American Literature in Parody: A Collection of Parody, Satire, and Literary Burlesque of American Writers Past and Present

American Literature in Parody: A Collection of Parody, Satire, and Literary Burlesque of American Writers Past and Present

American Literature in Parody: A Collection of Parody, Satire, and Literary Burlesque of American Writers Past and Present

American Literature in Parody: A Collection of Parody, Satire, and Literary Burlesque of American Writers Past and Present

Excerpt

Some highly-regarded savants of an earlier and more principled generation than our own gave currency to the opinion that the writer of parody was a rather shabby fellow practising an irreverent and parasitic art and an enemy within the gates of the true, the beautiful, and the good. According to this standard, the collector of parody, having not even the excuse of expressing his own aesthetic ego, must be one of the most abandoned of literary riff-raff. It may be unnecessary in our enlightened era to say anything in self-defense for indulging in so irresponsible a pastime as editing parodies, but if it were, I would have little to say. It would be futile to deny that the parodist is out for a laugh at somebody's expense or that successful parody can have a damaging effect upon the uninitiated. For the present volume I seek only the audience of the experienced who need no advice or justification from me. As for the uninitiated, they will endure, having little interest in so shady a profession as parody anyway. For me, however, the "problem" of parody is resolved as easily as Dr. Johnson disposed of the problem of free will--all theory is against it and all experience is for it.

Parody is both a form of literary humor and a branch of criticism. As humor, it is probably wiser not to explain it or attempt to rationalize it. As criticism, however, one may venture a few generalzations. For one thing, it addresses itself not to original qualities of a work of art, but ridicules the pretentious or eccentric and helps separate the wheat from the chaff. In the case of Poe, for instance, a good parody will point up that "two-fifths" of his work of which Lowell spoke:

Here comes Poe with his raven like Barnaby Rudge
Three-fifths of him genius and two-fifths sheer fudge.

True genius has so magnetic an appeal that it will almost instantaneously ripen into cliché and give birth to a swarm of imitators. The parodist may aim his shafts at these copies rather than at the original. Or he may address himself to elements of conventionalism . . .

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