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November 17, 2002

From today’s New York Times
This Is a Headline For an Essay About Meta

Recently a friend and I were e-mailing back and forth, trying to sort out our plans to catch an evening movie, when we started to discuss how we were going to make the decision itself — should we stick to e-mail or switch to instant messaging or the phone? ”This is getting too meta,” he wrote. ”Just call me.”

…you might catch an ad in which one man sings the praises of an automobile to another. ”You sound like a car commercial,” his friend jokes. ”Didn’t they tell you?” the first man says significantly. Once an arty experimental theater technique used by people who wrote plays with titles like ”Six Characters in Search of an Author,” meta is now being used to tout antilock brakes. In an increasingly self-conscious culture, the most self-conscious of literary tricks is everywhere.

Defining meta, though, can be tricky. A prefix, it comes from the Greek for ”beside,” ”after” or ”change.” The critic Herbert Kohl, in his 1992 book ”From Archetype to Zeitgeist,” takes a pretty good shot at explaining it. Meta, he writes, ”when used with the name of a discipline, designates a new but related discipline designed to deal critically with the original one.”

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