16 ago. 2008

Metafiction and the Novel Tradition - Patricia Waugh

"What is Metafiction and why are they saying such awful things about it?"

From Metafiction, Patricia Waugh,UK, 1984.

Patricia Waugh makes us point out the similarities amongst a selection of quotations and she lists three things readers would say:

A celebration of power of creative imagination together with an uncertainity about the validity of its representation

Literary form and the act of writing fictions

A parodic, playful, excessive or deceptively naíve style of writing.

But, the reader is offering a description of the concerns and characteristics of the fiction, so the term “Metafiction” needs to be defined:

“Metafiction is a term given to a fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its satus as an artefact in order to pose questions about the relationship of fiction to reality”

So, Waugh claims that such writings not only examine the fundamental structure of narrative fiction, they also explore the possible fictionality of the world outside the literary fictional text


Metafiction poses questions through its formal self-exploration, drawing on the traditional metaphor of the world as book.

Consequently, if our knowledge of the world (as individuals) is now seen to be mediated through language, then literary fiction becomes a useful model for learning about the construction of “reality” itself.

According to Waugh, “Language is an independant self-contained system which generates its own meanings. Its realtionship to the phenomenal world is highly complex, problematic and regulted by convention. Meta terms, therefore, are required in order to explore the relationship between this arbitrary linguistic system and the world to which it apparently refers”.

World OF fiction = World OUTSIDE fiction

The dilemma Metafiction sets out to explore: How is it possible to “describe” anything?

If the writer sets out to “represent” the world, he or she would realize that the world as such, cannot be “represented”. They can only “represent” the DISCOURSES of that world.

Hjelmslev deveolped the term “Metalanguage”: “Language which, instead of referring to non-linguistic events, situations or obejcts in the world, refers to another language: it is a language which takes another as its objects”.

In Saussure’s terms, a “metalanguage” is a language that functions as a signifier to another language, and this other language becomes its signified.

So, in the process of writing, what is explored is the problematic realtionship between life and fiction.

Metafiction pays attention to particular conventions of the novel by which the process of its construction is displayed. Novels attempt to create alternative linguistic structures or fictions which imply the old forms by encouraging the reader to draw on his or her knowledge of traditional literary conventions when struggling to construct a meaning for the new text.

Metafiction and the novel tradition

Patricia Waugh argues that, “… the term “Metafiction” might be new, the practice is as old (if not older) than the novel itself…metafiction is a tendency or function inherent in all novels”

Novels are constructed on the principle of fundamental and sustained opposition:


This is done so, in order to create a fiction and to make a statement about the creation of that fiction. Writers feel that any attempt to represent reality an only produce selective perspectives.

As a consequence of this, more and more novelists question and reject forms that correspond to ordered reality:

Novel tradition

A well-made plot

Chronological sequence

Authoritative omniscient narator

Rational connections

Atmosphere of certainty

Metafictional writings

The process of constructing the world is more important than the plot

Unimportance of sequence & details

Non rational connections

Plurality of Voices

Atmosphere of uncertainity