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Why Do We Quote?

Ruth Finnegan

II. Beyond the here and now

7. Arts and Rites of Quoting

Texte intégral

There is imitation, model, and suggestion, to the very archangels, if we
knew their history
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

The greatest genius will never be worth much if he pretends to draw
exclusively from his own resources

Some drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle
(Woody Allen)

1Quotation, imitation, tradition, allusion, model, reminiscence – these and similar notions run through the study of literature, of ritual and of culture. Others’ words and voices come in speeches on official occasions, in rituals, religious texts, and genres conceptualised as ’high art’. The works of Milton or Wordsworth are crammed with allusions and parallels; Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, the poems of Alexander Pope, the writings of Coleridge and countless other works in the literary canon borrow from earlier writers; and Renaissance literature fed among other things on the anthology of saws from earlier texts. Kuna ritual oratory featured quotes within quotes, Greek and Latin historians used their characters’ speeches to forward and embellish their narratives, and quotation was a key dimension of the literary arts of the West African Yoruba. Alluding has been among the most frequently used literary devices, sermons and theological expositions brim with biblical quotation, and the works of certain modern writers are sometimes described as wholly made up of quotations. However it is defined, quotation in one or another of its many transformations weaves through the literary arts and rites of humankind, as creators and hearers evoke and play upon the words and voices of others.

2This chapter returns to verbally articulated forms, both oral and written, to dwell on the high arts of literary and ritual discourse, where quotation holds such a prominent place. Here are arenas of verbal expression where through the ages humans have intensified the manifold resources discussed so far to make lavish display and manipulation of the words and voices of others and hold them up for admiration.

7.1. Frames for others’ words and voices

3How are these artistries of invoking others’ words and voices exercised? There are no single answers and diversity perhaps as evident as predictable patterning. But it is striking how frequently – and how richly – others’ words and voices have been elaborated in certain particular frames. They seem to be captured above all in the settings of narrative, of poetry, exposition, religious and ritual genres, play, and (different but still worthy of note) as self-standing excerpts. So let me briefly comment in turn on each of these.

7.1.1 Narrative and its plural voices

4One frame is indubitably narrative. Here is a space peopled by the voices and words of multiple characters, fertile field for the storyteller’s creating art. Narrative is regularly activated by individuals’ words and the interactions of speaking characters, and, as Bakhtin remarks, fiction unlike other literary genres depends on the presence of multiple individual voices (1981: 264).

5Examples are legion. In Homer’s storied epics the reported words of heroes and gods pervade and enact the tale. Odysseus speaks trickily with the Cyclops, Priam begs the body of his dead son, the deities talk and plot among themselves. In historical accounts the narrator’s art presents actions and motivations through the words or verbalised thoughts of protagonists. In Thucydides’ great history of fifth-century BC Greece, the famous enunciation of Greek democracy, itself much quoted through the centuries, was set in the mouth of the Athenian Pericles. Repetitions of earlier words run as leitmotifs through narratives, in religious accounts prophetic voices and sayings link past and present, and the point of anecdotes and jokes often lies in spoken interchanges between fictive actors. Trickster tales in Africa and the Caribbean depend on dialogue in the spider’s distinctive voice; in drama and opera the action is carried by the interaction of plural voices, sometimes with meta-commentary by some further speaker – a chorus perhaps or prologue speaker; in novels of every kind the presence of individuals’ spoken, sung or inwardly meditated words is often crucial to unfolding human acts, thoughts and passions, while in the Amazonian Kalapalo narrative tradition, quoted dialogue is the prime means through which individual characters and their relationships are developed (Basso 1986, 1992). Journalists’ ’stories’ contain lavish quotation from the words (supposed or otherwise) of its key personages, and biographies, personal narratives and first-person fiction commonly include both inner speech and dialogues as the protagonist is seen engaging with the flow of life. In biblical accounts too quoting is constant, well brought out in Savran’s Telling and Retelling. Quotation in Biblical Narrative:

Instead of relating the story exclusively by third-person narrative ’telling’, there is a strong propensity toward the use of direct speech for ’showing’ the attitudes, motivations, and personalities of the characters through their own words… Within the scenic mode typical of much biblical narrative, it is dialogue that adds dramatic presence to the story and encourages confrontation with the characters (Savran 1988:12).

