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Sinus Sermonibus1: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Metanarrative.

Ok. Go. You have to start this somehow. You can't get anywhere just staring at the screen of

your laptop tapping your fingers, picking your teeth, staring out the window, desperately imagining that

magical inspiration will strike. You've got a task. Do it. Don't hesitate. Let the words flow out of you.

You need to be focused. You need to show you have the answers. Have you got the answers? That's a

detail. You can fake it. Nobody will notice.

Let's look at that quote. Good. An easy one. That's from The Handmaid's Tale, chapter 10, page

68, paragraph 3. No, no, don't repeat the quote, it makes it look like you want to waste space. What

does this quote mean? The narrator is telling us about a memory, how Aunt Lydia encouraged women

to be covered at all times. Any bare skin was lascivious and made you no better than a stripper. Good

old Lydia implied that strippers deserved being used and abused because they had no morals. But she

won't be specific. She won't mention those things. We don't really know what those italicized things

were really. We can just assume. We know that they are filthy. Aunt Lydia is making the idea worse by

not defining it. Aunt Lydia is making a bogey man out of the abuse. No name beyond things. She's

making it a faceless, undefinable danger. Fear that danger. Cover yourself up, she is saying, or you will

be the victim of the raping bogey man. And it will be your fault. This happened all the time, she says,

but today we are free, today we are decent, today we need have no fear of sex. It won't happen. Funny

how this can't be argued, because there isn't a single fact to prove wrong. Show one patch of skin and

you get raped. Aunt Lydia is trying to send us sledding on a slippery slope.

Not that Aunt Lydia is a real person. But she is a monster. She is a grotesque who enters our

imagination through these pages and parrots out words that have been spoken before. The author is

plagiarizing the religious right. Lydia lives in our imagination, where we can fear her the most. Aunt

Lydia is reductio ad absurdum. She is the possible future of a bunch of ideas. She is fiction, scary

1 Latin: roughly translates to internal dialogue. Also can be translated as referring to someone who is talking to themself.
fiction. What is the difference between a speculative fiction and a slippery slope? One wants you to

think about it, the other wants to take you for a ride.

Alright, you are doing well. This looks good. What can we say about this excerpt? This is

written in the first person. It's written so that we can hear the narrator. She is there, with us, telling us

this tale. We have to believe her. But we can't, can we? She might not be telling the truth. She's telling a

story, as is the author. But this isn't a biography, it's a fiction. It's a fiction of a fiction. Since the novel is

written in the first person, that means that the story seems more real. We can hear thoughts and

feelings. We are in her consciousness, streaming along with her. We can see the memories, skipping

backwards and forwards freely in time, never truly sure where we are. Time isn't a line, it's a series of

events that we keep trying to put together. This story is a majestic game of connect the dots. The author

is telling the story in the order she thinks of it, not that she remembers it, or perhaps in the order that

she remembers it, but not the order it happened. Can we trust her memories? There are complex ideas

coached in simple words. There are powerful ideas. The author says that women should be free. The

narrator says that they are not. Aunt Lydia tells us any woman showing skin is an oiled up stripper.

Which is vulgar. It's talking about sex, right? Sort of a sign of being modern, right? What do

you mean you don't know? Look at it this way, this sort of sexually charged language wouldn't have

passed in the fifties, right? Or the sixties? Or later? Ironically when we used to write realist stories, they

excluded sex and immorality. This story has that. This is beyond the modern. This is where we can't

trust the author, this is where we have to think for ourselves. We have to ask what is going on here,

what is being represented. We can't trust the narrator anymore. What the reader reads is just as

important as what the author wrote. That doesn't seem right. Doesn't the reader, by definition, just read

what the author wrote? You certainly hope not? Fine. It must be a form of parody. Parody is the only

genre where the reader is asked to not believe the text is true, but take the ideas seriously anyway.

What else can you say about this excerpt? It's feminist? I don't like that we have to make a term

for people who just want to give human rights to women. Apparently women aren't human. Especially
in this story. Alright, fine. The entire novel is based around that idea anyway. Especially the title. The

Handmaid's Tale. Funny that it's derogative. A woman is degraded if she has had many sexual partners,

but for a man it's a status symbol. Did you know that the word cunt is considered a more offensive

word than the word fuck? And cock isn't ever really considered a swear, it's just a vulgar way of saying

penis. No wonder Aunt Lydia seemed plausible.

