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Author Topic: Pastiche in Roleplaying  (Read 11915 times)
Ian Charvill
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« on: January 31, 2004, 03:21:43 AM »

Ron's clarifications over in The Roots of Sim (Response to Nar Essay) are very important if pastiche is to become part of The Forge lexicon.

Quote
1. Non-Narrativist play which produces a story does not necessarily produce pastiche. It often does, and there are some easy-to-understand reasons why it tends that way.

2. Narrativist play, which does tend to produce stories reliably, may well produce pastiche in doing so. However, it lacks some of the reasons that other forms of play tend to produce pastiche.


The following two points.  Firstly, that pastiche is both a form and a technique.  The Wasteland by T S Elliott relies on pastiche heavily for effect.  The whole of post-modernism, as a movement, is reliant on it.  Jazz would struggle without it.  Pastiche is part of the satirical tradition (though people tend to mislable the latter as parody, even if it involves no element of exaggeraton) - which is all to say that pastiche is a valid literary form and has produced some highly effective works of art.

Further, Quentin Tarantino is an exemplar of pastiche.  Within the world of SF one could reference Philip Jose Farmer's retelling of Tarzen - Edgar Rice Burroughs in the style of William S.  Back to pop cuture: a great deal of delight can be taken from The Simpson's use of visual pastiche.

Pastiche is a way of quoting and evoking.  As a technique is can be used well or badly.  As an adjective, it should be considered as value-nuetral, it's use descriptive not judgmental.

Secondly, role playing in all modes is heavily reliant on pastiche.  Let's do the GNS boogie:

G - Hackmaster is a pastiche of AD&D
N - Over the Edge is a very eclectic pastiche but the Burroughs rather leaps out
S - Vampire (1st Ed) is heavily reliant on pastiche of Anne Rice.

Further: D&D's Forgotten Realms, RoS's Weyrth, WHFRP Old World and 7th Sea's Theah all pastiche historical nations.

And the Forge Boogie: My Life with Master (Gothic Romances), Donjon (D&D), Elfs (ditto), and so on.

I would close with a sincere hope: that people refrain from using pastiche in a pejorative sense and that especially that people do not mistakenly associate pastiche with simulationism.
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Ian Charvill
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2004, 01:35:38 PM »

Hiya,

I dunno, Ian, it seems to me that you are saying one very good thing and one kind of off-base thing.

The good thing is the value-neutral part - or perhaps more accurately, keeping a jugment about pastiche personal and taking responsibility for it, rather than expecting anyone or everyone to share/accept that judgment.

E.g., when it comes to certain art forms (novels), I loathe pastiche. But in certain action movies, I like it once in a while. And in other movies, specifically romantic comedies, I vastly prefer the pastiche to the core material.

So do I make value judgments, using phrases like "merely pastiche, pish-posh" and so on? Yeah. But they are only indicators of my parameters for satisfaction, and my failing, if I did it, would be to expect my like/not-like to drive others' judgments.

Now, the off-base thing, in my view, is that you seem to be equating pastiche with "influence." If Thelonius Monk refines and extracts the features of certain blues tunes, then expresses them in the most minimalist ker-tunk playing possible ... is that pastiche? I tend not to think so; that thought is based on the idea that Monk's music is listenable without knowing its blues-roots.

(A certain form of conoisseurship does exist which demands such an in-depth knowledge, but it is, I think, so objectionable to the rest of us that I shall cruelly discount it.)

I thought that my dialogue with Jesse covered this issue, that "well then it's all pastiche unless it's 100% original" isn't a necessary conclusion.

Best,
Ron
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sirogit
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« Reply #2 on: February 01, 2004, 07:34:37 PM »

From my limited understandings of the game, I would some that were listed wern't pastiche-dependant.  

1. Hackmaster is a parody of D&D/traditional gaming. The traditionial definition of pastiche is connected to satire and parody so, yes, it being full of pastiche is ingrained in the concept.

