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BY THOMAS HEGINBOTHAM
(Robert Rauschenberg - Canyon, 1959)
The Art of Artifice: Barth, Barthelme and the Metafictional Tradition.
WORD COUNT: 9,427
CONTENTS I. Contextualizing Contemporary Metafiction i. Introduction ii. Preliminaries iii. Beyond Modernism II. Two Forms of Contemporary of Metafiction i. Visionary Metafiction: Representing (Un)reality ii. Formalist Metafiction: Creating Autonomous Realities iii. Prefatory Note on Selected Readings III. Thematizing Narrative Artifice i. John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse (1968) ii. Donald Barthelme’s Snow White (1968) iii. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (1969) Conclusion Bibliography
(London. I aim to identify two distinctly motivated forms of contemporary metafiction and assess to what extent each might warrant the label ‘postmodern’. As Linda Hutcheon reminds us. disruptivist fiction (Klinkowitz).I. in fact. The words of the hymn notice it.” and it is only “its degree of internalized self-consciousness about what are. which became prominent in America during the 1960s and early 70s. parafiction (Rother) and midfiction (Wilde). I look closely at how the kind of self-reflexivity both Barth and Barthelme demonstrate in their fiction may have been influenced by the literary and theoretical climate in which it developed. Ronald Sukenick and Raymond Federman). nor is it more advanced than other forms of narrative. Narcissistic Narrative. and has – for better or for worse – often been grouped. “it is part of a long novelistic tradition. as 1 Linda Hutcheon. Through a discussion of Linda Hutcheon’s notion of ‘historiogaphic metafiction’ and Gerald Graff’s distinction between ‘visionary’ and ‘formalist’ forms of metafiction. . Snow White. under the term ‘metafiction’. 1980) p. (1967) p. realities of reading all literature that makes it both different and perhaps especially worth studying today”.” Preliminaries Metafiction is not new.Donald Barthelme. in the past. we notice that he was not very interesting. “on with the story. This type of fiction has.25 Introduction John Barth and Donald Barthelme are often cited. In the words of John Barth. It is explicitly commented upon. as writers representative of a certain type of fiction. more broadly. New York: Methuen. Yet.1 The term ‘metafiction’ was first used by William Gass in the late 1960s in describing recent works of fiction that were somehow about fiction itself. been labeled surfiction (Federman). In this dissertation. Robert Coover.xvii 4 . amongst others (such as William Gass. in the text. CONTEXTUALIZING CONTEMPORARY METAFICTION When we sing the father hymn.
5 . However. newfound impetus. Hence. ed. fiction and criticism. will be simply to place the contemporary American metafiction of John Barth and Donald Barthelme within a literary and critical context. Metafiction (London. ‘Introduction’.”3 the list goes on. As I suggested above. New York: Routledge. 2 3 Patricia Waugh. we find its antecedents throughout literary history: “Chaucer’s elaborate framings of The Cantebury Tales. I hope to illuminate several critical approaches the works of both Barth and Barthelme. as the defining characteristic of postmodernism is not with out its hazards.Patricia Waugh points out. In this dissertation.2 If metafiction’s defining characteristic is its internalization of the relationship between authors and readers. then. The aim of this section. yet attempts have been made to render early instances of metafiction (such as Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy) postmodern in spirit. politics and cultural criticism) has. one which I have no intention of undertaking. In establishing such distinction. 4 Characterizing metafiction. I will attempt to argue that while some instances of contemporary metafiction may be identifiable as ‘postmodern’ other instances may be better characterized as an extreme form of modernist self-reflection.5 Mark Currie. given metafiction. or between art and life. 1984) p. and thereby begin to elaborate its concerns. the ongoing development of postmodern thought (not only within literature. as a formal technique. metafiction is by no means a wholly contemporary phenomenon. Mark Currie argues: When postmodern retrospect discovers proto-postmodernism in this way it produces a spurious self-historicising teleology which confirms that critical texts construe their literary objects according to their own interests and purposes: postmodern discourses are seen as the endpoint of history and all prior discourses are construed as leading inexorably towards the postmodern. to trace historically the presence of metafiction as a formal technique is an impossible task. the practice is as old (if not older) than the novel itself. Currie (London. but also the non-fictional fields of philosophy. Metafiction. though the term ‘metafiction’ might be new. I believe. 1995) p.5 4 Ibid. rather. linguistics. Shakespeare’s plays within plays.and eighteenth-century poetry and fiction. the extensive use of epistolary forms in seventeenth. That said. New York: Longman.
it soon flowed outwards into the more demotic realms of film. as the primary sources of this self-consciousness within the twentieth century. 7 Ibid. Currie pinpoints both literary modernism and Saussurean linguistics in particular.”8 Currie sketches a characterization of modernism which helps establish the many of the features which may have informed the metafiction which would come to the fore later in the century.”7 He goes on to describe how both sought to “foreground the hidden conditions – structural principles. p.2 Ibid. television. 6 . which increasingly built upon psychological/subjective foundations. in France): 5 6 Ibid. 6 The gradual development of this narrative self-consciousness within the fields of both early to mid twentieth-century literature and critical theory in particular (as well as increasing epistemological skepticism within philosophy) had and undeniable effect on the fictional narrative forms of the era.5 As Currie reminds us Self-consciousness must in a sense arise from within each specific discourse. the conventions and the artifice – which permitted the production of literary meaning. it is evident that such insights also held influence within the domains of historical and scientific explanation.6 8 Ibid. the process of production. but such ubiquity makes it impossible to see Metafictional self-consciousness as an isolated and introspective obsession within literature. slightly earlier. “both are places where the self-referentiality of language was emphasized alongside its ability [or inability] to refer to an external world. comic strips and advertising. p. as Mark Currie points out. though. as well as representation and language in general. particularly in America (as well as the nouveau roman. If we were at any point tempted to situate such critical selfawareness solely within the logic of artifice found in the arts.Beyond Modernism Narrative self-consciousness can be seen as finding its first extended expression in literary modernism.
37-39 12 Ibid. p. 12 Though modernism was accompanied by arrival of structuralism within critical and linguistic theory.38 quoting Roland Barthes. Roland Barthes argued from a Saussurean point of view that the signifier which did not declare its own systemic conditions was an ‘unhealthy signifier’ – language that pretends not to be language. and a more demanding. p. 9 In its distinct move away from the conventions of realism. From this point on. its theories froze in time somewhere in the last century. these contemporaneous developments would not be seen to meet until the 1960s. obtrusive intertextual reference. to be uncomplicatedly transparent – a naturalization of language 9 Ibid. as merely as stage in the novel’s development. rather than being treated in terms of a natural. rightfully. principles of unity borrowed from myth and music.” argues Currie. multiple viewpoints. or at best a new novel. “the new critical attitude in the Anglo-American tradition was one in which the representational content of literary work was categorically inseparable from or identical with its formal and verbal structure.The self-referential dimension of literary modernism consisted partly in rejecting the conventions of realism. opaque. as the background traditions parodied in such forms themselves proposed. Ibid. or as a metafiction).”10 On both fronts (literary and critical) traditional realism was increasingly rendered an outdated. emphasizing instead the inadequacies of existing conventions and of language itself. “Under the influence of prolific writer-critics of the early modernist period like Eliot and Pound. dialectical development of the genre. principles of unity and transparent representational language in preference for techniques of alienation.11 Turning to the history of novel criticism. modernist literature led critics towards formalist or language-based analyses. 1980) pp. poeticized language. rather than being seen. Narcissistic Narrative (London. she notes that while the novel form developed further. New York: Methuen. In 1953. traditional narrative forms. Linda Hutcheon describes how nineteenth-century ‘realism’ had come to dominate or tyrannize the definition of the novelistic form. novelistic form. Writing: Degree Zero (1953) 10 7 . any form which revealed a moving beyond that stage could only be dealt with in negative terms (as not really a novel.7 11 Linda Hutcheon. if not wholly inadequate.
