Introduction (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
After a few minutes of reading stories that are not self-reflexive, readers sometimes forget what they are doing and feel transported into the world of the book. Considering this experience naïve, authors of self-reflexive fictions thwart it by such devices as commenting on their own composition and focusing on storytellers as characters. To some extent, literary self-awareness has existed at least since Gilgamesh (c. 3000 b.c.e.), which mentions its being recorded on stone, but that single reference is not enough to make it very self-reflexive.
Truly self-reflexive fictions fall roughly into four levels of introspection: misguided self-consciousness, in which narrators examine their own words, seeking an elusive self-understanding; the Künstlerroman (artist’s novel), a novel about the education of a writer or some other analogous artist; “self-begetting” fiction, about its own creation; and extended Midrash, which focuses on its position within literature by combining narrative with literary criticism.
Self-reflexive authors tend to use language that is surprisingly contrived or casual, or to deviate from convention in countless other ways; this deviation highlights the text itself, thus making its portrayal of the world seem less real. This effect, called metafiction, is common to all self-reflexive works, though it is usually more extreme in each successive level.
(The entire section is 208 words.)
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