Literary Blog Hop

The Literary Blog Hop is a fortnightly event held at The Blue Bookcase prompting book bloggers to answer a question.

What is one of your favorite literary devices? Why do you like it? Provide a definition and an awesome example.

Metafiction is more a concept than a literary device.  I am going to let Patricia Waugh provide the definition, as she does it so well in Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction:

metafiction is a term given to fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artefact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality”;

it involves “the construction of a fictional illusion (as in traditional realism) and the laying bare of that illusion.”

In order to do so, the author of a metafiction will use literary devices such as fragmentation, myse-en-abyme, story-within-a-story, self-reflexive author, address to the reader, footnotes, and so on.  S/he will bring to our attention the fact that what we are reading is a creation and not just a mirror held up to the world; it is a re-presentation.

Metafiction is often associated with postmodernism, because it has become a typical feature of postmodernist writing.  However, there are many examples of metafiction predating postmodernism.  One early and famous example would be Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, which was written in the eighteenth century.  Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds is also a great example of metafiction: it contains a story-within-a-story in which the characters of the story lead their own life when the author is asleep.

Metafiction draws attention to the fact that any writing is a construction, or a re-constuction, and is therefore always to a certain extent a fiction, or fictionalisation.  It foregounds the fact that any narrative, even factual ones, is always mediated by an author and is therefore subjective. 

One of my favourite examples of metafiction is If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino, who begins his narrative as follows:

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveller. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice – they won’t hear you otherwise – “I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything; just hope they’ll leave you alone.”

Margaret Atwood’s novel are also often metafictional.  Famous examples include The Blind Assassin and Lady Oracle, both containing a novels with the same name.  These novels are concerned with the politics of storytelling, but so are many of Atwood’s short stories and shorter fictions.  For instance, the narrator of “Giving Birth” tells us how she is sitting at her desk to write the story we are reading:

“This story about giving birth is not about me.  In order to convince you of that I should tell you what I did this morning, before I sat down at this desk . . . Now she’s [her daughter] having her nap and I am writing this story.”

In “There Was Once”, a story that parodies a genre you will surely recognise, the interlocutor keeps interrupting the narrator to ask him to change the story:

“‘There was once a poor girl, as beautiful as she was good, who lived with her wicked stepmother in a house in the forest.’

‘Forest? Forest is passé, I mean, I’ve had it with all this wilderness stuff. It’s not a right image of our society, today. Let’s have some urban for a change.’

‘There was once a poor girl, as beautiful as she was good, who lived with her wicked stepmother in a house in the suburbs.’

‘That’s better. But I have to seriously query this word poor.'”

And so on…  Do you think they lived happily ever after?