Second Degree Lit

Have I ever mentioned that I don’t particularly like literary theory? For the PhD thingie I have to write a chapter on parody, and what seemed to be relatively easy at first — give a definition of parody — turned out to be a walk through a field of quicksand. At the moment, I’m reading Gérard Genette’s PALIMPSESTS: LITERATURE IN THE SECOND DEGREE, and while I was sort of fine in chapters 1-7, he sort of lost me shortly thereafter. It does not really help that his examples are mostly taken from French literature, of which I know about zilch, nor that he is so, so fond of transgressions, nor that he is also fond of the phrase “We will come back to this point” / “More about this later” (argh!). It probably doesn’t help either that I’m reading Genette’s own work in translation. Look here: “For serious imitations we may borrow from ancient usage a term that is more or less synonymous with pastiche or with apocrypha but is also more neutral than its competitors. That term is forgery.” (???)

At least Monsieur Genette has got a sense of humour: in chapter 7 he gives a rough outline what he’ll be doing in the rest of his study, and finishes with: “Then it will be time to conclude and to put away our tools, for nights are chilly in this season.” 🙂


2 thoughts on “Second Degree Lit

  1. Laura Vivanco

    Parody, irony and satire seem to be fiendishly difficult to write about. I’d vaguely thought of including a chapter in my thesis on works like that but it’s extremely difficult to prove that a text is being parodic/ironic/satiric. I mean, first of all you have to establish what the author’s real beliefs are (and since you generally don’t know, if it’s a medieval text, you have to compare it to current orthodoxy/the serious texts). And jokes taken out of context often don’t seem very funny, so quoting a line or two can sometimes not have the effect you want. And you can’t just say “I know it’s funny and meant to be satire – just believe me. I’ve read it.” That wouldn’t convince any examiner.

    Luckily for me there (a) weren’t very many relevant texts and (b) I discovered that someone had written an article on some of them, so I decided that I didn’t have to give them a whole chapter to themselves. I also had a thematic structure to my thesis, rather than one in which different genres got different chapters, so a chapter just for those works wouldn’t have made much sense from an organisational point of view.

    Anyway, I can empathise with you as you walk through your quicksand.

  2. Sandra Schwab

    Parody, irony and satire seem to be fiendishly difficult to write about.

    It would help if academia could decide on definitions of these terms. But there seems to be no hard and fast definition available. *sob* I hope I can wriggle through that chapter somehow and come up with something that sounds halfway intelligent.

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