as we began to see above. Currie (London. Narcissistic Narrative (London. one further development needs to be outlined. as she states in Narcissistic Narrative (1980). it was “capable of being co-opted.”17 She argues.13 It is clear to see how structuralist thought subverted the notion of realism. ed. however.7 14 David Lodge. 17 Linda Hutcheon. ‘Introduction’. “critical theory may influence art. 15 The realization was that “fiction and criticism shared a condition. For Hutcheon. 1995) p.”16 As we shall go on to see. Metafiction. ‘The Novel Now’. and that at the same time the critical text must acknowledge reflexively its own structuration or literariness. Currie (London. 1980) p. because it seeks to disguise or deny its own conventionality. New York: Longman.148 15 Mark Currie. as well as the increasingly object-like status of the text are issues continually ‘thematized’ within the work of Barth and Barthelme. or that critical metalanguage projected its own structure onto the object text in exactly the same way that language in general projected its structure onto the world. Metafiction. ed. Other critics. Metafcition. Barthes’ conflation of reading and writing processes pointed toward the idea that literary structure was a function of reading. that is the transition from structural to poststructural critical thought. As Currie states: If structuralist poetics operated initially with the belief that literary structure was a property of the object-text. the empowered reader (characterized as meaning-maker).8 16 Ibid. “exposing it as an art of bad faith. in the words of David Lodge. and reduced power (or death) of the author. 1995) p.as a referential medium. Currie (London. but in this case the literary tradition of novelistic development seems the more likely general force. the rise of metafiction was primarily due to a tradition traceable within fiction itself. that the role of the critical text was to articulate the self-consciousness that either the realist text lacked or that was immanent in the modernist text. 1995) p. in the revolutionary atmosphere of the 1960s. 13 Mark Currie. as he states. ‘Introduction’.”14 In establishing the critical context of contemporary metafiction. New York: Longman. New York: Longman. to a radical intellectual critique of traditional humanistic ideas about literature and culture. New York: Methuen. do not so readily link the rise of structuralism to those metafictive tendencies that began to develop during the same era.30 8 .” and how. ed.
New York: Longman.e. The difference has often been characterized as a shift from mere epistemological. 1995) p. offers an 18 Mark Currie. too.”18 Hence. however. It is clear to see how increasingly self-conscious modernist developments within the novelistic form may have given rise to metafictional experimentation. and postmodern in motivation – profoundly aware of that which the traditional realist historical novel took for granted.13 9 . Whether or not both forms of contemporary metafiction warrant the label “postmodern”. the developments within literary and cultural theory outlined by Currie. I would argue. e. that is. Hutcheon too came to adopt a similar point of view. Currie (London. while some instances of metafiction may represent a continuation of novelistic development and extension of modernism. 1992). the transparency of language. Between writing Narcissistic Narrative and A Poetics of Postmodernism (1988). the kind of revelation elucidated by poststructural thought. ed. If the critical development outlined above is permitted. In the latter. in the wake of poststructural thought. discarding her prior formalist persuasion. in bearing its own conventionality metafiction guards itself against accusations of realist pretense and. and which modernism served to expose. Thus.instead. however. enables the demystification of other naturalistic societal narrative structures/fictions exposed by poststructural theory – metafiction that is aware of its construction and convention coheres with a world that is aware of its construction and convention. other instances draw directly upon the surrounding theoretical/critical developments of poststructural thought (the New Historicism of Foucault in particular). “the unilinear causality of narrative and its teleological orientation towards revelation and closure were seen as operating principles which projected structure onto otherwise structureless experience. she identifies ‘historiographic metafiction’ (i. we can see how the self-consciousness of the modern period differs from that prevalent in the contemporary period. is an important debate that Hutcheon highlights – and to which I will later return. Metafiction. ‘Introduction’. give contemporary metafictionality reason.g. unmediated access to historical referents themselves. to ontological skepticism (McHale. that contemporary metafiction should be seen as a logical extension of modernist convictions. that which reveals the constructed/fictional nature of historic narrative via a reordering and questioning its own historic tenets) as a branch of metafiction particularly theoretically informed.
extended scope in which self-conscious fiction can operate (scope which was unavailable to the modern or pre-modern writer).14 10 . but the implications of narrative explanation and historical construction in general. thus providing metafiction – as a formal technique – with renewed impetus.”19 19 Ibid p. The “power to explore not only the conditions of its own production.
. it would serve us well to discuss briefly the notion of mimesis in relation to contemporary metafiction.23 11 . that is. but the fictionality or constructedness of that world itself.’ Chimera.21 Later surveying the critical landscape. so doubts emerge about the very possibility of knowledge as distinct from the various forms of narrative gratification. universal truths which form the foundations of western civilization and “function to give that civilization objective legitimization”.” Lyotard defines the postmodern as an “incredulity towards metanarratives”20 – the supposedly transcendent. TWO FORMS OF CONTEMPORARY METAFICTION Visionary Metafiction: Representing (Un)reality Art is as natural an artifice as nature. 1995) p124 22 Christopher Norris – ‘The Contest of Faculties: Philosophy and Theory after Deconstruction’. The Idea of the Postmodern: A History. As we saw in the previous section. (London: Routledge. reason. ‘Bellerophoniad. and the singular yet contingent goal of progress. (London. Jean-François Lyotard later expressed his discontent with modernity in the essay “La condition postmoderne” (1979) – namely. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1984) xxiv 21 Hans Bertens.John Barth. had managed to maintain an aura of transcendence. the traditional notion of ‘realism’ was revealed by modernist and structuralist thought to be problematic by virtue of language’s inherent inability to represent or refer to the external world accurately. an aura which no form of legitimation warrants. The subsequent advent of poststructural and postmodern theory to demonstrated not only the difficulty of representing ‘the world’. the truth of Fiction is that Fact is fantasy. “Simplifying to the extreme.II. New York: Methuen. that science. 1985) p.”22 20 Jean-François Lyotard. we must establish in what manner. and to what extent (if at all) contemporary metafiction purports to represent ‘reality’. (1972) Before we can adequately approach the work of Barth and Barthelme. be it emancipatory or otherwise. the made up story is a model of the world. Christopher Norris identifies what he called a distinct ‘narrative turn’ within theory: “as the idea gains ground that all theory is a species of sublimated narrative.
