Metafictional language and parody: Self-reflexivity, self-awareness, and artifice in selected works of Nabokov, Gogol, and Barth
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Much of the scholarship about postmodern metafiction in the works of Vladimir Nabokov and John Barth has focused on parody and irony, and how those drives undermine authorial intent. Past discourse has attempted to answer the following questions: is the fictional language that these authors employ entirely metafictional, or is it impossible to know? Are the narrators of Lolita (Humbert Humbert), The Floating Opera (Todd Andrews), and Nikolai Gogol and Speak, Memory (Nabokov himself) deceiving the reader? In respective criticism of the first two texts mentioned, Alfred Appel, Jr., and Campbell Tatham concentrate on the narrators' platonic and aesthetic ideals vis-a-vís the artificial construct of narrative. What the critics neglect to thoroughly explore are the ways the texts, by combining self-reflexiveness, parody, and pastiche, go beyond simply promising reliability to the reader. In so doing, the authors re-envision and rework the apparent problem of using language to remember and refashion narrative selves, while constantly keeping in mind the danger of fetishizing irony over sincerity. Rather than delving only into matters of what the narrators know about their stories, or, more importantly, what they think they know, I seek to eschew the particulars of the false/sincere dichotomy in favor of unpacking the connections between the overlapping artifice, purported dearth of meaning, and the juxtaposition of the banal and the absurd on part of the reader (and likewise, the narrator) in the interactions between the texts' authors, narrators, and supposed readers. In Chapter 1, I attempt to resolve the intermingling of fictional flourishes and mundane details in the self-reflexivity in Gogol's stories "The Overcoat" and "The Nose" in light of Nabokov's self-conscious interpretations of those works; Chapter 2, I foreground parody via postmodern poshlust (roughly translated as "kitsch") in Nabokov's novel Lolita and Speak, Memory; in Chapter 3, I further complicate the pleasures of what Linda Hutcheon calls "narcissistic" forms of narration in Barth's novel The Floating Opera. Taken together, I argue that, in representing the self-aware impulse present in the ambitious, ever out-of-reach narration of fictional selves, language becomes elevated above mere unreliable irony, and in falling short of breaching the sincere, becomes resignedly sincere itself.