You are on page 1of 5

The Politics of Postmodernism. Contributors: Linda Hutcheon - author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of Publication: London. Publication Year: 2002.

THE POLITICS OF PARODY PARODIC POSTMODERN REPRESENTATION


Parody - often called ironic uotation! "astiche! a""ro"riation! or interte#tuality - is usually considered central to "ostmodernism! both by its detractors and its defenders. $or artists! the "ostmodern is said to in%ol%e a rummaging through the image reser%es of the "ast in such a &ay as to sho& the history of the re"resentations their "arody calls to our attention. 'n (bigail )olomon-*odeau+s ,-./0a: 123 felicitous terms! 4ucham"+s modernist +ready made+ has become "ostmodernism+s +already made.+ 5ut this "arodic re"rise of the "ast of art is not nostalgic6 it is al&ays critical. 't is also not ahistorical or de-historici7ing6 it does not &rest "ast art from its original historical conte#t and reassemble it into some sort of "resentist s"ectacle. 'nstead! through a double "rocess of installing and ironi7ing! "arody signals ho& "resent re"resentations come from "ast ones and &hat ideological conse uences deri%e from both continuity and difference. Parody also contests our humanist assum"tions about artistic originality and uni ueness and our ca"italist notions of o&nershi" and "ro"erty. 8ith "arody - as &ith any form of re"roduction - the notion of the original as rare! single! and %aluable ,in aesthetic or commercial terms3 is called into uestion. This does not mean that art has lost its meaning and "ur"ose! but that it &ill ine%itably ha%e a ne& and -/.different significance. 'n other &ords! "arody &or9s to foreground the politics of re"resentation. :eedless to say! this is not the acce"ted %ie& of "ostmodernist "arody. The "re%ailing inter"retation is that "ostmodernism offers a %alue-free! decorati%e! de-historici7ed uotation of "ast forms and that this is a most a"t mode for a culture li9e our o&n that is o%ersaturated &ith images. 'nstead! ' &ould &ant to argue that "ostmodernist "arody is a %alue-"roblemati7ing! de-naturali7ing form of ac9no&ledging the history ,and through irony! the "olitics3 of re"resentations. 't is interesting that fe& commentators on "ostmodernism actually use the &ord +"arody.+ ' thin9 the reason is that it is still tainted &ith eighteenth-century notions of &it and ridicule. 5ut there is an argument to be made that &e should not be restricted to such "eriod-limited definitions of "arody and that t&entieth-century art forms teach that "arody has a &ide range of forms and intents - from that &itty ridicule to the "layfully ludic to the seriously res"ectful. ;any critics! including <ameson! call "ostmodern ironic citation +"astiche+ or em"ty "arody! assuming that only uni ue styles can be "arodied and that such no%elty and indi%iduality are im"ossible today. 'n the light of the "arodic yet indi%idual %oices of )alman Rushdie and (ngela Carter! to mention only t&o! such a stand seems hard to defend. 'n fact it could be ignored - if it had not "ro%ed to ha%e such a strong follo&ing. $or instance "astiche has been offered as the +official sign+ of neoconser%ati%e "ostmodernism ,$oster -./=:-213! for it is said to disregard the conte#t of and continuum &ith the "ast and yet falsely to resol%e +conflictual forms of art and modes of "roduction+ ,-23. 5ut as ' see it! "ostmodern "arody does not disregard the conte#t of the "ast re"resentations it cites! but uses irony to ac9no&ledge the fact that &e are ine%itably se"arated from that "ast today - by time and by the subse uent history of those re"resentations. There is continuum! but there is also ironic difference! difference induced by that %ery history. :ot only is there no resolution ,false or other&ise3 of contradictory forms in "ostmodern "arody! but there is a foregrounding of those %ery contradictions. Thin9 of the %ariety of "arodied te#ts in >co+s The Name of the

