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September 6, 2010 in Metaart, Metafiction, Metajournalism, Metamusic, Metanonfiction, MetaTV, Original Fiction | Tags: literary criticism, Metafiction, novel, novels, short stories | by Kelly Lynn Thomas | 6 comments
Welcome to Metafiction Week! I am excited to be celebrating all things meta, and I hope you are too!
Things are changing around here—a little bit anyway. In addition to blogging about metafiction, I’ll also be talking about storytelling in general, works that bend and blend genres and interesting structures in fiction and nonfiction.
Why? Because I think all of these things are closely linked to metafiction. Since metafiction often offers commentary on the story itself, storytelling is an important aspect. Structure is also important, as many stories rely on nontraditional structures to support commentary.
Genre bending/blending is a bit of a different topic, but I feel it fits nicely with metafiction. In some books the metafictional qualities help the author bend genres (as in The Things They Carried), while in others structure is used (as in Woman Warrior).
I will also drop in some discussions on experimental fiction as I see fit. With changes in technology, the way we experience stories is starting to change. I’m very interested in the direction novels, ebooks, choose-your-own-adventure, cell phone novels and serialized fiction will take from here.
Even if those things aren’t metafictional, they are important to the art of storytelling. So, at its heart, this is a blog about storytelling. It’s a blog about the way we look at storytelling, the way we experience stories, and how we can use storytelling for a variety of purposes. I think metafiction is an important part of that.
For that reason, I’m keeping my tag line: “Original fiction and commentary on everything meta.” Now, it might be more accurate to use something like, “Original fiction and commentary on the art of storytelling,” but meta is commentary on the art of storytelling.
I have four ultimate goals for this blog. The first and most important is:
- To expand readers’ and writers’ knowledge of and appreciation for metafiction.
Think of me as like a metafiction pastor, spreading the good word. Only I won’t shake hell in your face to convert you, I’ll convert you with damn good stories!
The other three are:
- To become the go-to resource for metafiction. (A lofty goal, I know.)
- To (eventually) showcase the best new metafiction by established and new authors, both here online and in print.
- To explore and master storytelling in my own writing.
In the near future I hope to start interviewing important authors who write metafiction, and I also hope to be able to take submissions of short stories and short creative nonfiction (and be able to offer payment for this content).
In the not so near future I hope to offer a printed companion to this blog, with in-depth critical articles as well as great metafiction, metanonfiction, and meta-art.
My reading list
These are only a small portion of the books on my reading (or to-buy) list, but they are the ones that contain metafictional elements. I am particularly looking forward to The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loanna, The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris (which is translated from the French, and I definitely need more translations in my life), and, of course, Don Quixote in English!
- The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris by Leila Marouane
- The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
- The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice
- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
- The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loanna by Umberto Eco
- Don Quixote by Cervantes (I’m reading this again, because I’ve only ever read it in Spanish, and it’s a difficult text to read in a second language.)
Please take the time to comment and let me know who you’d like me to interview, or what books you’d like me to review. What’s on your reading list?
Starting tomorrow, I will be celebrating metafiction with art, book reviews, original fiction, and a few surprises. Now that my life has normalized, I want to make this blog the best it can be, and the go-to resource for metafiction. So please join me this week for my meta-celebration!
Sept. 6: The “new” NitB, plus my meta reading list — what’s on your list?
Sept. 7: An examination of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (is it meta?)
Sept. 8: Meta-links and meta artworks!
Sept. 9: A new chapter of Ruby and the Moon
Sept. 10: The unveiling of a surprise (or two)!
Let me know what you’d like to see here. Or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. After this week, posting will return to normal once-a-week stuff.
April 19, 2010 in Metafiction, Metajournalism, Metamusic, Metanonfiction, MetaTV | Tags: Avellaneda, cervantes, Don Quixote, fiction, literary criticism, Metafiction, novels, storytelling | by Kelly Lynn Thomas | Comments closed
Last week’s post talks about metafiction and what exactly it is. I argued that structures and constructions that use the story-within-the-story format are inherently metafictional because their simple existence provides commentary on the storytelling process.
Now it’s time to back up my claims! I’ll use Don Quixote as an example, because it features two of the more common story-in-story tropes.
In the second volume of Don Quixote (published about ten years after the first), the story within the story comments on Spanish society at the time, as well as defends the book against a “false” second volume released by one of Cervantes’ critics. It also draws attention to the fictional devices of the novel because the story within the story is, in fact, Don Quixote!
It’s pretty easy to see why that first trope is metafictional, so what about the second?
There’s another story within the story in the first book of the novel. “Cervantes” appears as a narrator, and delivers this tale as if it were a legend. He tells it to us in a rather conversational manner.
That first story within a story is interesting to look at, because although Cervantes appears as a character, he does not appear as a writer—in the novel he is collecting this legend and recounting it, but he is not writing it, although it is written down by an Arab historian, and he has it translated.
The fact that he has to have the legend translated by a friend does imply some form of writing, but that is overpowered by the way Cervantes recounts the story much the way one would share a story around a campfire. He draws attention to different “versions” of the story, and freely admits some things have been forgotten.