Metafiction (London. 1984) p. In doing so. chronology. New York: Routledge.179-180 12 . chronology etc.44 Gerald Graff.e. Patricia Waugh. science. that is. impermanent structures.Returning to the corresponding repercussions within literature. in the introduction to her book Metafiction (1984). argues that Contemporary metafiction is both a response and a contribution to the even more thoroughgoing sense that reality or history are provisional: no longer a world of eternal verities but a series of constructions. then. utilitarian communication and defines it as an autonomous. mimetic theory remains alive. as such. it attempts to express something real. the unreality of ‘reality’. Literature holds the mirror up to unreality…its conventions of reflexivity and antirealism are themselves mimetic of the kind of unreal reality that modern reality has become. conventional narrative features associated with the traditional understanding of ordered reality are increasingly rejected (i. Ironically. plot. positivist and empiricist world-view on which realistic fiction is premised no longer exists.) are either problematized or altogether absent. and as such it warrants clear exposition: The formalist view separates the literary work from objective reality. contemporary metafiction. literature qualifies as our guide to reality by derealizing itself…In a paradoxical and fugitive way. 24 Graff identifies two predominant literary reactions to the postmodern loss of reality.e. coherent characters/selves). and thus sets about portraying worlds in which these fictional elements (i. It posits that contemporary metafiction recognizes the unrealities present in the external world. which he labels ‘formalist’ and ‘visionary’. Literature Against Itself (London. this commonplace rendering of contemporary fiction’s relation to the external world seems to some extent paradoxical. self- 23 24 Patricia Waugh. This is a distinction I wish to retain and utilize in my examination of contemporary metafiction. The materialist. plot. 1988) pp. appears to retain some mimetic or ‘realistic’ capacity. As Gerald Graff describes: Where reality has become unreal. artifices. 23 Waugh goes on to show how. New York: Routledge. However. and the world of practical. which seeks to reveal the fictionality present within the external world.
Contemporary Literature. 1983). the term suggested by Susan Strehle for this kind of relation is ‘actualism’. we may better understand Waugh’s claim that while metafiction explicitly lays bare the conventions of realism. Robert Coover’s The Public Burning and E. literature does not withdraw from objective reality but appropriates it. critics inappropriately term recent novels anti-realistic and deny them any relation to external reality. 1988) pp. namely ‘historiographic metafiction’. “we can suppose that postmodern fiction does express external reality.31 13 . while we see that postmodern fiction does abandon nineteenth-century realism (that is. just others’ truths. As she states. and still retains a connection to the external world. as well as Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (which I shall later look at in comparison to the works of Barth and Barthelme). avoiding representation of the world altogether). As Hutcheon states. dependent on.”27 She thus situates the work of Thomas Pynchon and Vladimir Nabakov as emblematic of this kind of mimetic relation. the fictionality of that world and its narrative structures. 25 Thus. it does not ignore or 25 26 Ibid.1. “appropriately sensing the differences between the worlds of postmodern fiction and realism.24. and never one Truth. p.sufficient “world” or law unto itself. No. and there is rarely falseness per se. Hutcheon’s notion of ‘postmodern’ fiction. calling into question the entire opposition between the imaginative and the real. (Spring. developing seemingly ‘anti-realistic’ techniques as part of a new mimetic mode. With this in mind. Examples of this kind of work Hutcheon gives include Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Doctorow’s Ragtime.” more productively. independent of the external world… In [the visionary] view. pp. The relation contemporary metafiction of the ‘visionary’ kind holds to the world is neither one of ‘realism’ (in the nineteeth-century sense of the word) nor anti-realism (that is. attempting to reveal as fact. ‘Actualism: Pynchon’s Debt to Nabakov’. is equivalent to that which Graff labels visionary. “Historiographic metafictions …openly assert that there are only truths in the plural.109110 27 Susan Strehle. or constructed through narrative structures.” 26 Hence. Vol.14-15 Linda Hutcheon. A Poetics of Postmodernism (London.L. held between fiction and a world whose ‘truths’ are recognized as to a large extent contingent. New York: Routledge. she argues. the expressing of eternal truths which pertain to humanity and the world) it adopts a new kind of realism.
the ‘visionary’ or ‘historiographic’ metafiction (though she does not use those terms). 1988) p. Brian McHale argues that “to escape the general postmodernist incredulity toward metanarratives it is only necessary that we regard our own metanarrative incredulously. even if this ideology is one that calls all ideologies into question. Vol. “there seems to be no getting away from the fact that literature must have an ideology. then. namely.”29 In “Poetics”. our confidence in empiricist and positivist epistemologies have been shaken – shaken. As she states. Metafiction (London. New York: Routledge.” Hutcheon thus makes the case that postmodern fiction (in her account. 1979) p. ‘Telling Postmodernist Stories’. “Postmodernism is a contradictory cultural enterprise. Hutcheon argues that “in both fiction and history writing today. though no doubt useful. Poetics Today.106 31 Brian McHale. if ‘visionary’ metafiction is to be coherent. 28 29 Patricia Waugh. Literature Against Itself (London.11 30 Linda Hutcheon. New York: Routledge. proffering it tentatively or provisionally. “does not abandon the real world for the narcissistic pleasures of the imagination. it too must subject itself to the same skepticism it expounds. to which ‘visionary’ or ‘historiographic’ metafiction falls prey.abandon them. ‘historiographic metafiction’) is by its very nature paradoxical. What it does is to re-examine the conventions of realism in order to discover – through its own self-reflection – a fictional form that is culturally relevant and comprehensible to contemporary readers. humanist ‘realities’ are recognized as largely contingent.3.”28 This clarification of terms. No. The very act of denying all ‘naïve’ realisms presupposes an objective standpoint. as no more (but no less) than a strategically useful and satisfying fiction.18 Gerald Graff. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.”31 Hence. And this is what accounts for the skepticism rather than any real denunciation. how this kind of fiction might seek to express a truth about a world whose historic.551 14 . Aspects of Literary Theory (1988). it also accounts for the defining paradoxes of postmodern discourses. fictional or constructed? As he states. does not circumnavigate the paradox highlighted by Graff. but perhaps not yet destroyed. in a certain sense.9. p. 1984) p. one that is heavily implicated in what it seeks to contest. It uses and abuses the very structures and values it takes to task.”30 Thus. ideological. A Poetics of Postmodernism (London.
”32 She thus sets metafiction of this type apart from the strictly postmodern.Donald Barthelme.9 15 . In light of the realization that “reality as such does not exist. “Surfiction and the New Novel are like abstract art: they do not so much transgress codes of representation as leave them alone. 1975) p.40 Ibid. as a pseudorealistic document that informs us about life. Surfiction ed. Like Graff. Fiction will no longer be regarded as a mirror of life. even as they invoke it. 34 Raymond Federman. or an imitation or even a recreation of reality. Dr. “fiction can no longer be… a representation of reality. Hutcheon sets apart these two forms of metafiction. ‘Florence Green is 81’. nor will it be judged on the basis of its social. “no longer attempts to mirror reality or tell any truth about it. Italo Calvino and Barth himself. Ronald Sukenick.” whose theorists admit. ‘visionary’ or ‘historiographic’ form. Postmodern novels problematize narrative representation. Come Back. and those which retain a connection with the world. representing or exploring it in its unreality.”34 As he goes on to state. A Poetics of Postmodernism (London. he argues. or rather exists only in its fictionalized version”. p.”33 Significant critical proponents of this formalist branch of metafiction include Raymond Federman. As she states. ‘Introduction’. In the collected papers titled Surfiction: Fiction Now and Tomorrow.Caligari (1964) p. Federman outlines the key propositions of this form. Federman (Chicago: Shallow Press. New York: Routledge. it can only be A REALITY. two predominant literary responses to the perceived unrealty of ‘reality’ in postmodern society can be identified: those which recoil into the formal realities of the fiction-making process. 35 32 33 Linda Hutcheon. moral…value…but on the basis of what it is and what it does as an autonomous art form in its own right.14 As I suggested above.8 35 Ibid.Formalist Metafiction: Constructing Autonomous Realities “The aim of literature […] is the creation of a strange object covered with fur which breaks your heart” . 1988) p. characterizing the formalist branch of contemporary metafiction as a form of “extreme of modernist autotelic self-reflexion.
