Research article
Issue: № 10 (52), 2016

Олизько Н.С.

ORCID: 0000-0001-6241-6093, Доктор филологических наук, Профессор, Челябинский государственный университет



Статья посвящена особенностям использования филологического метаязыка в американском и русском постмодернистском художественном дискурсе. В центре внимания автора находятся произведения двух известных представителей постмодернизма – Джона Барта и Виктора Пелевина. Утверждается, что метаязык лингвистики и литературоведения выполняет в художественных произведениях названных писателей различные функции: служит средством авторского комментария, способом самоописания художественного текста; с помощью филологического метаязыка в постмодернистском произведении формируется метатекст. Отмечается, что принадлежащие к филологическому дискурсу описания потенциальной обратимости, цикличности, процессуальности, диалогичности, насыщенности множественными смыслами и гетерогенности повествования не только отражают сущностные черты постмодернистского произведения, но и становятся его частью. В статье показано, что метатекстовая игра в виде фрактальных моделей концентрических кругов и спиралей становится инструментом авторской оценки собственных произведений и произведений постмодернизма в целом как специфического способа миромоделирования. Делается вывод, что с помощью филологического метаязыка, инкорпорированного в структуру художественного дискурса, обеспечивается семиотический сдвиг, в результате которого постмодернистское произведение как вторичная моделирующая система приобретает способность надстраиваться над естественным языком (в данном случае – русским или английским), а также над художественным дискурсом, порождая так называемый метадискурс.

Ключевые слова: постмодернистский дискурс; художественный текст; метаязык; фрактальная модель; метадискурс.

Olizko N.S.

ORCID: 0000-0001-6241-6093, PhD in Philology, Professor, Chelyabinsk State University



The article is dedicated to the peculiarities of the philological metalanguage use in American and Russian postmodern art discourse. In the center of the author’s attention there are works of two known representatives of postmodernism – John Barth and Victor Pelevin. It is claimed that the metalanguage of linguistics and literature studies accomplishes different functions in works of art of the above mentioned writers: it can perform the function of author’s comments and literary text self description; with the help of the philological metalanguage the metatext is formed in a postmodern work. It is reported that the description of the potential invertibility, circularity, procedurality, intention of multiple meanings and inhomogeneity of narration belonging to philological discourse not only reflects essential features of a postmodern work, but becomes its part. It is shown in the article that the metatext game in the form of fractal models of concentric circles and spirals becomes an instrument of authors’ estimation of their own works and works of postmodernism as a specific way of world modeling. To draw the conclusion, with the help of the metalanguage, incorporated in the structure of the art discourse, semiotic shift can be provided and as a result a postmodern work as a secondary modeling system acquires the ability to overbuild itself above the natural language ( in this very case – Russian or English), and also above the art discourse creating the so called “metadiscourse”.

Keywords: postmodern discourse, literary text, metalanguage, fractal model, metadiscourse.


Postmodern discourse is a continuous process of sign constructing. In order to determine it’s notional representation the integration of linguistic persona of a reader into the metasystem of the work, created by linguistic persona of a writer, is necessary. Consequently, decoding of the special metalanguage, filled with constituent meaning and supposing corresponding set of means, acquires the special meaningfulness in the art discourse.

The aim of the article is the analysis of the peculiarities of philological metalanguage realization in American and Russian postmodern discourse through the works of two known representatives of postmodernism – John Barth and Victor Pelevin.

Philological comment in postmodern text

On the structural-semantic metalanguage level the author’s comment gets the form of defining of the terms, specification of the meanings of the corresponding expressions, paraphrasing and translation of foreign extracts. In most cases corresponding elements are marked graphically – with the help of brackets and quotation marks. For example, in works of John Barth in brackets there are definitions of the words, which can be unknown to a reader due to their specific use.

“Proetus”, I declared, “says I’m innocent, and in the respect that my role in those deaths was not an example of proairesis (by which will be meant a voluntary act preceded by deliberation), I agree [1].

Those familiar with my fiction will recognize in this account several pet motifs of mine: the sibling rivalry, the hero’s naiveté, the accomplishment of labors by their transcension (here literal), and the final termination of all tasks by the extermination (here figurative) of the taskmaster; the Protean counselor (Polyeidus means ‘many forms’); the romantic triangle; et cetera [1].

