Wimsey cogito

Some thoughts on allusion

Despite my general aversion to meta, something ljs said this weekend sent me looking around for whatever foofahrah was going on about allusion. I do love the allusion game. It seems to me that fiction in English is crammed with it; it makes the experience of reading richer. It's a supercharged version of the experience we get when we use words with specific connotations. An allusive phrase is sparked up with extra meaning for the reader who is aware of the reference. You still have to make it work for the reader who doesn't get it, though, so allusions don't get you off the hook for good craft.

My theory: just do it. Allude when it feels right, and for pete's sake, don't footnote the things. It's too self-conscious. Just let the writing and the story be themselves. As the first creative writing teacher I had used to say: Never apologize. Never explain.

This Cassandra Claire crap, though, is plagiarism, not allusion. Entire sentences lifted: bah. It's gone beyond allowing one's phrasing to be influenced and moved right into thievery. Footnoting it wouldn't help.

And yet: Philip Pullman retelling "Paradise Lost", a-okay. Shakespeare borrowing all his most famous plots: a-okay. Because everything else: not borrowed.

There's something about CC's "borrowing" that is exactly at the level of writing that really ought to be original. Right at the places I'd think of as the best places to strut my personal style and craft, this fanfic writer chooses to insert two entire sentences from Gene Wolfe. Okay, great taste there on the ripoff, but... the impulse makes me suspicious. Sayers puts her quotations into the mouths of highly-educated characters witticizing at each other; she doesn't use them to describe Lord Peter's experience in the belfry while the bells are being rung.
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Oh, I definitely think Cassie Claire stepped over the line repeatedly -- that was some real plagiarism there. (I wasn't wholly convinced by ALL the side-by-side examples, but most of them.)

It's been interesting, however, to see from comments around LJ that there *are* some venues where the readers would expect footnotes, which seems... bizarre to me.

I do not understand the urge to footnote. It ruins the game!

BTW: have conceived irrational hatred of you for ruining Anya for me in all stories that do not put her next to Giles. Anya-with-Xander: ugh! Canon-Anya: ugh! All non-Giles-Anya: utter misery!

Must remember to run over to your original post and yammer about Stoppard.
I look forward to your thoughts on Stoppard! His later works are even more allusive than his earlier ones, I think, if less ficcy....

BTW: have conceived irrational hatred of you for ruining Anya for me in all stories that do not put her next to Giles.

Welcome to my world. ;-)