I’ve had Dwight Macdonald’s Parodies: An Anthology from Chaucer to Beerbohm –and After (1960) for years, and nibbled at it betimes. The September 20th issue of The New Yorker has a Louis Menand review of The Oxford Book of Parodies (2010) which has this beautifully clear –indeed, all but anthropological– summary of what HAPPENED in the 50 intervening years:
In 1960, though, Macdonald was pushing on a door where there was still some resistance. Since then, literature has ceased to be the dominant middle-class cultural preference, and the barrier between the authentic and the parodic has collapsed. A “diffused parodic sense” is everywhere. The culture is flooded with ironic self-reflexivity and imitations of imitations: travesties, spoofs, skits, lampoons, pastiches, quotations, samplings, appropriations, repurposings. This has happened at the low end (television commercials that are parodies of television commercials) and the high (postmodern fiction). And since 1960 a giant continent of mainstream entertainment has emerged of which parody is the foundation, from National Lampoon, Monty Python, and “Saturday Night Live” to Spy, Weird Al Yankovic, “The Simpsons,” and The Onion.
…even the members of reading clubs could use some guidance making sense of a culture in which almost nothing is taken seriously unless it first makes fun of what it is. This practice may be partly self-protective: it is harder for someone to subvert you if you are already subverting yourself. But self-parody can also convey authority. The “Daily Show” is a parody of a news program, and a lot of people rely on it for news.
Still, anthologically speaking, where to start? When everything is quasi-parodic, when everything presents itself with a wink of self-conscious exaggeration, then it may be that parody is finished as the kind of genre you can represent within the confines of an Oxford Book… (pg 80)
And an hour or so later I found myself immersed in Joshua Clover’s “Busted: Stories of the Financial Crisis” from September 20 issue of The Nation, staring at another brilliant bit of analytical abstraction:
…When one converts, say, collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps into a folksy story about the neighbors and their home insurance, the crisis appears more legible than its components, those acronymic phantasms of fictitious capital traded by the blind protocols of shell companies hoping to arbitrage a few billion pennies from minuscule imbalances in a great global system.
What those two passages share is an exemplary clarity of analysis and expression, to which I wish I could rise myself. Still, I know it when I see it.