Metafiction as R&D

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To prep for the next diss. chapter, on the figure of the "believer," I’ve been reading lots of lit crit on metafiction and, in an unrelated line of reading, have been simultaneously perusing Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans, a terrific book on economic development that blows neo-liberal free-market orthodoxies more or less out of the political-economic water.

Through a strange associative leap, a merging of both lines of reading into a single Frankensteinian concept, I’m nursing the idea of writing a chapter or article built around the metaphor "Metafiction as R&D."

Critics who emphasize obsolescence as the driving force behind metafiction (and I know two at Stanford, who are doing great work on John Barth and the obsolescence/death-of-the-novel) are quite right to do so.  But there is an interesting assumption embedded in this model:  that literature is a form of technology, and the novel a kind of machine, one that was invented, has developed over time, and is being superceded by new machines (media) that embody superior technical paradigms.

This model of literary production, I would argue, is based on ideologies developed in the Cold War research university.  I’m not sure what character type this ideological matrix would correlate to, given my theoretical interest in ethos.  Maybe:  the avant-gardiste not as rebel but as aesthetic Research&Developer, as a kind of literary scientist.  Or maybe:  the ironist not as a subverter of dominant orthodoxies (the common assumption) but rather as a maker of "advanced" art, a figure at the very core of Establishment power and prestige.

My ideas are all mixed up in a big vague hodgepodge right now, and I’m open to suggestions and correctives, but this seems to me like a promising argument, one that may flower in a number of directions, and a good way to frame the prehistory of how the postironists have tried to retool/revive metafiction in the ’90s.