Cultural Memory in Art, Film, Literature
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.
$18.95, 150 pages, ISBN 0253338808
Université de Rouen
To begin with, the subtitle of this book, Cultural Memory in Art,
Film, Literature, is misleading. The book is much more than that,
and pastiche is much more than that, as indeed the book demonstrates.
Ingerborg Hoesterey is Professor of comparative literature and Germanic
Studies at Indiana University. She has published a great deal on art,
and I remember reading with tremendous interest a collection of essays
she edited back in 1991, entitled Zeitgeist in Babel: The Postmodernist
Controversy. Hoesterey studied art history in Berlin, and literature
at Harvard, and both those backgrounds very much permeate every page.
The reader is never quite permitted to steer away from Germanic concerns,
even when the author strives for universality. But that is no hindrance
to the enjoyment provided by the book, nor is it a flaw to speak of.
As everyone should, Hoesterey begins with dictionary definitions.
Call me Old School, but this has always seemed very commonsensical
to me, in the best sense of the word, though many scholars seem to
view the method as below them. This book being a product of the twenty-first
century, the word postmodern crops up very early in the
introduction; and quite rightly so, as it would be difficult to discuss
pastiche without examining its current principal haunt: postmodern
artistic productions. Very soon afterwards, Hoesterey quotes Fredric
Jameson; but she soon reassures us, as it becomes clear that she does
not quit agree with his views on pastiche and the postmodern. Jamesons
theoretical position is steeped in Marxist aesthetics, she reminds
us, perhaps to the point of invalidating his art criticism. One of
the valuable points the book does not fail to make is that one should
not hesitate to separate postmodern paintings or books from the notion
of a postmodern era.
Hoesterey continues with a discourse history of pasticcio and
pastiche, summing up the fascinating origins and evolution of
the word and the concept through Italy and France, from painting to
literature via music and back again. She does remind the reader, however,
of the difficulty of establishing an absolute truth (whatever that
is) about the meaning of the word and the definition of the genre.
It is obvious that she is immensely cultivated, having read Deleuze,
Foucault and Derrida, talking as she does about forests of origins.
It is not altogether clear, though, why she insists on calling pastiche
a genre mineur (half ironically?), and why in French,
since minor genre seems to do the trick but maybe
some subtleties have eluded me. In a postmodern context there is no
such thing as a minor genre anyway.
The book moves on to a clever succession of elusive words in bold
type followed by short texts (from four to thirty lines), which is
entitled the semantic environment of pastiche: a glossary,
although I am quite certain it is a pastiche. I cannot resist listing
them here, as they are bound to draw the reader in, rather than spoil
the suspense: adaptation, appropriation, bricolage (Hoesterey has
read Lévi-Strauss), capriccio, cento, collage, contrefaçon,
fake, farrago, faux, imitation (pity she doesnt quote Colton
or was it Wilde? about imitation being the sincerest
form of flattery), montage (she has read Benjamin), palimpsest (she
has read Genette), parody, plagiarism, recycling, refiguration, simulacrum
(she has read Baudrillard) and travesty.
On pastiche in the visual arts, Hoesterey is unbeatable. She mentions
only a few examples, but they are, it seems to me, an extremely adequate
selection: the Austrian artist Leopold Forstner, the Irish artist
Stephen McKenna, and the Italian artist Carlo Maria Mariani. It does
not matter if you dont know them, plates are provided that speak
for themselves with just a little welcome help from Hoesterey,
who speaks of pastiche as a challenge to the canonization of
the classical before tackling the American photographer Cindy
Sherman. Sherman gets a bit more than a page, and a reproduction.
Confidently waiting to find her as I read the book, I was slightly
disappointed. But Shermans pastiche strategies are decoded,
and again the plate is well-chosen (her rendering of the Judith and
Holofernes motif). She finds her way into the book later in the Cinematic
Pastiche chapter, anyway. Very logically, after Sherman, Hoesterey
writes about the American painter Mark Tansey. Tanseys art not
only pastiches high brow and low brow graphic art of the nineteenth
and twentieth centuries, it also incorporates theory, to the
vertiginous point where you simply dont know how youre
going to theorize his art any longer (Auseinandersetzung?).