6This is quoting in perhaps its simplest and most direct form. The different voices are immediately present. Here we have, it might seem, the transparent words of certain others, demarcated through visual, linguistic or, in oral delivery, multimodal signals, the narrator taking on the voice and words of the story’s characters. These are not unmediated reports however. They are narrative creations formulated according to expected poetic conventions, and interpreted and appreciated as such. In live performance the narrator may indeed assume different personae, not just in the reported words but in tone, demeanour, and character. But it is that narrator who orchestrates and presents the words, turning them in particular ways. Even in what might at first seem the unsophisticated prose of a newspaper report, there is a certain poetics of artful construction as each quotation is ’recorded, cropped, framed, attributed, placed as important within the narrative structure…Reporting as storytelling is both borrowing and constructing’ (Badaracco 2005: 12). As Bauman puts it in his aptly named A World of Others’ Words, in narrative we meet ’that merger of narrated event and narrative event that is characteristic of quoted speech, which does not merely recount, but re-presents the quoted discourse’ (2004: 21).

7The array of possibilities open to narrators is extensive. Sometimes dialogues directly carry the story line forward through enstaged words, perhaps as in the famous ballad of ’Lord Randal’ without any overt interposition by the narrator. There is scope for multiply varying nuances between the voice(s) of the various protagonists and the controlling author’s voice – which itself may differ again from that of the narrator as constructed within the text. The author’s voice can comment subtly through what are ostensibly the sayings or thoughts of the characters. Thus the stylistic device by which the Don’s speech and thoughts are reproduced in lofty style in Don Quixote makes this at once the words of the leading character and Cervantes’ own comic satirising of high-flown pompous language, skilfully contrasted with the earthy proverb-laden style of the squire Sancho.

8Sometimes the narrator’s voice is presented as the mouthpiece for a possessing spirit or earlier prophet, or as coming from some external source of inspiration. This may merely be a short prologued invocation. Thus Homer starts by calling on the ’Muse’ and the ’Goddess’ to tell the tale, but thereafter they are little in evidence apart perhaps for imparting some tinge of otherness to the narrative. But an opening attribution to some ancestral voice or earlier teller may lay foundations for a more tangible presence throughout. Explicitly changing the teller’s identity has also been a common artifice in fiction, like the stories within a story in The Thousand and One Nights or novels like Rider Haggard’s She where the author takes the mantle of a supposed editor reporting the tale of another. The dynamics of free indirect speech can come in too, enabling intimations from shifting or co-sounding voices to be as much a part of the quoted presences staged through the narrative as overtly attributed quotation.

9The complex arts of presenting the quoted persona are in play whether the narrative is spoken, sung or written. In live multimodal performance the theatricalising arts of mimicry and impersonation can give a particular edge to speech and dialogue. The piping voice of Sulwe the hare in Central African tales, the narrators and characters in Chaucer’s orally delivered tales, the tones of the dying Lord Randal all bring their words and presences vividly to life. Here above all we can scarcely draw a wedge between text and voice. The protagonists enact the drama in the words expressed in sonic and somatic performance – the voice and words at once of impersonated actor and narrative orchestrator. Something of this quality of active vocal enactment can come through in written narrative too, and in the substantial area of written/spoken intersection. The speaking character can carry multisensory overtones for reader and audience, as the imagined performing voice and its words mesh together.

10Just ’whose’ voice and words are being presented can be ambiguous, overlapping, perhaps deliberately riddling. One can infiltrate another, and concealed voices be part of the art. The story can drift imperceptibly between distancing author and character-filled words, or make subtle use of free indirect speech or quotative language. Or it can be simultaneously an ancestral voice and that of the animator of the present; or at once acting protagonist and all-seeing narrator. And which sounds louder at any given time may itself be shifting and relative, heard differently by individual participants.

