Sunday, September 29, 2013

All Things Meta—In Pursuit of Metafiction

I saw this tweet, followed the link, and read the review in The Atlantic online:
Review: #Rush is great Hollywood entertainment, and one of Ron Howard's best movies
Not a long review, nor profound, but amusing, which is pretty much what the review says about the movie. A link to another Atlantic review caught my attention:

The Transcontinental Novel That Won't Win the Booker Prize

I'm hooked and being reeled into the endless connections of the social Web—the great distraction of my working days. The novel sounds interesting, more interesting than the Ron Howard movie. But the reviewer, Joe Pinsker, is telling me too much of the plot, more than I want to know. I have to stop reading, and this chain of links comes to an end…, almost.

Pinsker describes the novel as "an unabashedly metafictional work." I've never heard of metafiction. It sounds like something I wouldn't like, though I don't know why, and feel the need to know more—another link to follow.

Much of my link chasing ends (and/or begins) with a visit to Wikipedia, and here I am, again.
Metafiction, also known as Romantic irony in the context of Romantic works of literature, uses self-reference to draw attention to itself as a work of art, while exposing the "truth" of a story.
Metafiction has been around at least since Homer, and, unbeknownst to me, I've read and loved numerous works in the genre. This Wikipedia entry doesn't say who coined the term or when, but it feels like a category beloved of late 20th century literary criticism—fecund ground for Ph.D. candidates to explore.

A quick correspondence with my personal go-to guy for literary criticism, Chris Goodrich, yields additional information:
Wikipedia sez, "William H. Gass coined the term “metafiction” in a 1970 essay entitled “Philosophy and the Form of Fiction”."
1970, the year I entered college at Washington University, where Professor Gass was the great man of the English Department. I remember hearing him speak, once, remember liking his lecture and being impressed, but I have no memory of what he said. And now, like so many who are ignorant of history, I am doomed to repeat it. In my ignorance, I'm accused, by Taylor Beck, our editorial intern, of practicing metafiction—of writing meta-jokes, as in the FastCoLabs Newsletter of 9/20/13:
It’s a well established fact that your favorite professor is the funniest Walrus in the Bering Sea. “I have a joke,” I told Big Katharine, my favorite cow in our Ugly. “A funny tweet happened on the way to the MIT Media Lab forum,” I said. “What’s funny about that?” she said. “It’s very funny,” I assured her, “you just don’t get it.” But she’d already flipped her flukes and swum away.
Time for me to end this pursuit and return to work, but first, how can I resist this link to the Adorable Care Act Tumblr, wherein baby animals explain Obama's Affordable Care Act using irony.

It's so meta!

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