The Most Self-Reflexive Story in the History of Literature

My name is Ian Adams, and I am writing this sentence. This one too. I am deciding what to write next. I have decided to write this. I will be writing all of this. Not just this paragraph, but the whole story. The story is a story about a young writer named Ian Adams. He is writing a story called “The Most Self Reflexive Story in the History of Literature”. It is a lot like this story, but not quite as good.

In the story that Ian Adams is writing, (the Ian Adams from the story I’m writing, not me), Ian Adams is writing a story. This story is also called “The Most Self Reflexive Story in the History of Literature”. However, this story, the one being written by the Ian Adams who doesn’t write as well as me, is about an Ian Adams who is a far better writer than either of us. In fact, he is probably the greatest writer of fiction in the world in which he lives. This is probably because the Ian Adams I’m writing about isn’t all that good a writer, and has low self esteem, so he’s doing this vanity piece where Ian Adams is brilliant.

The Brilliant Ian Adams (this is what the Ian Adams who isn’t very good calls his character) is writing a Brilliant Short Story. Despite the fact that his story is also called “The Most Self Reflexive Story in the History of Literature”, it is radically different from the two versions of “The Most Self Reflexive Story in the History of Literature” you’ve heard about so far. You see, in the story that he’s in, short fiction is even less popular than it is in the real world. In fact, prose is the least successful form of art. The real money is all in locally produced Live Theatre. So in a way, the Ian Adams from my story (the one who isn’t very good) is defending himself from failure by creating an entire world that, despite The Brilliant Ian Adams’ tremendous abilities, ignores his artistic contributions. Anyway, The Brilliant Ian Adams’ version of “The Most Self Reflexive Story in the History of Literature” is about a mildly successful artist named Ian Adams, who is writing a play, called The Most Self Reflexive One Act Play in the History of Theater. I guess it’s partially because he wishes he could engage in the popular mode of expression, but mostly because the only fiction that sells is fiction about playwrights.

The play, which is being written by the Ian Adams created by The Brilliant Ian Adams, who is of course being written by the Ian Adams who is not very good, is actually being written by me. This is kind of strange, because I’ve never had much of an interest in writing plays. Here is an excerpt:

Ian Adams enters.

Ian Adams: So, what did you think of the new play, by me, Ian Adams, The Most Self Reflexive One Act Play in the History of Theater?

Mean Critic: It was awful! I don’t understand why on earth someone would write a play about writing a play! It’s insanely narcissistic! You are a bad man and a narcissist. And I hate you!

Ian Adams: This is awful! [covers his face with his hands and cries] I am crying because of how sad I am that my play, The Most Self Reflexive One Act Play in the History of Theater, will never be seen, and no one will know the plight of the Ian Adams who wants to write a play about the Ian Adams who wants to write a movie, which will also be about Ian Adams! That’s over two plights that will be left ever untold!

Now, I realize the play itself is actually kind of awful, but you have to remember that it’s being written by the Ian Adams from the story by the Brilliant Ian Adams, who is written by the Ian Adams who isn’t very good. So really, the fact that the play is so bad is just an example of the incredible verisimilitude with which I approached writing as a bad author writing as a great author writing as a mildly successful playwright. It’s kind of unfortunate that I chose to make the second Ian Adams a bad writer, because now all of them will be bad writers, but at least that means if I decide to write more excerpts, I won’t have to try very hard.

Anyway, the movie that you heard about in the play, that’s called The Most Self Reflexive Story in the History of Literature, because it’s based on a book. Ian Adams in that second play is trying to adapt a book instead of creating an original work. I’d like to tell you who wrote the book, but the bad writer Ian Adams is terrible at coming up with names, and will probably just name it after one of his friends. So instead, why don’t you name him after one of your friends? I’ll just put in a space for you whenever I was going to mention the author. Like this: __________________________.

Ian Adams who wants to make the movie has always been convinced that it’s perfect, but he’s trying to decide if he should leave the main character named _________________________, after the original author, or really make the work his own by changing his name to Ian Adams. He sees the artistic argument that he can maintain the themes that ______________________ was trying to convey more accurately if he actually adopts the story and makes it his own, and it’s really not all that Self Reflexive if it’s about ______________________ and not him. At the same time, he worries that the fans of the book would be offended that he removed the author’s name, because fans of books are often offended by things like that. There would probably be an allusion to Jurassic Park at this point, because it’s one of the few film-to-book adaptations that the bad Ian Adams is familiar enough with to draw comparison.

In the end, the screenwriter Ian Adams decides to change the lead’s name to Ian Adams. The movie Ian Adams is played by a completely fictional actor, made up by the second playwright Ian Adams, because the laws about using real people’s names in fiction are very strict in his world. If you’re wondering why I haven’t told you about him, it’s because he’s almost exactly like the first playwright, except that in his world, when “24 Hour Party People” came out (the play, not the movie), the real people depicted sued over their appearance, and since then people have been incredibly cautious about what names they use.

The Ian Adams in the movie is probably the most different of all the Ian Adamses. This is mostly because he’s really a stand-in for __________________________. The screenplay author Ian Adams has an almost debilitating paranoia, and figured if he had to change the character’s name to his own, he could simultaneously hide himself and leave the fans of the book several nods to the original work, by making most of the personal details those of _________________________. This makes it quite surprising that in the movie[1] within the movie, the Ian Adams character is actually quite a lot like most of the other Ian Adamses you’ve heard about. Keeping the Ian-in-the-movie-in-the-movie a prose author was the result of Ian Adams the screenwriter’s compromise when changing the book that’s being written in the source book into a movie being shot in the movie, which he claimed — even to himself — was an attempt to stay true to the original material, but was really just another attempt to placate the angry fans of __________________________ whom he often imagined wanting to murder him.

The book that the Ian-in-the-movie-in-the-movie-in-the-play-in-the-play-in-the-short-story-in-the-short-story-in-this-short-story-that-you-are-reading-and-I-am-writing is writing is actually a collection of short stories. The collection is called The Most Reflexive Story in the History of Literature. It contains a story of the same title, which tells about another Ian Adams, similar to those before, but from the 1800’s and also a pirate. Far more interesting though, is a story called “Nancy”. The complete text of the story follows:

“She never really loved me.”

[1]The original draft had it as a movie about Ian Adams writing a book, like in the original book, with lots of fantasy sequences taking place inside the book that was being written, starring the actor playing Ian Adams for the movie, as Ian Adams, the character that Ian Adams is writing about. The producers thought it would be confusing to have the same actor play Ian Adams as the writer and the character he was writing about, and also that people hate fantasy sequences. So to keep the elements of the story within a story, Ian Adams changed it into a movie, and had the Ian Adams writer and the Ian Adams written about writer played by different actors.