Fig. 7.1 ’Lord Randal’.
In this widely-distributed and quoted traditional Anglo-Scottish ballad the characters’ interchanging voices and their developing repetitions and parallelisms carry the narrative forward, their interchanges and contrasting voices made clear both in the layout of print, as here, and in a singer’s contrasting vocal delivery in performance (Sir Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, ed. T. F. Henderson, Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1902, Vol. 3, pp. 57-8)

11With all its elusive qualities, the combination of characterisation and narrative authority results in near-infinite opportunities for the artful orchestrating of others’ words and voices – opportunities which, it appears, have been extensively taken up throughout the world and across the centuries.

7.1.2 Poetry

12Poetry provides a boundless field for the cultivation of quoting (’poetry’ in the rough sense, that is, of recognised art-genres which broadly contrast with narrative, oratory or prosaic exposition). In more roundabout and allusive ways than in the speech of narrativised characters, poetry too can be polyphonic. Differing personages may not be paraded overtly on the stage but several poetic voices may be in play, maybe in shifting and shadowy presences within the text, not fully unveiled. There are manifold avenues here for the artful layering of interleaved voices, from direct and explicitly marked quotation to hidden associations and reminiscences which carry both creator and audience beyond the immediate words.

13Some poetry gathers extensive quotations from one or more previous texts, reassembled in a new setting. Sometimes earlier wording is repeated in more or less exact fashion. The long-lasting Latin genre of the cento for example was deliberately constructed of bits from elsewhere – a light-hearted aesthetic manipulation of copying – while in more recent times and more serious vein T. S .Eliot’s poems, integrated and controlled by the author, are steeped in quotation from earlier writers. The insertion of quoted passages can be more spasmodic or smaller-scale but still declare itself ostentatiously through some mark of style, imprint or delivery - the ’raisins in the cake’ that bring momentary delight to the palate in Herman Meyer’s nice metaphor (Meyer 1968: 4). Self-quoting of a kind can have a role too through the parallelisms and repetitions that often figure within poetic works: in refrains, harped-on imagery, repeated lines and phrases, sometimes all the more ringing as the words unfold time and time again. So too with sonic parallelisms and cadences in spoken and sung poetry. From proverbs or epigraphs to long excerpts or parallels from earlier texts, recycled repetition is a marked feature in many poetic genres, one aspect of their multi-level and echoic quality.

14Others’ words and voices enter in more indirect and hidden ways too. Quotation can intermingle seamlessly but still – to some ears at least – carry a barely perceptible aura of other times and places. Allusion has been a wonderfully deployed tool in the poetic arts, much noticed and debated among literary scholars. References to the myths and poetry of Greek and Roman antiquity thread through European literature, and everywhere, it seems, poetic authors are ready to drench their compositions in the river of allusion. At greater remove are intimations from the poetic models followed, themselves with reminiscent echoes – sonic, visual, verbal – and their recurrent re-appearances increasingly redolent for those familiar with them. Nor should we forget the notion of intertextuality, in which all texts are in a sense constructed from earlier ones and build on poetic memory – even if not fully recognised by all – re-created in their newly-aired settings.

15In that the diction is recognised as somehow ’poetic’, it is already in a sense set apart from people’s everyday language. This too is perhaps a kind of quoting – a reappearances from another time, another voice. In Gian Biagio Conte’s analysis

Poetry maintains its noble distance from ordinary language precisely because poetic language is reused language. It boasts certain features that express and reflect this distance: rhythmical and metrical regularity, parallelism and effects of symmetry or proportion, unusual word order, repetition of expressive features and the exploitation of prosody (alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia), to say nothing of the total effect produced by the figures of speech
(Conte 1986: 43).

16In poetry above all, perhaps, there is an ambience of otherness, even mystery, enacted through the variegated depths, eddies and glancing lights of words and voices from beyond the present.

7.1.3 Exposition and rhetoric

17Here is another ample field for others’ words. In philosophic or theological disquisitions, social or literary analysis, political argument, activist tract, public oratory, academic discourse or scientific proposition, quotations from supporters, opponents, long-time authorities, previous workers in the field, or admired personages are a familiar and expected element. This is not the inherently multiple voices of narrative action but quotation used as support, illustration, or object in the context of evidence and argument. Earlier words or opinions are called in to persuade the audience, keep them attentive and forward the author’s case.