Rose: <an Potoc9i+sManuscrit trouv Saragosse and the &or9 of 5orges! the &ritings of Conan 4oyle and 8ittgenstein! the Coena -.0Cypriani and con%entions as di%erse as those of the detecti%e no%el and theological argument. 'rony ma9es these interte#tual references into something more than sim"ly academic "lay or some infinite regress into te#tuality: &hat is called to our attention is the entire re"resentational "rocess - in a &ide range of forms and modes of "roduction - and the im"ossibility of finding any totali7ing model to resol%e the resulting "ostmodern contradictions. 5y &ay of contrast! it could be argued that a relati%ely un"roblemati7ed %ie& of historical continuity and the conte#t of re"resentation offers a stable "lot structure to 4os Passos+s USAtrilogy. 5ut this %ery stability is called into uestion in 4octoro&+s "ostmodern ironic re&or9ing of the same historical material in his historiogra"hic metafiction! Ragtime. Parodying 4os Passos+s %ery historicity! 4octoro& both uses and abuses it. He counts on our 9no&ledge that a historical $reud or <ung or *oldman e#isted in order to challenge our "erha"s une#amined notions about &hat might constitute historical truth. Postmodern "arody is a 9ind of contesting re%ision or rereading of the "ast that both confirms and sub%erts the "o&er of the re"resentations of history. This "arado#ical con%iction of the remoteness of the "ast and the need to deal &ith it in the "resent has been called the +allegorical im"ulse+ of "ostmodernism ,?&ens -./0a: 213. ' &ould sim"ly call it "arody. Peter (c9royd+s Chatterton offers a good e#am"le of a "ostmodern no%el &hose form and content de-naturali7e re"resentation in both %isual and %erbal media in such a &ay as to illustrate &ell the deconstructi%e "otential of "arody - in other &ords! its "olitics. Chatterton is a no%el about history and re"resentation and about "arody and "lagiarism. (s the title suggests! here the focus of re"resentation ,in history! biogra"hy! and art3 is Thomas Chatterton! eighteenth-century "oet and +forger+ - that is! author of "oems said to be by a medie%al mon9. The no%el "osits that! contrary to official biogra"hical history! Chatterton did not die by suicide in -110 at the age of -/ ,thus becoming the stereoty"ical re"resentation of the gifted and doomed youthful genius3. 'nstead! t&o alternate %ersions are offered: that he died! not by suicide! but from an accident "roduced by his ine"t and ine#"ert self-medication for @46 and that he did not die at -/ at all! but fa9ed his death to a%oid being e#"osed as a fraud and li%ed on to com"ose other -.-great forgeries! such as the ones &e 9no& today as the &or9s of 8illiam 5la9e. The official historical record is gi%en on the first "age of the no%el! so &e are al&ays a&are of de%iations from it! including the actual historical ones of Henry 8allis+s famous nineteenthcentury "ainting of the death of Chatterton! in &hich the image of the "oet+s cor"se &as "ainted from a model: the &riter *eorge ;eredith. The "roduction of this "ainting "ro%ides a second line of "lot action. The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century stories are then "layed off against a contem"orary one! also in%ol%ing a "oet ,Charles 8ych&ood3 &ho finds a "ainting &hich he belie%es to re"resent the aged Chatterton. To add to this already "arodically com"licated "lot! Charles sometimes &or9s for a &riter &ho is a "lagiari7er. )he in turn has a friend &ho is &riting a history of beautiful re"resentations of death in >nglish "ainting - such as 8allis+s of Chatterton. Charles+s &ife is em"loyed in an art gallery that deals in forgeries. $rom the start! then! this is a no%el self-consciously! e%en e#cessi%ely! about re"resentation its illusions and its "o&ers! its "ossibilities and its "olitics. 'n the nineteenth-century "lot line! ;eredith "oses as the dead Chatterton for 8allis! calling himself +the model "oet+ because +' am "retending to be someone else+ ,(c9royd -./1:23. :e%ertheless! he is uneasy "ortraying a dead "oet: +' can endure death. 't is the re"resentation of death ' cannot bear+ ,2 and -A/3.