In this first book, Character-Cervantes becomes a storyteller, not a writer. And despite that, despite the fact that Cervantes does not go out of his way to shout “look at me, I’m writing a book about writing a book aren’t I so clever???” the first installment of Don Quixote does draw an incredible amount of attention to its own conventions without being obvious.
The story of Don Quixote, not the novel Don Quixote, makes fun of the Spanish obsession with novellas de caballaria, or novels about heroic knights. Author-Cervantes takes into account the way these stories are told and puts a twist on that when he tells his story, so the format/story frame does also comment on the novellas de caballaria.
Although there are two different levels of commentary in the first book, Cervantes could have achieved the same storytelling commentary had he made up another character (instead of using himself) to tell the story. Of course, Cervantes wanted to do much more than comment on storytelling.
The narrator, who speaks in first person, tells us the story of Don Quixote as if it were a legend, and brings in a proxy narrator in Cide Hamete Benengeli, the Arab historian who’s recorded the entire “legend.”
So, if you take Cervantes out of that picture, I believe the way he tells the story, and brings in Benengeli (making it a book-within-a-book, or more appropriately, a-bunch-of-scrolls-within-a-book), does in fact still comment on the storytelling and writing process.
So what does it say?
It says that people change stories, either for their own purposes or because they forget. It says that society is fascinated with larger-than-life people, whether because they are great or because (as in this case) they are “crazy,” and by extension it shows us glimpses of our voyeuristic nature.
I see all story-within-story constructions as metafictional in this way, but I will concede that not everyone will. But, I, having an unhealthy obsession with metafiction and structure, am wont to go looking for metafiction in unusual places. I love stretching the boundaries of genre, metafiction being no exception.
What do you think? Are all stories-within-stories metafictional, does it depend on the story, or am I full of doggie doo? Leave a comment and let me know!
April 12, 2010 in Metafiction, Metajournalism, Metamusic, Metanonfiction, MetaTV | Tags: fiction, journalism, literary criticism, memoir, Metafiction, news, novels, short stories, storytelling | by Kelly Lynn Thomas | 1 comment
When I tell people I blog about metafiction, I often hear “What’s metafiction?” So I thought rather than examine a particular work this week, I’d discuss metafiction and perhaps arrive at a working definition for the purposes of this blog.
According to the dictionary…
Metafiction is “fiction in which the author self-consciously alludes to the artificiality or literariness of a work by parodying or departing from novelistic conventions (esp. naturalism) and traditional narrative techniques.” (That’s from my computer’s built-in dictionary.)
Merriam-Webster’s definition: “fiction which refers to or takes as its subject fictional writing and its conventions.”
Wikipedia’s definition: “a type of fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction, exposing the fictional illusion. It is the literary term describing fictional writing that self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in posing questions about the relationship between fiction and reality, usually irony and self-reflection.”
Which definition is better?
They all are. Personally, I take a very broad view of metafiction. My “meta generosity,” if you want to call it that, stems from my background as a student of fiction, nonfiction, travel writing and journalism. I like to think I’m a writer who takes risks in her work, whether structural or by mixing genres you probably shouldn’t mix (such as travel memoir with short story—that’s my big project right now).
By necessity, structure dovetails with metafiction, and is something that I will more than likely discuss here in the context of a work that has an interesting structure but perhaps isn’t quite metafiction. In the same vein, I think genre-bending or juxtaposing two genres together (not blending them as in a sci-fi western, but using them side-by-side) dovetails with metafiction.
Both structure and genre exist in a fuzzy area between metafiction and “normal” fiction, and depending on the interpretation and the context, I think works that walk that line can go either way, as metafiction relies heavily on structure and often on genre blending/genre juxtaposition to deliver its message.
The writing becomes metafictional (in my mind) when the reader is taken outside of the story and is forced by the author to look in on it from the outside, normally to comment on the craft of writing, society at large, or some other issue, but commentary is not strictly necessary.
What about stories-within-stories?
The story-within-a-story is perhaps the most recognizable form of metafiction. Don Quixote is an early and excellent example. This form of story is inherently metafictional, because to tell a story about telling a story must in some way comment on the storytelling process. How stories-within-stories comment on storytelling is another post, though.
Notice I used the word “tell” rather than “write” up there. If you’ve read any of my entries on metajournalism or metamusic, you probably realize that I do not restrict metafiction to writing, nor to fiction. Because of that, the distinction between “write” and “tell” is important. You can tell a story in an infinite number of ways. Writing is only one of those ways, albeit an incredibly powerful one.
“Meta” as defined by The Narrative in the Blog
I think it’s necessary to define meta in terms of a broader context than fiction for this blog, since I discuss more than fiction. That being said…
A work of any genre or style is “meta” if the author of the work purposefully and self-consciously draws attention to the work’s structure, genre or existence as fiction/nonfiction for any purpose, or if the author of the work unintentionally uses a structure or other technique that draws attention to the work’s structure, genre or existence as fiction/nonfiction.
Hopefully this brief discussion helps you put my articles and commentary (and fiction!) in context. Please feel free to add your own definitions, thoughts, or reactions to this in the comments! I’m sure this is a topic I’ll return to innumerable times over the life of this blog, because metafiction can be such a shady area. But that’s why I love it!
