I’m reading Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy because of my love for detective novels. I should say meta-detective novel. In fact, every time I see anything about this book or speak to anyone about the book, the prefix “meta-” is applied somewhere. It is a shockingly difficult prefix to get a clear definition to. Normally, the prefix indicates change, but when used in intellectual thought, the best I’ve been able to cull is something that raises questions about the nature of the original “not-meta” word.
Intuitively, I accept Auster’s book as metanarritive, but as I sit down and try to describe why, it is harder for me to say so. The main character is a writer (nothing special there) who has lost his identity. First, he is Quinn, his name by birth. Second, he has his nom de plume for his detective novels. Third, he identifies with his detective, Max Work. Fourth, he is mistaken for a real detective named Paul Auster, who actually is not a detective, but a writer (and possibly the book’s author himself). Auster, the book’s author, devotes time in the novel to this disconnect between the true author of the book and the imagined author of a book (usually the narrator). Cervantes’s Don Quixote is an example. In our world, Cervantes is the author. In the world of Don Quixote it was a book only discovered by Don Quixote. All of this discussion qualifies as metanarrative.
It is an odd idea that must be ritually scoffed at by anyone hoping to raise the issue without sounding like a pompous grad student. Like using the word Kafkaesque, it might get you punched in the face to discuss meta- anything without pretending to distance yourself from the topic.