'n this no%el all %isual and %erbal re"resentations are im"ortant! from the "aintings described to the fiction+s obsession &ith names as re"resenting "eo"le. 8allis+s "ainted re"resentation of Chatterton+s death is im"ortant to the %arious "lots and to the theme of the no%el! but so is the &riter &ho &as the model: as 8allis "aints ;eredith they tal9 about the real %ersus the ideal in re"resentation - in &ords or "aint. 5oth forms are said to create +true fictions+ &hich "arado#ically fi# and falsify reality. ( final irony lies in the fact that the re"resentations remain and li%e on6 their creators and models do not. 8allis+s realist belief that the real e#ists and +you ha%e only to de"ict it+ is countered by ;eredith "artly because the real ,Chatterton3 being "ainted is in fact ;eredith! &ho remar9s: ' said that the &ords &ere real! Henry! ' did not say that &hat they de"icted &as real. ?ur dear dead "oet created the mon9 Ro&ley out of -.2thin air! and yet he has more life in him than any medie%al "riest &ho actually e#istedB. 5ut Chatterton did not create an indi%idual sim"ly. He in%ented an entire "eriod and made its imagination his o&nB. The "oet does not merely recreate or describe the &orld. He actually creates it. ,(c9royd -./1:-=13 )imilarly! 8allis+s "ainting of ;eredith creates the death of Chatterton for "osterity through its re"resentation: +this &ill al&ays be remembered as the true death of Chatterton+ ,-=13. (nd so it is. >%en the dying Charles 8ych&ood identifies &ith his obsession! Chatterton! and feels he is li%ing out - in dying - 8allis+s re"resentation of his death. 5ut Charles 9no&s he should resist: +This is not real. ' am not meant to be here. ' ha%e seen this before! and it is an illusion+ ,-2.3 - in more than one sense. The "lots of this no%el are hea%y &ith such self-refle#i%e moments and &ith unresol%ed sus"icious coincidences that center on "lagiarism! fa9ing! forging! and "arody. Cha"ter 2 is e%en narrated by Chatterton! telling us ho& he +re"roduc+d the Past+ by mi#ing the real and the ficti%e in a &ay reminiscent of the techni ue of Chatterton: +Thus do &e see in e%ery Line an >choe! for the truest Plagiarism is the truest Poetry+ ,(c9royd -./1:/13. 'n a similarly selfconscious &ay! the historical record is sho&n to be no guarantee of %eracity. (s Charles reads the %arious historical re"resentations of the life of Chatterton! he disco%ers that +each biogra"hy described a uite different "oet: e%en the sim"lest obser%ation by one &as contradicted by another! so that nothing seemed certain+ ,-213 - neither the subCect nor the "ossibility of 9no&ing the "ast in the "resent. The "ostmodern condition &ith res"ect to history might &ell be described as one of the acce"tance of radical uncertainty: +8hy should historical research not B remain incom"lete! e#isting as a "ossibility and not fading into 9no&ledgeD+ ,2-A3. )u""osedly real documents - "aintings! manuscri"ts - turn out to be forgeries6 the beautiful re"resentations of death turn out to be lies. The no%el ends &ith a "o&erful re"resentation in &ords of the actual reality of death by arsenic "oisoning - a death rather different from that +de"icted+ so beautifully by 8allis from his ,%ery li%ing3 model. -.A;any other no%els today similarly challenge the concealed or unac9no&ledged "olitics and e%asions of aesthetic re"resentation by using "arody as a means to connect the "resent to the "ast &ithout "ositing the trans"arency of re"resentation! %erbal or %isual. $or instance! in a feminist "arody of Leda and the )&an! the "rotagonist of (ngela Carter+s Nights at the Circus,9no&n as $e%ers3 becomes +no longer an imagined fiction but a "lain fact+ ,Carter -./0:2/23 - +the female "aradigm!+ +the "ure child of the century that Cust no& is &aiting in the &ings! the :e& (ge in &hich no &oman &ill be bound to the ground+ ,2=3. The no%el+s "arodic echoes of Pericles !amlet! and "ulliver#s Travels all function as do those of Yeats+s

