(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


The following entry presents criticism on authors and works of Metafiction.

Metafiction is a term applied to works of fiction that are concerned with the nature of fiction or the process of writing fiction in order to explore questions about the relationship between fiction and reality. Proponents of metafiction reject the concept that language reflects a coherent and objective world; instead, they assert that language is a complex, arbitrary system that can create its own forms and meanings. Their work intends to analyze the relationship between this linguistic system and the outside world. Metafiction rests on the principle of a fundamental dichotomy: the creation of a work of fiction and the stripping away of fictional illusions. Moreover, commentators have noted that metafiction gains popularity in times of crises and political and cultural uncertainty. The term itself seems to have originated in 1970 by the American novelist and critic William H. Gass in his collection of essays Fiction and the Figures of Life. Although metafictional elements can be found in all literary genres, it is predominant in the contemporary novel. Critics have traced the practice back to such early authors as Miguel de Cervantes, Henry Fielding, and Laurence Sterne. With the dawn of the twentieth century, metafiction emerged as a self-conscious, experimental form that reflected the seriousness and insecurity of the historical period; furthermore, it is perceived as a type of writing within the broader movement known as postmodernism. Modernists such as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Virginia Woolf wrote important metafictional works that reflected the breakdown of traditional values and influenced more recent authors. Considered the best-known contemporary practitioner of metafiction, John Barth has produced many prominent and self-referential works, such as his Lost in the Funhouse (1968) and Chimera (1972). Another well-known example of metafiction is John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969), which self-consciously examines the use of the omniscient narrator and breaks the framework of the story in order to destroy the illusion of reality. James Joyce's Ulysses (1922) utilizes and parodies several different narrative styles. In If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (1979), by Italo Calvino, characters in the book read about their own fictional lives. Spanish metafiction is considered an influential sub-genre of Spanish literature and has attracted much attention from literary scholars. In fact, the entire classification of metafiction has emerged as a rich area for study and literary analysis over the past few decades, and some critics assert that every serious work of fiction is to some extent metafictional.