality to that of fiction (Waugh, 1984, p. 36). Reality was the storm off Malta, which Timothy, through fiction, wishes to change. Timothys Gospel is not a ready one available to the reader, but a narrative which explicitly exposes its core, shifting the focus from the product to the process of creation.

Such an emphasis on process also involves criticism to ones text. In a certain moment, a character from the future, the scientist Cutler Two gives to Timothy a parchment with Timothys manuscript and says: Heres your original gospel, as far as youve got into it as of this date. May I suggest more local color? The mutilated whang is fun but a tad special. On the other hand, descriptions of the sunset are right on with contemporary readers since so many of them are blind from Sony-TV radiation and must use Braille. (p. 64) Cutler Twos analysis reassures how unstable the text can be. Besides, by suggesting more local color, it calls attention, once more, to the plain and economical style of the biblical text and the need to adapt it to a more contemporary audience. In fact, Timothys gospel does not share, in any way, any resemble with the canonical gospels. Timothys another metacomentary suggests that his text has more to do with the 20th century than to his own time: I have just gone through my text from beginning to right here and I think that it is all just the way I wrote it. Yes, there is all the business about Chet and television, but, like metaphors and similes, I don't think that these references give away to what extent Ive been dealing with kibitzers during the time frame in which I've been describing my life and times with Saint Paul. Certainly if this alien element is too strong in the gospel, I shall simply cut it out when I prepare the final version [] (p. 70) Nevertheless, what those references really point out is to what extent Timothy has been dealing with kibitzers, that is, the facts involving his relationship with those people not only influenced his writing, but also became part of it, confirming his previous idea that such an element is too strong in his gospel. Like Laurence Sterne in Tristram Shandy, Timothy is a perfect digressionist.2 His text undergoes frequent interruptions, first, because of the visitors from the future, who often come to him, and second, because of his own wanderings during his writing, causing a belatedness of the main narrative Timothys gospel changing, again, the focus to the process of writing and not to its results. If the canonical texts have authority and legitimacy, Timothy constantly warns the readers that his writing can not be trusted, since it is made of words, memories and other peoples interventions, which are three very unstable parameters:

[]But when I enter the past through memory I must now be extremely alert to the possibility that my recollections are being altered in ways that I cannot determine. For instance, reviewing this manuscript, I see that it was not Saint but James who may or may not have mentioned Dr. Cutler in that noisy Pharisee restaurant. What is truth indeed!(p. 135-136) In search of an alternative to his gospel, Timothy tries to get a more legitimate text by copying directly from Marks text. His attempt, though, is useless when the readers see the results, since the rescued version, at least in relation to the canonical text, is completely changed. This fact points out to the impossibility of fully rescuing the true and authentic information. Timothy realizes that versions are all we have and history is made when one of them is privileged. Although most of the critics of Vidals novel insist that the story is a weird satire of the early Christian times and sometimes it even makes the readers confused about the targets of its criticism, the novel offers good moments in which the readers can identify Vidals concern about certain issues (Krist, 1993, p. 245). A good example is Timothys frequent references to his gospel writing process, which go beyond mere parody and satire: they confirm Vidals ideas about the instability of reality and history, how trustful their registers are and the validity of the representations created by the imagination. The novel also corroborates Waughs remark that contemporary metafictional writing is both a response and a contribution to an even more thoroughgoing sense that reality or history are provisional: no longer a world of eternal verities but a series of constructions, artifices, impermanent structures (1984, p. 7). Everything in the novel emphasizes that: the erasing of the gospels, the fluidity of memory and time, the uncertainty about writing (and rewriting), and the questionable truths. Theres no way to affirm that the registers based on memory and legitimated according to the interest of a few powerful people are true. In Vidals version, though, that is exactly the way Christianity became the religion of the Western world. Live from Golgotha is openly metafictional by exposing, through an acute self-awareness of the fictional character present in any kind of writing, the core of Timothys gospel and, by extension, of the biblical narrative. The multiple versions the novel emphasizes try to reinforce the impossibility and uselessness of conferring authority to texts, mainly those ones that work as modeling systems, guiding our world view and comprehension.

REFERENCES AUERBACH, Erich. Mimesis. So Paulo: Perspectiva, 1987. (Coleo Estudos, 2). EHRMAN, Bart D. Lost christianities. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. GABEL, John; WHEELER, Charles B; YORK, Anthony D. The Bible as literature. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. KRIST, Gary. Hype. The Hudson Review, New York, v. 46, n. 1, p. 239-246, 1993. The Holy Bible: King James Version. New York: Meridian, 1974. VIDAL, Gore. Live from Golgotha. New York: Penguin, 1993. WAUGH, Patricia. Metafiction. New York: Routledge, 1984. NOTES
1

In the oldest manuscripts the Gospel of Mark ends abruptly in 16, 8. It is a consensus among the biblical scholars that the verses from 9 to 20 were not written by him and added much later. (Gabel, 1996, p. 220).
2

According to Waugh (1984, p. 70-71), the basic strategy in Tristram Shandy is retardation through incompletion. At all levels of Tristram Shandy, nothing is completed. [...] The central narrative is never finished because it is continually punctuated by descriptions of events whose relevance to the main story is apparent only to Tristram himself.