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Reviews343 A Theory of Parody, by Linda Hutcheon; xii & 143 pp. New York: Methuen, 1985, $25.00 cloth, $10.95 paper. Since Hutcheon proposes a dieory, let us start with an experiment. Date: Today's date. Aim: To investigate the nature of parody. Method: We exposed subjects to two texts and asked them whether one was a parody of the other, and if so which was a parody of which. Text 1: "If this is true then surely parody must be taken more seriously than some critics still permit." Text 2: "If all great literature is more complex than the naive reader can suspect, it is equally true that this complexity once discovered can be rendered in simple terms." Results: Subjects were unsure as to whether one text was a parody of the other. They could see that there were some resemblances of form between the two sentences. But subjects could not be sure about which way the parody (if there was parody) went, that is, which was the antecedent text. Conclusion: Formal characteristics alone are insufficient to define parody. This in fact is one of the conclusions Hutcheon reaches about the nature of parody in her book. A second and consequent conclusion she reaches is that pragmatic factors are vital to an understanding of parody. This can be illustrated with regard to our experiment, but adding that the first text is from Hutcheon's book, published in 1985, and the second text from Frederick Crews's The Pooh Perplex, published in 1965. We can now be quite certain that Text 2 cannot be a parody of Text 1 . But it has taken pragmatic knowledge to force this conclusion. What readers do is to infer intentions of an author and in this case Crews could not have intended to parody Text 1. Hutcheon also reaches a third conclusion, independent of the other two: that irony is a necessary feature of parody. There are two other proposals as well. The first is that many definitions of parody other than Hutcheon's are too narrow . Indeed, she takes many things to be parody which others do not. For example , she says that the title of her last chapter, "The World, the Parodie Text, and The Theorist" is "obviously a [parodie] reworking of that of Edward Said's The World, the Text, and the Critic (1983)." Ifher conclusions about the pragmatics ofparody and about the essentially ironic nature ofparody are correct, dien it is, of course, hardly "obvious" that there is parody here. I for one have had to take Hutcheon's word for it; I sense no irony and hadn't thought of Said's book. The second major definitional proposal Hutcheon makes is that parody must not be confused with satire: texts aimed at ridiculing an antecedent ought in her view to be called satire rather than parody. For example, I might think that Hutcheon herself is satirizing literary theory. Take the following example: 344Philosophy and Literature "Irony's patent refusal ofsemantic univocality matches parody's refusal of structural unitextuality" (p. 54). This lovely sounding sentence bulges widi the vague, and pseudotechnical jargon typical of much literary dieory. Is it satire or parody? If either, I would incline toward calling it parody, but according to her account it would have to be considered satire. She concedes that many people do not share her views, but she makes nothing of the conflict. So what is Hutcheon's general dieory of satire and parody? Unfortunately, it is never enunciated clearly anywhere in the book, although there are bits of it here and diere. What is clear is that she thinks there can be no overlap between them. But this is not just a matter of presentation or opinions; it has to do with method. Hutcheon believes diat theories should be developed from the bottom up. She says that "any consideration of modern parody at the theoretical level must be governed by die nature and function of its manifestations in actual works ofart" (p. 3). This is naive: theories make predictions ifthey have deductive consequences, not if one decides beforehand that one knows what the necessary properties of the phenomena are. This is not to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 343-344
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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