Parody is the name given to a range of representational practices that involve citation of an earlier work, but an inexact citation—citation with polemical difference, always purposive, and often to comic effect. Arguments over parody as a category inevitably establish a position on how specific an activity it is and how far it reaches into culture, even into the nature of language itself. Parody’s range is at times understood to be quite general; at others, it is presented as a very specific artistic process. Thus, some argue that parody is at the heart of language itself, that all language is parodic, while others limit parody to the affectionate discrepant citation of another text or work of art. Pastiche, as a subcategory of parody, generally is considered to be less polemical about its sources, less satirical, more flat, and less focused. All parody (including pastiche) is interpretive of its source, and in interpreting that source it makes an argument about that source—its features and the value of those features. In making that argument, parody establishes or reacts to a norm, a norm at times in line with a cultural dominant and at other times opposed to it. While that relationship to a norm often raises the question whether parody is inherently dispersive and liberatory or whether it exists to affirm a status quo, historical practice reveals that there is no inherence here; parody can move in either direction. Parody is always in some relation to a norm, a relationship that points to the heart of its activities: to the consequences of citation, the place of personal expression, and polemics.
The repetition and reframing of styles, forms, and texts variously known as pastiche, parody, intertextuality, appropriation, or sampling is a pervasive practice in Asian American literature. Since the emergence of Asian American literary studies in the 1970s, such strategies have formed a key site for negotiating the terms of Asian American identity, politics, and culture. While pastiche has been recognized as a signature style of postmodern culture at large, it has held particular significance for Asian American literary and cultural studies because of its resonance with Asian American identity. Because Asian Americans have long been stereotyped as mimics of Western culture, and because the category Asian American refers to a coalition of multiple and diverse ethnic groups, Asian American identity itself seems constituted by the formal operations of imitation and recombination central to parody and pastiche. The close alignment between Asian American identity and these formal practices has made shifting critical attitudes toward parody, pastiche, and intertextuality into a telling register of evolving conceptions of Asian American identity. In the cultural nationalist era of the 1970s, pastiche was seen as the formal expression of Asian Americans’ tendency to repeat and reproduce dominant ideologies, a sign of complicity with white racism, and a lack of cultural integrity. By contrast, a second wave of Asian American criticism in the 1990s embraced strategies of textual repetition as subversive parody rather than complicit pastiche, reinterpreting them as articulations of a politically oppositional, hybrid and heterogeneous Asian American subject. Since the turn of the millennium, the use of parody, pastiche, and intertextuality in Viet Nguyen’s prize-winning 2015 novel The Sympathizer intimates yet another iteration of Asian American identity centered on the war refugee, a model of Asian American subjectivity which shifts attention from traditional topics of immigration and assimilation to urgent questions of imperialism and militarism. Taken together, these examples demonstrate how the formal strategies of parody, pastiche, and intertextuality have served as crucial sites for the invention and reinvention of Asian American identity, politics, and aesthetics.