These extracts appear to be classical examples of introducing the scientific metalanguage comment to the narration – framing literary text is commented by means of framed philological metatext.

Appeal to scientific metalanguage by means of etymological, word building and other kinds of analysis of lexical items can be found in the works written by V.Pelevin. The novel called “Empire V”, dedicated to immortal creatures, sucking away people’s energy – product of the so called “intellect B”, acquaints a reader with vampire reality which is described by means of terms “discourse” and “glamour”, forming dichotomy. The author suggests the original explanation of the origin of these terms.

“Glamour” originates from the Scottish word determining magic. It originates from “grammar”, and “grammar” in its turn goes back to “grammatica”. In the Middle Ages it was used to determine different demonstrations of learning, including occulted practices which were associated with literacy [5].

In Medieval Latin there was a term “discursus” - “running to and fro”, “escape back and forth”. If we keep a close watch on the origin of it, so this word originated from the verb “discurrere”. “Currere” means “to run”, “dis” is a negative particle. Discourse is a ban of escape [5].

In the first example the philological comment, represented in the form of a quasi logical spiral chain “glamour – grammar – grammatica”, leads a reader to an associative connection between terms “glamour” and “literacy”. In the second extract the liberal word building analysis of the lexical item “discursus” ascribes an absolutely opposite meaning to the term “discourse”. Such use of the metalanguage opens unlimited possibilities of indirect influence on the reader while presenting philosophical, political and religious questions.

Comments in the form of translation and short notes referring to corresponding precedent setting phenomena contribute to deeper understanding of the text by means of actualization of connections with well known names and statements. One of the characters of the novel “Empire V” comments on the meaning of the expression “a mare’s nest”, used to characterize the work of V.V. Nabokov.

“An awful night dream” in English is “night mare”. Vladimir Vladimirovich mentions it somewhere. But why “grey”? The most terrible of night mares is insomnia… Insomnia, your stare is dull and ashen… Ashen, gray… [5].

The development of the idea is accomplished by means of a spiral – associations in the Russian and English languages interlace, “a mare” becomes the embodiment of “insanity”, “terror”, “insomnia”, that is confirmed by means of fractal reproduction of the quotation from V. Nabokov in two languages.

The metalanguage as a means of self description of a literary text

The use of the philological metalanguage, being a means of terms and notions definer, is an effective way of “self description” of a work. For example, in the novel “The Life of Insects”, written by V. Pelevin, the moth, named Mitya, dwelling upon the theme of a creation of a literary text, expresses a wish to describe the life of insects in its work.

If I were to write a novel about insects, I would represent their life in this very way – a village near the sea, darkness, and in this darkness several electric bulbs are on, but above them there are disgusting dances. And everything is flying towards that light, because there is nothing else there. But to fly to those bulbs is… [7].

The telescope type inclusion of one text into the other (the novel of the moth repeats the plot of the whole work, on the pages of which it appears), being a means of “self description”, represents the main idea of the novel – “The Life of the Insects”: the natural-philosophic picture of the world of the insects adequately reflects the life of people, being in the constant search for the meaning of existence.

The process of self description is closely connected with with the realization of one of the most important elements of the concept sphere of the postmodern discourse – the concept “a mask of the author”, letting the writer present various linguistic and literary problems of the narration. So, in the main circle of the main themes of the novel by J. Barth “Chimers” the theme of creation of this very work is included, and the novelist himself turns out to be one of the characters. The author is always busy with creative problems and he discusses them with a reader, placing his own thoughts into the mouth of the Genie, behind whose mask J. Barth can be seen. In the middle of the narration the Genie tells Scheherazade about the work on “series made of three novellas – long stories, which will get their own meaning one in another” (it is referred to the novel – “Chimera”). Moreover, according to his words, two novellas have already been written. Working on the third one, the author appears to be on the pages of his own narration.

The Genie … repeated that he was still in the middle of that third novella in the series, and so far from drafting the climax and denouement, had yet even to plot them in outline. Turning then to me, to my great surprise he announced that the title of the story was Dunyazadiad; that its central character was not my sister but myself, the image of whose circumstances, on my ‘wedding-night-to-come’, he found as arresting for tale-tellers of his particular place and time as was my sister’s for the estate of narrative artists in general [1].