2. Over The Edge: It definatrely has some sense of pastiche in it, yes, taking cocnepts from burroughs and presenting them to drum up those feelings in his fans. But other parts of the game are more about a burroughs-esque theme, of being an odd character in a really odd island with conspiracies tripping over each other.

3. Vampire: Very Pastiche-dependant, your call was spot on. in the Vampire book there's lots of cases where you're presented with things from an odd collections of Vampire films, and it says that you're supposed to feel a certain way about them, validating it's arguement by the feelings that were expressed in the original medium.

4. My life with Master: I'd say calling it pastiche is Waaaaaaay off. Gothic romances are usually based on similar themes, settings and situation. My Life with Master is a Gothic Romance RPG. In using the Gothic Romance genre, it by default uses the themes, settings and situations that are default to it. Because of this the game will usually produce elements that are very much similar to gothic romances, but that doesn't make it pastiche. For example, in Bram Strokers Dracula, we're not scared of Dracula because him living in a european castle reminds us of Frankenstien giving us the chills.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: February 02, 2004, 08:10:51 AM »

Hi there,

Sirogit, nice calls. I agree with your assessments in full.

Best,
Ron
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Ian Charvill
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« Reply #4 on: February 02, 2004, 12:18:52 PM »

I should add the caveat that some of the games mentioned, I know by reputation rather than play.  Frex, the accounts of play I've come across for Hackmaster don't suggest much parody is going on, rather that the play is sincere.  So I may not be 100% accurate on all counts, and opinions will of course vary on how much of each game is pastiche, how much in an original voice.  For me, the minions + master set up of MLWM relied on prior understanding of motifs gothic lit/movies in order to energise those motifs in play.  That there may be far more to that game than that - and that the 'far more' is original rather than pastiche - is fine.

Similarly, jazz isn't my area of expertise.  I had the impression that people playing jazz sometimes 'quote' other kinds of music, then do variations on those 'quotes' - and produce tunes reliant on those quotes for effect.  But if someone more knowledgable about jazz wants to say, sure they do that but not in the sense or extent that 'pastiche' would indicate, then I'll go along with that quite happily.

Which is to say, I find no specific value in any one of the examples in my post, but rather I think the argumentative force comes from the number of them.  That (a) there's an awful lot of literature and music and painting that is reliant on pastiche for effect and some part of that awful lot is good literature and music and painting and that furthermore (b) role playing games feature pastiche, through all modes.  Arguing that sim games tend to feature pastiche more heavily or centrally than narrativist games is, I don't know, not much of an area of concern for me.

I guess you could boil my entire first post down to - let's not use pastiche to mean the use of genre cliche - with a corollary of lets not reject pastiche when it can be so damn good used right.
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Ian Charvill
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« Reply #5 on: February 02, 2004, 01:30:54 PM »

I would go so far as to say the pastiche nature of RPGs is what attracts me to them.  Basically, they take icons in pop culture, smelt them, and make a new monstrosity complete with character sheets for those of us who can appreciate such a thing.  D&D is pastiche of various forms of fantasy, mythology, and folklore with a psychotically violent twist.  However, regardless of what quirks and flaws it has, it is an honest expression of these fantasy trends that has been made into something uniquely its own.  I never liked the RPGs based on some other piece of fiction.  Aside from Star Wars, it doesn't seem like they usually do very well.  I'd just as soon play Traveller, or play Aberrant instead of Marvel, or Vampire instead of Buffy, or Unknown Armies instead of MIB.  Not that I dislike any of the other fictional sources (except Buffy--blechh), but I so much prefer helping create something completely new and original instead.  Maybe it doesn't make any sense, but I prefer to meld various sources of inspiration into something new.  It lets people put their own intepretation on it.  I kind of like the dorky arguments I have with gamers about what Clan the Lost Boys belong to (Ravnos, btw), or  whether Legolas is a Ranger or a Fighter with bow specialization.  Seeing new sources that you can fit into that pastiche spark all kinds of new ideas.  It takes on a life of its own instead of borrowing the life of a TV series or movie or comic book.

