Archive for November, 2014

Autofictionalisation Personality Disorder

November 9, 2014 Leave a comment

Self-portrait as ‘The Mad Artist’ 2014

Metafiction – fiction that references itself or draws attention to its own artificiality – has long fascinated me. More recently I’ve come to ponder the phenomenon of what you might call ‘extreme metafiction’, where the process of self reference takes on a parallel-mirror effect – reflections reflecting reflections onwards to infinity.

In my novelistic memoir The Mad Artist, I examined the process by which a real-life novel I was writing, based on my past and present actions, turned into the very memoir itself, Möbius strip fashion. In my work-in-progress The Empty Chair, I carry that torch onward, showing an extended process of attempting to create fictional versions of a life story, the fiction mutating as life experience accumulates. So both those works have a meta quality, a blend of metafiction and meta-memoir. Now in a third putative work whose narrative covers a fluid ongoing present, I shall examine the process of writing those previous works – in fact a meta examination of the meta examination – and inevitably it has brought that parallel-mirror effect to mind.

This effect has been explored in art before, most strikingly in Charlie Kaufman’s 2008 film, Synecdoche, New York, which was commercially unsuccessful but hailed by many critics, including myself, as a masterpiece. Theatre director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) starts rehearsing an epic production based on his own life, which as it progresses reaches the point in his life where he started the production, requiring another set of actors to play the people playing himself and his colleagues, which in turn leads inexorably to a never ending succession of doppelgängers and Chinese box sets filling New York. It is extreme metafiction beautifully handled, but such is the complexity of its convolutions and the subtlety of its nuances, that it simply went over the heads of the majority of the cinema-going public.

And going back to my late childhood, I discovered this very same effect on a family outing to the model village at Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds. It is a particularly fine example of the art, comparatively large and extensive at one ninth scale and very carefully crafted with exquisite attention to detail. It took five years to build, back in the 1930s. Now because the model village stands within the actually village, it naturally has to include a model of itself, and in turn this model has a model and so on. When I encountered this phenomenon at the age of eleven or twelve, I was enchanted and inspired – this was the kind of thing I loved, where mathematics (point three, recurring) meets the world of plastic creation. As I stared down the tunnel of model villages, conjecturing an infinity that was beyond rendering, I had a kind of proto-psychedelic revelation, a sense I was touching some ineffable mystery…

And it can be no coincidence that decades later I created the self-portrait above, relating the effect to my own writing. In pondering this phenomenon and how it relates to the ‘mad artistry’ of my youth, together with the detailed psychological introspection I underwent writing The Empty Chair, I coined the term ‘autofictionalisation personality disorder’ and defined it as follows: the act of leading one’s life as though it is the provider of material for ongoing ‘novels’. Is it a pathology or is that simply my conceit? Certainly autofictionalisation personality disorder is a defence, a retreat into a kind of looking-glass-reality-fantasy world, and I do find it interesting and quirky to look upon the process in terms of psychological analysis.

Read the full history of autofictionalisation personality disorder on Medium.

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