Isomorphism of this extract and novella “Chimera” (at first, as it is known, the novella, called “Perceid” appeared, then “Bellerophoniad” and “Dunyazadiad” were written) helps the Genie explain the peculiarities of the trilogy building. The use of terms and notions of literary studies (novella, climax, denouement, plot, central character, tale tellers, and narrative artists) helps to interpret this fragment as a metatext, demonstrating self-similar development of the work. In this case, metalanguage comments of the linguistic character, accompanying the statement, help top draw the reader’s attention to those its sides, which could be hidden, if they were used differently. In the above mentioned extract we find out an attempt of re-thinking the proto text (the fairy tale “The Arabian Nights”) in order to find out a new meaning of the work (“Chimera”). So, not Scheherazade, but her younger sister Dunyazadiad (in her person the narration is performed) becomes the main character of Barth.

The Genie constantly involves Scheherazade in the dialogue about the technique of story-telling, participants of the narration process and literature experiments. In particular, he discusses whether a story might imaginable be framed from inside, so that the usual relationship between container and contained would be reversed and paradoxically reversible [1]. (Compare Mobius strip as a symbol of invertibility of container and contained).

They speculated endlessly on such questions as whether a story might imaginably be framed from inside, so that the usual relation between container and contained would be reversed and paradoxically reversible – and what human state of affairs such an odd construction might usefully figure [1].

The author takes an attempt of drawing a parallel structural peculiarities of the novella and human relationships. He says about his wish to write “a series of seven concentric stories-within-stories, so arranged that the climax of the innermost would precipitate that of the next tale out, and that of the next, et cetera”, comparing this process to “the chain of orgasms” (this idea goes back to “Love Discourse” by Juliya Kristeva and “A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments” by R. Barth).

Or whether one might go beyond the usual tale-within-a-tale, beyond even the tales-within-tales- within-tales-within-tales, and conceive a series of seven concentric stories-within-stories, so arranged that the climax of the innermost would precipitate that of the next tale out, and that of the next, et cetera, like a string of firecrackers or the chains of orgasms [1].

Described by J. Barth the fractal model of concentric circles becomes the framework for metaphor, built on the isomorphism of the literary creation and art of love, which, in its turn, is a point of departure of discussions about parallelism of relationships between genders and relationships between a teller and a listener. On the lexical level, it appears in the use of items, building correlative thematic lines: teller, listener, reader, tale – on the one hand, and masculine, feminine, intercourse – on the other hand. On syntactical level the above mentioned correspondence is emphasized with the help of the use of parallel constructions.

The book about Sherry herself which he claimed to be reading from, in his opinion the best illustration of a1l that the very relation between teller and told was by nature erotic. The teller’s role, he felt, regardless of his actual gender, was essentially masculine, the listener’s or reader’s feminine, and the tale was the medium of their intercourse [1].

In “Bellerophoniad” the linguistic metalanguage as a means of self description becomes the framework for irony, referring not only to the character, “getting lost among the lines of his own story”, but also to the author, who laughs bitterly at himself, when he makes “a three part digression”, trying to climb out of “sinking in exposition as in quick mire”.

We’re in a three-part digression already, sinking in exposition as in quick mire! The Deterioration of the Literary Unit: yes, well, things are deteriorating right enough, deteriorating; everything is deteriorated; deterioration everywhere. God knows I’m not what I used to be; no help for that. But never for want of words! Too much to say, that’s my complaint: everything to get said, and all at once or I’ll forget it. Already I’ve forgotten half what I’d in mind to write; pen can’t keep up; I make mad side-notes, notes of notes for notes [1].

Abundance of lexical items with negative connotation lets the author show the feeling of uncertainty, and the repeated use of negative particles emphasizes impossibility to change anything. Intensification of the emotional strain is connected with the repetition of different grammar forms of the word “deterioration”, being the framework for the ironic remark of the author about the modern state of literature – “the deterioration of the literary unit”. Realizing the truth of this estimation with regard to his own “creation”, the author applies for self irony and determines his work as “mad side-notes, notes of notes for notes”.