I definitely don't think there's any shame in relying on pastiches.  It doesn't mean you're being unoriginal or ripping someone off.  I think there is something to be said for how talented someone is at sticking all these things together in a coherent manner that gives the desired impression of the underlying theme.
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Greg Jensen
John Kim
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« Reply #6 on: February 02, 2004, 02:03:16 PM »

Quote from: sirogit
  2. Over The Edge: It definatrely has some sense of pastiche in it, yes, taking cocnepts from burroughs and presenting them to drum up those feelings in his fans. But other parts of the game are more about a burroughs-esque theme, of being an odd character in a really odd island with conspiracies tripping over each other.

3. Vampire: Very Pastiche-dependant, your call was spot on. in the Vampire book there's lots of cases where you're presented with things from an odd collections of Vampire films, and it says that you're supposed to feel a certain way about them, validating it's arguement by the feelings that were expressed in the original medium.  

You seem to be using this to promote a negative view of pastiche in opposition to Ian's original point.  For example, you characterize Over the Edge's use of earlier tropes as simply trying to drum up feeling in fans of Burroughs.  Ian's point was that a reference doesn't just have to be a way to weakly ride on another's coattails -- it can be a transformative expression.  Satire is one example of this, but there are many others.  For example, the Cut-Ups Project is a reference to the artistic movement of Dadaism.  Within the game-world, the Cut-Ups are trying to change reality in the same way that the Dadaists were trying to change art.  As presented in the main book, I think this isn't going to be very interesting without knowing about Dadaism.  But I also think it isn't just an attempt to score points by putting in a reference.  

From my own experience, I know that I ran a Star Trek game which was full of references to the original series.  Like OtE, I think it used those references to reinterpret and add new meaning to the events it was referencing.  In particular, I projected the view of the Federation as a democracy.  It was sort of assumed in the series that the Federation was a democracy, but the series also projected the idea that the Federation had fixed ideals.  In my campaign, we saw discord and political maneuvering over those ideals.  

I think the same is true of Vampire: The Masquerade.  While I am not fond of the mechanics or the pretentious tone, I think the game itself is still a separate artistic work which has its own meaning.  I think the primary difference from OtE isn't in the backgroudn, but rather that OtE has an open-ended character generation system which allows a much broader range of PCs.  For V:tM, the social structure it invents for vampires changes vastly the view of vampires in Anne Rice.  I dislike the message in the categories, but it is its own work.  While Rice celebrated the destructive individuality of rebels, Vampire: The Masquerade seems to take up the side of the conformists.  So while I don't like it, I do think it is a transformative work of pastiche.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2004, 02:32:28 PM »

Hello,

John, I think you're poorly addressing Sirogit's comments. He identifies Over the Edge as being low-pastiche, very much in line with the "interpretation of influence" that you are describing.

More importantly, you interject "simply" into your paraphrase of his statement, as a judgment on his part which he, in fact, did not present.

I consider your inference of a negative judgment to be (a) not justified and (b) generally a form of argument which I as moderator am not going to permit further from anyone in discussions at the Forge.

In the future, when your point relies on "just knowing" that there "seems" to be an "implication" - without direct and clear verbiage of the meaning you're inferring in the post - please refrain from incorporating that perception (I use the term loosely) on your part into your reply.

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2004, 02:43:20 PM »

Hi Ian,

Quote
... you could boil my entire first post down to - let's not use pastiche to mean the use of genre cliche - with a corollary of lets not reject pastiche when it can be so damn good used right.


Well, let's look at this a little more. "Genre cliche" ... what does it mean when you remove the film-snob negative judgment from it?

It means what I'm saying pastiche is: presentation of familiar tropes which convey meaning mainly due to that familiarity with specific past presentations. And that's no bad thing. It's not the same as a story which stands on its own two feet, but that doesn't mean it's (a) morally bankrupt, (b) fit only for stupid people, (c) lazy, or (d) unsophisticated.

Can that be done well? Sure! As I said before, I like romantic comedy pastiche better than I like romantic comedy - e.g. Sleepless in Seattle, which is way more enjoyable for me than most of the movies it draws from.

