I appreciate Cameron’s attention to how positive and negative emotions can figure in metafiction. In particular, I think he’s right about metafiction’s self-critical awareness of its artifice, its mediated conditions of possibility, as something that tends towards the work breaking down in some fundamental way. For instance, the metafictional element of Salvador Plascencia’s novel The People of Paper comes through in certain characters’ awareness of their being written as fictional characters in a novel. They learn a technique to obscure their thoughts to this author figure, and all the reader sees are black bars à la redacted text in partially declassified documents. Or, in the original hardcover edition, every instance of the name of the man with whom the author’s lover slept is die-cut out of the page. This metafictional instantiation of the author’s own sadness manifests as a breakdown in the text as a material surface for printing words.
Metafiction can of course traffic in other emotional registers, including humor. (It’s worth pointing out that laughter can be a response to unhumorous, unexpected things. I might laugh at the metafictional conceit of Metal Gear Solid’s Psychomantis boss fight not because it’s funny but because it’s unusual and perhaps a bit uncomfortable.) And finding the humor in something’s artificiality need not be taken as one big joke, as it is in Welcome to Bummertown. Since I have not played Bummertown, I will stick with a reference in the column that I am familiar with: Camus’s essay “The Myth of Sisyphus.” Without going deep into that text, suffice it to say that since there is no transcendent meaning of the universe commensurable with human existence, the absurd rejoinder to simply committing suicide and having done with life is to revel in existence for its own sake. (I like Cameron’s phrasing, “giving it your best shot,” because it’s qualitative, whereas in Camus’s writing there is a troublingly quantitative expression: the absurdist hero tries to experience as much as possible of the world.) We might appropriately laugh at a cultural work’s self-revelations about its own construction. Good metafiction, in my estimation, should not then languish in its existence as artifice. Instead, the next step after laughter ought to be to celebrate the very fact that it was made, because this speaks to a serious (as opposed to a joking) commitment to pursuing a project despite a lack of ulterior meaningfulness provided by a transcendent Being. A further step, one which I read in the conclusion to Cameron’s piece, is to grasp hold of the contingency of existence as a possibility to do it all differently and, therefore, better.