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

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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”

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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.

A Response to Marika Lüders, Lin Prøitz, and Terje Rasmussen’s “Emerging Personal Media Genres”

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The main focus of the reading “Emerging Personal Media Genres” by Marika Lüders, Lin Prøitz, and Terje Rasmussen is to illustrate how genres should be understood and applied in terms of modern day social media, particularly with the recent rise in blogs and selfies (947). Genres are important to understand because they provide insight as to what to expect from the media, while also giving a general framework for analyzing said genre and media.

Genres are “an interdisciplinary concept with analytical potential as it connects texts and social organization. It helps to clarify relationships between texts and media, as well as between texts and society” (948). This means that understanding how they function in relation to the writers and the readers is especially important because that essentially explains how and why that particular genre operates and succeeds in the way that it does. Take selfies for example. The person posting the picture and corresponding text has a specific idea or message in mind when posting the picture. Those on the receiving end may take away the intended message, or may form their own opinion of the post. Connecting these two mindsets and determining how they work together to form this emerging genre in social media can help us to better understand why people post the things that they do and why people react to these posts the way that they do. This is known as expectations and conventions (953), and it is a key element of understanding this genre.

Another key element of this genre is time. When factored in with expectations and conventions, this is another component within this genre that helps to explain why people act and react in the ways that they do (954). With media such as blogs and text messages, time is very important due to nature of material. Online journals and blogs, for example, might document the author’s daily activities or ideas one day at a time. Text messages, on the other hand, are meant to be quick and easily responded to. This draws back to the idea of time working in tandem with expectations and conventions to set the framework for this genre.

So is the desire for communication what drives this genre? Or is it the user’s desire to create an image or social presence for him or herself? I personally think that it is a combination of both. When I post on social media, for example, it is because I have something that I want to share. But there are times that I will stop myself from posting things because I wonder if those viewing it will have a negative response. This stifles communication and goes to show that I have a certain idea of what I want my social media presence to be. Similarly, there are times that I alter things that I want to post in an attempt to somehow change my initial message or how I want it to be received. There are also times that I will think of something that I want to say, but decide to wait until a better or more appropriate time to say it. Again, these traits support my thought that both communication and the user’s personal social media presence image are important in forming and explaining genre.

A Response to Henry Lowood’s “High-Performance Play: The Making of Machinima”

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“The early history of Machinima illustrates a number of themes in the appropriation of game technology to create a new narrative, even artistic medium. (Lowood 38).”

This article highlighted the ways in which Machinima was developed, improved, and sustained among the gaming community. Machinima, according to Lowood, is animated films created using first person shooter video games. It exemplifies the idea that “the dissemination of accessible tools – even if they are not necessarily easy-to-use – creates opportunities for the emergence of unexpected content in a postmodern environment that places playful experiments and throwaway pieces alongside startling and original instances of creative expression (Lowood 26).” But what does this mean? It means that the tools that are embedded in video games have had some unintended uses that have allowed users to showcase how they feel about, view, or play the game. By filming their realtime actions, the gamers are able to accurately portray their exact vision within the game to others. These visions can greatly differ between users, which adds to the creative expression aspect of Machinima.

Machinima is a film-like medium in many ways. Those creating Machinima are able to change the camera angle in which the film is shot, just like in traditional frame-based methods. However, they are shot in real time and the camera angle can be altered at any moment without affecting or having to go back and reshoot what is happening, so Machinima does have an advantage in that way (Lowood 33). Machinima is also a film-like medium because it pays attention to the sequence, the audio and visual in relation to each other, the mise-en-scène, and many more of the aspects associated with film. While the variation between Machinima is technically limited, there can be great variation between them due to the freedom that each user has during creation.

For my example of Machinima, I found a clip title “Los Santos Psycho,” which is a remake of the introduction to the movie American Psycho made using Grand Theft Auto 5. In this clip, some of the key elements of Machinima are easily identifiable. First, the changing camera angle and the attention that is paid to it by the creator. The different scenes, camera angles, and shots used in Los Santos Psycho also closely mimic those in American Psycho, although there are some slight parodic twists. Another element present is the attention paid to the movement and mannerisms of the virtual actor. The narration and movements of the character in the film are very similar to that of the narration in the movie, and in watching this clip side-by-side with the original, the creator’s intentions are clear, easily visible, and understood.

This is just one of countless examples of Machinima, but I thought that this one did a good job of displaying just how close attention to detail and creation a user can have in order to accurately depict and display what they have in mind. Perhaps one day Machinima will be the “original” film, and real life actors will be the ones doing the remaking.

A Response to Paul Wells’ “Animation: Genre and Authorship, Chapter 2: The Animation Process”

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Paul Wells’ “Animation: Genre and Authorship, Chapter 2: The Animation Process” brings to light both the history of animation and the differences between the different types of animation that have been created. In many ways, these modern day types of animation are similar to each other, in terms of how their design processes are carried out. But in other ways, they are different, mainly due to the rise of the CGI era. Artists are now able to broaden their horizons when designing animations because there are more resources available to them than just paper, a pencil, and a camera.

No matter the animation, however, there seems to be no limit as to what the characters within it can do. The affordances of characters within animations are essentially whatever the author decides, because there are no rules of reality that apply to them. The only time this really changes is when the production company has a say in the matter. Disney, for example, uses an aesthetic template for all of their animations, and in doing so takes away from some of the creativity of the artists (Wells 20). Artists are then forced to incorporate their personal visions and ideas in ways other than the characters, such as the background.

