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69 fineman Daniel D. Fineman The Parodie and Production: Criticism and Labor The subject of this paper is parody. As will become evident as the discussion proceeds, parody is not simply a matter of verbal representations . Nevertheless, a convenient way into the topic can be made through some contemporary arguments concerning the theory of language. Writing, or if these two can be separated, language generally, almost always implicitly claims to be other than it is, claims to have ontological and not just verbal status. Thus, recent deconstructive criticism has tried to show that language, especially literary language, cannot "embody meaning" and that any such notion is an illusion of "logocentric or incarnationist perspectives."1 Meaning always appears immanent and yet is always absent; the presence of the signifiers is not homologous with the presence of either the signifieds or the referents. Every sentence declares: "What I say is not what I mean." In this context, the notion of "meaningful expression" is oxymoronic. Language is not an answer; it is the problem. Those critics who desire a socially effective function for discourse continually try to circumvent this apparent logical impasse of language's self-referentiality. For structural Marxists like Fredric Jameson and Pierre Macherey, the very absences and flaws in a verbal text are indicative of the interference pattern between ideological illusions and history, the "absent cause" of this disturbance. Thus, the nature of real social forces is available to the astute reader between the lines of the text's evasions. The core of literary discourse appears like the hole in the donut — conspicuous by its absence: "the critic, employing a new language, brings out a difference within the work by demonstrating that it is other than it is."2 Still, while they struggle to avoid such a recognition , their own texts are themselves subject to similar reinterpretation. Their readings are as much a result of an ideology as those which they scan. Their conclusions are in the linguistic structure of their premises: they, no more or less than others, may not be discovering any presence or social truth but just performing a self-fulfilling operation, a "transformation of a given text into an allegory of its particular code [here Marxism ] or 'transcendental signified' [here history, the absent cause] . . . ."3 One cannot get outside verbal closure by going back into words. 70 the minnesota review No matter how complex or elaborate the theory of language, its referentiality seems continually open to radical doubt. Even if one accepts , as this essay will, that language exists and things exist, still, the description of their connection will always seem hypothetical. The relationship between language and things is the same as the relationship between physical theory and empirical data postulated by Quine: "physical theory is under-determined even by all possible observation. . . . Physical theories can be at odds with each other and yet compatible with all possible data even in the broadest sense. In a word, they can be logically incompatible and empirically equivalent."4 Considered semiotically, rather than epistemologically, this same issue can be seen as the essential difference between "conditions ofsignification and conditions oftruth."' Logically, words and the world seem largely immiscible, and both, as a consequence, appear to be closed systems, that is to say, beyond revision. Parody seems to assume that it can pull language up by its bootstraps through an act of doubling. As Michael Riffaterre has observed: "You need two texts to make a parody."6 Its status in this respect is somewhat special, for parody does not claim to be mimetic, to represent the real world: it is metamimetic; it represents a representation. Thus, parody seems to present less a claim about the real than a denial of the presence of truth in its verbal object. Still, this supposed lack of "indigenous" content is a sham. Parody's tone of certainty, of superiority over its parent text suggests — albeit falsely — a deep familiarity with exactly that truth which its original lacks. Indeed, it may be, as Pierre Macherey has suggested, that parody's apparent uniqueness is really the central quality of all literary texts, since they imitate everyday speech's representations of the real.7 Thus, every text...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 69-85
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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