Making Rules to Break Rules
It seems like almost any world-building narrative has a sequence of setting up the rules, followed by the breaking of the rules. The Matrix–a perfect system, except for The One who will break the system. Inception–inception is impossible, so let’s go do it. Harry Potter–there’s a spell that kills you, except this one kid who survived it. Here’s the system; here’s the flaw in the system. This is arguably necessary to the genre, so that we have…you know…a story. This might be why spec fiction and meta/experimental fiction seem to go hand in hand, at least in terms of their rise in popularity. Metafiction does the same thing, but to the entire medium of fiction. Here are the rules we created over time, and here’s how I’m going to break them.
The intrusion of a supposedly extradiegetic narrative presence into the story is a pretty frequent metafictional device, (for ex. Alasdair Gray’s Lanark). It could often be criticized as a gimmick, but I think good authors work this from a “gimmick” to a valuable element of the story/theme, taking it beyond, “Hello, I’m the author, nice to meet ya” to something that challenges our ideas of storytelling or knowledge. Mainly, I think this complication is accomplished by a process parallel to the one I describe in the first paragraph. It’s not just that the narrator enters to give some deep answer to the text; rather, the narrator gives supposed answers that are then immediately troubled in their own way. When Narcon9 enters the story, we get a clear set of rigid parameters about Narcon behavior, which are unsettled a page later when we observe that 9 might be hearing 3 and 27, and that Xanther might see Narcons. This narrative intrusion, then, isn’t for its own sake, but rather parallels the question of knowing a creation. Can a Narcon “know” the personalities it portrays? Can it really be following a set of rules/parameters if the combinations it creates are infinite? Can we “program” an AI if true AI is that which makes its own choices? Can an author know his/her characters? On a human (and perhaps tritely expressed here) level, can we know ourselves, or do we all have an animalistic “familiar,” something part of us but ultimately unknowable?
Just like the Question Song, this moment that acts as if it gives us answers is more important for the new questions it creates.