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Twisting the Story:
Margarita Karapanou’s Rien ne va plus and Amanda Michalopoulou’s Θα ήθελα as Metaautobiographical Novels1
Abstract

While the twentieth century overall witnessed an unprecedented flood of autobiographies and critical accounts that validated autobiography as a literary genre, the past 60 years have seen the dominance of self-reflexive writing and the rise of metaautobiographies, that is, autobiographies that employ metafictionality. The conjuncture of autobiography and metafiction stems from their shared inclination towards self-exploration and the implicit manipulation of the writing process. Rien ne vas plus (1991) and Θα ήθελα (2005) take this process a step further: they are metaautobiographical fictions because their character-protagonists reconstruct their biographical record through the act of writing, while their real-fictional lives are recounted in juxtaposition with the fictions that they are crafting. For these protagonists, fiction cannot simply define the self nor write the past but is bound to rewrite both. As their main characters rewrite themselves anew and thus make sense of their vertiginous selves, these two metaautobiographical novels make the reader aware of the process in which experiences are skillfully manipulated to be turned into works of art.

Κι όμως υπάρχει κάτι κοινό. Εσύ θέλεις να διαβάσεις μια μικρή ιστορία. Εγώ θέλω να γράψω μια μικρή ιστορία.

«Αυτό ήταν», ψιθυρίζω. «Τρελάθηκα». Κι είναι πλέον αδύνατον να κοιτάξω αλλού.

Μα αυτό δεν ήλπιζες. Ότι θα σου μιλήσω μέσα απ’τις γραμμές; …

Οι «Πουέντ» είναι μια ιστορία για την οικο-γενειακή ζωή. Μπορεί και να σου άρεσε. … Θα μου πεις πώς ήταν με τις πουέντ; [End Page 103]

«Πονούσαν πολύ τα δάχτυλά μου. Το νύχι έμπαινε στο δέρμα. Δεν μπορούσα να ξεχάσω ούτε στιγμή τον πόνο. … »

Μικρή ελεγχόμενη ανησυχία.

Θα μπορούσε να γράψει ένα τέτοιο διήγημα.

We have something in common, though. You want to read a story, I want to write one.

“That’s it,” I whispered “I’ve lost my mind.” Of course it’s now utterly impossible for me to look anywhere but to the page.

But isn’t this what you were hoping for? For me to speak to you through

the lines?

“Pointe” is a story about family life. You might like it. … Can you tell me what it was like on pointe?

“My toes hurt a lot. My toenails would get pushed into my flesh. I couldn’t forget the pain not even for a second. …” A slight, uncontrolled unease.

She could write a story like that.

The above segments are taken from the second chapter in Amanda Michalopoulou’s interlinked story collection Θα ήθελα (2005; I’d Like, 2008), titled «Μικρή ελεγχόμενη ανησυχία» (“A Slight, Controlled Unease”), in which a character is in conversation with the author of the book that she is reading. They begin discussing their expectations of each other within their ascribed roles as reader and writer, until the writer suggests that the character read the story on «Πουέντ» (Pointe), the third story in Michalopoulou’s book. The reader, therefore, is not only in conversation with the author, whose collection of stories she is reading, but is in conversation with her own author, reading Θα ήθελα, within which she appears as one of the characters. Michalopoulou’s irony in the present story does not stop there. «Μικρή ελεγχόμενη ανησυχία» ends with the character’s determination to write a short story documenting her experience interacting with the book’s author and her “slight, uncontrolled unease” (Michalopoulou 2008, 24)—the very same title of this story. Thus, the character subverts the author’s role, turning her into a fictional character, and we are left to wonder: so whose story is it? As if this piling of representations is not intriguing enough, later in the novel we learn that these scenes are framed within (or tagged under) another fictional character, Stella, who is also fond of writing and who utilizes personal experiences to publish Θα ήθελα; for [End Page 104] example, memories of the “pointe” in the above excerpt are reminiscent of her sister’s memories from childhood now fictionalized in her novel. These three characters (the author, the reader, and Stella) are imaginary authors, all of whom find inspiration in the small or grand moments in their lives to write fiction.

Pressing questions seem naturally to arise from this series of embedded authorships: why would a fictional author write a fictionalized version of her life? What assumptions can we draw about the self and/or its representation in fiction? And how do we as readers decode and relate or react to testimonials that appear to be autobiographical and fictional at the same time? The answer, I believe, lies in the narrative mode that I name metaautobiographical fiction. This term, which marries autobiographical fiction with metafiction, will guide my discussion of two representative works, Margarita Karapanou’s Rien ne va plus and Amanda Michalopoulou’s Θα ήθελα. I will argue that to the field of autobiography, metaautobiographical fictions contribute a portrayal of a de-centered self that is constantly under a process of revision. The self is comprised of its (multiple) fictionalized versions, as well as its past and future realizations. For the field of narrative theory, metaautobiographical novels assert that the reader is required to view the mechanics that transform one’s life into an imaginary representation: how is life (even a fictional life) turned into art? This focus on how experiences are turned into works of art draws attention to fiction’s conventions and lays bare its makeup. The suspended paradox for the reader is that, obviously, there is no real: metaautobiographical fictions expose the fictional, the factual, the imaginary, and the constructed as simply hues of one another.

Merging “auto,” “meta,” and “graphe”

Since autobiography and metafiction are not self-evident terms, it is imperative to clarify their meaning in the context of this article before we venture into an analysis of either the metaautobiographical novel or Karapanou’s and Michalopoulou’s works. Autobiography’s murkiness stems primarily from the confusion regarding its referentiality: its tendency toward fictionaliziation versus its desire to illustrate an accurate description of the self and its past. Philippe Lejeune is the first to theorize autobiography in strictly referential terms with his renowned autobiographical pact between reader and text, whereby the name of the author on the page is identical to that of the narrator (1989, 4). Taking the name as his starting point, Paul de Man in his unsettling essay “Autobiography as De-facement” rejects autobiography as a legitimate genre by placing its validity upon the reading process alone (1979, 921). Autobiography, according to de Man, entails the poetic trope of prosopopeia, which both writer and reader deploy in order to (re)create the disfigured face [End Page 105] of the autobiographer. True autobiography, then, is immaterialized because language will always mediate the process and paint a version of a face to the name whose referential reality resides outside the constructed narrative that an autobiography can provide (926). Max Saunders in his Self-Impressions over-turns the dynamics in Lejeune’s and de Man’s models, proposing to examine autobiography from the perspective of fiction rather than solely relying on its referentiality. He argues that “fictive autobiographies” (2010, 5), that is, novels that embody a fictional (auto)biographer (such as Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy ([1759] 1980) or Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre ([1847] 1943) should be understood as distinctively different from “formal autobiographies” (2010, 5), such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions ([1781] 1945). Saunders renders autobiography a fluid subject, advocating its amalgamation of genres, voices, and referential modes (2010, 4). Autobiography is, therefore, a perplexingly polyphonic genre, whose study ought to begin from the simple distinction but also the blurring of autobiography and the autobiographical.

