Thursday, November 15, 2007

Homage vs. Pastiche?

Where would you draw the line between these two? When does an homage to a particular writer/style/work become simply a pastiche?

Part of this comes from my thinking about the Boskrea stories, which some of you know. They're all unpublished so far, but those in a critique group with me should recognize them. From the beginning one of my main goals with these stories was to challenge myself, to experiment with a variety of ways of telling a story. Part of that has included some self-aware patterning after certain Borges stories or Lovecraft or Calvino. Not all the stories fit that mold, but it's something that's come up various times. If any of those crosses the line from homage to pastiche, it's probably the Lovecraft one--I probably have enough distance from it now I should reread it and see.

But now I'm playing with the idea of another, except this time instead of it harkening to any particular writer, it'll be a nod toward a certain non-Western work that's sort of a genre to itself. But a part of me worries about simply co-opting the form. As I see it there are two major pitfalls to avoid. The first is simply transplanting the work as close as possible into my Boskrea setting. In one sense that's faithful to the original work, the original intent...but the lack of creativity will show that it's merely a superficial resemblance. The other pitfall is to simply take a vague impression of the original and then plow on ahead with my Western eyes. It's a way of colonizing the unfamiliar, and artistically (as well as ethically) it seems just as bankrupt. So I guess I'm trying to understand the work better, to get down underneath it and know more than just its surface. The story that results will probably have some superficial resemblance as well as some jarring differences, but I hope that underneath it's a respectful homage to that other work.

We'll see (I'm still not focusing at all on creating new things, so I'm not sure even when I might get around to this). But I'd love to hear any other thoughts on this--homage vs. pastiche, broadening the sources of fantasy (etc.) vs. co-opting and colonizing them.


Lion said...

Hmm... as for homages to other authors, I imagine the distinction lies mostly in how established you are. People are more likely to accept that you're doing honor rather than piracy if you already have a respectable body of work that's not alluding to other sources as closely.

A less cynical idea is that you have to be able to inject as much of your own style alongside that of the other... like when musicians do covers of songs. If they just imitate the first version exactly, what's the point? Unless you're a college band trying to make money on the frat house circuit or something, but that's not what I'm talking about. Alien Ant Farm's cover of "Smooth Criminal" works because it's faithful to the original while having an undeniable hard rock performance. It's much harder to do this with language than with music, though... music follows a script that can be modified for style. Stories can't do that.

Reaching into other cultures is more difficult for all the reasons you said. It's so easy to be superficial. That was the main beef I had with that agent site that said they wanted stories like LOTR populated with non-white people--what you're suggesting could easily become the opposite, a non-western culture populated by western characters. It's a conundrum.

Daniel Ausema said...

Funny you bring up music, since I started thinking about the whole field of world music as relates to my second question. I know some people don't like, for example, Paul Simon's Graceland because in their minds it takes advantage of them....but I consider it one of my favorite albums. Or, back in high school one of my favorite bands (Bibsy, cover your eyes) was Def Leppard, and sometime in college they came out with an album that included some Indian rhythms and instrumentation to it--I never bought the album, since I wasn't as much a fan anymore, but I did really like that aspect.

So yeah, it's a bit of a question I don't have the answer to. I love your first, cynical response, though =)

Lion said...

I think I remember you mentioned also liking Sting's "Desert Rose," which is a departure from his usual into a different culture. Very popular.

The Beatles' sitar phase was kind of weird and inexplicable, though...

Daniel Ausema said...

Yeah, I'm not a huge Sting fan, but I did like that song a lot. I'm not as familiar with the Beatles as many people are, so I knew a song or two where they used sitar, but I hadn't really paid attention. A local radio station, though, plays Breakfast with the Beatles on Sundays, and I heard a song of theirs I hadn't been familiar with that used sitar, and I really liked that particular one (have no idea its name).

I'm also likely to go straight to what my library calls "International" when I decide to check out CDs there, and I own a handful that are genuinely from non-Western artists (Ladysmith Black Mambazo, various Rock en EspaƱol artists, etc.), so it isn't that I only like such things when it's married to a more typical artist or approach. But I do like it when someone brings different influences together.