18Thus Plato presented the reported speech of supposed participants in his dialogues and continually quoted earlier Greek authors to exemplify particular points, sometimes as additional testimony or clarification to forward his own argument, sometimes for viewpoints to destroy. In the same way the academic treatises of today are peopled with the words of prior writers, authorities, and (not least) opponents where the motive for their deployment may range from admiration or exhortation to vilification or attack. The words of others have long been wielded in legal contexts too, with quotations artfully managed to convince others of some conclusion. In contemporary court cases, adversarial rhetoric marshals prior utterances, direct or paraphrased, not just as evidence but as a way of affecting the hearers by dramatising – and humanising – it with another’s voice. In both written and spoken exposition the presenter can exploit the fiction of reproducing what an audience or reader is supposedly saying or thinking to create an opportunity to demolish it. The art of advertising, a form of persuasive exposition, makes similar use of the same device – for the opposite reason – by quoting or hinting at opinions projected as expressed by enthusiastic customers.

19Literary and linguistic commentaries too have long reproduced existing chunks of texts for comment or contemplation. In the early first millennium AD Longinus’ famous exposition on sublime style quoted about fifty classic authors from many centuries to illustrate his points. He takes a passage from Plato’s Republic for example to support his description of Plato’s ’elevated’ style:

Although Plato flows on with noiseless stream, he is none the less elevated. You know this because you have read the Republic and are familiar with his manner. ’Those’, says he, ’who are destitute of wisdom and goodness and are ever present at carousels and the like are carried on the downward path, it seems, and wander thus throughout their life. They never look upwards to the truth, nor do they lift their heads, nor enjoy any pure and lasting pleasure but like cattle they have their eyes ever cast downwards and bent upon the ground and upon their feeding places…’
(Longinus On the Sublime Chapter 13, transl. Roberts 1899).

20Such illustrative quotations are sometimes quite short passages, clearly demarcated from the rest. This was the style in Erasmus’ Adages, not just a compilation of quotations but also the occasion for long commentaries and reflections on his chosen excerpts. But there is also the tradition of reproducing lengthy stretches of written text where the (initially) quoted material in a sense takes over and what had started as the authorial voice becomes rather that of an appended commentator or fan, just as book attributions sometimes swither as between ’author’ and ’editor’.

21Many cases are written, but exposition can come in many modes. Radio and television make extensive use of diverse voices in audible and visual form. One typical format intersperses an overall presenter’s voice with excerpts from others to illustrate, support or confront the general commentary, sometimes to the extent that which is ’main’ voice, which ’quotation’ again becomes ambiguous. Spoken exposition too can be quotation-drenched, whether arguing a particular case, performing on some commemorative occasion or simply displaying the arts of debate or promotion. In public speeches – political, sermonic, ceremonial – citing others’ words has a regular place, both in contexts when the audience is expected to be already familiar with the source, or explicitly signalled by such phrases as ’in the stirring words of John F. Kennedy’, ’as Mahatma Gandhi put it’, or, of the deceased being praised at a funeral, ’She always used to say… ’.

22Oratory is indeed one of the notable frames for quoting, from the elaborate theory and practice of classical rhetoric to the arts of contemporary speakers. Local debating societies were singled out by several British observers as prime sites for quoting, well paralleled by the nineteenth-century Lovedale Literary Society’s debates in South Africa’s mission school, studded with Shakespeare, Dickens and Scott (Hofmeyr 2006: 270) – a common practice in colonial settings. Quoting from classical authors was a recognised stylistic engine in the nineteenth-century British House of Commons as members ’watched a piece of oratory moving on from point to point, to culminate in the expected passage from Virgil or Horace’ (Kellett 1933: 12) and the collection Respectfully Quoted similarly testifies to 75 years of Members of Congress bombarding the Congressional Research Service to check on a quotation ’for a speech right now’ (Platt 1989: Preface). Nelson Mandela’s speeches flow with Shakespeare quotations, skilfully marshalled for allegorical political comment (’Hath not a Jew eyes?’), and Barack Obama’s eloquence lies in part in his invocation of known proverbial, biblical and poetic wordings, his oratory peopled with historical personages from the past with its echoes of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine, Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King (Holmes 2008, Mieder 2009).