In recognizing that autobiography and its adjacent terms—fictive autobiography and autobiographical novel2—inadequately explain modernist attempts of life-writing, Saunders coins the term “meta-Auto/biographiction” (2010, 7), a neologism that I consider synonymous with Ansgar Nünning’s “meta(auto)biography” (2005), as well as Serge Doubrovsky’s faux-autobiography (“autofiction”).3 All of these terms denote the hybridization of traditional auto/biography (whether fictive or factual) with experimental forms of metafiction, thereby underlining the paradox between life and writing (Nünning 2005, 197; Saunders 2010, 484).4

While criticism has been struggling to combine autobiography’s integral properties, metafiction has emerged as a literary form whose incongruous definitions are still in the process of becoming unified. According to what is now fairly common usage, metafiction designates “the quality of disclosing the fictionality of a narrative” (Neumann and Nünning 2009, 204) within the narrative itself. It is fiction aware of its own fictional composition, fiction that talks about itself, fiction that is preoccupied with the epistemological and ontological concerns of its own manufacturing and representation. The metafictional novel is founded upon the self-inflicting assumption that it embodies the “awareness of its own narrative artifice,” but it also moves beyond this assumption through its internalization of artifice within its own rhetorical universe (Walsh 2007, 52). At the term’s genesis, metafiction was used to epitomize the dichotomy between the fictional and the factual (Waugh 1984), and it was perceived in terms of an inherent paradox in which the reader becomes author or co-creator (Hutcheon 1980, 5). More recent narratologists, however, including Monika Fludernik (2003, 2009), Nünning (2004, 2005; Neumann and Nünning 2009), and Wener Wolf (2004, 2009), emphasize that metafiction does not simply polarize the relation between fiction and reality but more forcefully demolishes [End Page 106] the aesthetic illusion, the imaginary wall between reader and text (Wolf 2004). Metafictionality presupposes a combination of self-reflexive techniques that aim to flirtatiously flaunt fiction’s own so-called make-believe tropes. Examples include: metalepsis, mise en abyme, infinite regress, Chinese boxes, frame and frame-breaking, or metanarration, which is concerned “with the narrator’s reflections on the discourse or the process of narration” (Nünning 2004, 16).5 These devices are deployed to give the impression that the text, its characters, and its universe possess an explicit or implicit awareness of their existence as artifice.

Metaautobiographical fiction—my terminology based on Nünning’s initial proposition—is different from metaautobiography.6 The overarching term “metaautobiography” includes any autobiography that toys with self-reflexivity and employs metafictionality. Prime examples are Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes ([1975] 2010) or Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas ([1933] 1993), which draw attention to their constructedness from the title page, questioning the genre of autobiography as a mode of writing. Moreover, autobiographies that employ glaring metafictional devices can also be labeled metaautobiographies. Maus ([1986–1991] 1994) by Art Spiegelman is a graphic memoir replete with metafictional techniques. The cartoonist, Art Spiegelman, interviews his father in order to write his graphic novel about the family’s past. Art Spiegelman, the character, narrates the story of his father surviving the Holocaust as an embedded narrative superseded by the larger frame of drawing the cartoons and writing the novel. Drawings of the artist drawing his comic strips conflate the creator with his artwork and allow this autobiography to be read as a metaautobiography.7 Some examples of Greek metaauto(bio)graphies include: Dimitris Hatzis’s Το διπλό βιβλίο (The double book, [1976] 1999), Rhea Galanaki’s Ο βίος του Ισμαήλ Φερίκ Πασά (1989; The Life of Ismael Ferik Pasha, 2008), and Michel Fais’s Η Αυτοβιογραφία ενός βιβλίου (The autobiography of a book, [1994] 2005).8

On the other hand, metaautiographical fiction characterizes novels that most precisely commingle autobiographical fiction, metafiction, and “the framing of imaginary authorship” (Saunders 2010, 494) in a novel-within-the-novel structure. Notable examples are Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook ([1962] 1990), Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin (2000), Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou’s Logicomix (2008), and Sue Miller’s The Lakeshore Limited (2010). Unlike metaautobiographies, which are autobiographies that employ metafiction—one author writing a (pseudo)autobiography with metafictional elements—metaautobiographical novels presuppose a metadiegetic level of narration. A character-author is fictionalizing her past and writes an autobiographical novel, which is presented in the form of a contained artwork (often in disguise). The mise-en-abyme structure and the various diegetic levels of embedded narration are salient features, so that the [End Page 107] fictional/real world of the fictional author informs the autobiographical novel she is writing. At the same time, the reader is asked to draw attention to those moments that have been skillfully turned into an art form; it is upon the artist’s dexterous manipulation of life that the fiction depends.

Rien ne va plus and Θα ήθελα present women writers who are being crafted while crafting their own stories. These intratextual writers retell their life stories by twisting them, that is, by recounting a fictionalized version of their past. Metaautobiographical fictions operate under the premise that the self cannot be defined in its singularity, as they aim precisely at de-centering the self, changing and distorting it, so that it constantly becomes the subject of revision. Undoubtedly, the novels are about fictional characters who pose as writers; hence, the question of whether their real-fictional lives coincide with the fictions they write is ironic. Nonetheless, each protagonist’s quest to weave and twist her autobiographical novel creates a triangular relationship between the past, what is considered fact, and the act of telling—three quintessential concerns of the postmodern period that interlace metafiction, autobiography, and narrative.

In metaautobiographical fiction, the popular theme of writing the self is revisited with a twist. Steve Kellman (1980), who coins the term “self-begetting novel” to refer to modernist autobiographical texts whose endings reveal their creation process, claims that writing transforms the self into existence: “scribo ergo sum”; the novel and the protagonist are writing themselves into being (1980, 5). In spite of the metaautobiographical novel’s indebtedness to the self-begetting novels of the modernist period, the postmodern self-begetting novel separates the two biographical strands that hold it together: while the novel writes its own biography, forming its existence through the act of being written, the writer who documents her biography seeks not an epistemological affirmation but, in Brian McHale’s terms, an ontological confirmation of her existence (1987, 10–11; 1992, 146–7). In postmodernism, fiction raises questions of “the mode of being of fictional worlds and their inhabitants and/or [reflects] on the plurality and diversity of worlds, whether ‘real,’ possible, fictional, or what-have-you” (McHale 1992, 147). The postmodern author-writer interrogates her existence within an overwhelming plurality of real versus fictional structures and selves, while her writing becomes the rewriting of the self or conceivably the rewriting of an imaginary self. Whereas traditional autobiography centers itself on three main points—“self-life-writing”—involving a preoccupation with writing the self (“auto”), with writing life (“bio”), and with writing the act of writing (“graphe”) (Olney 1980, 6), metaautobiographical fiction enters into a fourth realm: “graphe” as the act of (re)constituting the self, writing the self anew on a metadiegetic level (Hampel 2001, 66). Metaautobiographical fiction should not therefore presuppose a merely retrospective writing. In the true fashion of fiction, it can encompass the writing of the future [End Page 108] self, as well as address imaginary memories or imaginary versions of an alternate self. In general, metaautobiographies are pseudo- or anti-autobiographies and employ the games and gimmicks implemented in metafiction by which the autobiographical must become twisted and skewed.

It is within this larger postmodern impulse that Karapanou’s and Michalopoulou’s metaautobiographical fictions operate.9 Though not immediately acknowledged as a metafictional author, Karapanou utilizes metafiction implicitly in many of her works. By far her most overtly metafictional novel is Rien ne va plus. In her diaries, Η ζωή είναι αγρίως απίθανη: Ημερολόγια 1959–1979 (Life is wildly improbable: Journals 1959–1979; Karapanou 2008) she admits to having been influenced by precursors of the metafictional novel, such as the nouveau roman and especially Andrée Gide’s The Counterfeiters ([1925] 1973) (Karapanou 2008, 261).10 Michalopoulou has expressed that she was inspired by Karapanou, but despite her deep admiration for Κασσάνδρα και ο λύκος (1997) (Kassandra and the wolf),11 thematically and narratologically, Θα ήθελα demonstrates a profound connection with Rien ne va plus. Michalopoulou’s prose is more experimental than Karapanou’s: all of her novels employ metafictional devices, and most of her characters, who happen to find themselves amidst texts and textual fragments, reconstruct their lives either through the act of writing or through the act of reading.