If you want, check back on my essay Simulationism: the Right to Dream, and I think you'll find this point in it, waiting to give you a big hug.

John, I definitely agree with you about the transformative nature of the kind of literature/etc you're talking about. Once that phenomenon is identified, I think the work in question isn't pastiche any more at all, though. The "comment" becomes an original theme of its own.

Whether Vampire qualifies in that regard, I think we can chalk up to differences of interpretation & judgment of the work.

Best,
Ron[/quote]
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John Kim
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« Reply #9 on: February 02, 2004, 03:04:52 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
 It means what I'm saying pastiche is: presentation of familiar tropes which convey meaning mainly due to that familiarity with specific past presentations. And that's no bad thing.
...
John, I definitely agree with you about the transformative nature of the kind of literature/etc you're talking about. Once that phenomenon is identified, I think the work in question isn't pastiche any more at all, though. The "comment" becomes an original theme of its own.  

Well, it is according to your definition as phrased.  For example, my Star Trek game required familiarity with the Star Trek original series.  It didn't stand on its own two feet, as you put it.  Someone who wasn't familiar with the original series simply wouldn't have understood what was going on.  However, it also had original theme of its own -- because the same tropes were cast in a new light by the addition of other elements.  

If you limit the definition of "pastiche" to be solely presentation which adds nothing to the original, then I disagree with the conclusion that it is no bad thing.  It is bad.  It is fundamentally less interesting than just viewing the original material over again.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: February 02, 2004, 04:10:40 PM »

Hi John,

Quote
If you limit the definition of "pastiche" to be solely presentation which adds nothing to the original, then I disagree with the conclusion that it is no bad thing. It is bad. It is fundamentally less interesting than just viewing the original material over again.


Wow, that's a personal call, don't you think? I mean, the "bad" part?

I'm not much of a relativist, in that I usually think "Well, whatever each person thinks is the right thing for them, la-di-da," is a moronic outlook. But in this case, I'm willing to spot each person his or her own tolerance level for pastiche in their creative leisure time.

It seems to me, by your account, that your Star Trek game (I wasn't there, so I dunno for sure) went beyond pastiche or homage to a refinement or commentary of Star Trek per se. Or maybe it didn't; maybe it was the equivalent of what Sleepless in Seattle is to (um) Pretty Woman or The Wedding Singer: an especially good pastiche (speaking personally). I'm totally willing to accept your evaluation that it was more like the former. Either way, though, isn't that ... well, all right or not according to whatever the group really wanted it to be?

I'm sort of under the impression that Ian is aiming at a "let's not sneer at pastiche" point, and my attempted contribution is to say, "Right, and let's not pull the wool over our eyes about what it is, either."

What's another way to put it ... ah! You've seen Forbidden Planet, I trust. Well, it's not real hard for me to see Star Trek apparently begin as a Forbidden Planet pastiche ("let's do FB as a TV show! yeah!")* ... and then, pretty much immediately, warp (heh) into something really its own, really well, in my view (I like the old show a lot).

So influence, even extraordinarily direct influence, isn't pastiche. It may be that your Star Trek game would be more accessible to a hypothetical audience than you think, if the in-game events carried the integral power which (I have full faith) that your group brought to its own setting/conventions/etc.

Ah! Here's another way to say it. (Ahem) Your preferred mode of role-playing, based on all your comments at the Forge, strikes me as rather intensely Narrativist (sub-set Vanilla), going by my model. I could be wrong, but just this once, bear with me. This happens to accord with my preferences, and as a fellow artist, I agree with you about pastiche. I might enjoy it in limited doses as an audience member in some media, but I really, really don't take great pleasure in creating it.

"Hey Ron, do you like pastiche in your role-playing?"
"Verily, I doth spit upon it. Ptoo, ptoo."

But ... um ... bad for me (or us) isn't, you know ... bad. As I see it.

