Since I began studying feminist theory and women's writing, I have noticed recurring references and allusions to the same ideas. In light of recent collaboration theory, I am even more interested in conceptualizing how writers position themselves and identify with a certain community through their citations. I've observed that twentieth-century feminist literary critics and theorists often invoke without citation phrases familiar to the feminist scholarly community in order to remind readers of previous arguments and to position their own ideas in a tradition of women writers. For example, bell hooks tries to mitigate what she sees as the exclusionary effect of academic discourse by omitting traditional citations and speaking to broader audiences (Ede, Glenn, Lunsford 416).
Many other writers avoid citations because the ideas have powerful associations already. For example, feminists recognize that "writing is re-vision" (Rich, 1971), or that our social practices reinforce "compulsory heterosexuality" (Rich, 1980). We know by now that "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house" (Audre Lorde, 1979). And obviously, we all realize that one is not born a woman, but made (Simone de Beauvoir, 1952). While most feminists recognize the meaning of these phrases, many could not name the particular writer or context in which they were first published. This does not invalidate the effectiveness of the citation, but rather illuminates a fascinating practice. The practice of borrowing phrases and ideas from previous thinkers without directly citing functions to heighten readers' feelings of belonging to a community.
Traditionally allusion's effect depends on common knowledge in readers. Often the writer hopes to bring to mind the original author, passage, image, or event. The practice can be exclusionary and ineffective if readers don't share the same background and cannot recall the "original author." On the other hand, the practice can have the powerful rhetorical effect of enhancing one's sense of membership in a certain community. It helps create the "common identity and characteristics" that Raymond Williams notes was a meaning of "community" as early as the 16th century. The writers' focus, then, is inclusion in and education of a community.
To create this community, writers are forced to select which authors and terms to reference. By virtue of their selecting certain concepts notable in the field, the writers engage in a form of praise. The practice, then, functions like epideictic rhetoric, which Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca argue "sets out to increase the intensity of adherence to certain values" (51). Feminist thinkers make the rhetorical choice to appeal to values important to the audience being addressed. By citing values lauded by readers, the writers "increase the intensity of adherence" to the communal identity. In addition, they educate readers into the communal literacy of feminist discourse, and thus expand the community.
In much women's writing, the practice also serves to create unity in the community by appealing to communal ideals rather than highlighting individual originality and ownership of ideas. Keith D. Miller and Elizabeth A. Vander Lei have identified three types of collaboration in black folk culture that are illustrative of the way many feminist writers employ allusion: communal collaboration, call-and-response, and historical collaboration. Miller and Vander Lei note that in communal collaboration, "the community focuses on the content of the discourse, not the persons creating and listening to it" (51). Thus while it is important to realize that Adrienne Rich, an important feminist thinker, encourages writing as re-visioning, the term itself has resonances for feminists who may not even remember that a woman named Rich first wrote the phrase. Rather, the "content of the discourse" is the focus.
A similar practice occurs in fiction. Paule Marshall's Praisesong for the Widow (1983) and Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon (1977) both employ African-American myth to invoke and reinforce values of unity in the community. Miller and Vander Lei's model of historical collaboration illuminates Marshall's and Morrison's use of myth. They write that the author and audience "respond not only to each other but also to previous speakers and audiences" (55). In this sense, Marshall and Morrison are collaborating with previous historical and cultural storytellers in order to tell a tale that contemporary audiences will find compelling. The audience's full appreciation, however, depends on their recognition of communal knowledge that is important to African-American history and not on their recognition of an original author. This recognition functions to enhance the readers' sense of belonging to a community.
Reading this practice against the backdrop of traditional authorship notions may diminish our appreciation of its full rhetorical effect, but reading the practice of alluding without citing in light of recent rhetorical and collaborative theory enhances our appreciation. The practice illustrates the powerful rhetorical skill of writers whose weaving of important values from a tradition of ideas unifes and reinforces adherence to a communal identity.
Ede, Lisa, Cheryl Glenn, and Andrea Lunsford. "Border Crossings: Intersections of Rhetoric and Feminism." Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric 13.4 (Autumn 1995): 401-441.
Marshall, Paule. Praisesong for the Widow. New York: Plume, 1983.
Miller, Keith D. and Elizabeth A. Vander Lei. "Collaboration, Collaborative Communities, and Black Folk Culture." The Right to Literacy. Ed. Andrea A. Lunsford, Helene Moglen, and James Slevin. New York: MLA, 1990. 50-60.
Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New York: Penguin, 1977.
Perelman, Chaim and Lucia Olbrechts-Tyteca.
The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Notre Dame: U of
Notre Dame P, 1958.