23This frame for quotation too has a long tradition behind it. Its art takes diverse forms, true. The quoted excerpts are not necessarily verbatim nor the actual words of their supposed speaker but can equally be purported, hoped-for, or fabricated. It may be paraphrased wording, or imagined, speculative or opportunist attribution; or, again, allusion to what someone might have said. In some settings the main presenter’s voice is presented as an objective one, with quotations put forward as evidence or exemplars for pursuing or clarifying some detached analysis; in others overtly staking out a personal position; in others again just a hint or an allusion. But whatever the stance, such texts are inhabited by more voices than one.

7.1.4 Ritual and sacred texts

24Here is another common frame for the wielding and manipulation of quotation. Slippery as the boundaries of such settings notoriously are, this is inescapably a sphere for plural voices. In almost every event which could be described as ritual, there are prescribed vocalised repetitions, often with actively responding ensemble voices. Indeed the deployment of authorised words and voices from beyond the present might be said to form a near-obligatory element in anything identified as ritual.

25The context is often live performance, with all its potential for multisensory engagement. Recycled vocal enactments are heavy with the weight of past repetitions from other times or in other voices. Sometimes the voices are surrogates for those of other participants present or absent, whose voices are the more solemn for being transmuted through those of other speakers. The rituals of certain Plains Native American gatherings for example were notable for the Master of Ceremonies’ artful performances in relaying the words – or the notional words – of donors in the great gift-giving ceremonies. The voices of current speaker and earlier originator became blurred, in the process bringing greater authority to each (Roberts 2004).

26In religious settings, quoted texts and voices often set current actions in the perspective of a longer destiny. Live and broadcast church services see biblical and liturgical texts repeated time after time after time, framing and defining the occasion in both past and present. Familiar prayers are repeated, whether or not attributed to particular individual creators, together with the repeated performances, time and again, of the words and tunes of well-known hymns. Up and down churches today readers deliver excerpts from the Bible concluded by such formulaic phrases as ’Hear the Word of the Lord’. In sermons biblical quotation regularly takes a central place, and even a small phrase can be given meaning by its association with a biblical text. The sacred songs of the Christian church have through the centuries been drenched with biblical quotations and allusions, from paraphrases of constantly quoted Old Testament Psalms to the carols sung today at Christmas. The texts of the prolific and much-sung hymn-writer Charles Wesley for example teem with quotations and allusions, chiefly from the Bible but also from the traditions of the Christian church more generally, and even the most modern of contemporary hymns draw on emotive evocations of the words and metaphors of the long Christian tradition.

27The arts of quotation find their place in written religious texts too, most famously in the sacred books of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. These are notable sites for quotation, both within the works themselves and in their many reproductions in manifold contexts throughout the world (for an example on a high hill-top in Devon see Fig. 7.2), and in the echoes and overtones surrounding their use, feeding back further into their quotativeness. The text as a whole is sometimes conceptualised as emanating from divine words, but within it are also quotations from human personages from across the ages: the words of ancient prophets, parallels from earlier accounts, allusions to events and images from elsewhere. The Bible contains not only direct quotation of the words of God himself but also earlier utterances by characters within the narrative, ’lifted out and recontextualised as part of a new temporal and spatial configuration’ (Savran 1988: 12). Quotations, allusions and echoes take the reader both back and forward within the text. This happens in other large-scale works too, of course, but they have a particular flavour in religious settings where quotation can validate and inform the fulfilment of prophecy or the relation of events to some transtemporal sphere that both inhabits and transcends time. In the Christian Bible, the book of Revelation is crammed with words and echoes from the Old Testament, while Matthew’s gospel is famous for illuminating the birth and acts of Christ through prophetic sayings from centuries earlier. Thus Jesus’ early ministry was ’so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled’:

The people that lived in darkness
have seen a great light
light has dawned on those
who lived in the land of death’s dark shadow
(Matthew 4. 14, 16 (quoting Isaiah 9, 2)
Revised English Bible).