39 Similarly. surfiction revels in the subversion of fictional conventions. self-conscious play and subversion of convention found in New Fiction is taken to express something about the world.75 16 . Sukenick extends these sentiments.”38 In light of this new conception of literary creation.1. This approach is akin to the way in which I suggested ‘visionary’ or ‘historiographic’ metafictions are often read. in what Hutcheon would argue. offering a distinction that is useful at this stage of our discussion. stating that “the experience exists in and for itself. appears to be an extended expression of modernist selfconsciousness. the writer sees his role as adding new objects to the world. No. The first of these approaches he labels the “Theory of Meanings Approach”. ‘The New Tradition in Fiction’.”36 He identifies this as the most distinct and praiseworthy quality of some of Barthelme’s works. p. The second approach he labels the “Theory of Non-Meaning” or “Art as Object” approach. Federman (Chicago: Shallow Press. the writer's main obligations do not lie in mirroring reality or expressing something. He describes how much of the new fiction produced during the late sixties and early seventies “tries to sever its obvious connections with the real world” and instead present “the process of the imagination engaged with and transforming its materials into new aesthetic objects. p. Vol. in his essay ‘After Joyce’. 1975) p45 37 Ibid. rather. which essentially concurs with the critical approach outlined in Federman’s Surfiction. ‘Meaning and Non-Meaning in Barthelme’s Fictions’.Hence. fiction that is aware of its limits will no longer hold the pretense to represent or express a reality. Surfiction ed. Barthelme describes “the mysterious shift that takes place as soon as one says that art is not about 36 Ronald Sukenick. in this case. Larry McCaffrey outlines two possible ways of approaching the work of Barthelme and metafiction in general.”37 Thus. and formal experimentation. new objects made. the words will be treated as ends in themselves. even beautiful.74 39 Ibid. 1979). thematizing the manner in which we construct or impose meaning from the disparate events in our lives. Journal of Aesthetic Education. 13. interesting. describing them as ‘opaque’ (though without negative connotations): “opacity implies that we should direct our attention to the surface of a work. It is opaque in the way that abstract painting is opaque in that it cannot be explained as representing some other kind of experience. 38 Larry McCaffrey. (Jan. out of words. the fragmentation.
Faced with the unreal nature of reality.”42 In the wake of the modernist deconstruction of literary conventionality and attack on nineteenth-century ‘realism’. Surfiction.”43 Thus many of the works of Barth and Barthelme can be seen as explorations into the very possibilities of fiction itself. While the receptive approaches McCaffery outlines are useful. p. Federman (Chicago: Shallow Press.1.301 43 Ibid. p. (Jan. it is no longer reality or man. which actively seek to represent a similarly meaningless and fragmented world. Many contemporary writers. encourages an “Art as Object” receptive approach. p. to have a referential quality about them that. or sounds and rhythms. in their meaninglessness and fragmentation. 41 Thus. Words seems always to be "pointing" somewhere. say.76 42 Raymond Federman. they are not without hazard. we see how formalist metafiction. No. 13. though would rather avoid. ed. don't possess. no.” as Federman puts it. and those which. Journal of Aesthetic Education. distancing it from any mimetic pretense. invented thing. Vol.14 Larry McCaffrey.something but is something. ‘Meaning and Non-Meaning in Barthelme’s Fictions’.1 (Summer 1964). lines and colors. 1975) p. are seeking new means and strategies to focus the reader's attention on the book as object. however.301 17 . in foregrounding its artificiality and methods of construction. “literature confronts its own impossibility. as distinct from (or as another object within) ‘the world’. ‘After Joyce. With regards to the “Theory of Meanings Approach”.”40 This is an idea that held significant influence within the realms of painting and sculpture earlier in the century – for example in the Pop Art of the 1950s and Dadaism before that. 40 41 Donald Barthelme.a program which emphasizes process at the expense of meaning. of life. McCaffery suggests that the reason such a realization has been resisted within the literary arts (by critics and authors alike) probably has to do with the very nature of ‘language’ as a medium. “literature nonetheless continues to search for possibilities – it searches within itself for its subject because the subject I no longer outside the work of art. critics must exercise discretion in distinguishing between seemingly meaningless and fragmented fictions. and which usually involves forcing the reader to consider the object before him not as a "mirror of" or "window to" reality. or “transitory aspect of the world. ‘Fiction Today or the Pursuit of Non-Knowledge’. as an artificial construction .’ Location 1. but as a made-up. happen merely to resemble the world. 1979). As he states.
trans. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Towards a Sociology of the Novel.12 45 Lucien Goldmann.all together. Graff helps clarify such hazards. Graff. Gerald – ‘Literature Against Itself’ (London. Knowing just where to draw the line is the problem. and those which revert to anti-realism in order to avoid representation. Alan Sheridan (London: Travistock Publications. Graff. between those which seek to represent through anti-realist methods. and even radically anti-realistic methods are sometimes defensible as legitimate means of representing unreal reality. pointing out how critics have often gone wrong in their treatment of metafictive texts: Fantastic or nonrealistic methods may serve the end of illustrating aspects of reality as well as conventionally realistic methods. these represent “two of the most realistic works of contemporary fiction.”46 The critical problem. p. 44 Gerald Graff. 1979) p. Gerald – ‘Literature Against Itself’ (London.”45 This demonstrates Graff’s crucial point.12 47 Ibid. Literature Against Itself. “is to discriminate between anti-realistic works which provide some true understanding of non-reality and those which are mere symptoms of it”47. 44 He highlights the example of Lucien Goldmann’s reading of Allain RobbeGrillet’s Le Gommes and Le Voyeur. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 18 .” Goldmann argues that in their lack of meaningfulness. the task of representation (no longer perceived as a possibility). Literature Against Itself. 1975).145 46 Gerald Graff. he argues. 1979) p. the theme of which Goldmann posits as “the disappearance of any importance and any meaning from individual action. “such a justification could be given for virtually any piece of nonsense-writing.
