What Is Pastiche?

Pastiche is any form of art that deliberately copies the work of a different artist, a different style, or a different period. Pastiche is not parody or satire. Rather, it is a sincere homage to the style of the other artist or writer. Coming from the Italian, pasticchio, a kind of pie, a pastiche takes the “ingredients” of existing masterworks and recombines them in a new work.

Most often, pastiche does not attain the literary stature of the original being imitated, but there are exceptions. Milan Kundera borrowed heavily from eighteenth-century writers like Diderot, Voltaire, and Fielding, a fact that he acknowledges in The Art of Fiction. 

How Do You Identify Pastiche in Writing?

Although literary pastiche has been around in some form or other for centuries — Milton’s Paradise Lost is arguably pastiche — it became more popular in the postmodern period because postmodernism relies heavily on the concepts of romantic irony and intertextuality. Romantic irony, or the writer’s consciousness that he is writing fiction — an awareness of the “fourth wall” that separates the work from its audience — has the postmodern author self-consciously reference the original period or author. Literary authors who write pastiche also imagine a kind of dialogue with the original author or work.

Pastiche can be a tribute to one literary period; it can re-imagine a character in new circumstances; or it can reference several writers  in a hodgepodge of different literary styles. Pastiche may take the form of underground fan fiction or be an attempt at high art. The distinguishing feature of pastiche is that the author openly acknowledges her source.

Examples of Pastiche

Pastiche Example 1. E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Gray is a pastiche that imagines two characters from the famous Twilight series, Bella and Edward, in new roles.

Pastiche Example 2. Milan Kundera borrows self-consciously from the eighteenth-century writers like Diderot in his novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Pastiche Example 3. The Black Veil: A Memoir with Digressions is Rick Moody’s pastiche tribute to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous story, “The Minister’s Black Veil.”

Pastiche Example 4. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard’s existential play, takes two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and works an entire narrative around their insignificance.

Pastiche Example 5. David Lodge’s The British Museum is Falling Down, suggests pastiche even in its title. The book imitates ten different authors, including Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, and Ernest Hemingway.

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