Metafiction Summary


Metafiction, a work of fiction concerned with the nature of fiction, is a running theme in much postmodern literature. Metafictional literature allows the artist to relinquish control of the narrative to chance configurations. In metafiction, the author grants higher privileges to ontology than to epistemology. The fictional world is constructed in a collaborative effort with the reader. All fictions do this, but in metafiction it is done consciously and with the reader’s full knowledge. As the reader concentrates on the text, the world-making operation of the author is suspended. The author withdraws authority from the collaborative effort, leaving the reader to fill in the blank. A character’s fictional world is constructed only to be deconstructed, dispersed among it various authorial inscriptions and reader inscriptions in the text. By exploring and exposing the postcognitive, ontological aspects of fictional world and character construction, the structure of fictional worlds and characters and their contents, and the problem of the author as part of the text, metafiction can be a kind of metaphysics of identity.

Ultimately, the most extreme manifestation of the metafictional tendency in literature is the mise en abime, in which a recognizable image of the primary text is embedded within that text. In short, there is a story that frames another story. The most widely recognized piece of contemporary metafiction is perhaps John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969).

Postmodern metafictional strategy emphasizes the reading rather than the writing of fiction. The distinction suggests a fundamentally altered view of the artist and of literary creation. Even when a protagonist is engaged in the production of a text, this writing is not represented as an original creation but as a kind of rereading. Metafiction dramatizes the process or product of reinscription and raises the...

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Suggested Readings

Elliot, Emory. The Columbia History of the American Novel. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

McHale, Brian. Constructing Postmodernism. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Petitjean, Tom. “Coover’s ‘The Babysitter.’” Explicator 54, no. 1 (Fall, 1995): 49-51.