Both Rien ne va plus and Θα ήθελα are about a woman writer writing fiction inspired by events in her life, and in both books, the woman’s fiction bears the same title as the actual book. Only at the very end, in the last story, is the reader able to distinguish the fiction each woman writes from the fictional lives Karapanou and Michalopoulou have crafted for them. In Karapanou’s Rien ne va plus, the reader is ushered into the novel-within-the-novel without any indication that part one is a fictional reworking of the protagonist Louisa’s autobiography. The first part presents the erotic, almost pornographic story of a woman married to Alkis, an eccentric man both in his sexual ways and in his everyday life. Louisa is presented as the victim of a psychologically oppressive relationship, in which she is always benign and obedient to her husband’s peculiar wishes, while he is utterly egocentric and seeks to fulfill even his most trivial needs and desires. Louisa’s victimization is represented in the portrayal of her husband’s cat. Alkis, a veterinarian, cuts off Caesar’s nails, so that he will not scratch the furniture and damage the house. Louisa often ponders how the cat could ever survive outside of Alkis’s home, since Caesar has been deprived of his ability to hunt or protect himself from predators. But like Louisa, Caesar’s sole purpose is to painstakingly serve Alkis for the rest of his life. The morose portrait of the husband painted in part one is inverted in part three of the novel, in which the reader encounters a docile and forbearing Alkis, abused by the lies and eccentricities of his capricious wife. Louisa abandons him several times, admits to abhorring him, and terminates her pregnancy, so that [End Page 109] Alkis is deprived of the happiness of parenthood.12 Towards the end, Louisa confesses to Alkis that she has written a novel in which she portrays an altered version of their relationship; only then does the reader recognize that part one is a novel-within-the-novel (metadiegetic discourse), while part three offers a reality once removed (intradiegetic discourse). While parts one and three are narrated in the first person by the mirror images of a doubled Louisa, the last two chapters almost imperceptibly introduce an extradiegetic level of discourse with an omniscient narrator, whose voice marks the outer frame within which the other narratives are nested.

Michalopoulou’s Θα ήθελα is composed of 13 short stories, which at first glance appear loosely connected with only common themes, metaphors, and images knitting them together. They are narrated in various voices and are dominated by characters who are writers or literary critics. These somewhat inchoate stories weave together the memories and experiences of the main protagonist, Stella, who in the final story is revealed as the author of Θα ήθελα. Stella recounts the tragedy of her family in the form of individual stories, in which present, past, and future are blurred, and fictionalized and actual pasts are conflated: her mother’s paralyzing accident, her father’s abandonment of the family for a younger woman, and her sister’s death at 21 in a car accident. The ending revisits moments from Stella’s reality that were inspirational to her fiction and exposes the process of fictionalizing such events through creativity and artistic expression. The frame reveals, on the one hand, those aspects of Stella’s life that have been woven into her fabricated stories and, on the other hand, her own development as an artist.

Metautobiography as reinvention

Rien ne va plus and Θα ήθελα are revisionist metaautobiographical fictions because they “question and revise the official biographical record of the respective biographies” (Nünning 2005, 199). Both fictional writers utilize the experiences of their past to conjure up a fictional world that will ultimately rewrite and redeem them, for one cannot change the past unless she writes about it. Both Louisa and Stella finish their novels, shedding a part of themselves, so that they can go on living; this schism of the self occurs at the moment of writing and through rewriting. Stella dissects herself and inserts different parts of herself in her stories, while Louisa divides herself into two separate entities: she vicariously kills the fictional Louisa through Alkis’s suicide, while the real Louisa renounces suicide seconds before she kills herself: «Τι ωραία που είναι η ζωή! Σκέφτηκε ξαφνικά η Λουίζα, σαν να ξυπνούσε από ένα όvειρο. Βγήκε από την μπανιέρα πετώντας το νυστέρι μακριά της» (1993, 176; How beautiful life is! Louisa suddenly thought, as if waking from a dream. She climbed out of the tub, tossing the scalpel across the room; 2009, 178). It suffices to kill herself once through Alkis, for by changing the past, Louisa evidently alters her future. [End Page 110]

Rien ne va plus and Θα ήθελα as Metaautobiographical Novels 111 “Rien ne va plus” refers to the phrase pronounced by the croupier at the roulette table the moment the player is unable to make any moves, either to withdraw from the game or to gamble for more. It is a symbolic image of fate: an individual frozen between past and future, forbidden to act in order to affect upcoming circumstances. In conventional logic, the past is irreversible, impervious to any change, and in this case the future is, too: «Είναι η στιγμή, στο παιχνίδι, που δεν μπορείς να επηρεάσεις πια το μέλλον, είτε θετικά, είτε αρνη-τικά» (1993, 32; “It’s the moment when you can’t affect the future anymore, for better or worse”; 2009, 18):

Το παιχνίδι μετατρέπεται σε μοίρα. Περιμένοντας την ρουλέτα να σταματήσει και να ακινητοποιηθεί η μπίλια πάνω σε έναν αριθμό, είσαι φυλακισμένος, ανή-μπορος να κάνεις οτιδήποτε. Δεν μπορείς πια ούτε να μιζάρεις κι άλλες φίσες, ούτε να ξαναπάρεις πίσω αυτές που είχες βάλει … Το παιχνίδι έχει ξεφύγει πια από τα χέρια σου. Λοιπόν, Άλκη, δεν συμβαίνει συχνά το ίδιο και στη ζωή;

(1993, 162–163)

[The game has become fate. Waiting for the wheel to stop, for the ball to come to rest on one of the numbers, you’re imprisoned, unable to act. You can’t put down any more chips, and you can’t take back any of the ones you’ve bet … But now the game is out of your hands. So, Alkis, doesn’t the same thing often happen in life, too?]

(2009, 162–163)

And yet in its totality, Rien ne va plus defies the title’s definition, for Louisa is able both to transmogrify personal history and to reconfigure her future.13 Louisa’s revisions invert her and Alkis’s roles:

Ξέρεις Άλκη, στο μυθιστόρημά μου, περιγράφω διαφορετικά τη ζωή που ζήσαμε μαζί. Αλλιώς δεν θα ήταν τέχνη. Την ζωή μας Άλκη, την άλλαξα πολύ. Ανέτρεψα και τους ρόλους. Μέσα στο βιβλίο μου, εσύ είσαι το τέρας, κι εγώ ο άγγελος. Δεν είμαι ο δαίμονας που γνώρισες κι αγάπησες. … Φαντάσου, Άλκη, φαντάσου, να σκέπτομαι και να γράφω τέτοια πράγματα για σένα, τόσο ξένα από αυτό που είσαι πραγματικά.

(1993, 163–164)

[You know, Alkis, in my novel I describe the life we lived together, only differently. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been art. I changed our life a lot. I even switched the roles. In my book, you’re the monster and I’m the angel. I’m not the demon you knew and loved. … Imagine, Alkis, just imagine, that I could write such things about you, so utterly foreign to who you really are.]

(2009, 163–164)

Irrespective of whether Louisa feels remorse for her treatment of Alkis, or whether she desires to have been victimized out of narcissism, there is an emphasis on her paralysis, isolation, and withdrawal after their breakup. It is during this period of emotional and physical stagnation that she feels most creative and writes her autobiographical novel. The content of her novel, along with her suicidal inclination, offers evidence of her desire to be purged of the past. [End Page 111]

In a psychoanalytic reading of Rien ne va plus, Sophia Voulgari underlines the revelatory effects of fiction-writing, endorsing the notion that although autobiographical writing may embellish and distort life, it nonetheless embodies truths and desires buried in the unconscious (2008, 298). Louisa’s portrayal of Alkis offers a peek into her unconscious: her remorse and intimate desires as inverted objects. By having Alkis commit suicide in her novel, Louisa kills the old Louisa vicariously, so that she can withstand life. As Dimitris Tziovas writes: «Ανακατασκευάζοντας το παρελθόν έχουμε την αίσθηση ότι προε-ξοφλούμε το μέλλον και ενδεχομένως αυτή η ιδέα συνοψίζει τη σχέση της νεωτερικότητας με την ταυτότητά μας» (In reshuffling our past we believe ourselves to be determining the future and this notion summarizes the relationship between modernity and our identity; 2000). Louisa dominates her future by reinventing the past. The ending is, therefore, an anti-rien-ne-va-plus ending and one that foreshadows Karapanou’s next novel, Ναι: Μυθιστόρημα (Yes: A novel; 1999), which involves a character who, like Louisa, responds affirmatively to life by rejecting suicide.

