Monthly Archives: May 2014

A Response to Alastair Renfrew’s “The Dialectics of Parody”


As I did with last week’s blog post, this week I decided to choose different quotes from Alastair Renfrew’s article, “The Dialectics of Parody” to use for our Mediating Theory Project. Because this project has three different parts – the literature review, the rationale, and the presentation – I thought that this approach would be the most beneficial in order to have a clear idea of the stance of this particular article. By tying these quotes together with the other articles, a better view of parody can be understood from these different perspectives.

“Tynianov (1977a [1921]: 201) argues that stylization is close to parody in that both ‘live a double life.’ Both imply, in the simplest of terms, the presence of two levels or domains: the later text generates meaning through the interplay between itself and the text it parodies or stylizes. He suggests therefore that both parody and stylization might also draw attention to a relationship not just between particular texts or writers but also between schools, genres, or periods; and the terms of these relationships may vary according to the context in which the precursor text (or writer, school, etc.) is invoked and the critical purpose its invocation serves. The categories of parody and stylization thus invite analysis of the degree of variation between what we may call ‘subject’ (later) and ‘object’ (precursor) texts, the extent to which the latter is preserved or transformed in the former, and a comparison of the various ways each relates its own immediate context. That ‘context’ itself possesses a number of aspects or levels: the parodying or stylizing element related first to the work in which it appears (is this a work of the same genre, mode, or register as the work in which the parodied or stylized element appeared?), then to the broader ‘system’ of literature into which each work is born, and finally to their respective historico-ideological environments” (Renfrew 304).

“In stylization, there is a greater degree of correspondence between the stylizing and stylized works, whereas in parody the differences, contradictions, irreconcilability of  subject and object domains are foregrounded. When an author utilizes the style or devices of a predecessor for broadly similar purposes, we have stylization, and the ‘struggle’ that drives literary history is contained; but when those same devices are utilized to perceptibly different effect in the later work, then we have parody, woth the ‘struggle’ openly declared. The motor of parody, in essence, is non-correspondence: ‘Parody requires the disconnection [neviazka] of the two levels [the parodied and the parodying], their confusion; a parody of tragedy will be a comedy.. a parody of comedy may be a tragedy’ (Ibid)” (Renfrew 305).

“[P]arody possesses a transformative power that is able to expose the generic makeup of its object, to demand a renewed perception of the later work as it related to the new context in which it is produced. Parody thus has significant implications for the generic system; it not only lays bare the fact of its evolution but shows how aspects of that evolution are taking place” (Renfrew 305).

“Parody foregrounds a transformation in the historical understanding of a given work over time” (Renfrew 306).

“Tynianov’s initial interest in parody led him to the conviction that the device must be understood as historically transformative. This understanding develops – at the expense of continuing interest in parody itself – into a general concern with the question of how literature renews itself and an overarching theory of literary evolution, which harnesses the historicization of the device to the historical exchange of the forms between the literary and nonliterary domains” (Renfrew 312).

“[T]he two ‘levels’ of the ‘double life’ Tynianov associates with parody and stylization are present in virtually all authorial encounters, whether these are dominated by style, tradition, device, or even ‘personality.’ Bakhtin expands upon certain implications in Tynianov by establishing that parody is at best a species of an encounter between two consciousnesses, at worst an entirely surface phenomenon, the literary manifestation of essentially extra- or supra-literary forces – a mere ‘compostitonal device,’ as Bakhtin would have it, which is mistakenly understood to describe and contain phenomena that in fact exceed its scope. It is certainly ‘double voiced’ or ‘lives a double life,’ in Tynianov’s phrase- but no more so, in no more specific a manner, than any word uttered in any context” (Renfrew 319).

Dr. Alastair Renfrew is a Reader in the Department of English Studies with research specialization in literary and critical theory at Durham University.

Renfrew, A.“The Dialectics of Parody. Poetics Today” 33:3-4, (2013) 301-328.


A Response to Robert Harimon’s “Political Parody and Public Culture”


For my blog post this week, instead of analyzing and reviewing Robert Harimon’s article, “Political Parody and Public Culture,” I decided to choose specific quotes from the text that I feel will be relevant and beneficial to use in our Mediating Theory Project. The quotes listed below are examples of what parody is, how it is used in rhetorical context, and how different people respond to it. Parody is used in many different contexts across several different genres, so it is important to look at it both holistically and in specific situations.

“Parodic techniques involve various combinations of imitation and alteration: direct quotation, alternation of words, textual rearrangement, substitution of subjects or characters, shifts in diction, shifts in class, shifts in magnitude, etc” (Harimon 250).

“Parodic artistry crafts a productive articulation of public identity and agency through at least four operations: doubling, carnivalesque spectatorship, leveling, and transforming the world of speech into an agonistic field of proliferating voices” (Harimon 253).

“The parody replicates some prior form and thereby makes that form an object of one’s attention rather than a transparent vehicle for some other message… Comic doubling also introduces a profound ambiguity into the direct address” (Harimon 253-54).

“Parody does not stop with ambiguity. What begins as a binary reversal (father/daughter, science/morality) ultimately can put the binary under erasure. The full significance of the parodic function is evident when placing a parody and its target discourse side by side. Before being parodied, any discourse could potentially become all-encompassing (such is the dream of totalitarianism). Once set beside itself, not only that discourse but the entire system is destabilized. As the act of replication replicates, everything is potentially both where it is and beside itself. Now there are two possible responses to any discourse: that which it intends and the laughter of those who see it through the lens of its parodic double” (Harimon 254).

“Everything left as it was, because the original discourse is not itself subject to any change and the comic recasting is patently ritualized; this is the conservative fact of parodic transformation. And yet everything is changed, for what was capable of becoming an all-encompassing worldview has been cut down to size, corrected against ‘the backdrop of a contradictory reality,’ positioned to be set aside or otherwise not obeyed, and challenged to adapt toward the critique in order to continue to hold an audience; this is the radical fact of parodic transformation” (Bakhtin 56). “Needless to say, parody is neither radical nor conservative, but both at once” (Harimon 254).

“By remaking the direct discourse into an image of itself, parody creates a virtual world in which one may play with what has been said and so think about it without direct consequences of reprimand, censorship, or punishment” (Harimon 255).

“By doubling discourse into a self-consciously comic image of itself, and then casting that image before the most democratic, undisciplined, and irreverent conception of a public audience, parodic performance recasts the hermeneutics of public discourse in terms of a ‘’fundamentally new attitude toward language and toward the word'” (Bahktin 21).

“In sum, the long-term effect of a public culture alive with parody is an irreverent democratization of the conventions of public discourse, which in turn keeps public speech closer to its audiences and their experiences of the public world” (Harimon 258).

Like the novel, public culture is defined not by the creation of a new, distinctively modern discourse of representation, but rather by the historical struggles that Bakhtin describes as the constant tension between centripetal and centrifugal forces, that is, those forces that would ‘unify and centralize the verbal-ideological world,’ and those, such as parody, that would disrupt that process” (Bahktin 270).

“Parody and other forms of political humor are workhorses in this regard, as they can take any other discourse outside of its given context of assertion and assent to show how things could be otherwise” (Harimon 260).

Robert Hariman is Professor of Communication Studies at Northwestern University.

Hariman, R.  “Political Parody and Public Culture.” Quarterly Journal of Speech, 94, (2008) 247–272.