I would like to know if I understood correctly that "metatextuality / metareference / metareferentiality" are synonyms and can be used interchangeably. Finally I summarize what I think their main functions are.

Short Definition

There is "metatextuality / metareference / metareferentiality" when the own medium is emphasized to reflect about language, narration structure and plot → “writing about the writing” → this is a typical feature of post-modernism.

Longer definition and functions

This is a quality of certain types of literature (certain books or movies are very “meta-fictional”) that seem to have two levels of dialogue going on at once.

  1. The text has a layer in which it generally proceeds as normal – it is a typical text.
  2. There is a second level of commentary in which the text knowingly comments on what it is doing. It calls your attention to the process of its own creation, or the text will knowingly get in its own way, constantly interrupting what it is doing.

What are the functions of metatextuality?

  • to be funny
  • to try to break free from old forms
  • to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality

1 Answer 1


The issue with coming up with a definition seems to stem from the fact that the terms "metatextuality" and "metareference" stem from different theorists who defined them for different purposes.

Metatextuality is a term defined by Gérard Genette and is one of five types of "transtextuality", the others being intertextuality, paratextuality, architextuality and hypertextuality. See also my answer to the question 'What is the relationship between the hypotext and the intertext?'. Daniel Chandler's article Semiotics for Beginners paraphrases Genette's defintion of metatextuality as "explicit or implicit critical commentary of one text on another text". (See also V. M. Simandan's article "Genette’s elements of intertextuality".) What Genette was trying to capture are various types of relationships between texts.

The term metareference, by contrast, comes from theories that try to describe how a text may refer to itself. As the article Metanarration and Metafiction in the living handbook of narratology explains, metafiction is fiction that comments on or draws attention to its own fictional status and metanarration comments on its own consructedness as narration. The two terms are often used as synonyms, but it makes sense to distiguish between them, since metanarrative does not necessarily destroy the illusion of fiction. (See also An Introduction to NarratologY by Monika Fludernik. Routledge, 2009.) Metareference was defined by Werner Wolf as a non-media-specific concept that can work across genres and media (see "Metanarration and Metafiction" in the living handbook of narratology). This group of terms is about the relationship of a text to itself rather that with other texts, so they describe something different than Genette's five types of transtextuality.

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