In Θα ήθελα, Stella discovers a form of redemption through her own splintering in her art-creation. Through the writing of her autobiographical fiction, she forgives those who caused her suffering, such as her father and her father’s mistress, while at the same time writing becomes the only vehicle through which she may fathom the events in her life. One of her characters in the short stories discovers that he is a fictional character, and while he confronts his creator on the phone, the latter admits to what Stella must have as an artistic guiding principle: «Για τις ανάγκες του βιβλίου έμαθε να χωρίζει τον εαυτό του στη μέση και να κάνει αυτό που θέλει και αυτό που πρέπει. ‘Είναι πολύ σημαντικό, ιδίως όταν συμβαίνουν τραγωδίες,’ είπε. ‘Δεν μπορείς ν’ αλλάξεις την πραγματικότητα, αλλά μπορείς να σχιστείς στα δύο’» (2005, 103; “For the purposes of the book he had learned to split himself down the middle, to do what he wanted to do and what he ought to do at the same time. ‘It’s an important skill,’ he said, ‘especially when you’re faced with tragedy. You can’t change reality, but you can split yourself into two’”; 2008, 62). This division of the self allows one part to live what happened and the other part(s) to experience its/their what-if projections in an enchanted, fictional universe. Stella’s autobiographical novel splinters her again and again in order to bring her deeper into her fiction, while simultaneously helping her to permeate the nebulous veil of her fictional reality. Perhaps, as George Fragopoulos (2008a) claims in his review of the novel, this is the endless game of singularity: constantly being torn apart and being reformulated—a constant reformulation, however, that cherishes and retains its dispersed forms.

In «Ζόντια» (“Teef”), Stella’s fragmentation is manifested in the various degrees to which she forgives her father’s mistress. The deranged woman of «Ζόντια» is a projection of the sisters’ stepmother, a projection of Stella, and [End Page 112] a means by which both sisters absolve their past. Stella’s sister, Christina, who in another story is presented as reading an older version of Stella’s novel, feels offended by Stella’s portrayal of their family and admonishes her to use the literary technique of antimetathesis, that is, to mix up the real and the fictional characters. Christina exhorts Stella to form a grotesque portrayal of their stepmother: «Το θέμα είναι να φτάσεις στα άκρα, να τη βάλεις να τρελαίνεται μόλις γεννήσει αυτό το σκατόπαιδο. Να πέφτουν τα δόντια της. Ή, ξέρω γω, τα μαλλιά της» (2005, 187; “You have to push things to extremes. Make her go crazy when she gives birth to that little brat. Make her hair fall out. Or her teeth”; 2008, 118). While Stella follows her sister’s suggestions in writing «Ζόντια», she shows a great deal of compassion for the character that corresponds to their stepmother, allowing her to be saved from the sanatorium by the student who takes care of her. Stella’s kindheartedness is demonstrated through the caring portrayal of the student in her novel, who represents both Stella and Christina. Christina’s image emerges at the end of the story, as the student drives the woman away from the clinic in a car that resembles Christina’s car, damaged after her fatal accident. Even though Christina carries her spite for their stepmother to her grave, through Stella’s empathy, as well as through Stella’s fiction, Christina’s resentment posthumously recedes. Lastly, the deranged woman represents Stella because, like her father’s mistress, she also had an affair with a married man. Stella impersonates both the victim and the victimizer in this story, and through her fiction, she redeems and is redeemed.

Integral to its redemptive effects, art for Stella proffers a way of revising life. Even in its cyclical, fragmented, and non-linear form, her novel molds and frames reality in ways that only narratives are capable of effecting. In the metafictional novels of Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, and Paul Auster, all inspirational authors for Michalopoulou, narratives are deprived of beginnings and ends because life does not consist of such delimited spaces; they showcase instead a cyclical pattern that “stresses narrative processing rather than narrative closure and totalization” (Kakavoulia 2004, 119). This circular motion in Θα ήθελα—also shared by Rien ne va plus—allows for repetition “with re-vision, a return to the past that enables a new future” (Greene 1991, 16). Nonetheless, the act of creation for Stella, and by implication for Michalopoulou, provides the means by which reality becomes malleable: “My idea is that if she writes her stories, if she actually sits down and reinvents her life through writing, she will find peace, at last,” says Michalopoulou, when asked about the art of writing in Θα ήθελα (Carter 2009). By filtering the past through language and by contriving stories, Stella manages to fathom the entropic world of experience. I shall borrow an excerpt from Πριγκίπισσα σαύρα (Princess lizard; 2007), which is most pertinent in this context, since no character in Θα ήθελα articulates this idea so succinctly and indecorously: «Ορισμένα θέματα [End Page 113] μπαίνουν σε τάξη, μόνο αν γράψεις γι’αυτά» (Certain issues are straightened out only if you write about them; 2007, 194).

In an illuminating discussion of Greek postmodernism, Tziovas explains a postmodern trait which at first glance would seem contrary to the argument that writing and rewriting the self can assist in making sense of the self’s existence: «[Τα μεταμοντέρνα μυθιστορήματα δεν] αναζητούν πια την αλήθεια των γεγονότων ή το νόημα της ιστορίας, αλλά παραδέχονται τον αναπόφευκτο κατακερματισμό του σύγχρονου κόσμου, την ήττα του ατόμου στην προσπά-θεία του να αλλάξει το μέλλον του ή να δώσει νόημα στο παρελθόν του» ([Post-modern fiction is neither] in search of factual truths nor of the story’s meaning but instead accepts the ineluctable fragmentation of the modern world, the defeat of the self in its attempt to change the future or give meaning to its past; [1993] 2002, 270). For Tziovas, the postmodern self acknowledges its fragmentary nature as a deterrent to reaching singularity and unifying its existence as both past and present. Similarly, in reference to John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), Patricia Waugh argues that metafictional novels explore an existential concern with freedom; characters “in predetermined fictional ‘scripts,’” she claims “can never really be free” (1984, 123). Although both Tziovas’s and Waugh’s proclamations find application in postmodern fiction, Karapanou’s and Michalopoulou’s metaautobiographical works resist both types of predicaments. The fictional characters of Louisa and Stella discover through self-writing a way of escaping the script of their realities; for them, fiction subverts the dynamics of what can and cannot be achieved, and their ability to transcend one fictional world by creating another opens up a world of possibilities that no reality can possess.

Nonetheless, Louisa and Stella are not after defining the self or re-actualizing a given moment in the past. Instead, they free the self from the script of their realities by rewriting it, and by implication they recreate a new (or multiple) past(s) of the self. In Do You Feel It Too? The Post-Postmodern Syndrome in American Fiction at the Turn of the Millennium, Nicoline Timmer proposes that narratives organize experience and that the self is conceived “as language user, or: as a storyteller” (2012, 41). “Instead of just concluding or simply positing that we are mediated and fractured, the focus is on how we still do try to make sense of our selves, even when fractured and mediated” (42). Amidst divided, fragmented, and discontinuous selves, the only way for Louisa and Stella to face the future is through fictionalized self-narration.

