..."To Harry Houdini,' he intoned, 'she is always the woman."
This brief reference to one of my early Holmes storie[s] was clearly intended to flatter the detective. Houdini could not have known that Holmes seldom remembered anything but the titles of my stories, when he bothered to read them at all, so it meant nothing to him.
--Daniel Stashower, The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Ectoplasmic Man (32)
Holmes smiled. "You really should try to avoid quoting yourself, Watson--it gives the impression that you've run dry of ideas."
I laughed. "I didn't think you read my stories."
"Oh, I read them, I just don't always agree with them."
--Carole Buggé, The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Star of India (173)
I've been re-immersing myself in the world of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, preparatory to the Holmes & adaptation/appropriation course I'm teaching this spring. The two metafictional (and mutually contradictory) excerpts above mock the centrality of quotation to pastiche, even while mobilizing it: such novels announce "Hey, I'm a Sherlock Holmes novel!" by working in as many comforting and recognizable references to the canon as they can. Frederic Jameson had good reason to call pastiche "blank parody," a parody "amputated of the satiric impulse"1: even the jokiness of these two examples provides yet another excuse to make it clear that in these novels, not only are Holmes and Watson given to quoting themselves endlessly, but they quote themselves endlessly even when, in Holmes' case, he doesn't know what he's quoting. The language becomes scenery, as it were; games are afoot, Watson needs to lug his service revolver along, etc., etc., etc. One ticks off the boxes.
If Amazon reviews of books like this are any indication, one of the prime motivators for consuming pastiches--part of the phenomenon that Frank Kelleter and others have theorized as popular seriality--is frustration: readers simultaeously frustrated by the lack of any additional canonical Holmes (after all, we're hardly likely to turn up Doyle's secret, battered box of missing stories...) and by the inability to fill this lack with what passes for imitations. In other words, there's a futile quest for fidelity at work--fidelity to what, exactly? (A book that tosses all those quotations out the window or ironizes them may be more interesting, but less viable as a commercial proposition.) Holmes fans keep on reading, in any event. It doesn't help that many pastiches and even more supposedly free-wheeling adaptations (Sherlock, I'm looking at you) are now simply recycling each other. It's "the thing," and yet not. Readerly dissatisfaction as an integral part of the business?
1 Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1991), 17.