Irony of such kind is characteristic for works by V. Pelevin, too. For example, the novel called “Sacred Book of the Werewolf” opens with “The comment of the Expert”, describing the history of appearance of the discussed work and expressing critical estimation of the last one. The preface (comment in the person of the Major of militia – Tengiz Kokoev, Peldis Sharm – presenter of the TV program “Karaoke Homeland” and philologists – Maya Maracharskaya and Igor Koshkodavlenko, sharing the same degree level) anticipates possible negative comments about the novel and demonstrates the author’s uncensorious attitude to bias and incompetence of critics.

This text, also known under the name of “A Hu-Li” is an unskillful literary falsification, made by an unknown author in the first quarter of the 21st century. Most experts agree that not that manuscript is interesting, but that way, with the help of which it was thrown into the world. The text file, titled “A Hu-Li”, was supposed to be on the hard disc of the portable computer, found under “dramatic circumstances” in one of Moscow parks [8].

Apart from conveying the author’s attitude, this preface, describing the final scene of the novel, performs an important plot forming function: the writer finishes still not beginning narration, which at the end of the plot leads a reader to the beginning of the development of events.

The Philological metalanguage as a framework for the creation of the metatext

In the art discourse of postmodernism, the metalanguage comment is not limited by defining peculiarities of the exact work organization. The author, as a rule, makes an attempt to state essential characteristics of postmodern writing as a whole, paying special attention to the problem of defining the notion “postmodernism”.

Science tractates of J. Barth, for example, are dedicated to studying peculiarities of different literary directions, which are relatively divided by him into the literature of “exhaustion” and the literature of “supplying”. Realism is called “exhausted” literature unable to reflect peculiarities of modern life. “Truly realistic” approach to the problems of modern art, concerning “breaking” of traditional forms of narration and destruction of “old-fashioned” ideas about the plot, genre, and composition, is relevant to “renewed” literature, being able to “fill the modern art with new contents”. The case is that the postmodernism is the only kind of art, “corresponding with needs of the epoch”, when “individual acquires the special meaning” for each person. This literature is “an example of individual perception of reality” [3].

This theory is confirmed by J. Barth with practice, and he realizes the idea of exhaustiveness of traditional literature in the short story called “Title” (short story collection “Lost in the Funhouse”). By means of the spiral organization of narration he constantly returns a reader to the initial idea, expressed with the help of the phrase “to fill in the blank”. The icon repetition of this expression in the structure of rhetorical questions (Did you think I meant to fill in the blank? What memes you think I wouldn't fill in the blank instead? Even if I should fill in the blank with my idle pen?), imperative constructions (Try to fill the blank, effect what can't be faced or else fill the blank. Let the end be blank; anything’s better than this) and philosophic conclusions (Only hope is to fill the blank. You can't fill in the blank; I can't fill in the blank. Or won't. It sounds as if somebody intends to fill in the blank) draws the recipient’s attention to the problems of the “exhausted” literature of the realism.

Presentation of this theme is continued in the short story “Lost in the Funhouse”, where the description of the events (the teenager, called Ambrose, goes to Ocean city with his family on the occasion of The Day of Independence celebration) is accompanied by the metalanguage incorporations: every narrative element is presented together with the author’s comment, determining the corresponding spiral turn of the work development.

En route to Ocean City he sat in the back seat of the family car with his brother Peter, age fifteen, and Magda G___, age fourteen, a pretty girl and exquisite young lady, who lived not far from them on B___ Street in the town of D___, Maryland. Initials, blanks, or both were often substituted for proper names in nineteenth-century fiction to enhance the illusion of reality. It is as if the author felt it necessary to delete the names for reasons of tact or legal liability. Interestingly, as with other aspects of realism, it is an illusion that is being enhanced, by purely artificial means [2].

The reflection of the author about the text structure in terms and notions of linguistics (initials, proper names) and literary studies (Nineteenth- century fiction, illusion of reality, author) helps to analyze this extract as a metatext. The construction, formed in this way, can be described as a spiral, which presents self-similar development of a short story on the language and metalanguage levels. The author’s comment provides moving to a new level of the work understanding due to the fact that the metatext is not just a special kind of the language forming, but it creates the background of the statement, revealing its foreground. In other words, the metalanguage, being the special form of expression, is able, to some extent, to influence the contents of the part of the statement it refers to. In this case, the author, commenting the description of the events from the life of the main character, makes a reader think about the influence means and approaches of “the truly realistic” literature.