Prefatory Note on Selected Readings Having outlined two of the fundamental critical approaches one might take with regards to works of contemporary metafiction (as well as several problems associated with each). ‘thematized’ – either through ‘overt’ theorization. I shall now attempt to engage with some of the key texts within the metafictional canon. or simply to avoid it (thus seeking autonomy). or ‘covert’ actualization – in order to either problematize representation. 19 . to use Hutcheon’s terms. The texts I have chosen serve to demonstrate the distinct ways in which narrative artifice is.
p. or both were often substituted for proper names in nineteenthcentury to enhance the illusion of reality” (LF. which in turn is the printed equivalent to oral emphasis” (LF. THEMATIZING NARRATIVE ARTIFICE John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse (1968) Of my selected readings. (Anchor Books Edition. In “Seven Additional Author’s Notes”. 20 . At the end of the story. the most extreme in terms of its metafictional self-reflection. For instance. Barth thematizes the processes involved in the construction of fiction through ‘overt’ theorization within the text itself. p.73). in some instances the process of composition […] – into dramatically relevant emblems of the theme. since these examples adequately demonstrate the type of metafictionality at work. 1988) p. However. p. or is he a figment of the author’s imagination?” (LF. of “Lost in the Funhouse”.72). Before we consider the effect and possible motivations for such theorization. “Is there really such a person as Ambrose. p. John Barth’s short story collection. blanks. traditional narrative form discussed: “The action of conventional dramatic narrative may be represented by a diagram called Freitag’s Triangle” (LF.95). p.88). Barth describes the ‘regnant idea’ linking the stories as “one of turning as many aspects of the fiction as possible – the structure.”48 The fiction’s conventional – or artificial – elements are to a large extent the focus of its content. verisimilitude or fiction’s connection to the real world is theorized: “Initials. “Lost in the Funhouse. In the collection’s title piece. Ambrose is left “telling stories to himself in the dark” (LF.203 – Further references within text LF. We are even made aware of the conventions involved with printing: “A straight underline is the manuscript mark for italic type. this is by no means the only metafictional element.III. the means of presentation. The funhouse through which Ambrose travels and in which he eventually becomes lost forms an allegory for both the writing process and the reading of the text itself – that is.” Lost in the Funhouse. and though “he wishes he had 48 John Barth. the narrative viewpoint. too. “Seven Additional Author’s Notes. let us look at several examples. We see. An exhaustive list is not necessary. Lost in the Funhouse (1968). added to the collection in 1969. without a doubt. is.” Barth repeatedly directs the reader’s attention to the conventions of traditional realism. a diagram of which is included.95).
50 His stories thus constitute an “attempt to represent not life directly but a representation of life. Hence. he laments his status as a character whose life falls short of fictional convention.” as he puts it – similarly describing his earlier novels (The Sot-Weed Factor and Giles Goat-Boy) as “novels which imitate the form of the Novel. 1980) p. Currie (London.” he resolves to “construct funhouses for others and be their secret operator – though he would rather be among the lovers for whom funhouses are designed” (LF. they’d have hairs-breadth escapes from real dangers. ‘the medium is the message’. he’d do and say the right things.91). We hear how he wishes to “Not act. New York: Longman. one might argue. and how his self-consciousness (or the text’s self-consciousness) prevents his being ‘real’. like Ambrose. Ambrose wonders whether he will “become a real person” (LF. 1995) pp. In what he describes as one of Borges’ “favourite fictional devices.”51 Even Ambrose. it is the ‘process’ (the story-telling) which forms Barth’s thematic content.97).” but that ultimately “what had happened in the toolshed was nothing” (LF. and how “in the movies he’d meet a beautiful girl in the funhouse. As with many instances of metafiction. Narcissistic Narrative (London. At the end of the story. by an author who imitates the role of Author.168-169 21 . Barth’s fiction foregrounds that which. remains implicit. I am experiencing it” (LF. p. the operator of the funhouse (with all its self-reflexive mirrors) through which we ‘lovers’ (readers) have just walked. p.” also contained within the collection.”49 Barth. represents an imitation of a character and is to some extent aware of his shortcomings. p. in some new or old part of the place that’s not supposed to be used” (LF. rather than the ‘product’ (the story that is told). ‘The Literature of Exhaustion’ (1967). p. 1995) p. In “Life-Story. ‘The Literature of Exhaustion’ (1967).167 50 Linda Hutcheon.83). in Metafiction ed.” Barth “turns the artist’s mode or form into a metaphor for his concerns…not just the form of the story but the fact of the story is symbolic.84). New York: Longman. p. how throughout his childhood encounter with Magda in the toolshed “what he’d really felt…was an odd sense of detatchment…he heard his mind take notes on the scene: This is what the call passion. New York: Methuen.never entered the funhouse.91). “is off the track. be” (LF. conventionally. p. Ambrose becomes the writer of the fiction we have just read. Currie (London.3 51 John Barth. in Metafiction ed.83). we encounter a writercharacter who is similarly confronted by the difficulty of writing in a 49 John Barth.
it seems. so too is a continuation of modernist self-reflexivity. Lost in The Funhouse is “a narrative about the failure of self-reflexive narrative. thus replicating what he takes to be his own situation. 1. p. never mind modernity!” (LF. and subsequently sets about writing a story in which the protagonist “comes to suspect that the world is a novel. The protagonist of the writer-character’s story is also a writer-character (a fictionalized version of himself). Another story about a writer writing a story!” he goes on to ask. it is fiction about modernist self-reflexion. But the crucial difference between the writer-character’s story and Barth’s “Life-Story” is that while the former is another ‘story about a writer writing a story’.117).64 22 . heroes I can admire […] It doesn’t matter how naively linear the anecdote is. (Winter. 12.117). As Deborah Woolley similarly suggests. As Lost in the Funhouse collection demonstrates. himself a fictional personage” (LF. ‘realistic. Contemporary Literature. No. No. Vol.128 53 Comment quoted by Campbell Tatham.”52 Later in “Life-Story”. yet as Barth claims. p.’ Contemporary Literature. p.”53 As one of the Barth-like narrators of “Title” similarly states.’ unself-conscious way” (LF. ‘Empty “Text. After beginning his story. Barth’s story takes on a ‘Chinese Box’ structure – one of mise en abyme. “the final possibility is 52 Deborah Woolley. The answer.“conservative.4 (Winter. For Barth. Hence. the initial writer-character complains that his story is “fashionably solipsistic. and to make the artifice part of your point. is to affirm the artificial element in art (you can't get rid of it anyhow). 1985). 119). “a different way to come to terms with the discrepancy between art and the Real Thing. 1971) p. The writer-character comes to suspect that he is a character in a fiction. unoriginal – in fact a convention of twentieth-century literature.” Fecund Voice: Self-Reflexivity in Barth’s “Lost in the Funhouse. ‘John Barth and the Aesthetics of Artifice’. the latter is a story about a writer who is aware of the conventionality and unoriginality of a story about a writer writing a story. a writer-character (at one of the ontological levels) declares “I want passion and bravura in my plot. is John Barth. fiction inevitably involves artifice. p. Barth’s is a story about the exhaustion or triteness of a certain type of self-consciousness. “Who doesn’t prefer art that at least overtly imitates something or other than its own process? That doesn’t continually proclaim ‘Don’t forget that I am artifice?’” (LF. and is thus said to be writing a similar account of his situation. Vol.117). while such a naïve return to the conventions of realism is impossible.26. extending ad infinitum in both ontological directions.
