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The Meta Text Pleasure

I have a bit of a love for meta-texts. I couldn't exactly tell you why, but I really dig a novel when, beneath it, its holding a conversation with another novel (I like it in film, as well--one of the things I've enjoyed about the later Tarantino films is how much they're in conversation with others).

What I think I like most about a good meta-text is how it can work with anything, so long as you have the knowledge of the genre. In a fashion, it rewards people who know a particular canon, and punishes those who don't, but I don't particularly see that as a problem. I'm fine with literature that alienates one audience to work with another--the idea that everyone has to be able to get a piece of work has never really struck me as an interesting concept, and I can't really figure out why anyone would peruse it. Of course, when I talk about a meta text, however, I don't just mean taking an existing novel and, I don't know, jamming zombies or vampires in it, such as the current crazy in literature seems to be. The Jane Austin novel with zombies was interesting as a concept, but I swear, the other week I saw a novel in which Mr. Darcy was a vampire, and writing angst filled letters of dark love to the general public--but neither are, at least to how I view it, a piece of meta-fiction. They're more what I would call collages, remixes, and a shameless grab for cash.

No, to me, a meta-text takes an original story, and wraps it around a genre, or an author's body of work, and attempts to marry the original narrative to the second. If it's good, it will function on two levels: the first as an individual piece of fiction, hitting its required notes, plot points, tensions, and so forth. But secondly, it will use those notes, plots, tensions and everything else, to ensure that the conversation about the author's work is taking place, and that its resolution manages to tie into a climax either in the opinion of the author vs the state or genre he/she is writing about, the the end of the movement or work. It can end in other ways, of course, but for myself personally, I like when the two can be mixed together in their climax, and make them work in some kind of geek content pleasure overload.



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Dec. 3rd, 2009 07:51 am (UTC)
Got any examples? I tend to think of novels like The Dictionary of the Khazars or Upon a Winter's Night a Traveler when talking about meta-texts, but I get the impression you mean something different.
Dec. 3rd, 2009 08:27 am (UTC)
yeah. i look at books like bukowski's PULP, chabon's KAVALIER AND CLAY, and things such as moore and o'neill's LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. but as always, your mileage on this kind of stuff, it varies.
Dec. 4th, 2009 06:20 am (UTC)
But but but - where are the EXAMPLES? Who has done this brilliantly? What are your favourite meta-texts? Or are you saving that for another blog post?
Dec. 4th, 2009 06:20 am (UTC)
Heh never mind, I just saw the above comments.
Dec. 4th, 2009 11:33 pm (UTC)
heh.. unfortunately i was having a bit of a brain fart, and simply didn't do examples. there's lots of genre ones (not all of them good, though) like charles stross's JENNIFER MORGUE, rhys hughes A NEW HISTORY OF INFAMY, and so on and so forth. james morrow does it a bit.
Dec. 9th, 2009 11:34 am (UTC)
Donald Barthelme is one of the greatest exponents of meta-fiction, in my view, not in the sense that he takes an obvious existing text and plays with it (though he sometimes does that) but in the sense that he can drift effortlessly between fragments of different styles and genres throughout the history of literature.
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