Literary News: Great Reading Material from Smithsonian.com

I really love browsing through the articles on the Smithsonian website. It’s like an online digital museum, second only–I’m sure–to actually visiting the site in Washington D.C. (someday!).

Check out some of these articles on various literary gems, recently posted on Smithsonian.com:

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

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Literary Studies: An Introduction to Metafiction (Part Two—Creative Works and Fun)

Well, Part One of introducing Metafiction touched on a few cursory academic definitions and theories for it (courtesy of two years in grad school). But now let’s get to the looser and more playful examples of metafiction in full swing (and, really, most metafiction does tend to have an innate playfulness).

Many metafictions are easy to spot, and tend to share one or more of the below traits:

  • The characters are aware they are in a work of fiction.
  • Narrators might speak directly to the readers about specific literary conventions (for example, “Have you ever noticed how all fairytales begin with ‘Once upon a time’? Well, at least we’re not following those rules here!”). Characters might also address the reader or argue with the narrator (who may or may not be the author), and seek to break free from the narration in some manner.
  • Its plot might focus around a writer writing the work that you are reading, or who is in the process of writing any other type of work.
  • The author might make an appearance in the text somewhere, or get shown to have complete or no control over the characters. Some metafictions even focus on the characters having conflicts in their relationship with the author.
  • The work plays around with the structure of text on the page, or it emphasizes the arbitrary nature of language.

A few examples of metafictional books:

    • Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
    • Grendel by John Gardner
    • The Complete Tales of Winne-the-Pooh by A.L. Milne
  • The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers
  • The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman

 

A few examples of metafictional films or television series:

  • Animaniacs
  • Stranger than Fiction
  • The Lego Movie
  • The Truman Show

Note: Most theatrical productions tend to have various metafictional elements, particularly when actors come out into the audience or address them directly (thereby “breaking the fourth wall”). And in many ways, the genre elements of metafiction found their origin in theater performances from as far back as Grecian times.

 

Do you know of any other examples of metafiction in action? Feel free to include them below in the comments!

Literary Studies: An Introduction to Metafiction (Part One—Academic Explanations and Examples)

Hi there! Welcome to this posting that you are now reading on my blog. Thank you for joining me to quench your curiosity about Metafiction, which is fiction that deliberately goes out of its way to make the reader aware they are experiencing a work of fiction.

Metafiction as a literary field celebrates and comments on the creative process by exposing its innermost workings, while delving into existential issues. William Gass has received credit for first coining the term back in the 1970s in his “Philosophy and the Future of Fiction,” in which he describes metafiction as an “analysis of what fiction has already done in certain areas, which allows us to perceive what fiction was all along” (7). In other words, metafictions reference and seek to break down the familiar structures established by other fictional works to learn more about the construction of fiction as a whole. They refuse to take any literary device for granted (such as the use of narrative prose, or the use of the third-person perspective) by subverting or reflecting upon them.

Basically, metafiction involves fictions that are about fiction, and which then examines how our use of fiction relates to our construction of reality; what we classify as objective or subjective facts, among similar concerns.

Since Gass coined the term, several scholars have sought to explore the possibilities of metafiction in greater depth along the abovementioned lines. Among them, I would argue for Patricia Waugh’s Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction is a seminal work, since she does a solid job of describing the development and applications of metafiction in contemporary literary thought. Saying that metafiction is a means to examine how people approach the construction of reality can sound somewhat vague, but Waugh provides many great examples of metafiction at work. For instance, at one point Waugh discusses fictions that revisit specific historical moments from the perspective of other characters—such as those representing individuals from minority groups whose voices may have gotten overlooked or suppressed in historical accounts; this is a branch of metafiction that Waugh calls, “historiographic metafiction.”

Another example of metafiction in action is the film Strange than Fiction, direct by Marc Foster, which revolves around a male character launched into an existential crisis after he begins to hear the narration of his author. Realizing the construction nature of his life (as a tax agent defined by an adherence to routine), he seeks to develop his own identity and avoid the tragic plotline planned by his author. What metafiction then does, in this case, is highlight the importance and influence fiction holds in our lives. We might not start hearing the voice of a narrator at any moment, or realize we’re in a story, but there are particular social norms or narratives that we do stick to in our daily lives (like someone who might feel they have no control over her or his life in working as a tax agent, with all its conventions and expectations).

As Jason Bellipanni writes in The Naked Truth, Fiction about Fiction: A Concise Guide to Metafiction, “The idea that reality is constructed implies that it is made up of both fact and fiction. Reality is a compilation of both, a fusion of those bits of information which were once so decidedly labelled and categorized” (144). In other words, Stranger than Fiction emphasizes that even in the most realistic circumstances, what individuals perceive as reality is really a construction of various experiences and perspectives.

In many ways then, metafiction explores both fiction and reality.