then.107). ultimate adjective hour. as we have seen. to be primarily concerned with the possibility of literature’s continuation. much-cited essay What […] ‘The Literature of Exhaustion’ was really about. While Barth’s work partakes in the rejection of realism through the use of alienation. referring to his earlier. seems. Lost in the Funhouse may be best characterized as an expression of late-modernist selfreflection – yet one that is at the same time overwhelmingly confronted with modernism as an ‘intellectual dead end’ – the novel “moribund. in “The Literature of Exhaustion” Barth argues that 54 John Barth. if not already dead.121) as the writer-character of “Life-Story” puts it. 1984) p. the Barth-like narrator of “Title” again says. 111). (New York: G. As Barth states in “The Literature of Replenishment” (1979). ‘The Literature of Replenishment’ (1979). so it seems to me now. multiple viewpoints (“Menelaiad”). in The Friday Book: Essays and Other Non-Fiction. sentiment above suggests that he is concerned not with the postmodern’s sensed loss of objective reality. Barth’s answer. not-to-be-repudiated. “to acknowledge what I’m doing while I’m doing it” (LF.” (LF. p. 54 Lost in the Funhouse. in the wake of modernism’s subversion of literary conventions and effective deconstruction of artistic representation. The question faced is that of how fiction is to proceed “in this dehuman. exhausted. published the year after ‘The Literature of Exhaustion’ (1969). As such. is to make the artifice part of the point. was the effective ‘exhaustion’ not of language or of literature but of the aesthetic of high modernism: that admirable. p. as one of the narrators of “Title” puts it.to…turn ultimacy against itself to make something new and valid. p.109). but rather with the inability to represent. the essence whereof would be the impossibility of making something new” (LF. when every humane value has become untenable” (LF. Hence. and so on.Putnam’s Sons. intertextual references.206 23 . through art. the ‘Real Thing’ – still nonetheless felt to exist. but essentially completed ‘program’ of what Hugh Kenner has dubbed ‘the Pound era’.
As such. aware of what one’s predecessors have been up to. not innocently. in Metafiction ed.”57 it does not fulfill that of McHale or Hutcheon. ‘The Literature of Exhaustion’ (1967). but in a way that knowingly acknowledges (through overt theorization) all that modernism. in its unrelenting attack on literary conventions.Putnam’s Sons. 1984) p. punctuation…even characterization! Even plot! – if one goes about it the right way. or constructed through discourse and narrative structures. a thoroughgoing sense in which reality is fictional. ‘The Literature of Replenishment’.It might be conceivable to rediscover validly the artifices of language and literature – such far out notions as grammar. Currie (London. that is. we see how the stories in Lost in the Funhouse utilizes fictional conventions.167 56 John Barth. in The Friday Book: Essays and Other NonFiction. but so too is the mere continuation of the modernist aesthetic. according to whom postmodern fiction must stem from ontological skepticism. While such a metafiction may fulfill Umberto Eco’s characterization of the postmodern. New York: Longman.”56 Barth asserts).173 24 . a naïve return to realist conventions is impossible. ‘Reflections on the Name of the Rose’ in Metafiction ed. New York: Longman. succeeded in exposing. 1995) p. Currie (London.202 57 Umberto Eco. as I suggested above. 55 For Barth. 55 John Barth. whose adversary mode of transgression is effectively exhausted (“we really don’t need more Finnegans Wakes and Pisan Cantos. (New York: G. in which the modern is “revisited: but with irony. 1995) p.
53 Ibid. this would be a more ‘covert’ version of diegetic self-reflectiveness. 59 Hence. but these would not be in the obvious form of direct address. Snow White is paradigmatic of the formalist style of metafiction outlined in the previous chapter. 1975) p. is the emboldened. What if the author decides to assume that his reader already knows the story-making rules? He would still imbed certain instructions in the text. establishing some of the ways in which it ‘actualizes’ narrative artifice through a more ‘covert’ from of metafictionality than that found in Lost in the Funhouse.30 61 Ronald Sukenick. Narcissistic Narrative. 1980) p.”60 With this distinction in mind.”61 Barthelme attempts to thrust the novel’s own ontological status into the foreground. ‘The new Tradition’ in Surfiction ed. “we have to learn to think about a novel as a concrete structure rather than an allegory. p. upper-case announcements – single or short 58 59 Linda Hutcheon. Federman (Chicago: Shallow Press. New York: Methuen.Donald Barthelme’s Snow White (1968) As stated before. instead. The first of these techniques we encounter.71 60 Ibid. p. “seems to involve the thematizing within the story of its storytelling concerns – parody.40 25 . its ontological status as an ‘art object’ – as fiction as opposed to representation. she asks. As Ronald Sukenick states. ‘overt’ diegetic narcissism.”58 But. narrative conventions. Therefore. and continue to do so throughout. and through doing so raises several questions regarding how we are to read Snow White.” she argues. As such. Linda Hutcheon makes the distinction between the ‘overt’ theorization of narrative artifice (as found in Lost in the Funhouse) and ‘covert’ actualization of narrative artifice. in the move from overt to covert narcissism. “the stress alters subtly from the teaching of the thematized reader to the actualized act of reading in progress. (London. we may begin to look at Barthelme’s novel Snow White (1968). striving to highlight. “For the reader/critic of metafiction. existing in the realm of experience than of discursive meaning. creative process – with an eye to teaching him his new. it takes leave of the modernist problematics concerning representation. more active role.
How. determine. (Spring. For example. juxtaposed. Snow White (1968). 1987) p. 63 Brian McHale.107 64 John Leland. “Firmness mirror model custody of the blow adequate scale I concede that it is to a degree instruments distances parched. 5.3. the reader is heralded as the essential meaning-maker.but. in other words.187 – Further references within text SW. (London. the novel ends with: THE FAILURE OF SNOW WHITE’S ARSE REVIRGINIZATION OF SNOW WHITE APOTHEOSIS OF SNOW WHITE SNOW WHITE RISES INTO THE SKY THE HEROES DEPART IN SEARCH OF A NEW PRINCIPLE HEIGH-HO62 Not only is the novel’s ontological status foregrounded – the reader being forced to focus on the act of reading. we also notice the refusal of a closed ending. and the spatial arrangement of words on the page . Vol.sequences of sentences – that appear in the centre of otherwise blank pages. 62 Donald Barthelme. in which the visible ‘bifurcation’ of the plot highlights authorial decisions concerning construction. and with it closed meaning. as these form the closing words of the novel.”63 Elsewhere in the Snow White we see Burroughs-style cut ups. Our desire to impose a coherent teleology or narrative structure upon the disparate fragments found in the novel is denied. Postmodernist Fiction. As Jerome Klinkowitz argues. we fix. 1996) p. Snow White forces the reader to ask how literary texts are written and how they are read. What Curios of Signs!’ Boundary 2. with irregular spacing. and delimit language as literature?64 The answer is essentially that which poststructural criticism promotes. New York: Routledge.37) Instances of this ‘cut-up’ or ‘assemblage’ technique inevitably raise questions concerning the reading process.808 26 .” (SW. p. for example. No. (New York: Scribner. “mutually exclusive possibilities are jointly realized. ‘Remarks Re-Marked: Barthelme. Brian McHale points to this ‘forking of paths’ as a recurrent stylistic feature of postmodern fiction. 1977) p.