That's the first part done. What's the second bit? Metafiction? Isn't that what we are doing right

now? Oh, right. Stories from the class. Let's see, let's work out what metafiction is. What does the

dictionary say? Fine I'll look it up. Here we go. Ok. It's fiction about fiction, or fiction that transcends

fiction, or something like that. Stories where there are direct comments to the reader, or where we have

to wonder about the reliability of the author, or where the story refers to itself, or where it screams

THIS IS FICTION. Yeah, like that.

How about we work with some examples instead? Start with The Diviners, you liked that story.

Talk about metafiction, that story had it to the nines. Right off the bat it's about some lady named

Morag, who then starts telling stories about Morag. Granted, it's when she was younger, so it's sort of a

flashback deal, which is more of a modern trait, but that's another story. So we have a story of a lady

telling us about herself through stories. Now this work is becoming a story about her telling stories

about . . . I'm starting to get dizzy. I think one of the two of us is a unreliable narrator.

But within her stories about herself, she tells even more stories. She tells the stories of other

people. Morag reads about a battle that Christie was in when he was in the army and then Christie

retells the story. Funny thing, his point of view is different from what The History Book says. Granted

he says the history book had it right, but they had it wrong as well. Who had it right? Duelling fictions.

Later on, Morag tells stories about Christie to her daughter, Pique. She describes him as tough as tree

bark, wiry as barbed wire and proud as the devil which is a notable shift from when she describes him

earlier as scavenger who doesn't do anything. Who was Christie? Hard to tell. You know? Keep it to

yourself. What do you mean another fiction?


So let's get back to basics. Metafiction. How is The Diviners metafiction? Right. The end.

Where she goes back into her house and finishes the novel she's working on, coinciding with the end of

the diviners. The logical way to interpret that is to assume that she is finishing the book the you are

holding. This is like the ultimate in self reference. The book claims to have written itself. It's like that

drawing by M. C. Escher of two hands drawing each other. That makes for a funny question, “Which

came first, the book or it's fictional author?” Huh? The author? I don't get it. Well of course books can't

masturbate, what's the point?

Speaking of sex, there was a lot of that in Plainsong. But this is still about metafiction. Stories

about stories. You need to stay focused. Plainsong was the poster boy for metafiction. It doesn't have a

time line so much as a time scribble. Makes this a bit of a failure as an accurate biography, but it makes

good fiction. Very engaging. Sort of makes us consider the whole biography genre, right? It's like the

story imitates the biography style, but parodies it. Huh? Yeah, you could say that it subverts the

established genre. Seems to be an odd way of putting it though.

Oh, and how about that whole “Go west young man” thing. That was pretty harsh. It's like a

continuation on that whole Canadian going west thing, but twists it with the native perspective. You

think that happened in a lot of places in the book? I guess. Right. With Father Lacombe from the native

perspective. There's all the stories told by white people and then there's what the first nations people

had to deal with. Now that author has given us a fictional story casting doubt on . . . no, attacking, it's

attacking the established “nonfiction” history. Seems like trying to fight brick walls with warm Jello,

until you realize that the brick walls are just really old Jello. Gotten hard. Dried up. Stopped moving.

It's still Jello though. At least in Plain Song the narrator has the decency to admit that she's imagining

everything she says. Despite being Jello herself.

You want to talk about one last story? Pick one. One Good Story This One? Good choice.

Excellent choice. A short story. That's good because we need to finish here. Remember, you aren't the

only one here. What have we got? Classic example of a First Nations trickster tale. Better yet, it's a
story about a storyteller. It's presented as if it's the recorded speech of a storyteller. He tells this story

about creation to some anthropologists. They lap it up, and go write obscure papers that show how

smart white people are. They don't analyze the story. The story is a trick. The old storyteller had told a

story of creation, but one with more of an Italian style. He changed a few details, added a few words.

Since the listeners don't think about the story, they miss out. But what about when we read the story

One Good Tale This One? We read the story of the story. We run the same risk as the scientists. Are we

reading the story, or are we thinking about the story? The author is again saying, don't trust the narrator.

Think about it. Always think about it. The story is only good if someone listens to it and understands,

not just records.

So I guess that's metafiction. It's stories about stories. It's about waking up the audience. It's

about making us think. Metafiction shows us that fiction is stories written by people. Suddenly, we

can't just sit back and have the story given to us. Metafiction reminds us that it's all stories. Right. It's

all fiction. Instead of feeding us a straight story, it skips around, it talks to the readers, teases them,

pretends to be true while reminding us it's not. Right. I think that is about it. How about it? See

anything I missed? Good. Now I just need to think of a good parting sentence.