The problem of clarification of the essence of postmodernism is also repeatedly brought up in works written by V. Pelevin. In the novella called “The Life of Insects” postmodernism is defined as “the art of Soviet match men” [7]. In “Sacred Book of the Werewolf” the case is about “the culture, preferring to resell the patterns, created by others, instead of creating new ones” [8]. In “Numbers” postmodernism appears “when you make a doll out of a doll, while you yourself are a doll” [6].

A novel called “Macedonian Criticism of French Thought” takes a special place in this line. In the frames of this novella, a similarly named composition of the main character Kiki is quoted – “strange mixture of layers of the text, overflowing one into another, not interrelated at all at first sight”, these are “memories about the childhood, intimate diaries, a philosophical tractate and technical description” [6]. The work, introduced into the text of the narration, is dedicated to the analysis of works of such “French thinkers of the last century” as Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan and others. In addition to the above mentioned, the author emphasizes that Kiki “had never read those philosophers in his life, but had only heard several quotations and terms from their works” [6]. However, this fact did not prevent the character from making announcements about “absolute worthlessness of great Frenchmen” [6].

For example, he compares two philosophers, Baudrillard and Derrida: “As for Jean Baudrillard, in his compositions it is possible to change all affirmative sentences into negative ones without any harm to the meaning. Besides, it is possible to change all nouns into the words with the opposite meanings, and again without any consequences. And even more, it is possible to perform these operations simultaneously, in any succession, or even several times at a run, and the reader will not feel again any noticeable changes. But Jacques Derrida, a real intellectual will agree, dives deeper and does not come up longer. As for Baudrillard, it is possible to change the meaning of the statement into an opposite one, while in case of Derrida, it is mostly impossible to change the meaning of the sentence with any operations”[6].

The presented fractal model of concentric circles consists of texts inserted one into the other: the metatext by V. Pelevin comments the metatext of Kiki, commenting the peculiarities of works by Jean Baudrillard and Jacques Derrida. Their works are semantically analyzed, the use of such terms as “meaning”, “sense”, “noun”, “statement”, “sentence” and others prove it. The analysis proves impossibility to change the meaning in compositions of French scientists. According to Kiki’s interpretation it means impossibility to find any sense. V. Pelevin understands it as impossibility of “critics” to convey the meaning put into the works of French researchers.

The main postulate of the postmodernism, applying both to works written by V. Pelevin and works by other representatives of this current, is stated in “A Note About Looking For the Wind”: “Nothing should be invented, everything that this novella should contain has already been invented, but these extracts are scattered in books of different epochs” [6].


To draw the conclusion in case of the analysis of peculiarities of the philological metalanguage realization in American and Russian postmodern art discourse, it is necessary to mention that any narration requires the comment, explaining ideas of the writer referring to the work construction. Belonging to the scientific metalanguage, the descriptions of the potential invertibility, circularity, procedurality, dialogueness, intention of multiple meanings and inhomogeneity of narration reflect essential features of any work of postmodernism. Represented in the form of fractal models of concentric circles and spirals the metatext game becomes the means of expressing the author’s estimation of his own works and works of postmodernism as a specific way of the world modeling.

The performed analysis helps to state that the philological metalanguage, incorporated in the structure of the art discourse, creates semiotic shift. As a result a postmodern work as a secondary modeling system acquires the ability to overbuild itself not only above the natural language (in this very case – Russian or English), but also above the art discourse creating the so called “metadiscourse”.


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  3. Barth J. The Friday Book: Essays and Other Notification. – Baltimore; London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. – 286 p.
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  2. Barth J. Lost in the Funhouse. Fiction for print, tape, live voice. – New York: Doubleday & Company, 1968. – 201p.
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  5. Pelevin V.O. Ampir V: roman [Empire V: novel]. – Moscow: EKSMO, 2008. – 416 p. [in Russian]
  6. Pelevin V.O. Dialektika Perehodnogo Perioda iz Niotkuda v Nikuda [The Dialectics of Transition Period from out of Nowhere to Nowhere]. – Moscow: EKSMO, 2008. – 426 p. [in Russian]
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