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Meta-reference, a metafiction technique, is a situation in a work of fiction whereby characters display an awareness that they are in such a work, such as a film, television show or book, and possibly that they are being observed by an audience. Sometimes it may even just be a form of editing or film-making technique that comments on the programme/film/book itself.
Meta-reference in fiction can sometimes be jarring to the reader and sometimes comical, such as in Jasper Fforde's novel Lost in a Good Book. The character Thursday Next remarks to her husband that she feels uncomfortable having sex in front of so many people; he is confused since they are alone in their bedroom, so she explains, "all the people reading us". There are several occasions of metareference in Fforde's work. In The Fourth Bear, two characters lament over a bad joke made by the author, saying, "I can't believe he gets away with that." Some novels with first person narration contain instances when the narrator addresses the reader directly, which is one form of metareference. Examples of this type of metareference can be seen in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, and in Philip Reeve's Larklight.
Aspects of a play that draw attention to its nature as drama or theatre, or to the circumstances of its performance, can be called instances of metatheatre or metadrama.
These may include: the direct address of the audience (especially in soliloquies, asides, prologues, and epilogues); expression of an awareness of the presence of the audience (whether they are addressed directly or not); an acknowledgement of the fact that the people performing are actors (and not actually the characters they are playing); an element whose meaning depends on the difference between the represented time and place of the drama (the fictional world) and the time and place of its theatrical presentation (the reality of the theatre event); plays-within-plays (or masques, spectacles, or other forms of performance within the drama); references to acting, theatre, dramatic writing, spectatorship, and the frequently employed metaphor according to which "all the world's a stage" (Theatrum mundi); scenes involving eavesdropping or other situations in which one or several characters observe another or others, such that the former relate to the behaviour of the latter as if it were a staged performance for their benefit.
- A group of people lost in a jungle, who are rescued when they realize someone is filming them
- Characters who think the sketch they are playing is silly and decide to stop
- A TV host who experiences repeatedly shown film clips as déjà vu
- A judge who warns, "If there is any more of ladies applauding I shall clear the court!"
- Members of the Spanish Inquisition who are in a hurry, because the credits are rolling and the show is about to end
- One character remarks that a joke was weak; the other wails, "But it's my only line!"
- A comment that "It's the end of the series, they couldn't make up something funnier"
- Characters consulting the script because they are unsure about what ought to happen next
- A sequence in which characters are aware that exterior shots are on 16mm film and interior shots are videotaped.
- Metareference across Media: Theory and Case Studies. Dedicated to Walter Bernhart on the Occasion of his Retirement. Wolf, Werner (Ed.), Katharina Bantleon and Jeff Thoss (Collaborators). Amsterdam/New York, NY, 2009.
Winfried Nöth: Metareference from a Semiotic Perspective / Andreas Mahler: The Case is 'this': Metareference in Magritte and Ashbery / Irina O. Rajewsky: Beyond 'Metanarration': Form-Based Metareference as a Transgeneric and Transmedial Phenomenon / Sonja Klimek: Metalepsis and Its (Anti-)Illusionist Effects in the Arts, Media and Role-Playing Games
- Hermann Danuser: Generic Titles: On Paratextual Metareference in Music / Tobias Janz: “Music about Music”: Metaization and Intertextuality in Beethoven's Prometheus Variations op. 35 / René Michaelsen: Exploring Metareference in Instrumental Music – The Case of Robert Schumann / David Francis Urrows: Phantasmic Metareference: The Pastiche 'Operas' in Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera / Jörg-Peter Mittmann: Intramedial Reference and Metareference in Contemporary Music / Martin Butler: “Please Play This Song on the Radio”: Forms and Functions of Metareference in Popular Music
- Henry Keazor : “L'architecture n'est pas un art rigoureux”: Jean Nouvel, Postmodernism and Meta-Architecture / Katharina Bantleon, Jasmin Haselsteiner-Scharner: Of Museums, Beholders, Artworks and Photography: Metareferential Elements in Thomas Struth's Photographic Projects Museum Photographs and Making Time /
- Jean-Marc Limoges: The Gradable Effects of Self-Reflexivity on Aesthetic Illusion in Cinema / Barbara Pfeifer: Novel in/and Film: Transgeneric and Transmedial Metareference in Stranger than Fiction
- Hans Ulrich Seeber: Narrative Fiction and the Fascination with the New Media Gramophone, Photography and Film: Metafictional and Media-Comparative Aspects of H. G. Wells' A Modern Utopia and Beryl Bainbridge's Master Georgie / Daniella Jancsó: Metareference and Intermedial Reference: William Carlos Williams' Poetological Poems
- Ingrid Pfandl-Buchegger, Gudrun Rottensteiner: Metareferentiality in Early Dance: The Jacobean Antimasque / Karin Kukkonen: Textworlds and Metareference in Comics / Doris Mader: Metareference in the Audio-/Radioliterary Soundscape / Fotis Jannidis: Metareference in Computer Games
- Janine Hauthal: When Metadrama Is Turned into Metafilm: A Media-Comparative Approach to Metareference / Andreas Böhn: Quotation of Forms as a Strategy of Metareference / Erika Greber: 'The Media as Such': Meta-Reflection in Russian Futurism – A Case Study of Vladimir Mayakovsky's Poetry, Paintings, Theatre, and Films
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