Best,
Ron

* Roddenberry-ites who are shocked by this non-fandom view of the origin of "their" show may refrain from responding. There are use-groups and chat-rooms for you to vent in.
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John Kim
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« Reply #11 on: February 02, 2004, 04:53:05 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Quote
If you limit the definition of "pastiche" to be solely presentation which adds nothing to the original, then I disagree with the conclusion that it is no bad thing. It is bad. It is fundamentally less interesting than just viewing the original material over again.

Wow, that's a personal call, don't you think? I mean, the "bad" part?

Well, that's sort of by definition.  If it adds nothing, then yes it is bad.  If it isn't bad, then it adds something.  

Quote from: Ron Edwards
It seems to me, by your account, that your Star Trek game (I wasn't there, so I dunno for sure) went beyond pastiche or homage to a refinement or commentary of Star Trek per se. Or maybe it didn't; maybe it was the equivalent of what Sleepless in Seattle is to (um) Pretty Woman or The Wedding Singer: an especially good pastiche (speaking personally).

Well, I liked "Sleepless in Seattle" as well, and I think it was so because it certainly was a commentary and refinement.  The whole movie revolved around romantic images which are built up by old romantic movies -- very specifically "An Affair To Remember", but many old romantic movies in general.  This was explicit commentary, where the characters talked about love stories and how their vision of love was influenced by the movies which they watched.  Part of the humor of the film is how Annie is a neurotic wreck over her idolization of the romance in old films -- but in turn Sam is equally screwed up over his refusal of that sort of cathartic release.  

Now, I gather from context you're not one for romantic films in general.  Probably you just watched it and thought "Oh, it throws together a bunch of tropes from other movies, but I kinda like it" without much analysis.  And I would say that a good film doesn't require intellectual analysis of the themes and usage.  You watch it and you think "Gee, that was cool" -- but what makes it cool is the many layers of meaning which go on underneath the surface.  It doesn't just refer to "An Affair to Remember"; it uses it for its own themes.  

In my opinion, the same is true of any other good pastiche.  

A parallel example comes to mind from my Star Trek campaign.  There was a point where they talked to a Klingon prisoner about propaganda.  He pointed to a popular novel within that universe -- which was a parallel to Tom Clancy novels, but it also projected the swaggering, patriotic image of Kirk in certain original series episodes.  This was part of the fiction of the world.  By comparing it with Klingon propaganda, the prisoner called into question how free thought really was in a supposedly 'free' society.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: February 02, 2004, 08:44:23 PM »

Hello,

Cheese and rice, John, is it possible to have a discussion with you without constantly being wary for your constant trivialization of the other's position?

Assume that I'm familiar with An Affair to Remember, and a multitude of other movies that influenced Sleepless in Seattle. Likewise assume that I employ at least moderately competent skills in appreciating its themes. You might not agree with my conclusion ("Sleepless in Seattle" is enjoyable pastiche), but you don't have to, for purposes of the discussion. You are required, at the Forge, to assume that the other person - every person you choose to reply to - is not a snap-judgment, superficial yipyapper.

For instance, it doesn't matter whether you agree or disagree that this movie, specifically, represents classy pastiche or a sophisticated re-vamp re-tooling with its own legs ... what we're discussing is the former category. Pick your own example, if you must, and keep it in your own head, for purposes of the discussion. Quibbling about my example as a primary point is a digression from our shared attempt at mutual respect and understanding.

Clearly there's no real point in continuing when my questions (e.g. the Narrativist stuff) are ignored and the pointed trivializing tactics begin. Here's my last thought on this issue: You are of course free to consider pastiche (as I've defined it, which to my knowledge is nothing special or different from the ordinary definition of the word) a "bad" thing. I don't, although I dislike doing it, personally. We disagree. That's all right.

A recommendation for you: when the other person says something reasonable, say so. If it is apparently or evidently wrong, say so with respect, which is a great deal more important than mere courtesy. "Ron, that makes sense about Star Trek." Or, "Ron, I see what you're saying about Star Trek, but I disagree because of X." Or, "Ron, I don't understand you: your point about Star Trek seems nonsensical because of X. Can you explain it better?" Or finally, "Ron, that is demonstrably false because X can't work, as follows." (I chose the Star Trek example because you said nothing about my point.)

