Literary Studies and Discoveries: Visit the Archive at Project Gutenberg!

Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org) deserves its well-earned position as the largest digital archive available, replete of E-books in the public domain for easy download to most electronic devices. You can find such classics like Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz series (all the books) or Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, but also harder-to-find older works such as J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (the precursor to the beloved children’s tale, Peter Pan). It is a good place to seek out free works, operates as a non-profit organization, and constantly seeks out volunteers to help improve or contribute to their collection.

Founded in 1971 by Michael Hart, Project Gutenberg now has more than 56,000 titles in its archive (an impressive feat).

Interesting facts:

-The first work digitized and added to Project Gutenberg was the United States Declaration of Independence on December 1, 1971.

-Project Gutenberg has CDs and DVDs containing hundreds of their E-books available for download, so users can enjoy them off-line.

-Several countries have their own version of Project Gutenberg, including Project Gutenberg Australia and Project Gutenberg Canada. There is even a Project Gutenberg Europe!

-Project Gutenberg is currently working to support Net Neutrality; in other words, they are taking a stand against network providers who deliberately slow traffic to sites that are not commercial partners with them or essentially penalize users for accessing them.

So I’d recommend going to check them out for some useful and fun reads!

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Literary Studies and Discoveries: More Information Revealed in the Dead Sea Scrolls!

I can remember when the Dead Sea Scrolls (also known as the “Qumran Caves Scrolls”) were, more or less, these mysterious texts scholars had found in a series of twelve caverns near the Dead Sea. When first discovered, the wording and state of the scrolls were such that their presence was as much a puzzle as what they actually might say.

Thankfully, it seems that scholars, translators, and many other interested parties are making a good amount of progress on determining what the Dead Sea Scrolls contain. And apparently the most recent find, published through Smithsonian.com, has to do with what the scrolls reveal about the Jewish calendar.

Here is a link to the article “Scholars Decipher One of the Last Encrypted Dead Sea Scrolls,” in case you would like to find out more about this intriguing discovery:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/scholars-decipher-one-last-un-decoded-dead-sea-scrolls-180967917/

Happy reading!

 

 

Literary Studies and Discoveries: Metafiction as Performed by The Stanley Parable

Metafiction comes in many forms of media. It can appear in forms that make use of cross-genre narratives (such as screenplays that mix in photographs in helping to tell a story) and intertextuality (the combining or reimagining of already established texts into something new). Certain games and digital literature have delved into it. There are even movies like Stranger than Fiction that play with narration as a force that, in its interpretation, influencing or controls the characters described.

In fact, given the expressive power of narration, I guess it makes sense that narratology (or studies into the structure of narratives), has emerged as an area of increasing interest within literary studies. If possible, I would even argue for narratology as a branch of Metafiction, since a narrative is inherently metafictional, and its study even more so. For in narratology, the position a narrator holds in a story gets examined as well.

As you might imagine, I then got pretty excited when I learned about The Stanley Parable. Written by Davey Wreden and William Pugh, and released through Steam, The Stanley Parable is simplistic on its surface. Initially, it purports to tell the tale of a character named Stanley, who after years of following the commands typed to him in his lonely office cubicle, suddenly finds that they stop appearing. He then must go forth into the uncertain landscape of the office building where he’s always worked to figure out what is happening.

The player controls Stanley, moving him around the office building, accompanied by a disembodied narrator (British voice actor Kevin Brighting) who seeks to guide Stanley along a particular plotline; and at first, he seems to be the usual third-person heterodiegetic narrator—which basically means that he exists as a third-party of sorts outside the story, describing what happened.

Where things get interesting, though, is that the player can choose to deviate from the narration, by ignoring the narrator’s instructions altogether, making different choices, or wandering off in another direction entirely. Even staying too long in any specific area usually gets treated, in and of itself, as a conscious deviation. At those points, then, the narrator seems to perform as increasingly homodiegetic, or involved as a character in his own right within the story at large.

Depending on the choices involved, he might either try to gently steer Stanley back towards the originally intended narrative, while still remaining in the third-person, or he will get frustrated to the point where he talks directly to Stanley (who, of course, cannot say anything in reply) as a metafictional narrator.

I came into The Stanley Parable completely blind as to what the game might hold in store, beyond the fact that I could deviate from what the narrator actually said. In addition, I knew that the game was trying to make a specific point about the power narratives can hold, as a means to make sense of the world, and also to influence the actions of characters (or even people, sometimes). My first inclination, therefore, was to not entirely trust and to disobey the narrator.

Perhaps, I thought, what we have here is an unreliable narrator, or a narrator who might or might not be telling how things really happened, or who may want to lead this Stanley character to some tragic fate he could otherwise avoid by not listening to the narration. Narration, based on what I’d seen in Stranger than Fiction, could get treated as a form of mind control—which meant the narrator could be seeking to be like a mind-control mechanism for Stanley.

So I didn’t do what the narrator said. When the first major choice to deviate came, in the form of choosing one of two doors, I chose to go to the right when the narrator said left. The more I disobeyed, the more frustrated and metafictional the narrator grew.

At this point, it is also interesting to note that the narrator in The Stanley Parable does get shown as having some influence over the environment or setting. He opens doors in front of the player, and then closes the doors after the player has passed through them. While disobeying him entirely, I had the initial impression that the narrator could purposefully create anything at all to punish me for not doing exactly what he said.

But the more often I disobeyed, the more endings (which I won’t spoil by detailing in their entirety) that I came to, the more I began to suspect that the narrator had limited control over this environment as well. In one instance, my narrative deviation actually caused what looked like glitches in the scenery, or even different scenery entirely, that surprised the narrator as much as they did for me. I heard the shuffling through of papers that indicated the narrator was trying to stick with a script he himself was supposed to follow.

Furthermore, I began to discover something intriguing—while The Stanley Parable is supposed to be about the character of Stanley, it is really and truly about the character of the narrator. A narrator who wants to perform a story, and who in fact must perform the story because it is the narrator’s assigned role. The player controls Stanley, and within certain bounds can do a great deal, but the narrator is stuck following the player as Stanley with the constant mission to perform one specific tale.

The narrator, in other words, gets revealed as truly a metafictional narrator that tries his best to act heterodiegetic. The player, in controlling the almost placeholder position of Stanley, is in the actual heterodiegetic position within The Stanley Parable. The player gets pointed out as the most metafictional character in the game (which is true in the case of every game, but becomes particularly highlighted here).

I have to say, the above was a refreshing revelation for me. I’d never seen a game ever do such a thing.

Then I must admit that I started to feel sympathetic for the narrator, viewing him as a character stuck in a game who was just trying to do his job (or perform his role). So I decided to go through the game, following his narration perfectly, to find out what would happen if I did.

And the end result?

Well, I have to say The Stanley Parable offered me a pleasant surprise at The End, in addition to giving me a fresh perspective on the role narrators might hold in a story.

So if you are interested in an interactive game that will challenge your concept of narratives, I would definitely recommend The Stanley Parable.

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!

 

 

 

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.