FREDRIC JAMESON's concept of "pastiche" is usefully contrasted to Linda Hutcheon's understanding of postmodern parody. (See the Hutcheon module on parody.) Whereas Hutcheon sees much to value in postmodern literature's stance of parodic self-reflexivity, seeing an implicit political critique and historical awareness in such parodic works, Jameson characterizes postmodern parody as "blank parody" without any political bite. According to Jameson, parody has, in the postmodern age, been replaced by pastiche: "Pastiche is, like parody, the imitation of a peculiar or unique, idiosyncratic style, the wearing of a linguistic mask, speech in a dead language. But it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without any of parody's ulterior motives, amputated of the satiric impulse, devoid of laughter" (Postmodernism 17). Jameson sees this turn to "blank parody" as a falling off from modernism, where individual authors were particularly characterized by their individual, "inimitable" styles: "the Faulknerian long sentence, for example, with its breathless gerundives; Lawrentian nature imagery punctuated by testy colloquialism; Wallace Stevens's inveterate hypostasis of nonsubstantive parts of speech ('the intricate evasions of as')"; etc. (Postmodernism 16). In postmodern pastiche, by contrast, "Modernist styles... become postmodernist codes" (Postmodernism 17), leaving us with nothing but "a field of stylistic and discursive heterogeneity without a norm" (Postmodernism 17). Postmodern cultural productions therefore amount to "the cannibalization of all the styles of the past, the play of random stylistic allusion, and in general what Henri Lefebvre has called the increasing primacy of the 'neo'" (Postmodernism 18).

In such a world of pastiche, we lose our connection to history, which gets turned into a series of styles and superceded genres, or simulacra: "The new spatial logic of the simulacrum can now be expected to have a momentous effect on what used to be historical time" (Postmodernism 18). In such a situation, "the past as 'referent' finds itself gradually bracketed, and then effaced altogether, leaving us with nothing but texts" (Postmodernism 18). We can no longer understand the past except as a repository of genres, styles, and codes ready for commodification.

Jameson points to a number of examples:

1) the way that postmodern architecture "randomly and without principle but with gusto cannibalizes all the architectural styles of the past and combines them in overstimulating ensembles" (Postmodernism 19);

2) the way nostalgia film or la mode rétro represents the past for us in hyperstylized ways (the 50s in George Lucas's American Griffitti; the Italian 1930s in Roman Polanski's Chinatown); in such works we approach "the 'past' through stylistic connotation, conveying 'pastness' by the glossy qualities of the image, and '1930s-ness' or '1950s-ness' by the attributes of fashion" (Postmodernism 19). The "history of aesthetic styles" thus "displaces 'real' history" (Postmodernism 20). Jameson sees this situation as a "symptom of the waning of our historicity, of our lived possibility of experiencing history in some active way" (Postmodernism 21).

3) the way that postmodern historical novels (those works Hutcheon characterizes as "historiographic metafiction") represent the past through pop images of the past. Jameson gives E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime is a perfect example: "This historical novel can no longer set out to represent the historical past; it can only 'represent' our ideas and stereotypes about that past (which thereby at once becomes 'pop history')" (Postmodernism 25). In such works, according to Jameson, "we are condemned to seek History by way of our own pop images and simulacra of that history, which itself remains forever out of reach" (Postmodernism 25).


Proper Citation of this Page:

Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Jameson: On Pastiche." 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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