An obvious implication of self-(re)invention is the fact that the new, re-imagined self ceases to raise questions of memory as an invocation of the past. The self-conscious making and remaking of the past undermines the premise that autobiography should depend upon the guidance of memory to retrieve the self. After all, memory is a displaced interpretation: by bringing the past into the present, one reinterprets it in a different temporality, and as [End Page 114] such the original event or experience is irrecoverable (Smith and Watson [2001] 2010, 22). Consequently, memories should not be conceived of as accurate or inaccurate, verifiable or unverifiable but as events that could give access to moments that, in turn, can produce alternative memories. In this respect, memories do not derive from experience but may be free-floating, triggered by a simulacrum of memories. Stella is exonerated from her past less by reshaping old memories than by substituting them with multifarious, self-contradicting, alternate memories. Certain stories in Θα ήθελα show an alternative universe that contests the reality of other stories. The first story of the collection, for example, demonstrates the what-if scenario of what her parents’ lives would look like had they never had children. Stella imagines them devoted to their careers, their infertile marriage proving fertile in their artistic creations—her mother is a painter and her father an unsuccessful writer—and their love enduring even in old age. In another story, Stella portrays two sisters growing old together, one dying in a car accident, the other of cancer, thereby simulating the tragic events in her life but projecting them far into the future. The multifariousness of the stories points to a quantum cosmos, rich with multiple universes, each with its own reality, certain ones contradicting the existing reality that Stella lived, but all of them co-occurring and coinciding: a broken-up and fragmented self is shown in a broken-up and fragmented universe, inside a broken-up and fragmented text (modified from Hampel 2001, 63).14 While defying singularity, this dispersed self sets out to understand its multifarious existence by embracing its fragmentation and acknowledging that part of who one is is what one is not. For Stella and for Louisa, the self is composed not only of its past experiences and memories, as psychoanalysis would attest, but of everything that happened and did not happen; as such, the self will forever remain fragmentary, always dispersed in its vertiginous realities, even if they are still unfulfilled.

It is under the conceptual sediment of what-ifs that Θα ήθελα operates as a title and the stories as wishful inventions. The title functions as a metarepresentation15 for the content of most of the stories (with the exception of the mother’s and sister’s accidents, which are the two events Stella tries to reconcile throughout her fiction). “I’d like” is the cognitive tag or frame that envelops the fictional world of each story. Through her fiction, Stella voices that she would like to grow old with her sister, she would like to have been more empathetic to their father’s mistress, she would like for her parents to have stayed together forever, and so on. As one of Stella’s characters points out, “I’d like” brings one closer to the realization that wishes remain unconsummated: «‘Θα ήθελα’∙ τι κουτό, σπάταλα ευγενικό και παρηγορητικό—τόσες τσαλαπατημένες ευχές σε μία λέξη. Αν ήθελα να πραγματοποιηθούν, θα χρησιμοποιούσα το απλό και κοφτό ρήμα ‘θέλω’. … Ξέρεις τι θα ήθελα; Να συμφιλιωθώ με την ιδέα ότι οι επιθυμίες απλώς υπάρχουν» (2005, 35; “‘I’d Like.’ How stupid, how overly [End Page 115] refined and polite—so many trampled wishes in two little words. If I really wanted them to come true, I would have used the simple, concise verb ‘want’. … You know what I’d like? To accept the idea that longing simply exists”; 2008, 15–16). Inside fiction, however, wishes may come as close as possible to being fulfilled.

Both Rien ne va plus and Θα ήθελα understand the self in terms of fragmentation, discontinuity, and alterity, but also in terms of relationality. As Nancy K. Miller argues, autobiographies constitute the self through its position relative to the other: “representing the other—the one who is not us, even the one against whom we understand who we might be—also allows us to perform that which is most us” (10). Louisa’s and Stella’s self-constructions are contingent upon their interrelations with living or dead others, and it is upon this bedrock that their autobiographical novels form themselves in a re-imagined universe of potentialities and infinite concurrencies. Stella’s autobiographical novel is written in the shadow of her sister’s death, and Louisa’s against the shadow of Alkis. The “other” incarnates their fictional selves in order to represent them vicariously, and they, in turn, rethink themselves through the mirror of otherness.

“Meta” in metaautobiographical novels: Narratives as constructs

Rien ne va plus and Θα ήθελα are suffused by themes that reinforce and buttress their metafictional tendencies. Both texts dramatize their metafictionality by endorsing the notion of narratives as constructs. The most overt references to metafiction in Rien ne va plus are given through readings of two famous paintings: Delvaux’s The Hands (1941) and Giorgione’s La Tempesta (c. 1506–1508). In Delvaux’s The Hands, Louisa sees within its fictional frame the painter’s own hands participating as objects in the world that they are painting. The painting signifies Karapanou’s and Louisa’s shadows percolating through their texts, reminding the reader of the creative hands that composed them, thus placing an emphasis on art’s creative process.

Unlike The Hands which displays a metaphor of the artist-writer, La Tempesta appears twice and is intrinsically linked to the plot. The first time Louisa beholds the famous painting is in the museum in Venice, where she and her friend Vanessa, a feminist and a lesbian, interpret its meaning differently. For Vanessa, the suckling mother is a representation of female captivity by man who bestows her with children. The mother’s gaze bespeaks her contemptuousness toward the male figure whom she now despises, whereas the impending storm implies an upcoming catastrophe between the sexes. On the other hand, Louisa sees in the painting «μια γλυκιά αναμονή—ίσως της βρο-χής. Αναδύει μια σιωπή, μια γαλήνη. Οι δυο φιγούρες έχουνε επιτέλους φτάσει στον προορισμό τους, μετά από αιώνες περιπλάνησης και πόνου» (1993, 119; [End Page 116] “There is a sweet sense of anticipation—perhaps of approaching rain. There is a silence, a calm. The two figures have finally arrived at their destination, after ages of wandering and pain”; 2009, 111). Overtaken by the riveting effects of the painting, Louisa imagines herself in a similar place, where she falls asleep. The reference to La Tempesta arises again at the end of the novel, when Louisa finds herself in a place that resembles the painting. La Tempesta is described in precisely the same terms as above, only now Louisa dreams that she enters the painting and falls asleep within it: «Στο όνειρό της, η Λουίζα βρίσκεται κι αυτή μέσα στον πίνακα. Είναι ξαπλωμένη κάτω από πράσινα φυλλώματα. Μια πηγή αναβλύζει δίπλα της. Βάζει το χέρι της κάτω από το δροσερό νερό. Μέσα στην απόλυτη σιωπή, την παίρνει ο ύπνος» (1993, 179; “In her dream, Louisa is in the painting. She is lying in the shade of green foliage. A spring gushes besides her. She puts her hand into the cool water. In this absolute silence, she falls asleep”; 2009, 183). Voulgari understands Louisa’s presence in the painting as a fictional rebirth beyond the arena of conflict between the sexes. Plunged in her loneliness, Louisa is safe without needing man or being needed (2008, 301). Taking this argument further, it can be claimed that Louisa achieves safety only within the perimeters of constructs (first her novel, now the painting), where she feels content because she can be represented at will and by the power of her own imagination. Her manifestation in La Tempesta is a case of intertextual representation: however alien her figure would be if added to the sixteenth-century painting, the scene is made harmonious because it is the place where all of Louisa’s fictional and real versions unite. If Louisa in the first encounter of Giorgione’s painting explained it as the place where the two figures (man and woman) encounter each other after ages of wondering and despair, we are at liberty to understand the intertextual version of the painting as the place where Louisa and her fictional selves finally arrive at their own destinations. The painting as a metaphor of art articulates Louisa’s fictional re-creations (in her novel, in the painting) tied to the impending harmony that stems from them.

The theme of lying in Karapanou’s novel is another implicit insertion that points to the formation of narratives as constructs. Louisa in part three appears to be a pathological liar, and when she vociferously expresses her ideology of lying, she voices what the metafictional novel would like to dictate to its readers. The first time she speaks to Alkis after their divorce, she lets loose a torrent of language that seems peculiar in its childlike form and its argumentation. Louisa’s monologue radiates with meaning, however, once she is viewed as the personifying voice of the novel. Alkis and Louisa take the shape of the reader and the text, respectively, and suddenly the simplicity of the language and the extremity of her arguments are transposed to a metafictional realm: «Γιατί έλεγα τόσα ψέματα; Δεν ξέρω. Μόνον σ’ εσένα μου άρεσε να λέω τόσα ψέματα. Στους άλλους, έλεγα πάντα την αλήθεια. Ίσως, γιατί η ζωή, με το ψέμα, έπαιρνε μια λάμψη φαντασμαγορική, έπλαθα την κάθε μέρα [End Page 117] όπως την ήθελα εγώ, σαν να ήμουν ο Θεός, την έφτιαχνα ένα πυροτέχνημα» (1993, 167; “Why did I tell so many lies? I don’t know. I only enjoyed lying to you. To everyone else I always told the truth. Perhaps it was because those lies gave life a phantasmagorical glow. I could turn each day into fireworks, shape it however I wanted, as if I were God”; 2009, 168). Here the novel speaks to its readers through Louisa’s voice, admitting to its fabrications, its lies, its formulations precisely in the voice whose admission of lies cannot be trusted. Louisa seems to be energized, knowing that lies can adorn the banality of life. With lies life possesses existence, and Louisa masters this art in her autobiographical fiction. As her monologue progresses, it becomes more obvious that Louisa is the vehicle through which the novel substantiates its beliefs:

Το να στολίζεις την πραγματικότητα με φτιασίδια, με μετάξι και πορφύρα, αυτό δεν θάπρεπε να το κάνουν όλοι; Γιατί κάτω από αυτή την ζωή που ζούμε καθημε-ρινά, κρύβονται το μετάξι και η πορφύρα, και μας περιμένουν. Αρκεί να τολμήσει κανείς να πετάξει από πάνω του τα καθημερινά του ρούχα, να τα ξεσκίσει από πάνω του, και να τολμήσει να φορέσει το μετάξι και την πορφύρα που υπάρχουνε, εγώ το ξέρω. Αλλά εμείς είμαστε αυτοί που τα σκεπάζουμε. Από ανία, αδιαφορία, φόβο. Ιδίως φόβο.Άρα τα ψέματά μου ήταν πάντα η αλήθεια.

(1993, 167–168; emphasis mine)

[To embellish reality with makeup, with silk and royal purple, isn’t that what we all should be doing? Beneath the life we live every day the silk and the purple are hiding, waiting for us. A person just has to dare to throw off his everyday clothes, to rip them off and to put on the silk and purple that exist, I know it. But we’re the ones who cover them up. Out of boredom, indifference, fear. Mostly fear. So right from the first moment I met you, my lies were always the truth.]

(2009, 169; emphasis mine)

Through Louisa’s claims that only lies can validate one’s existence, Karapanou valorizes the act of novelistic creation that transcends such binary oppositions as truth versus lies, fact versus fiction. The references to textiles, silk, and royal purple point to a fine metaphor of narrative fabrication, as if in soft materials that fold and envelop one another, what appear to be lies are efforts to articulate and substantiate one’s existence through threading and piecing together. Indeed, the novel seems to assert that fiction is made out of the reworkings of everyday life, and if life is manipulated into an art form, it transmogrifies itself into a luxurious textile that represents its construction. Louisa feels that her autobiographical fiction, although infested with inaccuracies, has managed to bring her life to life.

A climactic moment in Karapanou’s novel is when Louisa asserts that reality can never be closer to truth than when it takes the form of a lie: «[Η] πραγματικότητα η αληθινή είναι ρευστή σαν ρυάκι, αγνή και ύπουλη σαν τον σιμούν της ερήμου, πραγματική μόνον όταν είναι ψεύτικη» (1993, 168; [End Page 118] “True reality is liquid like a stream, pure and treacherous like a desert wind, real only when it’s false”; 2009, 169). In addition to manifesting the fluidity and deconstruction of binary oppositions such as autobiography–fiction, love–hatred, male–female (Voulgari 2008, 296), this paradoxical description encapsulates the quintessential postmodern dictum: reality, a fluid and inconceivable substance, can only be shaped through the medium of language; it can be constructed and given meaning only through narratives, albeit narratives that operate under the vicious mask of fiction, which is in turn misconstrued as a lie. As a metafictional text, Rien ne va plus foregrounds the ontological status not only of novels but of reality, as well, since readers are ultimately compelled to recognize that fictionalization inheres within reality (Waugh 1984, 18; McCaffery 1982, 9; McHale 1987, 96).

Θα ήθελα naturalizes its own metafictional awareness through various leitmotifs; as the novel is being woven, its metafictional strands hold it together. The novel consists of numerous images and metaphors that cycle throughout Stella’s stories and, at first glance, appear as the only ostensible connective tissues. These leitmotifs, however, are deliberately chosen by Michalopoulou to both conceal and foreground the novel’s metafictional impetus. Some are exact repetitions featured almost in every story, such as the phrase, «Δεν θέλω να κάνω τίποτα. Απλώς να κοιτάζω» (“I don’t want to do anything. Just watch”), which appears seven times in different contexts and in grammatical variations of person and tense. Contrary to the title’s wishful propensity, which discloses the wish for something, this phrase signals the wish for nothing. The passive inclination of the characters who assert it is momentary, but their voices are colored with the disappointment that whatever they wish for can never be fulfilled. The phrase embodies the desire to do nothing but stare—the desire to become an observer, a spectator of sorts. Is this not a description of the reader in her most literal form? Isn’t the reader who stares at words on paper literally partaking in nothing else? The phrase is a snapshot of the reader reading—a picture of her reality inside the book she is holding. In one of its numerous contexts, the character who utters the phrase compliments it with: «Θέλω να κοιτάζω την τέχνη των άλλων. Και να ζηλεύω» (2005, 21–22; “I just want to watch while other people make art. And to be jealous”; 2008, 8). Michalopoulou is aware of the reading process as a constructive process, and the “reader as a producer” rather than as a consumer (Barthes [1970] 1974, 4). Nonetheless, the reader can never be deprived of her most constitutive characteristic: she is physically occupied with nothing but staring at someone else’s art. In the opening lines of The Pleasure of the Text, Roland Barthes defines the reader in similar terms, as someone who “abolishes within himself all barriers … who silently accepts every charge of illogicality, of incongruity; who remains passive in the face of Socratic irony” ([1973] 1975, 3); according to Barthes, “he is the reader of the text at the moment he takes his pleasure” ([1973] 1975, 3). [End Page 119]

Another recurring image is the almond tree, which symbolizes the novel’s structure, the branches being the individual stories, which seem independent and self-expanding but are attached to the trunk, the final story that holds them together. In its most realistic description, the almond tree is made salient when one of the characters shakes its branches and the white blossoms are forcefully scattered around her:

Στο δρόμο για την τράπεζα η ζακέτα της πιάστηκε σ’ ένα κλαδί αμυγδαλιάς που ξεχείλιζε από ένα ξένο κήπο. Το κλαδί είχε γείρει από το βάρος κι είχε τρυπήσει το συρματόπλεγμα, ασυγκράτητο. Το μυαλό της πήγε στο διαφημιστή. Ας ξανα-γυρίσει, Θεέ μου. Στριφογύρισε το κλαδί στη χούφτα της για να ελευθερώσει το κουμπί. Τα λουλούδια τινάχτηκαν με ορμή, μετά βίας συγκρατιόντουσαν στο κλαδί. Ταρακούνησε κι ένα διπλανό κλαδί για να ξαναδεί την άσπρη βροχή. Αλλά το θέμα είναι να ξαναγυρίσει μόνος του, όχι να τον παρακαλέσω εγώ, σκέφτηκε.

Κοίταξε τα άσπρα και τα ροζ ανθάκια στις πλάκες του πεζοδρομίου. Τόσο παραμελημένα. Αποσπασμένα από τη σημασία τους.

(2005, 56–57; emphasis mine)

[On her way to the bank her jacket got stuck on a branch that was sticking out from some stranger’s garden. The branch, weighed down with almond blossoms, had thrust its way through the chain-link fence, refusing to be contained. Her thoughts returned to the advertiser. Please, let him come back. She twisted the branch in her hand to free the button on her jacket. The blossoms quivered and fell; only a few remained clinging to the branch. She reached out and shook a nearby branch, too, to see that white rain again. But he has to come back on his own, she thought, I can’t invite him.

She looked down at the white and pink blossoms on the sidewalk. So neglected. Cut off from the context that gave them meaning.]

(2008, 29–30; emphasis mine)

The narrator observes the blossoms scattered on the sidewalk and wonders at how cut off they look from their meaning: «αποσπασμένα από τη σημασία τους». As the blossoms belong to the tree but are divorced from it, so the stories and memories of Stella’s biographical record are both part of but also divorced from her. The almond blossoms endorse the novel’s fragmentary nature, which, according to Michalopoulou, reflects the fragmentary nature of modern life (Fragopoulos 2008b). The almond tree appears more than once in its natural form and numerous times in the form of simulacra: the blossoms are portrayed on a mug, on a carpet, on the swimsuit the mother wears the day she is paralyzed, and on Christina’s underwear found in her suitcase the day before her accident (2005, 52, 57/59, 66, 119).16 In its various modes of representation, the almond tree portrays the degrees of reality nested in constructs. It juxtaposes the real to the fictional, and the fictional to the fictional-within-the-fictional. By extension, it encapsulates Stella’s representation. Just like the almond tree, there is a putative real Stella inside Θα ήθελα, enmeshed in her fictional reality—yet inside her own fiction, there is another Stella, a copy of the real one. [End Page 120]

More images proliferate in the narratives: the rain, its drops a symbol of falling words («Έξω απ΄ το αμάξι σφυροκοπά η βροχή. Μέσα οι λέξεις» [2005, 180; “Outside the car the rain pounds. Inside their words”; 2008, 115]); the porcelain cat with its yarn, another symbolic depiction of the reader who is constantly unraveling the density of the yarn that the writer has put together; and the “red beret,” a symbol of revival through storytelling. The red beret, which initially appears when the narrator of the first story picks it up from Christina’s dead body in the emergency room, is the quintessential image of Θα ήθελα. Soon after it is placed upon a dead body in the first story, it finds a new owner, passing from death to life. Similarly, the novel begins with a disguised picture of the dead Christina in the background, lying on a stretcher at the hospital; she is resurrected through the subsequent narratives only to die again at the end. Walter Benjamin’s hypothesis that the meaning of life cannot be extracted until the moment of death ([1955] 2007, 94) is captured in the manifestation of the red beret, which becomes the vehicle for telling: because it was lifted from the body, the story propels itself, telling the story of the beret’s metaphysical travels from one cosmos to another.

The careful modulation of these images should not overshadow how they collectively relate to metafiction: all are underpinned by the same metafictional technique of metalepsis.17 Metalepsis, according to Gerard Genette, is the term that allows for objects or characters to wiggle between narrative levels by means of disturbing their demarcated domains ([1972] 1980, 235), “[so] that entities can pass back and forth across the semipermiable membrane between two texts, as well as between the real world and the world of fiction” (McHale 1987, 36). The fact that the red beret—which the reader intuitively assumes to be the same in all of the stories—passes through the hands of characters living alternate realities demonstrates the pliable character of metafictional works. The first story, in which the beret is inconspicuously placed, is seemingly divorced from the others, whereas it in fact embodies the centripetal force by which all of them converge. The beret unites the beginning and the end, and as a metaleptic device, it creates an overarching network of connections among the several stories. In the first story, the unnamed woman—who, as I argued earlier, is Stella’s mother in a parallel world—flees her quotidian life, seeking a fresh start, to relive her love with her husband in Paris, the city in which their love was first kindled. The story ends with her husband’s consenting to start anew. In this first story, Stella’s mother, who never has children, picks up the red beret from Christina’s stretcher upon which she lies dead after the accident described in the final chapter. Alternative pasts and futures are embedded in the image of the beret, which becomes the only stable object in this scene, while everything else dissolves and disperses into multiple universes and realities. These metaleptic moments function as frame-breaking devices: as thresholds or time machines, they facilitate Stella’s retelling of her life, allowing for what [End Page 121] one might call her actualized past to bleed into the realm of her fiction and vice-versa.

Frames, frame-breaking, and Chinese boxes are additional devices that Karapanou and Michalopoulou employ in order to dramatize narratives as fabrications. The structure and formation of both novels proffer further insight into their web of metafictionality and its pairing with the genre of autobiography. The imbricated structure of Rien ne va plus together with the enigma of part two and the “external narrator” (Bal 1985, 22) introduced at the end articulate the novel’s metafictional performance most aptly. Part two is enigmatic in both its content and its placement. It is a short section with no identified narrator, no space or time, comprised of single aphorisms that portray disembodied voices saturated with poetic and philosophical opulence. Here the speaker is only voice, hence the amorphous nature of these quotations of wisdom; they point to themselves as free-floating discourse. Do they mask the real author’s voice, the voice of autobiographer-Louisa, or the voice of the external narrator? Situated between the true and untrue versions of Louisa’s life, this section takes the form of a mirror, which, through its apocalyptic wisdom, projects a reversed mirror image of the two narratives as reflections of each other and the two Louisas as doubles. Projecting Lacan’s mirror stage ([1966] 2004) onto the structure of Rien ne va plus would reveal Louisa enmeshed in a plurality of selves. She is set in opposition to her double—her own fictional creation—where the conscious and the unconscious, the Symbolic and the Imaginary coexist, negate, and reinforce one another. Since at the center of the novel one encounters a mirror, Rien ne va plus oscillates back and forth on its own axis with no end in sight: «Επήλθε το τέλος. Αλλά ούτε αυτό θα με απαλλάξει. Γιατί τέλος δεν υπάρχει» (1993, 73; “The end has arrived. But not even that can release me. Because there is no end”; 2009, 62). This is how part two closes, and whether it is Louisa speaking or the unidentified omniscient narrator, it endorses the novel’s openness and underscores the importance of part two as a symbolic ending embedded between two beginnings.

The unidentified narrator(s) of part two is juxtaposed with the heterodiegetic narrator—the external narrator—whose narrative marks the physical end of the novel. Part one is narrated in the first person by the character-narrator Louisa (metadiegetic level/homodiegetic), part two is devoid of a specified voice (extradiegetic level/homodiegetic or heterodiegetic), and part three offers a combination of first person narration by Louisa (intragietetic level/homodiegetic) and a third-person narrative in the last two chapters (extradiegetic level/heterodiegetic). Although the omniscient heterodiegetic narrator is given a very small part, its significance outweighs its brief involvement.18 It amplifies the demarcation of the fictional layers—extradiegetic, intradiegetic, metadiegetic—providing the final frame, the cognitive tag, through which the reader exits the nested fictional boxes. Since the reader is cast into the very depths of [End Page 122] fiction from the beginning and encounters the frame at the very end, only then can she conceive of the novel as a careful construction of nested narratives. Like Louisa’s cousin, who in her dream decides to fall asleep in order to dream (a dream within a dream) and finds himself at the center of the earth before he slowly ascends to the surface again, the reader slowly moves from the deepest fictional layer to the surface where Louisa’s two fictional worlds emerge.

Rien ne va plus releases the reader from its convoluted (meta)fictional structure, allowing her to come out of the nested narration and encounter the heterodiegetic narrator. Conversely, Θα ήθελα seems to conclude with “the device of the missing end-frame: dropping down to an embedded narrative level without returning to the primary diegesis at the end” (McHale 1987, 116). Θα ήθελα ends with a second-person narration that is meant to confuse the distinction between extradiegesis and intra/metadiegesis. Michalopoulou utilizes the second-person narrative profusely in all her works—a tribute to Calvinean metafiction—and Θα ήθελα is no exception. In «Μικρή ελεγχόμενη ανησυχία» (“A Slight, Controlled Unease”), the excerpt analyzed at the beginning of this article, the Calvinean “you” addresses character and reader alike: a woman is conversing with the novel she is reading, and the pronoun “you” refers both to the woman-reader—who is assumed to be Christina reading the complete version of Stella’s book—as well as to an implied reader. It therefore stands for “conversational second-person narration” (Mildorf 2012, 78). The last chapter’s you-narration, however, is ambivalent. It can either be interpreted as a conversational second-person narration, in which a heterodiegetic narrator speaks to Stella, or it could be a self-dramatization of the first-person narrative. The last chapter can be read as either a heterodiegetic or an extradiegetic frame of the novel-within-the-novel. If the second-person narration is understood as conversational narration, the narrative is then situated outside Stella’s fiction and is delivered by a heterodiegetic narrator. However, if the “you” is Stella’s inward conversation with herself, “an ‘I’ in disguise, a ‘first person’ narrator talking to himself” (Bal 1985, 30), then this narrative level is still intra- or metadiegetic.

By choosing to narrate the last story in the second person instead of the third, Michalopoulou rejects the omniscient narrator, who, as in Rien ne va plus, would have strengthened the stories in relation to Stella’s reality and would have established the last chapter as the frame. On the other hand, had the final chapter been narrated in the first person, it would have been placed on the same dialectic level as the rest of the stories—its narrator would possess the same existential status as the narrators in other chapters; however, Michalopoulou wishes to amplify this narrator’s voice. Although the second-person narrative allows for the last chapter to function as the frame of Stella’s autobiographical fiction, it is ambiguous whether this final chapter is the frame that takes the reader outside the intradiegetic discourse of the embedded structure, or whether it keeps her forever trapped. If, according to [End Page 123] Wayne Booth ([1961] 1983), the narrator is a quasi-fictional persona located between the book’s fiction and the reader’s reality (158), unless the reader encounters the narrator, she will not exit the fiction in which she is submerged. With the second-person pronoun and with the title «Θα ήθελα (ορχηστρικό)» (“I’d Like [Orchestral Version]”), this novel-within-the-novel dwells in a quantum cosmos like the rest of the book: it both contains a frame and gestures toward the absence of one.

The hybridization of autobiography and metafiction in Rien ne va plus and Θα ήθελα operates on a metafictional plane where narratological devices are used to foreground the fictionality of writing, whereby the self is pictured as a meta-entity composed of mutually contradictory elements. Neither Stella nor Louisa attempts to recapture and sublimate the past in an effort to record an all-encompassing narrative. Since for these character-writers writing the past is another intellectual concoction, they do not hesitate to reshuffle and reorder it in ways most meaningful to them, while never repudiating their dispersed selves. There is no need to distinguish the past self from the real self from the invented self. In Karapanou’s and Michalopoulou’s fiction, real, fictional, and imaginary, counter-real selves are all interwoven, keeping each other alive and sane through the various metafictional devices that drive the novels’ narrative force.

Lissi Athanasiou-Krikelis
New York Institute of Technologϒ
Lissi Athanasiou-Krikelis

Lissi Athanasiou-Krikelis is Assistant Professor of English at New York Institute of Technology, where she specializes in postmodern fiction, metafiction, and ESL pedagogy. Her article “Metafiction in the Post-Technological Age: The Case of The People of Paper and MetaMaus” was published in Beyond Postmodernism: Onto the Postcontemporary (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013), and her essay “Speaking and Remaining Silent about the World Beyond” was published by the peer-reviewed e-journal [SIC]: A Journal of Literature, Culture and Literary Translation (2011). She is currently working on metafiction and children’s literature in picture books.

NOTES

1. My title pays tribute to a thought-provoking article by José Angel García Landa (2008), entitled “Narrating Narrating: Twisting the Twice-Told Tale,” which explores the narratological implications of stories narrated twice. My title is also indebted to Ansgar Nünning (2005), who, to my knowledge, is the first to use the terms “metaautobiography” and “metabiography.”

2. Saunders 2010 uses the term “fictive autobiography” to refer to novels that embody a fictional (auto)biographer, such as Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy ([1759] 1980) or Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre ([1847] 1943). He uses “autobiographical novels” to refer to novels that thematize life-events of their author’s, such as James Joyce’s A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man ([1916] 2007). This article follows Saunders’s definitions.

3. For more information on “autofiction,” see Hughes 2002. See also Schmitt 2012, who argues that Doubrovsky’s term is largely ambiguous and interpreted differently by various scholars.

4. The most common term that has been employed to denote this trend in autobiography is “postmodern autobiography” or “postmodern autobiographical novel” (see Hampel 2001; Katsan 2013).

5. See also Fludernik 2003, where she further strengthens Nünning’s original argument.

6. Scarparo 2005 explores the genre of female “metabiographies” by calling them “biographies as metafiction.” She examines four novels by women authors, who write fictional biographies of either historical or fictional women in an endeavor to rearticulate their silent pasts. [End Page 124]

7. One may argue that in all postmodern self-reflexive fiction, autobiography becomes a master-trope. Being preoccupied with all forms of self-exploration, questioning its own nature as language, and raising questions about its relation to reality, postmodern fiction is engaged in the same dialogue that autobiography is when examining the self. Espousing Barbara Johnson’s observation that the self analyzes itself, man studies man, thought thinks about thought, language speaks about language (1981, xvi), and—one may add—literature writes about literature, fiction in postmodernism writes its own biography. Postmodern metafiction is, therefore, nothing but an autobiography of its own fiction, embodying autobiography’s inwardness, its quest for the exploration of the self, and its incessant aspiration to discover its own nature.

8. For an analysis on contemporary Greek autofiction, see Ioannidou 2013, who points to the lack of a relevant term for Greek autobiographies that combine “the practice of life-writing with fiction while drawing attention to [their] self-reflexive character” (9). Ioannidou’s work is the first to apply Doubrovsky’s theoretical framework to Greek novels in which the fictional narrator is identified as the fictional ego of the real author. According to this work, the first Greek autofictionists include: Kostas Tachtsis, Melpo Axioti, Vassilis Vassilikos, Vassilis Alexakis, Yiannis Kourtsakis, and Michel Fais.

9. The question put forth first by Gregory Jusdanis in 1987 of whether or not there is a Greek postmodernism is far outdated by now. A number of critics, including Katsan (2002, 2013), Kefala (2007), Mackridge and Yannakakis (2004), and Tziovas (2002, 2004), have convincingly claimed that Greek postmodernism is not a chimera.

10. In another noteworthy novel by Karapanou Ο υπνοβάτης (1985; The Sleepwalker, 2010), many of the main characters are artists, who, undergoing their own emotional and psychological turmoil, experience a lack of creativity, while they often voice their take on art and its process.

11. For Michalopoulou’s interviews, see Carter 2009, Fragopoulos 2008b, and Plum (2010).

12. For a feminist-driven discussion on the polarity of male versus female roles in the novel, see Voulgari 2008, who postulates that the prototypical, submissive woman of part one is being reawakened in part two in order to live life anew, ready to face «τον εαυτό της και τον άντρα» (herself and man; 294).

13. For more on “self-formation” and how it preoccupies the rest of Karapanou’s fiction, see Faubion 1993, Fragopoulos 2010, and Iakovidou 2008.

14. As McHale has observed in Postmodernist Fiction (1987), “[t]his is … precisely the postmodern condition: an anarchic landscape of worlds in plural” (37); “postmodern fiction does hold the mirror up to reality; but that reality now more than ever before, is plural” (39).

15. For more information on metarepresentation as it is employed by cognitive theorists, see Lisa Zunshine’s Why We Read Fiction (2006).

16. Equivalent pages in the English text are 91, 96/100, 110, and 189.

17. See Fludernik 2009 on the relation between metafiction and metalepsis.

18. To avoid using the feminine pronoun to refer to the external narrator, which might imply a relation to Louisa, I opt to use the neuter pronoun.

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