Jessie Kuei-yi Chu
Dr. Kate Liu
Postmodern Film and Fiction
Journal of Theory
Summary and Response to Linda Hutcheon's "The Politics of Parody"
In "The Politics of Parody," Linda Hutcheon presents the significance and function of parody that contrasts to Federic Jameson's idea of "empty parody" (94) in postmodern terrain. Jameson considers postmodern parody as meaningless pastiche without historical context; however, Hutcheon defends for the historicity in the process of parody. Her central argument is that "postmodern parody is a value-problematizing, de-naturalizing form of acknowledging the history (and through irony, the politics) of representation" (94). That is to say, in the politics of parody, the text connects itself to history by reviewing, evaluating and criticizing history.
First of all, I would like to define postmodern parody. "Parody-often called ironic quotation, pastiche, appropriation, or intertextuality-is actually considered central to postmodernism, both by its detractors and its defenders" (93). That is to say, parody uses many forms to approve of or to disagree with the previous texts and further shows the current ideology. there are three sections in this essay, parodic postmodern representation, double-coded politics and postmodern film. I'll summarize them respectively to present Hutcheon's investigation of the function of the politics of parody in postmodern terrain.
In the first section of parodic postmodern representation, Hutcheon emphasizes on the functions of parody in postmodern society interacting with historical context. "Postmodern parody is a kind of contesting revision or rereading of the past that both confirms and subverts the power of the representation of history" (95). So parody offers another critical perspective to re-interpret and to re-write the authoritative historical documents. In terms of historiographical metaficiton, which is an ironic rewriting of history, I think Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse V embodies postmodern parodic deconstruction. The subtitle of the work, the children's crusade referring to Billy Pilgrimage's war experience parodies World War II.
In terms of double-coded politics in section two, Hutcheon focuses on the ambivalent function of postmodern parody. Because "as form of ironic representation, parody is doubly coded in political terms: it both legitimizes and subverts that which it parodies" (101). When parody criticizes or undermines something, it simultaneously takes the target as the authority, so it is a process of both challenging and validating. Parody in postmodern historiographical metafiction revises the past and locates the text in the historical present. Hutcheon regards Salman Rushdie's Midnight Children as a parody to Tristram Shandy by replacing German social and cultural text with India's. As far as I am concerned, Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea is a powerful parodic revision of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. In the process of contextualizing the history and the literary works, Rhys deconstructs the colonial discourse in Jane Eyre and constructs the colonized consciousness in the imperial-colony power relation.
As for section three, postmodern film, Hutcheon puts it in the historical context and pinpoints that postmodern film is not as radical as Modernistic film. Postmodern film is more ambivalent and compromising in ideology. Then she presents the characteristics of postmodern film. Postmodern film self-consciously points out the dominant ideology interacting with postmodern self's subjectivity. Postmodern film shows that "the formation process not just of subjectivity but also narrativity and visual representation has become a staple of metacinema today" (110). In my opinion, self-reflexivity of postmodern film is clearly represented in Robert Altman's The Player and Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo. Both film self-reflexively represents the generic form of film and unravel the mode of production and circulation in film industry. Besides, postmodern film no longer pursues totality or completeness as those film in the previous history. "The exploitation [of wholeness] is done is the name of contesting the values and beliefs upon which the wholeness is constructed-with the emphasis on the act of construction-through representation" (110). As a result, postmodern film can be a parodic pastiche of the previous film or history. It can subrogate the dominant ideology and presents multiple voices against monolithic discursive totality.
In a word, Hutcheon revises Jameson's idea of postmodern parody. She thinks that parody is not meaningless and ahistorical pastiche but a subversive apparatus to assess and to criticize history. In this process, parody and postmodern self situate in the historical present. Therefore parody revises the previous history and deconstructs the dominant ideology in order to link the present to the context of history.