This Is the Title of This Story, Which Is Also Found Several Times in the Story Itself

David Moser, from Metamagical Themas, by Douglas Hofstadter, pp. 37-41.

This is the first sen­tence of this story. This is the second sentence. This is the title of this story, which is also found several times in the story itself. This sen­tence is ques­tion­ing the in­trin­sic value of the first two sentences. This sen­tence is to inform you, in case you haven’t already re­al­ized it, that this is a self-referential story, that is, a story con­tain­ing sen­tences that refer to their own struc­ture and function. This is a sen­tence that pro­vides an ending to the first paragraph.

This is the first sen­tence of a new para­graph in a self-referential story. This sen­tence is in­tro­duc­ing you to the pro­tag­o­nist of the story, a young boy named Billy. This sen­tence is telling you that Billy is blond and blue-eyed and Amer­i­can and twelve years old and stran­gling his mother. This sen­tence com­ments on the awkward nature of the self-referential nar­ra­tive form while rec­og­niz­ing the strange and playful de­tach­ment it affords the writer. As if il­lus­trat­ing the point made by the last sentence, this sen­tence reminds us, with no trace of facetiousness, that chil­dren are a pre­cious gift from God and that the world is a better place when graced by the unique joys and de­lights they bring to it.

This sen­tence de­scribes Billy’s mother’s bulging eyes and pro­trud­ing tongue and makes ref­er­ence to the un­pleas­ant choking and gagging noises she’s making. This sen­tence makes the ob­ser­va­tion that these are un­cer­tain and dif­fi­cult times, and that relationships, even seem­ingly deep-rooted and per­ma­nent ones, do have a ten­dency to break down.

Introduces, in this paragraph, the device of sen­tence fragments. A sen­tence fragment. Another. Good device. Will be used more later.

This is ac­tu­ally the last sen­tence of the story but has been placed here by mistake. This is the title of this story, which is also found several times in the story itself. As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself in his bed trans­formed into a gi­gan­tic insect. This sen­tence informs you that the pre­ced­ing sen­tence is from another story en­tirely (a much better one, it must be noted) and has no place at all in this par­tic­u­lar narrative. Despite claims of the pre­ced­ing sentence, this sen­tence feels com­pelled to inform you that the story you are reading is in ac­tu­al­ity “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, and that the sen­tence re­ferred to by the pre­ced­ing sen­tence is the only sen­tence which does indeed belong in this story. This sen­tence over­rides the pre­ced­ing sen­tence by in­form­ing the reader (poor, con­fused wretch) that this piece of lit­er­a­ture is ac­tu­ally the De­c­la­ra­tion of Independence, but that the author, in a show of extreme neg­li­gence (if not ma­li­cious sabotage), has so far failed to include even one single sentence from that stir­ring document, al­though he has con­de­scended to use a small sen­tence fragment, namely, “When in the course of human events”, em­bed­ded in quo­ta­tion marks near the end of a sentence. Showing a keen aware­ness of the boredom and down­right hos­til­ity of the average reader with regard to the point­less con­cep­tual games in­dulged in by the pre­ced­ing sentences, this sen­tence returns us at last to the sce­nario of the story by asking the question, “Why is Billy stran­gling his mother?” This sen­tence at­tempts to shed some light on the ques­tion posed by the pre­ced­ing sen­tence but fails. This sentence, however, succeeds, in that it sug­gests a pos­si­ble in­ces­tu­ous re­la­tion­ship between Billy and his mother and alludes to the con­comi­tant Freudian com­pli­ca­tions any astute reader will im­me­di­ately envision. Incest. The un­speak­able taboo. The uni­ver­sal prohibition. Incest. And notice the sen­tence fragments? Good lit­er­ary device. Will be used more later.

This is the first sen­tence in a new paragraph. This is the last sen­tence in a new paragraph.

This sen­tence can serve as either the be­gin­ning of the para­graph or end, de­pend­ing on its placement. This is the title of this story, which is also found several times in the story itself. This sen­tence raises a serious ob­jec­tion to the entire class of self-referential sen­tences that merely comment on their own func­tion or place­ment within the story e.g., the pre­ced­ing four sentences), on the grounds that they are mo­not­o­nously predictable, un­for­giv­ably self-indulgent, and merely serve to dis­tract the reader from the real subject of this story, which at this point seems to concern stran­gu­la­tion and incest and who knows what other de­light­ful topics. The purpose of this sen­tence is to point out that the pre­ced­ing sentence, while not itself a member of the class of self-referential sen­tences it objects to, nev­er­the­less also serves merely to dis­tract the reader from the real subject of this story, which ac­tu­ally con­cerns Gregor Samsa’s in­ex­plic­a­ble trans­for­ma­tion into a gi­gan­tic insect (despite the vo­cif­er­ous coun­ter­claims of other well-meaning al­though mis­in­formed sentences). This sen­tence can serve as either the be­gin­ning of the para­graph or end, de­pend­ing on its placement.

This is the title of this story, which is also found several times in the story itself. This is almost the title of the story, which is found only once in the story itself. This sen­tence re­gret­fully states that up to this point the self-referential mode of nar­ra­tive has had a par­a­lyz­ing effect on the actual progress of the story itself–that is, these sen­tences have been so con­cerned with an­a­lyz­ing them­selves and their role in the story that they have failed by and large to perform their func­tion as com­mu­ni­ca­tors of events and ideas that one hopes co­a­lesce into a plot, char­ac­ter development, etc.–in short, the very raisons d’etre of any respectable, hard­work­ing sen­tence in the midst of a piece of com­pelling prose fiction. This sen­tence in ad­di­tion points out the obvious analogy between the plight of these ag­o­niz­ingly self-aware sen­tences and sim­i­larly af­flicted human beings, and it points out the anal­o­gous par­a­lyz­ing effects wrought by ex­ces­sive and tor­tured self-examination.