Works Cited:

Bellipanni, Jason. The Naked Story Fiction About Fiction: A Concise Guide to Metafiction.

Story Review Press, 2013.

Gass, William. “Philosophy and the Future of Fiction.” Syracuse Scholar, vol. 1, no. 2, 1980.

http://www.surface.syr.edu/suscholar/vol1/iss2/3. Accessed 1 May 2015.

Stranger than Fiction. Directed by Marc Foster, performances by Will Ferrell, Maggie

Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, and Emma Thompson, Mandate Pictures,

Waugh, Patricia. Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. Routledge,

1993.

 

 

Writer’s Log—20Dec2017: Involving Ever-Shifting Blog Plans and Freelance Advice

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of time to consider where to take this Literary Serenity blog next in terms of goals. An important lesson I’ve learned, in the brief short I’ve spent helping how to put together a site through WordPress, is the need to find a specific topic (or topics) on which to focus. But that is particularly important in constructing a professional website, which I fully intend now to use as a kind of portfolio.

I’ve come across several great articles on-line that support the need for freelance writers to find a specific vein to concentrate on—for which I would recommend checking out websites like The Write Life and Morning Coffee Newsletter.

In addition, I’ve gotten to visit (and follow) several other blogs that take the abovementioned lesson to heart. For example, I’d suggest checking out the blogs for Little Fears and Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha; those two writers really have a knack for producing high-quality content that visitors will love.

So what direction will Literary Serenity take then?

Well . . .

Metafiction appeals to me, as an area within literary studies. Usually best known as a genre, and something of a device, I hope to establish metafiction as an emerging lens through which to view literature and creative writing from fresh perspectives.

During graduate school, I glimpsed the state of contemporary literary studies. Among the most recent developments is the emphasis on process versus product; that is, rather than simply perceive texts as static artifacts to study or interpret, more and more scholars are beginning to approach texts as ever-changing constructions. Yet creative writing as a study, it appears, still holds an almost elective connotation when compared to other areas in academia focused on literature (such as the history of horror literature, overviews on Shakespeare’s works, etc.)

With its concentration on examining a theory of fiction through the writing of fiction, I feel metafiction has a lot of offer literary studies on the whole.

But I will need to devote a different posting to the introducing metafiction here on Literary Serenity: A Metafictional Writing Blog. It will also fall under the new heading of “Literary Studies and Discoveries.”

Happy Reading!

 

Writer’s Log—December 6, 2017

Whew! December is already here, and I’m back to this blog at last. I’ve been on a hiatus during the past two weeks to wrap up the final requirements for my graduate school program. While defending my thesis project—a metafictional narrative—back in early November was a major milestone, submitting it to the university library was also an important part of the overall process. I’m unsure what the guidelines are for other graduate programs, but for the Kellogg Library at Cal State San Marcos, every thesis project must adhere to strict ADA-compliance standards; and that took a while to get just right.

What is ADA-compliance, exactly? Well, the acronym—according to the Office of Disabled Student Students at CSUSM—stands for “Americans with Disability Act.” And as it pertains to thesis projects submitted at the university library, the compliance is mostly there to aid students with visual impairments to access those types of academic materials online. The Kellogg Library only accepts thesis projects in electronic form now, which is probably true for most universities now (if not, I’d love to know in the comment section below).

Of course I was glad to help make accessing my thesis easier for students in need. But I also hadn’t realized that the methods used for ADA-compliance basically meant learning to set up a screen reader to function properly with your document. Screen readers are handy little tools. You can basically push a button and get the computer to read your entire document aloud, albeit in a monotone, for your needs and enjoyment. In addition, setting up a document for ADA-compliance or a screen reader to access has two major benefits for general use:

  1. Easier navigation of documents, which is very useful for lengthy texts. One important aspect of setting up ADA-compliance is working with the “Navigation Pane” found under the “View” tab in Microsoft Word. Using a combination of the “Navigation Pane” and types of headings found under the “Home” tab, you can basically create a detailed Table of Contents. So when accessing the document in the future, it is then possible to click on specific parts of it and get taken there.
  2. Smoother transition to a .pdf format. As much as ADA-compliance benefits documents that remain as Microsoft Word documents, it becomes even nicer when those documents get converted into .pdf files. Readers, such as Adobe Acrobat, will be able to recognize the organization of the text. It makes searching for specific terms much easier to do, and plus it is in the .pdf format where the screen reader function is the most prevalent.

As you can imagine, I wound up learning several new things about how Microsoft Word as a program handled documents.

Does anyone else have interesting experiences related to formatting a document for ADA-compliance, or even just comments on how the thesis project submission process works at other universities? I’d love to know!

Also, as a secondary yet also important note, because I’m officially done with my graduate program, Literary Serenity: The Grad Edition will henceforth become Literary Serenity: A Writing Blog.