When thinking about meta, music probably isn’t the first stop your brain makes. Fall Out Boy is probably even farther off the tracks of your meta-thought train.
I didn’t realize until about my 200th listen that half of the band’s 2007 album Infinity on High is a running commentary on the emo scene and the band’s role in it—probably because I could only understand every other word.
This song is my favorite example of meta-Fall Out Boy because not only is it a fun song, the band clearly pokes fun at the throngs of fans who hang on its every lyric, and that cracks me up.
“Hum Hallelujah” is basically about transient teen romance (as explained in the chorus): “I thought I loved you / It was just how you looked in the light / A teenage vow in a parking lot / ‘Till tonight do us part.’”
The main character of the song is this person who thought he’d fallen in love with this other person, but realizes later that he actually hasn’t. The character is looking back on that particular romance with disdain, and maybe even a little regret. (I never assume that any character in a song is actually meant to be one of the musicians, even though the song may be based off of a real-life experience.)
Around the chorus, though, the author inserts himself into the song and comments on the actions of the characters (and in the process makes fun of his listeners). “You are the dreamer and we are the dream / I could write it better than you ever felt it.”
Even though that line appears before the chorus in which we meet the teen character, he only ever refers to himself as “I,” never “we.” So, the “we” must refer to the actual band and not to the character. The introduction to the first song on the album, which is addressed directly to fans, supports this.
With “I could write it better than you ever felt it,” the band draws attention to the fact that fans (either serious or casual) often use band lyrics in their instant messenger away messages or as their statuses on social networking sites. or just in general to express how they’re feeling. That statement isn’t direct criticism of this practice, but the band is poking fun at those people by saying their words are truer than any emotion fans might experience.
That line also speaks to the character in the chorus, who looks at his teen romance with some disdain like, “What was I thinking?” Fall Out Boy is telling him what he was thinking—they can write it better than he felt it (perhaps better than they felt it when they were teenagers), and they have in previous songs.
The rest of the song dances between the obvious chorus character and more band interjection. It’s often difficult to tell if the author or the character is speaking. It is also difficult to tell to whom the speaker speaks. You could argue that it’s all the author, only speaking to the ex-lover, but that feels wrong.
If all the “I”s in the song are the same speaker, it seems logical that all the “you”s would be the same person as well, and what would the speaker have to gain by telling his ex-lover that he could write her feelings better than she felt them? Especially since the speaker in the chorus is focused on the way he felt, not the way his lover felt.
The middle two stanzas are mostly authorial interjection, but two lines sound more like the character than the band. “I love you in the same way there’s a chapel in a hospital / One foot in your bedroom and one foot out the door.”
The last time I checked, no members of Fall Out Boy were anywhere near my house, let alone halfway into my bedroom. By the logic I’ve set up here, the line immediately following, “Sometimes we take chances, sometimes we take pills” has to be authorial interjection because of its use of “we.”
And while the line between character and author is incredibly blurred, I can, and will, argue that the “we” in that stanza includes the audience as well as the band members. Making your listeners a part of the song necessitates that they exit any sort of musical immersion they may have been feeling and think about themselves in relation to the song—and that’s just another form of meta.
So the real question is, has Fall Out Boy made the pronouns in this song confusing on purpose, or was it an accident? There’s no doubt in my mind that some of the lines intend to make fun of listeners for listening to emo music, I do wonder if the band meant to include the audience and simultaneously alienate them by making fun of them.
“Thriller,” “The Take Over, The Break’s Over,” “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race”
Although not nearly as meta as “Hum Hallelujah,” the first three songs on Infinity on High do involve Fall Out Boy singing about Fall Out Boy. “Thriller” comments on the band’s status as emo music kings, and goes on to imply that while fans might label the band, they aren’t going to label themselves.
“Make us poster boys for your scene / But we are not making an acceptance speech … Crowds are won and lost and won again / But our hearts beat for the diehards.”
Quite simply, they are examining and commenting on their own music with their own music. And, I might add, it’s pretty ballsy to basically tell off half the people who bought your album.
In “The Take Over, The Break’s Over,” the band talks about its fame: “People will dissect us till / This doesn’t mean a thing anymore / Don’t pretend you ever forgot about me.” It’s safe to say that this song criticizes the emo scene rather harshly, but that’s neither here nor there.
Fall Out Boy continues its emo criticism with “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race,” although this song is funnier and more tongue-in-cheek—I’m sure they know who’s paying their bills, and they wouldn’t want to completely alienate their fans. “I am an arms dealer / Fitting you with weapons in the form of words / And I don’t really care which side wins / As long as the room keeps singing / That’s just the business I’m in.”
The band is also making quite a statement by comparing the emo scene to an arms race. I’m not sure if that’s simple narcissism or if they’re trying to comment on the current state of music—or on the current state of arms races.
Regardless of the band’s opinion on arms races, if you enjoy laughing at emo kids, you should consider purchasing this album on Amazon.com or at iTunes, or at least listening to some live versions over at last.fm (I’ll keep my opinion of how Patrick Stump sounds live to myself).