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The Penelopiad and Weight Contemporary Parodic and Burlesque

The Penelopiad and Weight Contemporary Parodic and Burlesque

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The Penelopiad and Weight: Contemporary Parodic and BurlesqueTransformations of Classical Myths
Hilde Staels
College Literature, 36.4, Fall 2009, pp. 100-118 (Article)
Published by West Chester University
DOI: 10.1353/lit.0.0080 
For additional information about this article
Access Provided by Virtual University of Pakistan at 06/17/11 2:25PM GMT
anongate publishing house launched aseries
The Myths
in 2005 with the inten-tion of having one hundred mythsretold by the year 2038. Margaret Atwoodand JeanetteWinterson took up the challengeof rewriting the first discursive genre in cre-ating novellas about the mythical figuresPenelope and Atlas. In
The Penelopia
, Atwood and Winterson respectivelytransform classical myths by means of parodyand burlesque travesty.In spite of obvious dif-ferences, the two novellas display interestingsimilarities in terms of narrative techniqueand thematic concerns. The ancient mythsabout Penelope and Atlas appear as intertextsin a generically hybrid text that parodicallydisrupts the hierarchy between ‘high’ and‘low’ literary genres.The classical myths aretransformed by means of demythologizingdevices and burlesque conventions of theGreek satyr play and the Menippean satire.
The Penelopiad 
:Contemporary Parodic and BurlesqueTransformations of Classical Myths
Hilde Staels
Hilde Staels is an associate pro-  fessor of English literature at the University of Leuven inBelgium. She is the author of  
Margaret Atwood’s Novels:AStudy of Narrative Discourse
The various formal transformations are supported by the prominent appear-ance of the trickster figure who functions as a transformation archetype inthe narrative texts.Next to liberating the text from generic constraints,bothnovelists aim at liberating the protagonists from the boundaries and limita-tions of the ancient epic story world.In using parody and burlesque travesty as transformative narrative tools,the authors create a continuity with a tradition of rewriting classical mythol-ogy.They however also establish a discontinuity with the past in employinga technique of (metafictional) parody that the Canadian literary theoristLinda Hutcheon discusses as specific to contemporary literary practice.In
ATheory of Parody
, Hutcheon first deals with the definitions and confusions inliterary theory and criticism with respect to the notion of parody,after whichshe offers a working definition of her own.For the analysis of parody in
The Penelopiad 
, I shall rely on Hutcheon’s own influential definitionof postmodern (metafictional) parody as “repetition with critical difference”(1985, 32), whereby a text or genre convention is imitated and transformedby means of ironic inversion.In defining postmodern (metafictional) parodyin these terms, Linda Hutcheon emphasizes parody’s serious critical intent.Though she agrees that parody,burlesque and travesty are related,in her viewthey are distinct, for burlesque and travesty primarily involve comedy or ridicule while parody does not automatically imply a degradation:
There is nothing in
that necessitates the inclusion of a concept of ridicule, as there is, for instance, in the joke or 
of burlesque. Parody,then,in its ironic“trans-contextualization”and inversion,is repetition withdifference. A critical distance is implied between the backgrounded textbeing parodied and the new incorporating work,a distance usually signaledby irony. But this irony can be playful as well as belittling; it can be criti-cally constructive as well as destructive. (Hutcheon 1985, 32)
Hutcheon defines metafictional parody as a technique that focuses oninherent limitations of past forms of writing. It underlines the inbuilt histor-ical character of modes of writing in terms of form, style and subject matter.In both
The Penelopiad 
,metafictional parody is indeed used to seri-ously rework a literary model,the high epic genre,and to call attention to itsconventions and limitations by putting it in a new,contemporary context.Whereas Linda Hutcheon proposes to distinguish parody, with its seri-ous intention,from travesty with its humorous or comic effects,the terms areused interchangeably by the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin. LikeAristotle in
The Poetics
,Bakhtin speaks about parody while dealing with trav-esty in the Greek satyr play.In the ensuing analysis of burlesque transforma-tions of the Penelope and Atlas myth, the novelists will be shown to rely, inpart, on genre conventions of the satyr play.The latter was introduced to
Hilde Staels

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