28– words that were themselves to be requoted countless times over future generations, written, spoken and sung.

29Such quotations structure the account, explaining, celebrating and giving weight, setting the narrated events in the context of the unfolding destiny of God’s continuing plan. References and allusions to such religious texts both persuade and carry the aura of an outside authoritative voice. As a nineteenth-century commentator had it, such quotations act ’not merely to prove a doctrine which is doubted or denied, but to give additional force to truths commonly received… [and] impart to them a new interest, and a higher authority’ (Woods 1824: 9).

30Not all quotations in religious literature are so explicit. But the repetitive ring of their wording, both spoken and sung, can still invoke another’s voice. The Old Testament’s 23rd Psalm for example (’The Lord is my shepherd’) has led to innumerable translations, allusions, and paraphrases that have rung down the ages, some closer, some more tangential but still carrying a host of associations. And even those who might not connect references to the good shepherd directly with their Old Testament source may still sense a religious colouring and validation, taking them beyond present voices. So too with reminiscences of the events and characters of Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress, source of quotations and allusions across many continents of the world. Nor of course is it just in Christian texts or those of the other ’religions of the book’ that recycled words have acquired an at least quasi-religious status. People everywhere no doubt dip into the sea of their own profoundly meaningful symbols and associations to cite others’ words – Confucius, Mao, Marx, Gandhi… – growing in resonance with each repetition.

31Speaking on behalf of an external principal whose words are animated by another is no doubt a common rhetorical device in many settings, but it comes through with particular force in ritual and religious settings. The originating speaker can be conceptualised as existent in some transcendent source outside and beyond the voice now uttering them or in the written text currently enshrining them: they are speaking the words not of themselves but of God, of Allah, of the Prophet, of the ancestors. Dual voices often sound through, perhaps experienced dissimilarly in different phases or by different participants. In possession rituals the words may be fully accepted as those of the possessing external spirit, the present speaker or singer being merely the mouthpiece. But even in less flamboyant displays the multivocal pulls of both here and other can inhabit the language as speakers and writers play on co-present voices. Speakers can transfer between their own expressions and those of the external beings whose words they speak. In Lowland South America myths the tellers shift along a continuum between being narrators of the spirits’ deeds and identifying with a spirit itself, bringing the otherworld into the present (Urban 1989) while Afro-Baptist preachers delivering ’the word of God’ move from plainer language into an intensity of rhythmical, repetitive utterances and multimodal delivery as they ’bring down the Holy Spirit into themselves’ (Pitts 1993: 22ff, 160ff). Religious and ritual occasions have the capacity to carry participants beyond the workaday presence, in part through the opportunities they provide for the artfully marshalled presence of polyphonic voices and evocatively repeated words.

7.1.5 Play

32We should not forget, either, the playfulness that at times colours all these forms. Parody, puns, satire, and clever twists on known wording have roots in the fertile ground of quotation, mimicking and echoing established texts in amusing, sometimes devastating, ways. This frame again has a long history. The very word ’allusion’ derives from the Latin alludere (to mock, play with), suggestive of its ludic, game-like dimension. Parody was cultivated as a fine art in classical Greek literature, with mock imitations of others’ words and styles in many settings, from epic and drama to Plato’s dialogues and Aristophanes’ comedies, famous for the burlesque parodies which at the same time functioned as subtle literary comment through their comic allusions, exaggerated imitations and satirising of other playwrights’ words and styles.

33Playing with words is clearly most effective for – and principally directed towards – those acquainted with the original(s) being mockingly imitated. For those acquainted with the genre, Cervantes’ Don Quixote brilliantly lampooned the classic knight-errantry tales popular in his time just as Erasmus’ In Praise of Folly wittily parodied the rhetoric and learned writing of his day. It is those familiar with Pope’s famous couplet

Nature, and Nature’s Laws lay hid in Night.
God said, Let Newton be! and All was Light
(Alexander Pope, ’Epitaph for Sir Isaac Newton’)

34that are best placed to appreciate J. C. Squire’s ’continuation’:

It did not last: the Devil, howling ’Ho,
Let Einstein be’, restored the status quo
(Squire 1926: 218).

