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.


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