There is fog, composed of empty courtesy and well-constructed sentences, often hiding attempts to harm the other person's image and to elide the points they're making. Then there is respect, which cannot be faked and is absolutely required here.

Best,
Ron
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sirogit
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« Reply #13 on: February 02, 2004, 09:53:52 PM »

I would first like to say that the dependance of pastiche, while having a heavy effect on the substance of medium and therefore a heavy effect on the medium's quality, is not correlatable to good/bad. I happen to like the style of MlwM which is pastiche-free and dislike the style of vampire which I find pastiche-heavy.

Though I agree with what was said about Over the Edge's pastiche having a transformative quality, I personally appreciate it's pastiche content as is, even though I don't think it's nessecary at all for the game in it's default settings. I loved Naked Lunch, The Early Routines, and other works by Burroughs, and I dig running into something in OtE that reminds me of it and gives me that sort of jolt. Infact, before I got into the indie roleplaying scene, someone recommended me OtE calling it "The William Burroughs RPG", and I thought, wow, cool, and today I have pretty much the same opinion.  
 
Strangely enough, one of the few action films I've enjoyed was Con Air, and I've never seen Die Hard so it really can't remind me of anything from it. However, I've seen quite a few action films so I think it's possible that the Pastiches consistantly burrowed from Die Hard in action movies can make some sort of collective expiereince identical to actually viewing the original expiereince. I've felt like a similar process with reading alot of sub-standard fantasy books that involved pastiche from Elric eventually giving the pastiche a certain evocation.
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clehrich
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« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2004, 07:33:46 AM »

Okay, this is clearly getting personal all around.  I'm going to make a stab at clarification:
Quote from: Ron, in the Nar essay,
It's not the "new-ness" of the Premise or theme, it's its presence and power in the particular story. Pastiche has no such presence or power, just reminders of them in other stories through common motifs. Many romantic comedies are indeed pastiche (some of them quite clever), but a certain number of them are not - and whether they say the same thing as, say, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes or The Devil and Miss Jones is irrelevant. The point is whether they as self-contained stories actually do say it, or anything at all.
What I thought Ian was saying at the outset of this thread was that pastiche can have its own "presence and power," dependent to a considerable degree on reference to other texts; I note his mention of postmodernism, and I think he means what's sometimes called the "depthless" character of postmodern texts.  As I understand it, Ron's defined pastiche such that it cannot have this "presence and power," and it is this that I think Ian and John dispute.
Quote from: John Kim
If you limit the definition of "pastiche" to be solely presentation which adds nothing to the original, then I disagree with the conclusion that it is no bad thing. It is bad. It is fundamentally less interesting than just viewing the original material over again.
If indeed the definition of pastiche amounts to pure rehash, without any possibility for "presence and power," even if it is something that the players in question enjoy, then I can see why John thinks this is a negative judgment.

If I understand correctly, John would like to expand the definition of pastiche such that it requires
    (1) Extensive reference to specific exterior material, without which the pastiche would be incomprehensible and pointless; and
    (2) Reworking and indeed rehashing of stock themes from that material.[/list:u]At the same time, John suggests that one can do all this and still have a partly original and dynamic game, novel, etc.  That is, the limitations imposed by this definition need not be complete.

    Questions:
    [*]If the definition were so expanded, would it collapse what Ron is doing with "pastiche," as a term and category, in the Nar. essay?
    [*]If the definition cannot be so expanded, is it unreasonable to see pastiche as fundamentally a lesser category of product?
    [*]Is this more limited structure in fact how Ron defines pastiche?
    [*]Is this more expanded structure in fact how John would like to re-define pastiche?[/list:u]Frankly, I don't think anybody is trying to trivialize anyone else's points here, and I'm not sure why this has all gone so ugly so fast.

    Chris Lehrich
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    Chris Lehrich
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