The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018


Pastiche: A literary, musical, or artistic work that imitates another’s recognizable style or pieces together a medley of often incongruous elements from a number of existing works. Pastiche may have humorous, satirical, or serious intent or may simply serve as an exercise in technique. Most literary critics use the term descriptively, but some use it dismissively to describe a work that is deemed highly derivative. Pastiche should not be confused with plagiarism, in which one author steals a passage or idea from another, passing it off as his or her own and failing to credit the original source. Plagiarism is characterized by deceptive intent; pastiche involves open imitation or borrowing and often pays homage to its sources.

Pastiche, which may involve sustained satirical imitation of a particular author’s style, is sometimes treated synonymously with parody but is more often distinguished from the latter by its respectful tone. In Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991), Marxist critic Fredric Jameson characterized pastiche as “blank parody,” arguing that it is “a neutral practice of such mimicry, without any of parody’s ulterior motives, amputated of the satiric impulse, devoid of laughter.”

EXAMPLES: Marcel Proust’s Pastiches et mélanges (1919). Some of Carl Sandburg’s poetry could be referred to as “Walt Whitman pastiche.” Sherlockian pastiche has become a minor literary industry thanks to works such as The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes (1954), by Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickson Carr, and The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1985), a collection edited by Richard Lancelyn Green. The Coen brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) is also pastiche, borrowing heavily from Homer’s The Odyssey (c. 850 B.C.), among other sources.

The anachronistic musical score of the movie Moulin Rouge (2001), set in Paris at the end of the nineteenth century, is a pastiche of late-twentieth-century popular songs such as Elton John’s “Your Song” (1970) and Sting’s “Roxanne” (1978). Through use of the technique known as “sampling” — borrowing riffs from other, well-known songs — rap artists have also created works that involve pastiche in the sense of “medley.”