one that is by no means exclusive to contemporary metafiction.111) One dwarf goes on to state: We like books that have a lot of dreck in them. (As I stated in the first chapter. to an extent. however argue that postmodern thought provides metafictive techniques with renewed impetus for the ‘formalist’ writer. dry. breadlike pages that turned. ‘Avant-Garde and After. carefully attended to. Jane and her mother 65 Jerome Klinkowitz.132 27 . This is a common metafictive device. and then fell…fragments kept flying off the screen into the audience. of having “completed” them. (SW. matter which presents itself as not wholly relevant (or indeed. 9. One can. calling for the novel’s operation within the realm of ‘experience’ as opposed that of ‘discursive meaning’. can supply a kind of “sense” of what is going on. but especially effective in the foregrounding of fictional ontology. No. Hence. p. fragments of rain and ethics.” (SW.Fiction itself is an autonomous reality. providing fiction with a means of highlighting its ontological status – as an autonomous reality as opposed to the type of representation of ‘reality’). meaning itself will not preexist the fiction but be created in it. This “sense” is not to be obtained by reading between the lines (for there is nothing there but white space) but by reading the lines themselves – looking at them and so arriving at a feeling not of satisfaction exactly. p. through mise en abyme. embed ‘reading instructions’ of this sort within the text itself. in nuce (as a smaller version of itself) or as a novel-within-a-novel. 65 Snow White does. The new conventions follow in kind: reading must become a more energetic act. 2. Issue 27: Current Trends in American Fiction (1980). but of having read them. p. Snow White.’ SubStance. In another instance of covert metafictive instruction.112) The dwarf’s words echo closely those of Ronald Sukenick. no bogus order may be imposed on its events-things transpire by digression […]. Several of the dwarves take part in reading of a novel by ‘Dampfboot’ (including the outer part where the author is praised and the price quoted . with which many writers of contemporary ‘formalist’ metafiction (including Barthelme) are particularly concerned. one cannot argue that it is postmodern thought that originally gave rise to metafictional awareness itself – at least within realm of literature.thus the object as a whole) and describe their experience: “It was hard to read. itself. Vol. the Dampfboot novel represents the novel. a participation in the process of fictional creation. at all relevant) but which.
as readers. realist reader. What is it (twenty-five words or less)? _______________________ ____________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________ … 12.” to which Jane again replies. which. I’m sure it means something. Barthelme’s clever use of pun on the word ‘content’ reminds us that much of the novel’s thematic ‘content’ focuses on the act of reading itself. Do you feel that the Authors Guild has been sufficiently vigorous in representing writers before the Congress in matters pertaining to copyright legislation? Yes ( ) No ( ) … 14. Content yourself with that mother” (SW. Has the work. The clearest example of Barthelme’s thematization of the reader’s role comes in the form of a parodic questionnaire which features at the end of Part I of the novel. parodic or ironic in that it temporarily reasserts an authorial voice (elsewhere effaced.113). question ten forces us to articulate our ‘reading’ of it.” her mother replies “I think you dismiss these things too easily Jane. in Barthelme’s understanding. A distinctly authorial voice presents us with fifteen ‘QUESTIONS’: 9. find meaning in the text. question twelve crosses ontological realms – between that of the fictive world and the real world – in another foregrounding of the autonomous ‘world’ fictive referents construct. or postmodern reader and her mother as the traditional. for you. forces us to consider the reading act. “In the further development of the story. for example question five asks. or implicitly construed as ‘dead’) only to have that voice succumb to the reader’s whims. and question fourteen. Clearly. While Jane tells her mother to “Think nothing of it. p. Do you stand up when you read? ( ) Lie down? ( ) Sit? ( ) This direct address makes it impossible for the reader to remain passive: question two highlights the extent to which we. in a sense. a metaphysical dimension? Yes ( ) No ( ) 10. Leave things alone. would you like more emotion ( ) or less emotion ( )?” as if the empowered reader really did control 28 . This questionnaire is. is more one of creating meaning than it is of finding preexistent meaning.discus the meaning of an ‘apelike hand’ found in their mailbox. “Don’t go reading things mother. Jane here is situated as the poststructuralist. too. and the way we approach the novel as an object within our experience. It means what it means.
1980) p. to an extent. New York: Methuen.42 29 . it would serve us well to look at an instance of what Hutcheon would call ‘historiographic metafiction’ – primarily as a point of contrast. Narcissistic Narrative (London." the ascetic and tortured modernism of a Kafka. Despite its ties to the modernist aesthetic. so the reader – from those same words – manufactures in reverse a literary universe that is as much his creation as it is the novelist’s. jouissance. and of the subject of history. “ostensibly reject the modernist notion of negativity replacing it with play. which (as Hutcheon states) the reader of ‘overt’ metafiction is taught and which ‘covert’ metafiction already assumes: As the novelist actualizes the world of his imagination through words. this new poststructurally-informed characterization of the reader which sets not ‘modern’ (as Hutcheon has it in this. we have thus begun to establish the ‘new role’.39 68 Ibid p. i. it is a modernism of playful transgression. 66 67 Linda Hutcheon.or write the text. with a critical form of affirmation. As Andreas Huyssen suggests: It is no longer the modernism of "the age of anxiety. of an unlimited weaving of textuality. No. what we find in the postmodern brand of textual and formal self-consciousness seems to be an attitude of celebration due to a sensed liberation (as opposed to structuralist ‘prisonhouse’ captivity). 67 Huyssen goes on to describe how “Barthes and his American fans. New German Critique. This near equation of the acts of reading and writing is one of the concerns that sets modern metafiction apart form previous novelistic self-consciousness. Modernity and Postmodernity. ‘Mapping the Postmodern’. of history. 1984). enabling us to better place Barth and Barthelme’s work. p. 66 Perhaps it is.” amongst whom Barthelme and other Surfiction writers may well feature. in its denial of the subject. a modernism all confident in its rejection of representation and reality.27 Andreas Huyssen. a quotation her earlier study of self-conscious fiction) but ‘postmodern’ fiction apart from previous forms of metafictive self-reflection.e.”68 an affirmation that is strongly sensed in Snow White. (Autumn. ambiguity and abstraction […] Rather..33. At this point. a modernism of negativity and alienation. In our reading. bliss.
but the imaginative transformation of it.”71 In Slaughterhouse Five. on a thematic level.Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (1969) Listing Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.129 71 Jerome Klinkowitz. Patricia Waugh describes how Metafiction suggests not only that writing history is a fictional act.17 – Further references in the text SH. In his encounter with the an alien race. ranging events conceptually through language to form a world-model. New York: Longman. 2000) p.32 72 Kurt Vonnegut. but that history itself is invested. We may look to Slaughterhouse Five as a prime example of ‘visionary’ or ‘historiographic’ metafiction described in the previous chapter – depicting a historical event or passage of time. along side Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. In the second chapter. As Hutcheon states. as an example.48-49 Linda Hutcheon. we learn how Billy Pilgrim. 69 Though Waugh fails to make the distinction. Firstly. 30 . this achieved through both thematic content. ‘Telling Stories: Fiction and History.’ in Modernism /Postmodernism. akin to time-travel. (Vintage. or taken to be real. The Life of Fiction (Chicago. like fiction. with interrelating plots which appear to interact independently from human design. Metafiction.” “locating the discourses of both history and fiction within an ever-expanding intertextual network that mocks any notion of either a single origin or simple causality. Lon. the novel’s protagonist. Illinois Press. Slaughterhouse Five (1968). the Tralfamadorians. (London. imposed upon events in order to render them meaningful to a civilization) and the human concept of time itself. in an attempt to reveal the fictionality or ‘unreality’ of that which is often naturalized. has “come unstuck in time.”72 experiencing the events of his life in a distinctly non-linear fashion. the novel focuses on history (as a form of meta-narrative or story. it is clear that the metafiction to which she here refers is specifically that that of the visionary/historiographic variety.: Uni. and the self-reflexivity of the novel’s narrators. 1992) p. New York: Routledge. historiographic metafiction uses parody to “put into question the authority of any act of writing. Peter Brooker (London. 69 70 Patricia Waugh.”70 Jerome Klinkowitz argues that this kind of fiction (which he labels ‘disruptivist’) is concerned with “not just the reporting of the world. yet baring the manner in which its narrative is constructed. 1977) p. 1984) p. ed.
