O’Hara and Critical Parody



Parody has become ingrained in contemporary writing as the device which has enveloped the voice of the author. In Prophets of Extremity, (a very important book about Nietzsche’s canon and his disciples: Foucault, Heidegger and Derrida) the notion of the decline of modern modes of analysis, the anti-dialectic (Derrida’s signature form and style) the ever-shifting positions of the author towards power and opression (as in Foucault) and the blanketing ontological mysticism of philosophy and theory (Heidegger’s influence). These thinkers made possible a post-modernism. I wish to isolate the inevitability of parody in crical writing and what that inevitability portends for the role of the author in conventional terms. While this may seem to be a commentary on Foucault’s essay, “Death of the Author,” I intend to broaden the discussion and specifically focus on the role of the American critic, a la Daniel O’Hara.

In an interesting collection of essays by Daniel O’Hara’s about parody in American writing after Foucault’s influence- he puts forth the position that the troupe of critical writers, writing “after Foucalult” are all inevitable parodists…

The axiom from which we enter this viewpoint is important to understand. O’hara uses a self-created concept of literary and critical practice broadly entitled, “Ethical.” In the widest sense, ethical applies cultural consumption and interpretation as the modus operandi of the construction of the self. After all parody, when used most effectively is always self-parodic. Although O’Hara has a literary focus, his discussion usually encompasses more than just literature to include what he refers to as the collective archive of cultural production. The collective archive is not a single discourse, but rather taken in the general sense, it is “instances of discursive practices.” In other words, this refers to a rational form of applied rhetoric, technical studies and self-transformation… Is this referring to a narrow set of identities, a teleos for academe? Perhaps, but regardless of this possible esotericism, what does this mean for the modern writer? What truths are bottled up here, assumptions, etc.

Let’s explore more of the arguments:

The collective archive offers an “ever-changing range of possible selves not so much for one to become rather as for one to recall as inspirational or cautionary tales when faced with the inevitable everyday choices of living a life, pursuing a career, and understanding others and, one hopes, oneself.” Basically, this is a way to orientat toneself towards reading and to what comes out of reading; let’s call this a way of positioning oneself towards reality for convenience sake. So the theories basic view is that we have culturally-constructed lives and that are discursive practice in the world is a meditation upon the practical possibilities of self definition.

Make sense?

In an attempt to isolate parody even further in this outlook, I want to focus on the role and definition of the “self” in this line of thought.

The self is an ever-provisional, mobile effect of specific rhetorical acts- taken in the largest sense: the self is undergoing continual instances of an infinitely diverse construction and reconstruction of selected styles, or “profiles” that ultimately form a unified self. Note the axiomatic: there is no single existence of a natural or original self, rather the self is continuously amidst a process of variously utilizing selected imaginary elements from the past to interpret and be in the present more fully.

Let’s explore this argument in broader terms. Culturally constructed reality has become an established truth to contemporary life. Where has that tradition entered our popular consciousness? Looking to the historical argument put forth by Heiddeger on technology provides a glimpse.

Humanity or “westerm man” throughout history is continuously prevented from attaining his true essence. There is at all times a level of confinement of man’s full expression. This tension reasons one phenomenologically influences tangent of thought: there is at all times a constant effort of the will towrds destining. The blocking occurs in a systematic hold over the will, as follow,

“since destining starts man on a way to revealing man, he is continually on the brink of the possibility of pursuing and pushing forward nothing but what is revealed in what is ordering.”

This means that your true self is only revealed in the ordering of the infinite profiles that you occupy without your self’s conscious awareness of their dominating role over your will, life and full-expression.

In this rather negative view of of the cultural creative impulse in reality construction, or destining, O’Hara continues his application of self-knowledge, to know a profile means to examine the minute revolutions of the self that have transpired in the life of that thinker.

The minute revolutions are the spaces that I find most important in my reading.


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