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.