Conditional Narrative and False Starts: The Potentiality of the Incipit in Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller and Raymond Federman’s Smiles on Washington Square

By Victoria de Zwaan.

Published by The International Journal of Literary Humanities

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: October 26, 2016 $US5.00

“Experimental fiction,” “unnatural fiction,” “anti- or counter-realist fiction”: These terms refer to a wide range of fictions that have in common a metafictional (or “surfictional,” or “critifictional”) impulse to disrupt conventional reading practices of absorption and trust, as well as to deconstruct storytelling conventions that create a stable “possible world,” whether of the realist or fantastic variety. In this article, I compare the ways in which Italo Calvino, in “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller” (1979) and Raymond Federman, in “Smiles on Washington Square” (1985) develop very different experimental metafictions based on a shared idea that the incipit of a text carries with it all of its possible, or more precisely probable, generic, and plot manifestations. In Calvino’s case, each of the many “first chapters” that his protagonist-Reader encounters is identified by specific genre requirements that dictate the possibilities for action. In Federman’s story, the action is mobilised by the possibility (later “retracted”) of a brief encounter between two people passing each other on the street. My reading of these texts will also examine their emergence out of the OULIPO school in the case of Calvino, and out of 1960’s post-Beckettian American metafiction in the case of Federman.

Keywords: Experimental Fiction, OULIPO School, American Metafiction

The International Journal of Literary Humanities, Volume 14, Issue 4, December 2016, pp.25-37. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: October 26, 2016 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 585.021KB)).

Dr. Victoria de Zwaan

Associate Professor, Cultural Studies Department, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada