Metafiction: challenging the no-no’s of literary criticism

Metafiction: challenging the no-no’s of literary criticism

             As a lit major, leaving a work’s author out of the discussion is Intro to critical reading 101. What author X was trying to say in his or her work is always trumped by the actual words on the page. In working with a novel, and not an autobiography, details about the life of the author mean as much to our criticism as his or her favorite color or brand of toothpaste. Well, that’s dramatic and not entirely true, but just try writing a lit-class essay on authorial intent and let me know what your professor thinks of it. Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper obviously doesn’t care about the no-no’s of literary criticism.  

            Much like House of Leaves, The People of Paper is a book about narration and about blurring and intruding on the comfortable lines of fiction, nonfiction, and reality—and it’s not just a play of “magical realism.” In The People of Paper, its 40’s sex symbol Rita Hayworth’s history that is played with, transformed, and retold.  In House of Leaves, its fictitious quoting of famous, real-life people. There’s something scandalous and unsettling about works that trick us with their use of “reality.”  These tricks leave us scratching our head or searching Wikipedia for the “real” answers or descriptions of real life people, only to realize later that we are being double-crossed by wiki, co-creators who are often furthering the game and confusion. Let’s face it, Wikipedia is our generation’s encyclopedia, dictionary, and history book all wrapped into one, even if its integrity is constantly in question. Starting back in high school with our teachers and then again in college with our professors, every one of us has been told and retold a million times not to trust everything Wikipedia says, and every one of us goes to Wikipedia first and foremost anyways. It’s because we are lazy and most people want the spark notes, third grade history book’s black and white, easy, comfortable answer to all of our questions. The problem is, who gives us those answers and what are those answers worth? Like our discussion last week, why do we dismiss posters on an online forum, but acknowledge the work of published theorists as if it were divine scripture? Why do we dismiss authorial intent while constantly reading for historical context? The answer is simple—there are institutionalized, traditioned rules. These rules and traditions are a part of what makes post-print fictions so abrasive. It’s not just that they are new or different, but that we actually need to rethink our previous approaches in order to deal with them at all. What complications are further added by works that are co-created and online? Before ending this blog post, I want to leave you with some excerpts from an interview I found online with Plascencia and which will be of concern to my presentation tomorrow.

             In a review of the novel, “Flower Power: Salvador Plascencia on His People of Paper” by Ben Ehrenreich, from LA Weekly, Plascencia said, “I’m not interested in realism or documentary or reportage,” which is good considering this is a novel. “My history is murky,” Plascencia says, “and I wanted it to be that way so I could just be free to do whatever I wanted. Metafiction has this weird stigma,” Plascencia says, “like it’s a dirty word somehow. I wanted to make it as fleshy and human as I could, but not high-concept-wise, more like I’m a dumb writer and I don’t know what I’m doing—things are getting out of control.” I may suggest that traditional scholars, who reject post-print fictions as a topic of interest, may also have this feeling that things, in the literary world, are getting out of control.

Philip Petrunak



~ by philippetrunak on March 28, 2010.

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