13 August 2007

Some Classics Overheard in the Classic City

So I've spent a not insignificant amount of my summer vacationing in Athens.

Georgia, that is.

Among the things I like about the place are its restaurants—especially Five and Ten. But I also appreciate the interesting variety of programs on the local NPR station. Today one of those programs—To the Best of Our Knowledge—had a show on Tristram Shandy, the book and the movie. That was the hook. But really, the show was about metafiction. Several familiar names get mentioned here: Cervantes, Chaucer, Borges, Coover, Barth, Gass, Pynchon, Calvino, Marquez. The show ends with an interview with hip hop artist Saul Williams, author of the Dead Emcee Scrolls, as a representative of metafiction's future. In an earlier segment, journalist Steve Paulson reminisces about a 1983 interview he did with Borges. Some nice audio from that interview is included with a few readings from Borges' work. Paulson returns, then, with a more recent interview with Robert Coover.

I appreciate that a radio program would spend an hour considering something called "Metafiction," but there remains throughout a tone of bewilderment, perhaps even frustration, at the works and their creators. Metafiction is still weird and confusing, a bit too clever for its own good, Shandy (the book) a slog one might be "forced" to read in English class, Borges a player of games. And, tacitly, it seems like kind of a dude thing this "metafiction." Coover is the only person to mention a female writer by name (Angela Carter) while also pointing out that there was a general refusal of received narrative style by his generation, resulting in a variety of different approaches, not all of them "metafiction." He's given credit, as a professor, for influencing young writers, but there's little discussion or evidence of this influence otherwise. A shame. What an opportunity this might have been to demonstrate the lively and spectacularly varied legacy of a "movement" that's too often dismissed as a literary dead end, a relic in the shape of a phallic ivory tower. Here it kind of feels like one as the show tends to buy into the rhetoric of a perplexed, even resistant (rather than healthily skeptical) student.

Presenting Williams (whose work I first heard on DJ Spooky's Under the Influence) as a future of metafiction was certainly an interesting choice, though, and I think there's a lot more to be said about the relationship between the DJ and contemporary narrative. Just would've liked to hear some discussion of one of our many literary compatriots, as well.


Anonymous said...

An intelligent letter to those who might noticeably rectify the oversights and overslights (i.e., not us here) would be more useful. Please do.

Unknown said...

How can fiction not be meta?

That's the q that has always stumped me.

Who knows, maybe the interviewer on the radio show was assured that his/her "I" was absolutely her own.