According to LINDA HUTCHEON, one of the main features that distinguishes postmodernism from modernism is the fact the it "takes the form of self-conscious, self-contradictory, self-undermining statement" (Politics 1). One way of creating this double or contradictory stance on any statement is the use of parody: citing a convention only to make fun of it. As Hutcheon explains, "Parody—often called ironic quotation, pastiche, appropriation, or intertextuality—is usually considered central to postmodernism, both by its detractors and its defenders" (Politics 93). Unlike Jameson, who considers such postmodern parody as a symptom of the age, one way in which we have lost our connection to the past and to effective political critique, Hutcheon argues that "through a double process of installing and ironizing, parody signals how present representations come from past ones and what ideological consequences derive from both continuity and difference" (Politics 93). Hutcheon thus sets herself against the prevailing view among many postmodern theorists: "The prevailing interpretation is that postmodernism offers a value-free, decorative, de-historicized quotation of past forms and that this is a most apt mode for a culture like our own that is oversaturated with images" (Politics 94). (See the Jameson module on pastiche for a comparison.) Hutcheon insists, instead, that such an ironic stance on representation, genre, and ideology serves to politicize representation, illustrating the ways that interpretation is ultimately ideological. Parody de-doxifies, to use a favorite term of Hutcheon's; it unsettles all doxa, all accepted beliefs and ideologies. Rather than see this ironic stance as "some infinite regress into textuality" (Politics 95), Hutcheon values the resistance in such postmodern works to totalizing solutions to society's contradictions; she values postmodernism's willingness to question all ideological positions, all claims to ultimate truth.

Such a willingness to play with society's contradictions means that "parody is doubly coded in political terms: it both legitimizes and subverts that which it parodies" (Politics 101); however, this position does not mean that the critique is not effective: postmodern parody "may indeed be complicitous with the values it inscribes as well as subverts, but the subversion is still there" (Politics 106). Hutcheon at one point likens such an ironic position to the convention of the inverted comma:

It is rather like saying something whilst at the same time putting inverted commas around what is being said. The effect is to highlight, or "highlight," and to subvert, or "subvert," and the mode is therefore a "knowing" and an ironic—or even "ironic"—one. Postmodernism's distinctive character lies in this kind of wholesale "nudging" commitment to doubleness, or duplicity. In many ways it is an even-handed process because postmodernism ultimately manages to install and reinforce as much as undermine and subvert the conventions and presuppositions it appears to challenge. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to say that the postmodern's initial concern is to de-naturalize some of the dominant features of our way of life; to point out that those entities that we unthinkingly experience as "natural" (they might even include capitalism, patriarchy, liberal humanism) are in fact "cultural"; made by us, not given to us. (Politics 1-2).

Through such an ironic play with society's contradictions, postmodern parody forces us to question a number of other traditional assumptions about the aesthetic product: 1) the notion of artistic originality and the cult of personality that surrounds the artist; 2) the assumption that subjectivity is stable, coherent, or self-determining; 3) the capitalist principles of ownership and property; 4) all contentions that meaning or identity is natural rather than artificial; 5) the belief that one can know history the way it really was (to echo a famous formulation of the German historian, Leopold von Ranke); 6) the belief that there is such a thing as a neutral or non-ideological position; and 7) the claim that one can secure an autonomous yet still effective realm for the aesthetic product, separate from either a mass audience or the mass market.

In such critiques, postmodern parody resembles modernist parody, which, Hutcheon acknowledges, can be found "in the writing of T. S. Eliot, Thomas Mann, and James Joyce and the painting of Picasso, Manet, and Magritte" (Politics 99). What postmodernist parody questions, however, is the "Unacknowledged modernist assumptions about closure, distance, artistic autonomy, and the apolitical nature of representation" (Politics 99). It is more willing to break down distinctions between "reality" and "fiction," as in such disparate works as Christa Wolf's No Place on Earth, E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime, Timothy Findlay's Famous Last Words, and Woody Allen's Zelig (a postmodern generic trait that Hutcheon terms "historiographic metafiction"). It is also more willing to incorporate mass-market forms in its critique, with photography and film serving as two especially noteworthy examples. As Hutcheon puts it, "Postmodernism is both academic and popular, élitist and accessible" (Poetics 44). It is thanks to such contradictions that postmodernism can mount a successful critique. Whereas Jameson condemns all Hollywood film as contributing to the problems of late capitalism, Hutcheon offers another way of valuing such work: "Postmodern film does not deny that it is implicated in capitalist modes of production, because it knows it cannot. Instead it exploits its 'insider' position in order to begin a subversion from within, to talk to consumers in a capitalist society in a way that will get us where we live, so to speak" (Politics 114).


Proper Citation of this Page:

Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Hutcheon: On Parody." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Date of last update, which you can find on the home page. Purdue U. Date you accessed the site. <>.






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