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Allusion and Antihero

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Allusion and Antihero Empty Allusion and Antihero

Post  cWest on October 16th 2008, 7:44 pm


Allusion is a reference to something else during literature.
• Usually references other literature, pieces of art, people and events in history, etc.
• Often, allusion references Greek Myths or the Bible, but it can be anything.
• Used to make connections and possibly to bring up humor.
• Can be subtle or obvious and though it gives the reader a deeper understanding of the text, it is not vital that one understands it.
Example from Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare:
"Come, come, Nerissa; for I long to see quick Cupid’s post that comes so mannerly.”
This example of allusion refers to the Greek mythological god of love.

The Mechanics of Allusion
According to Ben-Porot [5, p.109] the process of a reader's actualisation of an allusion involves

"* recognition of marker
* identification of evoked text
* modification of the initial local interpretation of passage
* activation of evoked text

Full actualisation may be frustrated at each stage -

recognition of marker - If an allusion is disguised or unobtrusive (it doesn't appear in quotes, it has a tempting non-allusive interpretation, etc) the reader may not realise that it exists. Some poets may use this ploy to satisfy certain readers for whom "the pleasure of recognition [is] proportional ... to the difficulty or unobtrusiveness of the allusion". I.A. Richards said that these ploys are "not to be confused with literary or poetic values" [13, p. 170] but it's at least "tactful" (as Empson called it [7, p.167]) of the poet to give the words that form the allusion a meaning in their own right. This, however, increases the risk of the allusion being missed and if the intrinsic meaning is plausible but weak, the reader may miss much. The poet may intend the reader only to recognise the allusion later, or for only a part of the readership to pick up the allusion - examples are dramatic irony, in-jokes, pantomime asides and innuendo. Plagiarists hope that the marker won't be recognised at all.

Some poems can survive the loss of this allusive power - indeed the reader's attention may be profitably focussed back into the text (for instance, some parodies work even if readers are unaware of the original. Yet there's a certain effect produced by references out of the text, whether they're spoofs or not; they show ways out of the poem, and often ways back in.

identification of evoked text
- There is no longer a canon of work that the reader can be expected to know - readership is wider, the Bible is less popular, and there are more books. Modernist authors are more likely to allude to obscure, private, ephemeral or even non-existent texts. When a text refers to many, widely ranging texts, noting one allusion is less likely to prime the reader for the next. To circumvent this, some poems explain even well-known allusions within their text or by footnotes.

modification of the initial local interpretation of the passage - Pre-modernist poems more often than not had a primary meaning, perhaps based on initial observation. Once established, this meaning could pull in an allusion without being overbalanced; the poem's centre of gravity remained within the text. Nowadays, poems need no longer establish a solid melody before improvising. Some set a foundation by alluding to the canon or genre, others don't even try. There has been a re-ordering of linguistic priorities: common, denotative meanings becoming secondary. Where there is no primary meaning, significance is distributed. The poem loses its surface, its graduations of depth. The allusions more prop up than dangle from the poem. Attention is diffused.

activation of evoked text - "While reading text, readers establish local coherence in short-term memory - small scale inferences from few small units of information... These hypotheses are refined as the reading of the text proceeds ... In semantic memory, each concept is connected to a number of other concepts. Activating one concept activates its adjacent concepts which in turn activate their adjacent concepts. Thus, activation spreads through the memory structure, determining what is to be added and what is to be removed from the interpretation of text. This process continues until further activation of adjacent propositions does not change the propositions used to interpret the text." (quoted from [3] which in turn acknowledges [15]). Activitation spreads more easily through and beyond the remote text if there are repeated references to the same text (parody) or if the remote text is far more interesting than the base text, especially if the base text lacks coherence."


An antihero is a protagonist of a story who lacks all of the traditional characteristics of a hero such as bravery, intelligence, selflessness, etc.
One modern example of this would be the character Hancock:

Walt Whitman

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