“My presentation is not about drugs,” Vignesh tells us. An allusion to Electric Text, an allusion to Kim. Electric text itself is an allusion I don’t understand, I realize. Allusion is a form of exclusion. Or so argues Freedgood. Vignesh begs to differ.
19th century novels chastise readers, put them in their place. Mass literacy leads to havoc! (Lions, tigers and bears, oh my!) There is a right interpretation, and a wrong interpretation and (for some) “you just don’t get it.” Vignesh disagrees—it is via allusion that one learns about new things. Clytemnestra is as old as a vampire. Scholars are quick to see novels and poems as ways of reinforcing underlying barriers of education between the classes—and Vignesh disagrees: literature works to disrupt this structure. The presence of literature and fact that everyone is reading the same texts (because they have not yet figured out how to break up literary market) means that literature is the place to be looking to see if the coextension between class and education is not as coherent as we would think.
How allusion works, and how we get to use it. Allusion drives you elsewhere to look for meaning. The text sends you out on “intellectual errands,” as Anna puts it. Quite aptly, we all agree. But how do you know if this intellectual errand is a fool’s errand? If I send you all out to get apples, pears and κυκεών, am I just messing with you? Probably. Will you look it up? But if you do, does it matter? Probably not. I didn’t really mean anything by it, after all. And in Freedgood’s mind (or perhaps Victorian literature in general?) the author decides. So there. Well, unless you’re Phillip Roth. But I’m not. I have no Wikipedia page.
We talk about different genres. We see the exact opposite (of Freedgoodian knowledge exclusion), some colleagues point out, in high modern fiction. We assume that we will be looking stuff up and not getting it. Think Finnegan’s Wake. We can choose our own path through a text. “Choose your own ending.” In fact, choose your own beginning and middle, too. Poems are always obfuscatory. You always have to look things up. It is your challenge as reader to find the things out and bring them back to the text. “Intellectual errands” become a game of fetch.
This is a source of pleasure. Vignesh champions pleasure. We should be able to recover the pleasure in coming across something that we don’t understand. But no one leaves open the space to say anything other than that the novel chastises you for not knowing a thing, and you must humbly, meagerly crawl to it. This doesn’t leave open space for pleasures. Pleasures of instant recognition are overstated. There are other kinds of pleasures.
Pleasure, play, and errands. These terms of conversation dwell with me the most, I think. Allusion is inherently about play. From the post-classical Latin allusion-, allusio game—the verb being alludere (to frolic/play/sport around/with, play against, jest); closely related to the Latin ludere (to play, mock, tease, trick). What a great semantic playing field! Knowing is part of this play—“His Majesty smiling, said, I understand your allusion”—but not knowing is part of this play too. You need to have a ball to chase after. No fun just sitting there with the ball in your hands. Though I suppose it depends what kind of balls we’re talking about.
On that note, here’s a joke, from England’s Jests refined and improved being a choice collection of the merriest jest, smartest repartees, wittiest sayings, and most notable bulls, yet extant with many new ones never before printed by Humphrey Crouch (1687):
A scholar, being ask’d by a Porter for a Gentlemans Chamber in [Oxford] Colledg, he directed him thus, You must crncifie [sic] the Quadrangle, and ascend the Grades, and you will find him perambulating in his Cubicle, near the fenester. Pray Sir, says the Porter, what is that Fenester? It is, replies the scholar, the Diaphanous part of an edifice, erected for the Introduction of Illumination; which so amaz’d the Porter, that at first he did not know what to think, till recovering himself, he went and enquir’d of another, who have him plainer directions, in more intelligible terms.
Ha, ha! So, as I see it, you can laugh at the pompous scholar who speaks in obtuse allusions, and just go find someone else who will deal in terms you know. Or (why not!) you can also go out on the intellectual errand of crncifying the Quadrangle. Long live the pursuit of meaningful-meaningless words, terms, and ideas. Allusion to all, and to all a goodnight.