Affordances for the animation itself are seemingly endless, too. The author is able to sequence the film in whatever way they see fit, and can even alter the story line if it isn’t working as planned. These affordances are ones that I think will be very useful when creating our film for class. Because we are the authors of the film, and no one knows the message we are trying to get across other than us, we are able to tweak and edit the sequence, as well as the story line if necessary, in order to create a film that effectively conveys the idea we want to get across.

A Response to Barry Hampe’s “Visual Evidence”

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“A documentary is existential. It has to stand on its own. You can’t go along with the print and explain to the audience what you meant to show or shoot, or what a particular scene is supposed to mean. You simply have to shoot the best analog of the actual situation that you can manage and then edit the footage into a single, coherent print that will clearly communicate your intentions to the people who will see it. Sound-narration, dialogue, interviews, and music-may help the audience to interpret the documentary. But it won’t take the place of solid evidence in the form of concrete visual images (52).”

This is the key takeaway I got from reading “Visual Evidence” by Barry Hampe. In this reading, Hampe discusses how the visual aspects of documentaries are the most important in communicating an idea, a point, or a message. While narration is important, what the viewer sees is what truly shapes the documentary. He gave many examples of ways that he framed what he was filming in order to convey a distinct message, as well as ways that he edited the film so that only certain sequences were shown. In both of theses ways, he was able to shape the documentary to display exactly what he wanted to get across. Because documentaries do usually take a particular stance or mindset regarding what they are about, these factors are important to consider when filming and editing to make a finished product.

The documentary I watched for class was The House I Live In. In this documentary, the narrator is explaining why the War on Drugs has been a failure within the U.S., and does so by interviewing anthropologists, government officials, law enforcement, drug dealers and users, and convicted felons. Each of these interviews were conducted in-scene, which added to the visual evidence for viewers. Being able to see each of these interviewees in their respective settings (i.e. Anthropologists in their college office, police officers in their squad car, convicted felons in prions) it added to the effect and the realness of the documentary. Additionally, the sequence in which the shots were presented was important in shaping the documentary as a whole. First, we are introduced to the slums in which those arrested for drug related charges live. Then, the background to the War on Drugs and how these slums were created was explained and shown. And finally, we go back to those slums and to the prisons and talk to the people who have been directly affected by the War on Drugs. This order of presenting information proved very effective, because it draws the viewer in with the first scenes, then takes a stance while the viewer feels an emotional connection, and then combines the emotions and new knowledge of the viewer in the final scenes to tie the documentary together. By interviewing both sides of the argument, viewers are able to see how each side truly feels, and are then able to form their own opinion without fear that they have been presented biased, misrepresented, or untrue information. These examples of visual evidence were key in making this documentary, and helped to make it the success that it was. See the trailer for this documentary here:

A Response to Timothy Corrigan’s “Film Terms and Topics for Film Analysis and Writing”

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In “Film Terms and Topics for Film Analysis and Writing,” Timothy Corrigan explains many different vocabulary terms and ideas relating to film and film-making that he believes are crucial for a viewer to have an informed opinion of what they are seeing. It is not so much the concrete definition of the terms that he thinks are important to know, but rather how the terms relate to film and how they are used within it. As Corrigan says on page 36, “Every discipline has its own special language or use of words that allows it to discuss its subject with precision and subtlety.” This applies to film in that an understanding of the different uses of these terms within a film can completely change the mood of the film, or the way in which the viewer is supposed to interpret it. There are a few key terms that Corrigan feels are essential for the base knowledge in analyzing film.

Theme – What is the film about?
Narrative – 3 parts: a) The actual storyline; b) The plot; c) The narration (perspective from which the narrative is told)
Characters – Are they main or minor? How do they relate to one another?
Point of View – Does the point of view from which the movie is being explained affect how you interpret the movie? Would another point of view change the movie?
Mise-en-Scène – Everything that is visible on scene (gestures, positioning, lighting, costumes, etc.). How do these objects, and their relation to each other, affect your interpretation of the film?
Realism – How does the story match up with the actual world? Is it supposed to?
The Shot – How do the actions presented, and the order they are presented, affect how you see the film? Is there a reason the camera focuses on specific characters, images, or places during a scene?
Moral – What is the specific morality associated with the story? (i.e. Does good defeat evil?)
Editing – Was the scene edited to convey a specific message? Was in used in the correct context, or out of context, to prove a point? This is especially important to consider when viewing film, because it completely shapes what we see, as well as when and how we see it.
Sound – What sounds were used, and were they used to enhance the visuals? Does the sequence in which the sound was presented affect the film? Does the sound match what is going on in the scene, or does it distract from it?

All of these terms, according to Corrigan, are important in understanding and analyzing film. By viewing each of these terms within a film in isolation, it is easier to draw a deeper understanding and meaning from the decisions made in making the film, and the message that was trying to be portrayed. In the last dance scene in Black Swan, for instance, there is a very intense moment with the main character. In this scene, the camera switches back and forth between the dancer’s face and her mother’s face, both of which are crying. Very dramatic classical music plays in the background, with no words exchanged between the two women. Then, the music stops as the pained dancer falls from her podium to end the dance. The way that the camera uses close-up images of both women, in conjunction with the bellowing, suspenseful music in the background, creates a very intimate, nerve-wracking scene for the audience. Because the entire movie had led up to this dance, it is a very suspenseful moment already, but the way that all of the elements came together during this scene (the dramatic lighting, the music in the background, the focus on the two women only) made this scene that much more heightened, and confirms Corrigan’s idea that a better understanding of these terms leads to a better interpretation of the film. This scene can be seen here at the 1:00 mark: