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Patricia Waugh
the problem of how human beings reflect, construct and mediate their experience of the world.
Metafiction pursues such questions through its formal self-exploration, drawing on the traditional
metaphor of the world as book, but often recasting it in the terms of contemporary philosophical,
linguistic or literary theory
If our knowledge of this world is now seen to be mediated through language, then literary
fiction (worlds constructed entirely of language) becomes a useful mode for learning about the
construction of reality itself.
The simple notion that language passively reflects a coherent, meaningful and objective world
is no longer tenable. Language is an independent, self-contained system which generates its own
meanings. Its relationship to the phenomenal world is highly complex, problematic and
regulated by convention
In a sense, metafiction rests on the version of the Heisenbergian uncertainty principle: an
awareness that for the smallest building blocks of matter, every process of observation causes a
major disturbance.
The metafictionist is highly conscious of a basic dilemma: if he or she sets out to represent the
world, he or she realizes fairly soon that the world, as such, cannot be represented.
Yet, if one attempts to analyse a set of linguistic relationships using those same relationships as
the instruments of analysis, language soon becomes a prisonhouse from which the possibility of
escape is remote. Metafiction sets out to explore this dilemma.
In novelistic practice, this [metalanguage] results in writing which consistently displays its
conventionality, which explicity and overtly lays bare its condition of artifice, and which thereby
explores the problematic relationship between life and fiction
Both [modernism and post-modernism] affirm the constructive powers of the mind in the face of
apparent phenomenal chaos.
Contemporary metafiction draws attention to the aesthetic construction of the text, and
systematically flaunts its own condition of artifice (Alter 1975a, p. x).
Any text that draws the readers attention to its process of construction by frustrating his or her
conventional expectations of meaning and closure problematizes more or less explicitly the ways
in which narrative codes whether literary or social artificially construct apparently real
and imaginary worlds in the terms of particular ideologies while presenting these as transparently
natural and eternal.
For Sterne, as for contemporary writers, the mind is not a perfect aestheticizing instrument. It is
not free, and it is as much constructed out of, as constructed with, language. Contemporary
reflexivity implies an awareness both of language and metalanguage, of consciousness and

Whereas loss of order for the modernist led to the belief in its recovery at a deeper level of the
mind, for metafictional writers the most fundamental assumption is that composing a novel is
basically no different from composing or constructing ones reality.
language is not simply a set of empty forms filled with meaning, but that it actually dictates
and circumscribes what can be said and therefore what can be perceived.
The novel begins by parodying the opening of Tom Jones, with Johnson setting out his bill of
fare and explaining that the style of each chapter should spring from its subject matter.
a Fieldingesque chapter heading, which, through its equally vacuous generality in Johnsons
text, undermines the attempt of such verbal signposts to be comprehensive
the characters, the rootless travelling people of the contemporary world, attempt to construct
identities for themselves.
Through continuous narrative intrusion, the reader is reminded that not only do characters
verbally construct their own realities; they are themselves verbal constructions, words not