Gracyk on Allusion

In Stecker and Gracyk, Aesthetics Today (2010) 

This document is a summary of Theodore Gracyk. 
My personal comments are in red. 

Let us adopt William Irwin's analysis of allusion. One text alludes to another only if

  1. The alluding text makes indirect reference to another text (the reference is not achieved by naming the other text) and

  2. this indirect reference can be detected, in principle if not in practice, and

  3. the creator of the alluding text intends for (1) and (2) to be present in that text.

Examples: In The Matrix, Morpheus mentions Alice and the rabbit hole, but never names the book, and the cover of Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out refers to a Bob Dylan song.

Some allusion is cross-modal; the reference is to a different medium -- the audio portion of a movie makes reference to things that happen in a book.

So why do we need requirement 3? Don't (1) and (2) establish that The Matrix alludes? 

In order to avoid anachronism: both Fight Club and Forrest Gump contain the line "Run, Forrest, run," but the allusion runs both ways (which it doesn't!) unless we can give a reason why we should take the later film to allude, but not the earlier. Time sequence is irrelevant unless we are pointing to the possible intentions of their designers.

Test case: If I know that Eliot never read Spenser and that it's a coincidence that there is strong matching of their wording, would I still call it an allusion? Can mere coincidental matching establish an indirect reference? NO.

It is also relevant when distinguishing between meaningless irrelevance and irony. (If something in a text appears irrelevant, I could take it to be just that. Or I could take its seeming irrelevance to be intended, in which case I know that it's relevant in some obscure but important way.)

Similarly, an allusion, if intended, should enrich an interpretation.

By choice of source text and part imitated, the alluding text limits the intended association.

In MASS ART and POPULAR art, much of the audience won't get the allusion, so there is an extra challenge of making the allusion fit into the structure/story even if the allusion fails. (It shouldn't just stick out as a strange irrelevance.)

By their presence in mass/popular art, allusions can make a seemingly simple story into a very complex work. This effect is particularly enhanced when one text is "saturated" by another, as when we watch a film remake and know the original, and the director plays with the fact that much of the audience will know the original.

                        Last updated July 7, 2011 ~ All text 2011 Theodore Gracyk