In his discussion of parody in “The Epic and the Novel,” Mikhail Bakhtin departs from the customary focus on parody as a humorous, satiric interpretation of an earlier original. Instead, he emphasizes parody as an original, creative endeavor that has numerous unique, positive characteristics. His analysis of parody is offered as part of the criteria that distinguish the novel, a modern genre, from the earlier epic.
For Bakhtin, the novel radically departed from the singular, normative model that the epic presented: it contained a unitary voice that offered a vision of state-sanctioned and often church-sanctioned history and national origins and thereby quelled dissent. Parody, Bakhtin claims, is radically different, because it contains multiple voices: the condition of “heteroglossia.” This multiplicity accentuates disagreement and heterodoxy—all of which may challenge the authority of the state. This condition is important because it anticipates the open competition of thoughts and voices that characterizes the post-feudal modern age. Parody thus was an intermediate step that enabled the democratic genre of the novel.
The specifically humorous aspect of parody is important, because its humor is derived from insider understanding of the issues that are raised. As the parodist anticipates their reader’s comprehension, the writer enters into a dialogic relationship with that reader, whom they trust will share critical perspectives on the subject being parodied.