literary stuff

Now that i have satisfied my curiosity about the spleen, I must take on a new challenge. Please help me understand, in words of two syllables or less, what exactly is metatext, metafiction, and postmodernism? Thanks, teeming Millions!

metafiction: fiction that does not conform to the normal ideas of what is–or seems to be–real. Fiction that deals with the bizarre or unreal.

postmodernism: a style that reacts against modern style. It often borrows from older styles, in an altered form.

metatext, so far as I can tell, is not an English word (except as a trademarked name). I did find some German and Swedish sites that contain the word, but couldn’t make heads or tails of them.

Metafiction: Fiction about fiction. Fiction that forces the reader to be aware that they are reading something someone else wrote. Any book you can get lost in is not metafiction.

Postmodern: A movement in philosophy and the arts that argues against the idea of fixed meaning.

Metatext: This is a combination of the above two term. One of the things that postmodernism dosen’t like to fix the meaning of is what constitutes a work of art. Post modernist critics like to spend alot of time doing cross-genre stuff, and to be able to compare very different things. ALso, there was the idea that certain words implied high art: “book”, and others low art: “Penthouse forum”. Postmodern writers have abopted the term “text” to describe any discreet creative act–a book is a “text”, but so is a commercial, a poster, and in some cases, a piece of furniture.

So metatext is a text about texts–any work of art, especially but not limited to verbal art, that constantly reminds you that it is something created.

Hope this helps.

I’ll leave the others to describe metafiction/text, but I think a more adequate definition of postmodernism might be useful. I’ll have to use a few more words, but I’ll keep them all short.

Postmodernism is a reaction against the optimistic idea that human progress is inevitable, and that there is a universal continuity of human concepts that march down history, like reason, enlightenment, civilization, etc. The traditional source of postmodernism is certainly Nietzsche, as the great 20th century postmodernists (Foucault and Derrida, have drawn heavily on his works.

Derrida deals a lot with language. He writes that no word means exactly what we think it means, and discusses at length the perils of communication.

Foucault looks at human institutions, like hospitals, mental institutions, jails, science, etc and demonstrates that they evolved not according to principles of “reason,” but based on relationships of power. For Foucault, thought, history, and identity are mired in a huge number of these power relationships which we can never hope to see. It’s pretty depressing stuff.

This is not the best explanation, I’m afraid. I think it is a little more thorough than any above. If you are interested in further reading, I can post a short bibliography.

MR