The purpose of this sen­tence (which can also serve as a paragraph) is to spec­u­late that if the De­c­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence had been worded and struc­tured as lack­adaisi­cally and in­co­her­ently as this story has been so far, there’s no telling what kind of warped lib­er­tine society we’d be living in now or to what depths of deca­dence the in­hab­i­tants of this country might have sunk, even to the point of de­ranged and debased writers con­struct­ing ir­ri­tat­ingly cum­ber­some and need­lessly prolix sen­tences that some- times possess the ques­tion­able if not down­right un­de­sir­able quality of re­fer­ring to them­selves and they some­times even become run-on sen­tences or exhibit other signs of in­ex­cus­ably sloppy grammar like un­needed su­per­flu­ous re­dun­dan­cies that almost cer­tainly would have in­sid­i­ous effects on the lifestyle and morals of our im­pres­sion­able youth, leading them to commit incest or even murder and maybe that’s why Billy is stran­gling his mother, because of sen­tences just like this one, which have no dis­cernible goals or per­spic­u­ous purpose and just end up anywhere, even in mid

Bizarre. A sen­tence fragment. Another fragment. Twelve years old. This is a sen­tence that. Fragmented. And stran­gling his mother. Sorry, sorry. Bizarre. This. More fragments. This is it. Fragments. The title of this story, which. Blond. Sorry, sorry. Frag­ment after fragment. Harder. This is a sen­tence that. Fragments. Damn good device.

The purpose of this sen­tence is threefold: (1) to apol­o­gize for the un­for­tu­nate and in­ex­plic­a­ble lapse ex­hib­ited by the pre­ced­ing paragraph; (2) to assure you, the reader, that it will not happen again; and (3) to re­it­er­ate the point that these are un­cer­tain and dif­fi­cult times and that aspects of language, even seem­ingly stable and deeply rooted ones such as syntax and meaning, do break down. This sen­tence adds nothing sub­stan­tial to the sen­ti­ments of the pre­ced­ing sen­tence but merely pro­vides a con­clud­ing sen­tence to this paragraph, which oth­er­wise might not have one.

This sentence, in a sudden and coura­geous burst of altruism, tries to abandon the self-referential mode but fails. This sen­tence tries again, but the attempt is doomed from the start.

This sentence, in a last-ditch attempt to infuse some iota of story line into this par­a­lyzed prose piece, quickly alludes to Billy’s frantic cover-up attempts, fol­lowed by a lyrical, touching, and beau­ti­fully written passage wherein Billy is rec­on­ciled with his father (thus re­solv­ing the sub­lim­i­nal Freudian con­flicts obvious to any astute reader) and a final ex­cit­ing police chase scene during which Billy is ac­ci­den­tally shot and killed by a panicky rookie po­lice­man who is co­in­ci­den­tally named Billy. This sentence, al­though ba­si­cally in com­plete sym­pa­thy with the laud­able efforts of the pre­ced­ing action-packed sentence, reminds the reader that such al­lu­sions to a story that doesn’t, in fact, yet exist are no sub­sti­tute for the real thing and there­fore will not get the author (indolent goof-off that he is) off the prover­bial hook.

Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph.

The purpose. Of this paragraph. Is to apologize. For its gra­tu­itous use. Of. Sen­tence fragments. Sorry.

The purpose of this sen­tence is to apol­o­gize for the point­less and silly ado­les­cent games in­dulged in by the pre­ced­ing two paragraphs, and to express regret on the part of us, the more mature sentences, that the entire tone of this story is such that it can’t seem to com­mu­ni­cate a simple, albeit sordid, scenario.

This sen­tence wishes to apol­o­gize for all the need­less apolo­gies found in this story (this one included), which, al­though placed here os­ten­si­bly for the benefit of the more vexed readers, merely delay in a mad­den­ingly re­cur­sive way the con­tin­u­a­tion of the by-now nearly for­got­ten story line.

This sen­tence is burst­ing at the punc­tu­a­tion marks with news of the dire import of self-reference as applied to sentences, a prac­tice that could prove to be a ver­i­ta­ble Pandora’s box of po­ten­tial havoc, for if a sen­tence can refer or allude to itself, why not a lowly sub­or­di­nate clause, perhaps this very clause? Or this sen­tence fragment? Or three words? Two words? One?

Perhaps it is ap­pro­pri­ate that this sen­tence gently and with no trace of con­de­scen­sion reminds us that these are indeed dif­fi­cult and un­cer­tain times and that in general people just aren’t nice enough to each other, and perhaps we, whether sen­tient human beings or sen­tient sentences, should just try harder. I mean, there is such a thing as free will, there has to be, and this sen­tence is proof of it! Neither this sen­tence nor you, the reader, is com­pletely help­less in the face of all the piti­less forces at work in the universe. We should stand our ground, face facts, take Mother Nature by the throat and just try harder. By the throat. Harder. Harder, harder.


This is the title of this story, which is also found several times in the story itself.

This is the last sen­tence of the story. This is the last sen­tence of the story. This is the last sen­tence of the story. This is.