35For a longer example, it is helpful to know something of Wordsworth’s famous sonnet with its sonorous opening

Two Voices are there – one is of the Sea,
One of the Mountains; each a mighty Voice
In both from age to age thou didst rejoice;
They were thy chosen music, Liberty! …
(William Wordsworth, 'Thoughts of a Briton on the Subjugation of Switzerland').

36before reading James Stephen’s cheeky and entertaining lampooning of Wordsworth’s style in his

Two voices are there: one is of the deep…
And one is of an old half-witted sheep
Which bleats articulate monotony,
And indicates that two and one are three,
That grass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep.
And, Wordsworth, both are thine: at certain times
Forth from the heart of thy melodious rhymes,
The form and pressure of high thoughts will burst.
At other times – good Lord! I’d rather be
Quite unacquainted with the A.B.C.
Than write such hopeless rubbish as thy worst
(Stephen 1891: 83).

37In more everyday settings a common strategy is to change a familiar quote only slightly to turn it to some unexpectedly ludicrous purpose or delightful twist on the original. This artfulness structures many riddles and jokes, while the wittily altered punchlines of the popular punning-story genre again rely on the audience’s knowledge. The proverb ’People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’ is the clue in the tale of a chief with an old throne.

One day, an important visitor arrived and presented him with a magnificent new one. He couldn’t be discourteous enough to refuse it, so he stowed the old one under his hut’s grass thatch. But alas it wasn’t strong enough and the throne fell through the roof and killed the chief below. So – people who live in grass houses shouldn’t stow thrones
(adapted from Binsted and Ritchie 2001: 276).

38In quotations turned upside down, the joy lies in the subversion of the ’normal’ version: ’Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow’, ’Hell hath no fury like a CEO on a spiritual mission’, ’Too many legislators spoil reform’, ’People who live in glass houses should dress in the basement’, or (of a bronzed Tony Blair’s fleeting return during the 2010 British election) ’Cometh the hour, cometh the tan’. So too with the many Shakespearean-reminiscent book titles with their humorous adaptations or incongruous juxtapositions – As You Hike It; Friends, Romans, Protestants; The Rest Is Noise; or Signifying Nothing: The Semiotics of Zero.

39Light-hearted as many of such parodies, puns and distorted echoes prove to be, they are, for their very playfulness, again among the prominent frames in which humans have exploited manifold potentials of quoting to manipulate them for their art.

7.1.6 Displayed text

40Collections and displays are, as we have seen, another common framework for the highlighting and celebration of quoting. In quotation compilations, extensively elaborated as they have been over the centuries and throughout the world, human beings have long engaged in the art of explicitly framing chunks of words and putting them on-stage as quotations. In less portentous settings too excerpts, mottos, ’texts’, proverbs, and sayings have been spotlit as special – quoting as a convenient as well as evocative tool in the creation of verbal or visual art. Others’ words have been conspicuously re-produced on samplers, on buildings, on pictures, as calligraphed texts like that opening this book (Fig. 1.1), as epitaphs, inscriptions, epigraphs, book titles and framed texts on walls. Gravestones are a prolific locale for display of quotations, interacting with visual and pictorial artistries, so too are monuments and (as in Fig. 7.2) prominent stones. Shakespeare quotations (again) are constantly given new life as titles of books or plays (and not just a parodies), some many times over. All the World’s a Stage, Tides in the Affairs of Men, All Our Yesterdays, This Scepter’d Isle, and Brave New World are only a handful of the many where, again, the voice of a known – or perhaps just vaguely-sensed – original is brought out to re-sound in new settings.