: Uni. crayon lines on a long stretch of wallpaper). in the absence of a traditional ‘realist’ or historical account. Hence what we are offered.2). We…read them all at once.he learns how they “can look at all the different moments [past. no middle. why spend time representing it?”73 This is a sentiment strongly conveyed through the fabulation and metafictionality of Slaughterhouse Five. a Tralfamadorian describes ‘earthlings’ as “the great explainers. The Life of Fiction (Chicago. It simply is” (SH. which they explain to him as follows: Each clump of symbols is a brief urgent message – describing a situation. for example in the call for work to be judged not on the basis of its social or moral value. is predominantly fabulation. since all [he] would have to do would be to report what [he] had seen. a scene. As Klinkowitz states. Illinois Press. p. present and future] just the way we can look at a stretch of Rocky Mountains. no moral.19-20). the Tralfamadorians offer Billy some of their literature. they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep.” but how in reality. except that the author has chosen them carefully.62). Lon. the novel thematizes the human tendency to impose linearity and causality upon events. Interestingly.” going on to explain how “All time is all time…It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. Clearly. There is no beginning. There isn’t any particular relationship between the messages. no suspense. no causes. “not many words about Dresden came from [his] mind” (SH. In the first chapter of the novel. then. p. so that.64) One can’t help but hear echoes of Raymond Federman’s ‘propositions’ concerning surfiction here. no effects. the narrator (a minimally fictionalized version of Vonnegut himself) describes how he “thought it would be easy for [him] to write about the destruction of Dresden. explaining why this event is structured as it is. and in turn attempts to reveal the contingency/constructedness of these narrative structures. He too has difficulty planning the novel in a linear fashion (using coloured. (SH. like beads on a string” (SH. p. but on the basis of what it is and what it 73 Jerome Klinkowitz.” and how “it is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one. p.4 31 . Later in the novel. an attitude often found in American fiction of the late sixties is that “if the world is absurd…if what passes for reality is distressingly unreal. 1977) p. no end. not one after the other. when seen all at once.
it is not. linear narrative explanations consciously avoided. a fiction of this kind (despite holding certain sympathies towards it. Federman. ‘Introduction’. of having “completed” them. which withdraws from the act of representation. p. in its deliberately ‘jumbled’ plot or disrupted chronology). in order to problematize the notion of narration and highlight the ‘unrealities’ present in the world. p. and thus its ontological status. Surfiction ed. The novel does not simply leave representation alone (as did Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse and Barthelme’s Snow White) but situates itself as a historical representation.” (SW. or ‘formalist’ metafiction. While Slaughterhouse Five does contain this model. foregrounding its construction.74 The Tralfamadorians also state: “What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time” (SH. As we shall see in the concluding discussion that is to follow. (Chicago: Shallow Press. This time the statement echoes Barthelme’s dwarf when he states “We like books that have a lot of dreck in them. itself.64).” in which one reads “the lines themselves – looking at them and so arriving at a feeling not of satisfaction exactly. is essentially a model of surfiction. 1975) p. 74 Raymond Federman.112) What we find in Tralfamadorian literature. then.does as an autonomous art form in its own right – totalizing. but of having read them. this is an attribute which Hutcheon believes forms the crucial difference between metafiction that is to be labeled ‘postmodern’ and that which is not.8 32 .
‘‘Telling Stories: Fiction and History. McHale shares this concern. be construed as a symptom of it. and. but there is a problematizing of it. it seems impossible to establish from the text alone the authorial motivations – postmodern or otherwise – from which these features arise. surfiction or ‘formalist’ metafiction may nonetheless stem from the same postmodern theoretical concerns as historiographic or ‘visionary’ metafiction. she argues. Hutcheon argues that the anti-representational surfiction (here ‘formalist’ metafiction). postmodern metafiction must partake in a “denaturalising of the conventions of representing the past in narrative – historical and fictional – […] in such a way that the politics of the act of representing are made manifest”.240. which Barth and Barthelme can be said to produce.’ in Modernism /Postmodernism.232 76 Ibid.76 The reason Hutcheon excludes American Surfiction (or ‘formalist’ metafiction) from the ‘postmodern’ is that where ‘historiographic metafiction’ constitutes a discussion about the artificial (or contingent. does not. As we have seen.CONCLUSION As we have seen. however. ed. and points out the difficulty of distinguishing the diagnostic from the symptomatic in postmodern culture: “Almost anything that can be construed as a diagnosis of the postmodern condition can also. or constructed) nature of historical narratives (or metanarratives in general). it is not simply a case of novels metafictionally reveling in their own narrativity or fabulation. then. Narrative representation – story-telling – is a historical and political act. and those that are merely symptomatic of it. “In [postmodern] novels. 1992) p.”77 If what we are given in the Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse and Barthelme’s Snow White is formal metafictionality or poststructural ‘jouissance’. New York: Longman.30 33 . p. Peter Brooker (London. might best be labeled an instance of late or extreme modernism rather than postmodernism.” she states. yet its chosen reaction (a repudiation of representation) is not one that makes those concerns manifest. as such. it appears. The problem faced (outlined by Graff earlier in the debate) is that of distinguishing between texts that understand the postmodern.”75 For Hutcheon. My italics. 77 Ibid. In Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 75 Linda Hutcheon. p. surfiction/‘formalist’ metafiction. “there is no dissolution or repudiation of representation. namely the perceived artificiality of social narratives and the contingency or unreality of ‘reality’ in general.
Five. purged from the work of art. No. constitutes the crucial difference between the ‘visionary’ and ‘formalist’ varieties of contemporary metafiction discussed in this dissertation. then. it seems. be about the postmodern. 78 Andreas Huyssen. I believe. for a text to be discernibly postmodern.38 34 . life. given the perceived unreality of contemporary ‘reality’. Hence. to greater or lesser extent. “on a pristine notion of textuality. we see the fundamental contentions of the postmodernist made manifest. This. a new art for art's sake which is presumably the only kind possible after the failure of all and any commitment. based. Modernity and Postmodernity. as Huyssen argues. it must. (Autumn. What we instead see in Barth and Barthelme’s fiction is the construction of new autonomies. provides literature with a means of achieving autonomy – an autonomy which appears particularly attractive to the postmodern artist. Through ‘visionary’/historiographic metafictionality the postmodern is (in a somewhat paradoxical sense) represented.33.”78 Metafictionality. reality and history are. not just stem from postmodern thought. In all three of the texts studied. 1984). p. on the other hand. New German Critique. ‘Mapping the Postmodern’.
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