Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1984


Johns Hopkins University Press


Much recent American fiction has become increasingly self-conscious, displaying an awareness of itself as fiction, as artifice that diminishes the role of a central human consciousness or self in the fiction. The fictional process is in the foreground of much contemporary fiction where the narrative human presence once was. Yet, both fictional process and human presence serve similar structural functions within the text, which suggests that the creation of a fiction resembles the creation of a human self, real or imaginary. The provisional reality of self-conscious fiction is like the provisional reality of the "post-modern" self, prone to self-questioning, constituted by process rather than substance, multiple, changeable, perhaps even illusory. John Barth's novel Chimera is a supremely self-conscious fiction. Barth's use of the three central narrators in the three sections of the novel— the "Dunyazadiad ,"the "Perseid ," and the "Bellerophoniad"— foregrounds the relationship between diffusion of identity and artistic self-consciousness within the novel. Although an individual, by definition, should not be susceptible to division or separation into parts without losing its identity, the narrators in Chimera, like the novel's sections, are all divisible, incomplete, or inter-changeable. Definitions of identity often include elements such as continuity, functional unity, consciousness, récognitive memory, personality, or awareness. Yet, there is still a question about the relation of a self so constituted to se//-conscious fiction.


Copyright © 1984 the Johns Hopkins University Press. This article first appeared in Studies in American Fiction 12:1 (1984), 99-108. Reprinted with permission by Johns Hopkins University Press.



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