“I’m a I’m a Scholar at the Moment”:

The Voice of the Literary Critic in the Works of American Scholar-Metafictionists


University of Wrocław


In her seminal book on metafiction, Patricia Waugh describes this practice as an obliteration of the distinction between “creation” and “criticism.” This article examines the interplay of the “creative” and the “critical” in five American metafictions from the late 1960s, whose authors were both fictional writers and scholars: Donald Barthelme’s Snow White, John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse, William H. Gass’s Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife, Robert Coover’s Pricksongs and Descants and Ronald Sukenick’s The Death of the Novel and Other Stories. The article considers the ways in which the voice of the literary critic is incorporated into each work in the form of a self-reflexive commentary. Although the ostensible principle of metafiction is to merge fiction and criticism, most of the self-conscious texts under discussion are shown to adopt a predominantly negative attitude towards the critical voices they embody – by making them sound pompous, pretentious or banal. The article concludes with a claim that the five works do not advocate a rejection of academic criticism but rather insist on its reform. Their dissatisfaction with the prescriptivism of most contemporary literary criticism is compared to Susan Sontag’s arguments in her essay “Against Interpretation.”

Keywords: metafiction, American literature, academic fiction, postmodernism, experimental literature, scholars as fictionists, fiction vs literary criticism