"oetry &hen describing a &horehouse full of bi7arre &omen as +this lumber room of femininity! this rag-and-bone sho" of the heart+ ,2.3: they are all ironic femini7ations of traditional or canonic male re"resentations of the so-called generic human - +;an.+ This is the 9ind of "olitics of re"resentation that "arody calls to our attention. 'n obCecting! as ' ha%e! to the relegation of the "ostmodern "arodic to the ahistorical and em"ty realm of "astiche! ' do not &ant to suggest that there is not a nostalgic! neoconser%ati%e reco%ery of "ast meaning going on in a lot of contem"orary culture6 ' Cust &ant to dra& a distinction bet&een that "ractice and "ostmodernist "arody. The latter is fundamentally ironic and critical! not nostalgic or anti uarian in its relation to the "ast. 't +dedo#ifies+ our assum"tions about our re"resentations of that "ast. Postmodern "arody is both deconstructi%ely critical and constructi%ely creati%e! "arado#ically ma9ing us a&are of both the limits and the "o&ers of re"resentation - in any medium. )herrie Le%ine! &hose name 9ee"s recurring here as the "arodic Pierre ;enard of the art &orld today! has stated her reasons &hy "arody is una%oidable for "ostmodernism: >%ery &ord! e%ery image! is leased and mortgaged. 8e 9no& that a "icture is but a s"ace in &hich a %ariety of images! none of them original! blend and clash. ( "icture is a tissue of uotations dra&n from the innumerable centers of cultureB. The %ie&er is the tablet on &hich all the uotations that ma9e u" a "ainting are inscribed &ithout any of them being lost. ,Le%ine -./1:.23 -.08hen she "hotogra"hs >gon )chiele+s self-"ortraits! she "arodically cites not Cust the &or9 of a s"ecific artist! but the con%entions and myths of art-as-e#"ression and "oints to the "olitics of that "articular %ie& of re"resentation. ;ar9 Tansey+s "arodic "ainting called The $nnocent %ye Test ta9es on another canonical form of re"resentation. 't "resents the un%eiling of Paulus Potter+s -201 "ainting of a &oung 'ull! once acce"ted as the "aradigm of realist art. 5ut Tansey+s "arodically realist re"roduction of this &or9 is de"icted as being Cudged - by a co&! for &ho better to adCudicate the success of such +bullish+ realism and &ho better to symboli7e ironically the +innocent eye+ assumed by mimetic theories of the trans"arency of re"resentation. ,( mo" is de"icted at the ready! lest she +%oice+ her o"inion in material terms.3 This is "ostmodern ironic "arody! using the con%entions of realism against themsel%es in order to foreground the com"le#ity of re"resentation and its im"lied "olitics. ?f course! "arody &as also a dominant mode of much modernist art! es"ecially in the &riting of T.). >liot! Thomas ;ann! and <ames <oyce and the "ainting of Picasso! ;anet! and ;agritte. 'n this art! too! "arody at once inscribed con%ention and history and yet distanced itself from both. The continuity bet&een the "ostmodernist and the modernist use of "arody as a strategy of a""ro"riating the "ast is to be found on the le%el of their shared ,com"romised3 challenges to the con%entions of re"resentation. There are significant differences! ho&e%er! in the final im"act of the t&o uses of "arody. 't is not that modernism &as serious and significant and "ostmodernism is ironic and "arodic! as some ha%e claimed6 it is more that "ostmodernism+s irony is one that reCects the resol%ing urge of modernism to&ard closure or at least distance. Com"licity al&ays attends its criti ue. Enac9no&ledged modernist assum"tions about closure! distance! artistic autonomy! and the a"olitical nature of re"resentation are &hat "ostmodernism sets out to unco%er and deconstruct. 'n "ostmodernist "arody:

modernist "retensions to artistic inde"endence ha%e been further sub%erted by the demonstration of the necessarily +interte#tual+ nature of the "roduction of meaning6 &e can no longer un"roblematically assume that +Art+ is someho& +outside+ of the com"le# of other -.=re"resentational "ractices and institutions &ith &hich it is contem"orary - "articularly! today! those &hich constitute &hat &e so "roblematically call the +mass-media.+ ,5urgin -./2a: 2003 The com"le#ity of these "arodic re"resentational strategies can be seen in the "hotogra"hy of 5arbara Fruger or )il%ia Folbo&s9i &ith its "arodic a""ro"riation of mass-media images. The -.// sho& entitled Photographs 'eget Photographs ,curated by the ;innea"olis 'nstitute of (rt3 ga%e a good sense of the "arodic "ostmodern "lay &ith the history of "hotogra"hy - both as scientifically accurate documentary recording and as formalist art. ;arion $aller and Hollis $ram"ton "resented +)i#teen studies from G%egetable locomotionG+ &hich ,in title and form3 "arodied ;uybridge+s famous human and animal scientific locomotion studies by using ,normally inert3 %egetables and fruit as the subCects. ?ther artists in the sho& chose to "arody icons of "hotogra"hy-as-high-art by (nsel (dams ,<ohn Pfahl! <im )tone3 or 8eston ,Pfahl again! Fenneth <ose"hson3! al&ays "ointing &ith irony to ho& modernism contributed to the mystification and canoni7ation of "hotogra"hic re"resentation. Contrary to the "re%ailing %ie& of "arody as a 9ind of ahistorical and a"olitical "astiche! "ostmodern art li9e this uses "arody and irony to engage the history of art and the memory of the %ie&er in a re-e%aluation of aesthetic forms and contents through a reconsideration of their usually unac9no&ledged "olitics of re"resentation. (s 4ominic9 LaCa"ra has so forcefully "ut it: irony and "arody are themsel%es not une ui%ocal signs of disengagement on the "art of an a"olitical! transcendental ego that floats abo%e historical reality or founders in the abysmal "ull of a"oria. Rather a certain use of irony and "arody may "lay a role both in the criti ue of ideology and in the antici"ation of a "olity &herein commitment does not e#clude but accom"anies an ability to achie%e critical distance on one+s dee"est commitments and desires. ,LaCa"ra -./1:-2/3 Postmodernism offers "recisely that +certain use of irony and "arody.+ -.2-