When as a young man I went to live among the English for some years, I was puzzled by many things that their language, ostensibly my own, habitually expressed using words that I could understand but so arranged that I couldn’t understand them. Not the least of these enigmatical expressions, to my American ears, was “self-parody.” People would apply the expression to those of whom they were inclined to be critical, so I knew that the expression was also critical. But I still couldn’t quite see how it was critical. How could somebody be a parody of himself? It was only when my ear became further attuned to the British habit of ironical discourse that I began to understand how there is always a gap of some size, large or small, between the way people see themselves and the way they are seen by others—that gap which satire is perpetually being invited to...


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