Fiction reflects changes in society.
Authoritarian fiction stems from time when Kings and officials were regarded as better than anyone else. It demonstrated known truths; an example is the picaresque where the hero moves from one social situation to the next in an abstract and instructional way e.g. Pilgrim's Progress.
The biographical novel also follows this pattern e.g David Copperfield. Events in a life can sometimes appear to be random but they are all chosen because of their relevance to an abstract central question.
Some authoritarian fictions are also 'spatial' with the elements only existing for the sake of a pre-determined conclusion. The writer composes backwards from the climax.
Existential fiction is the opposite. Since the second world war there has been a tendency to find 'spatial' fiction morally distressing. It is a reaction against certainty. Philosophies of certainty had led to the holcaust and the atomic bomb and the work of Samuel Beckett and John Fowles were a reaction to this. These fictions go nowhere (WAITING FOR GODOT) or are open-ended (THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN).
Non-authoritarian fiction also contains an element of discovery - the writer doesn't know the ending.
Modern fiction he considers to have only two useful labels: 'deconstructive' - and 'metafiction' (which is a subset of deconstructive).
He dismisses 'post-modern' as merely an antithesis to modernism and means 'more like Italo Calvio than Saul Bello'.
'Fabulation' he says merely means unconventional.
The job of metafiction is to investigate fiction. Since 'Nothing in the world has greater power to enslave than does fiction' the intention of metafiction is to undermine fiction's harmful effects by drawing attention to its methods. It is intellectual and less emotions are less intense. The main purppose of metafiction is make the reader think.
Deconstructive fiction deals with the idea that all 'language' (which includes music, art and literature) has inherent 'values' (e.g. it is common to refer to 'mankind' but meaning men and women) and deconstruction takes this language apart to discover its unacknowledged inner workings. It is one of the main methods of modern literature. It tells a story from a new, weird angle in order to cast doubt on accepted views.
Strictly speaking most literature has a deconstructive element (with the exceptions of works such as the Bible and Gilgamesh). For example in Hamlet Shakespeare deconstructs the idea that vengeance is the hero's duty by gradually making Hamlet appear more and more guilty in his quest.
Although all non-conventional fiction is deconstructive most makes no great claims and is just jazzing around. This, says Gardner, is the best thing a writer can do. It is the hardest thing to do successfully and 'the world's greatest praise will go to the serviceable drudge who writes about more or less lifelike people who labour through energeic plots, find their destinies and stir us to affirmation'. It takes genius, little planning, inexhaustible imagination and the taste to know when the magic is not good enough.
At page 97 I think I shall leave Gardner there and reach for a little fiction now...