Every one of his paintings is a mise en abyme, most famously
the one which shows Derrida and de Man dancing / fighting on the brink
of an abîme (abyss), whose Conan Doyle hypotext Hoesterey
establishes (Derrida Queries de Man, 1990). There is also,
of course, the one which displays Barthes, Baudrillard, and
Lacan [gazing], Narcissus-like, at their reflection in the water while
Derrida opens his coat to exhibit a modelled bare chest, the gesture
as signifier rather than signified (Mont Sainte-Victoire,
1987). Jeff Koons and David Hockney also make an appearance, but Tansey
makes them look almost naïve and God have mercy
Hoesterey might be just a trifle less convincing when she addresses
design and architecture, though what she writes of Ricardo Bofill
cannot really be questioned. Naturally she calls the unavoidable man
to the rescue, Charles Jencks, without whom postmodern criticism wouldnt
be quite what it is. And when she conjures up the Caffe Bongo in Tokyo,
it makes you very much want to fly to Japan and have a look at it.
Her mini essays on pastiche in cinema are brisk and to-the-point,
and once more I like her choices, on the whole: Blade Runner,
Wings of Desire, Caravaggio, The Cook, the Thief,
His Wife and Her Lover, Blue Velvet
Though I must
admit I could have done without Zentropa (Europa). Maybe
its just me; call me stupid and illiterate, but I have yet to
see what the fuss is about. Everybodys raving about Lars von
Trier, who will soon run out of shelves to deposit his awards on,
and to me he remains a charlatan, a poser busy making pseudo-intellectual
films full of pretentious rubbish. I am 100% behind Hoesterey when
she commends the work of the late Derek Jarman, a pure genius if ever
there was one. I agree with her praise of Peter Greenaway or David
Lynch, but I refuse to even try to see what might be interesting about
the would-be pastiche of Lars von Trier. I call it rip-off, in every
sense of the word; and believe me, I know I am an endangered minority
on this one. But dont let me get carried away. Mercifully, Hoesterey
ends her brief exploration of cinematic pastiche with Quentin Tarantino.
Pulp Fiction, she writes, is already historic, a stroke
of genius that is hard to follow. Quite.
Then, Hoesterey deals with literary pastiche. She appropriately starts
with Jorge Luis Borges, the author of Pierre Ménard autor
del Quijote, the ur-pastiche, what Jean Franco calls the ur-text
of contemporary Latin American pastiche. As I always say, if Flaubert
is the grandfather of the postmodern in literature, Borges and Nabokov
are its joint fathers. Borges is followed by Donald Barthelme, Milan
Kundera, Ilya Kabakov, Christoph Ransmayr, A.S. Byatt, Umberto Eco,
Patrick Süskind, Tom Stoppard, Terry Eagleton, David Lodge, Heiner
Müller, Roberto Calasso, Julian Barnes (Flauberts Parrot
of course), and Avital Ronell. There were two writers in that
list Im ashamed to say Id never heard of. I would not
have made the same choice as far as Barthelme is concerned (Conversations
with Goethe), but then I am not a Germanic Studies specialist.
I am, though, utterly scandalized by the conspicuous absence of John
To conclude, Hoesterey convokes Wittgenstein, Lyotard and Baudrillard
to glance at popular culture. She confesses that she is not a specialist,
which is just as well, because she then writes quite seriously: What
I do know is that the old opposition of high and low culture has been
challenged in many quarters by popular music culture, once the vernacular
that appealed only to the taste of the masses. You dont
say. She is soon forgiven, however, when she asserts: Even a
cursory familiarity with Madonnas styles leaves no doubt that
the Material Girl is an artist at deconstructive practices, whether
it is [sic] the ironic disjunction between performance and lyrics
or rapidly changing pastiche moves that dismantle what they seem to
fetishize. I couldnt agree more. Dont you know,
some of us have built entire careers on that sort of statement.