Scholarly Undergraduate Research Journal at Clark (SURJ)


metafiction, genre fiction, David Foster Wallace, John Barth, Postmodernism, Realism


Realism, the genre in which literature is expected to reflect reality, tends to act as the default setting for establish- ing the worth of a given piece. This paper contends that metafiction, a post-modern genre characterized by a work’s awareness of its own fictional nature, has been damaged by realism’s standards. Using a case study of two metafic- tional works, John Barth’s “Life-Story” and David Foster Wallace’s Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way against a historical and theoretical backdrop, the paper both isolates metafiction from realism while describing its deliberate artistic mission. This identity is based on open acknowledgement of the reader’s involvement in the text and metafiction which is not only self-aware but also able to deliver meaning outside of itself. These findings are significant because they liberate a new field from old criticism, contributing to the academy’s acceptance of experi- mental art.



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