Not to be confused with illusion.
An allusion is a figure of speech that makes a reference to, or a representation of, people, places, events, literary work, myths, or works of art, either directly or by implication.
2 Examples of allusion
2.1 15 minutes of fame,
2.3 T. S. Eliot and James Joyce,
A sobriquet is an allusion: by metonymy one aspect of a person or other referent is selected to identify it, and it is this shared aspect that makes an allusion evocative. In an allusion to "the city that never sleeps", New York will be recognized. Recognizing the figure in this condensed puzzle-disguise additionally serves to reinforce cultural solidarity between the maker of the remark and the hearer: their in part because "it depends on something more than mere substitution of a referent" The allusion depends as well on the author's intent; an industrious reader may search out parallels to a figure of speech or a passage, of which the author under examination was unaware, and offer them as unconscious allusions-- coincidences that a critic might not find illuminating. Addressing such issues is an aspect of hermeneutics.
William Irwin remarks that an allusion moves in only one direction: "If A alludes to B, then B does not allude to A. The Bible does not allude to Shakespeare, though Shakespeare may allude to the Bible." Irwin appends a note: "Only a divine author, outside of time, would seem capable of alluding to a later text." This is the basis for Christian readings of Old Testament prophecy, which asserts that passages are to be read as allusions to future events due to Jesus's revelation in Luke 24:25-27.
Examples of allusion:
In Homer, brief allusions could be made to mythic themes of generations previous to the main narrative because they were already familiar to the epic's hearers: one example is the theme of the Calydonian boarhunt. In Hellenistic Alexandria, literary culture and a fixed literary canon known to readers and hearers, made a densely allusive poetry effective; the poems of Callimachus offer the best-known examples.
In discussing the richly allusive poetry of Virgil's Georgics, R. F. Thomas distinguished six categories of allusive reference, which are applicable to a wider cultural sphere. These types are
Casual Reference, "the use of language which recalls a specific antecedent, but only in a general sense" that is relatively unimportant to the new context;,
Single Reference, in which or reader is intended to "recall the context of the model and apply that context to the new situation"; such a specific single reference in Virgil, according to Thomas, is a means of "making connections or conveying ideas on a level of intense subtlety";,
Self-Reference, where the focus is in the poet's own work;,
Corrective Allusion, where the imitation is clearly in opposition to the original source's intentions;,
Apparent Reference "which seems clearly to recall a specific model but which on closer inspection frustrates that intention" and,
Multiple Reference or Conflation, which refers in various ways simultaneously to several sources, fusing and transforming the cultural traditions.,
Allusion differs from the similar term intertextuality in that it is an intentional effort on the author's part. The success of an allusion depends in part on at least some of its audience "getting" it. Allusions may be made increasingly obscure, until at last they are understood by the author alone, who thereby retreats into a private language. (i.e. Ulalume, by Edgar A. Poe)
A literature has grown round explorations of the allusions in Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock or T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land.
Martin Luther King, Jr., alluded to the Gettysburg Address in starting his "I Have a Dream" speech by saying 'Five score years ago..."; his hearers were immediately reminded of Abraham Lincoln's "Four score and seven years ago", which opened the Gettysburg Address. King's allusion effectively called up parallels in two historic moments.
An allusion may become trite and stale through unthinking overuse, devolving into a mere cliché, as in some of the following examples:
15 minutes of fame:
Andy Warhol, a 20th-century American artist most famous for his pop-art images of Campbell soup cans and of Marilyn Monroe, commented about the explosion of media coverage by saying, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."
This phrase comes from a novel by Joseph Heller. Catch-22 is set on a U.S. Army Air Force base in World War II. "Catch-22" refers to a regulation that states an airman's request to be relieved from flight duty can only be granted if he is judged to be insane. However, anyone who does not want to fly dangerous missions is obviously sane, thus, there is no way to avoid flying the missions.
Later in the book the old woman in Rome explains that Catch-22 means "They can do whatever they want to do." This refers to the theme of the novel in which the authority figures consistently abuse their powers, leaving the consequences to those under their command.
In common speech, "catch-22" has come to describe any absurd or no-win situation.
T. S. Eliot and James Joyce:
The poetry of T. S. Eliot is often described as "allusive", because of his habit of referring to names, places or images that may only make sense in the light of prior knowledge. This technique can add to the experience, but for the uninitiated can make Eliot's work seem dense and hard to decipher.
The most densely allusive work in modern English is Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson wrote A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (1944) that unlocked some of Joyce's most obscure allusions.
Pasco, Allan H. Allusion: A Literary Graft. 1994. Charlottesville: Rookwood Press, 2002.,
Ben-Porot, Ziva (1976) The Poetics of Literary Allusion, p.108, in PTL: A Journal for descriptive poetics and theory of literature 1