This paper traces instances of metalepsis in John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Vladimir Nabokov’s Bend Sinister, Karin Fossum’s Broken, and J. M. Coetzee’s Slow Man. In its collapsing of narrative levels, that stylistic device is commonly seen as dramatizing a uniquely postmodern relationship between the author and his or her characters. Such a newly envisioned dynamic has been understood as fiction’s response to the theoretical debate about the so-called death of the author and, more broadly, to the posthumanist discourse on the dissolution of the liberal-humanist subject. In contrast, I argue that, seen as definitive of postmodern poetics, metalepsis stages a peculiarly modernist gesture. Its transgression of diegetic levels ultimately reinforces (rather than undermines) the author figure and thus is incommensurate with the postmodern negotiation of a subjectivity beyond authorial omnipotence. It is only through its gradual extinction that metalepsis serves the postmodern attempt to rethink the author and chart anew its peculiar subject position. In place of the clearly signposted ontological hierarchy on which the device depends, the postmodern promotes a single undifferentiated narrative plane where the author figure is recreated as a fictional character in the process of becoming. The disappearance of the first allows for the resurrection of the latter.
Metalepsis and the Author Figure in Modernist and Postmodernist Fiction
Yael Levin is senior lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is author of Tracing the Aesthetic Principle in Conrad’s Novels and has published articles in Conradiana, Conradian, and Partial Answers. She is currently working on a second monograph on Joseph Conrad, and on The Interruption of Writing, a book that traces the evolution of models of textual production and creative agency from romanticism to the digital age.
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Yael Levin; Metalepsis and the Author Figure in Modernist and Postmodernist Fiction. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 September 2016; 62 (3): 289–308. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-3654215
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