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Referencing The Reference Point

Richard, 
I want to congratulate you on your provocative Vox Pop: The
Reference Point. I, too, deplore the trite and unoriginal, but there is
a fine line. And, etching that fine line takes a bit more than the 200-
character response box will permit, so please bear with me as I lay
down a few observations. 
i. Playing on familiar cultural icons is, of course, all
about manipulating expectations to produce the
response of surprise in the recognition of a
cognitive dissonance. 
ii. Language grows by the accretion of meaning
through variant usages, neologisms and outright
syntactical abuse. A dictionary like the OED
catalogues those historical shifts in word usage,
illustrating by quotations how meaning has varied
and evolved.
 
iii. Both quotation and misquotation are forms of
allusion, defined by M.H. Abrams in A Glossary of
Literary Terms (1971) as "a brief reference, explicit
or indirect, to a person, place or event, or to
another literary work or passage." Its derivation is
from the late Latin allusio, meaning “a play on
words.”
 
iv. Much of our language is allusive. Words such as
promethean and electronic evoke the Greek myths
of Prometheus and Elektra.
 
Consider the long shadow of allusive influence cast by
Shakespeare’s characters. Allusions to Hamlet figure
prominently in the work of Fielding, Goethe, Dickens,
Melville, and countless others. How about Othello and
Iago? Or Falstaff? He even had a beer named after him.
 
v. The history of literature is the history of allusion. 
And, of course, the modernists reveled in it.  TS
Eliot’s use of allusion was more than extensive, and
James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake was one long
stream engine of connotative compression using
allusion as its fossil fuel.  
 
vi. When Martin Luther King, Jr., opened his great "I
Have a Dream" speech by saying “Five score years
ago...” he alluded to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg
Address. 
vii. Ironic that you would pick The Way We Wear as
the example of declining originality and “the orgy of
the trite.” The Way We Wear is about Fashion as
Semiotics, and the title was allusive specifically. A
syntactical analysis would no doubt observe that
the phrase creates an expectation. Like, what do
we wear? And obviously, clothing is the intended,
but unspoken object of the verb.
 
Richard, when you famously created those American flag pants back
in the sixties, were you alluding to anything? 
Of course, it is the Mad Men (did I say Ad men?) who most
commonly twist a phrase to its dissonant effects, so that it will linger
in your head like a hip hop beat -- or perhaps Barbra’s cloying vocal
in “The Way We Were.” 
 
Again, thanks for your fascinating Vox Pop.
By the way, does The Reference Point refer to anything? Could it be
a pun combining the meanings of “reference point” [the intentional
use of one thing, a point of reference or reference state, to indicate
something else] with the point you are making about referential
language. Or maybe that’s just an allusion? 
 
Michael

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