41Narrative, exposition, poetry, ritual, play, self-standing display – these are among the most recurrent of the frames, it seems, in which others’ words and voices have been creatively exploited. But these represent no definitive typologies, for there is no closed list for the multifarious and unbounded settings where the human propensity to quote has found its outlet in art. Nor are these frames mutually exclusive. Exposition, sacred text and poetry can include narrative; narrative be laced with poetry; rituals be intershot with exposition or poetry; the ostensibly disinterested voice of the academic writer suffused with religious allusion or gratuitously displayed text; and playfulness burst through just about any boundary. In ’Lord Randal’ the intertwining voices of the speakers, highlighted in the page’s visual reproduction or the performer’s intonations, can at once advance the narrative, add poignancy through repetition and parallelism, and build on the emotive echoes of what is for many a deeply-felt and traditional style and melody, as well as often-repeated wording. And as recent literary analysts have so illuminatingly pointed out, even without the overt projection of enacted characters or signalled textual chunks, overlapping voices and presences can multiply interleave themselves, and the layered stances of irony, humour, parody and much else thread through the text. But with all their overlaps and complexities it is indeed a notable feature of human creativity that frames like those sketched above have been tooled through the ages to produce such scintillating and subtly marshalled artistries.

Fig. 7.2 The Ten Commandments on Buckland Beacon.
The Ten Commandments, inscribed in 1928, are still to be seen on rocks at the top of the 1,253ft Buckland Beacon in Dartmoor, Devon, though by now somewhat faded. The left-hand slab has the first four of these famous Commandments, here quoted from the biblical book of Deuteronomy, followed by a favourite quotation of William Whitely’s (the lord of Buckland Manor, who commissioned the inscriptions). On the right (only partly visible here) are the remaining Commandments and a quotation from John’s gospel (Chapter 13 verse 34: ’A new commandment/ I give unto/ You/ Love one another’) and a verse from the well-known hymn ’Oh God Our Help in Ages Past’ (Photo: David Murray)

7.2. An array of quoting arts

42Looking to these recurring frames can only take us so far, for each age, indeed each group of practitioners and participants, have their own particular takes on them. Analysts and practitioners have differed over the virtues and vices of particular forms of quoting; over how far ’imitation’ is or is not to be admired and in what form; the salience (or not) of separating the words of ’others’ from one’s ’own’; or of what counts as ’copying’, what as ’creation’.

43Setting these differences in the context of historical changes and continuities is one route to understanding the arts of quotation. Detailed accounts of particular periods, areas and groupings are certainly beyond the scope of this book, but it is interesting to consider briefly some of the variegated threads that have variously coloured both past and present. Unlike the opening chapters, my focus here is less on everyday ethnography than on scholars of literature and cultural history, with their interest in the literary and formalised genres broadly treated in this chapter.

44The current arts of quoting – to start there – contain a number of intertwined but on the face of it contradictory strands. There is extensive and deliberate use of others’ words and voices on ritual occasions, in oratory, in many forms of formal writing, in literature. But the overt ideologies and rhetoric around these notably vary. On the one hand there is huge emphasis on the explicit marking out of quotation in many expository frameworks, above all in academic and school settings. Here we see ostentatious and meticulous attention to exact wording, the clearest of attribution to original authors, and the need for caution in paraphrasing others’ words, with any diminution of rigour disapproved, perhaps actively punished.The concept of copyright, though questioned in some circles, is widely invoked and in some fields increasing its grip.

45But there is also a counter-trend. This is especially prominent among those literary and cultural theorists who question the concept of quotation as something distinct and argue that there is now a turn towards the widespread appropriation of others’ words. This partly relates to the practice in some modernist literature of interweaving quotations from earlier authors not as signalled inserts but as an integral part of their work. Analysts have pointed to how quotation-full writers like James Joyce or Brecht make little if any demarcation between ’quotation’ and ’main text’. Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake in particular has notoriously been seen as consisting wholly of quotation, a text without boundaries between what is ’quoted’ and what is not.

46But, further than this, the focus among some powerful analysts has become less on the artistries of wielding specific quotations than on the interrelatedness of literary texts more generally. The concept of intertextuality lies at the heart of much discussion – something perhaps common to all verbal art but here especially conceptualised as the connection between literary texts. This has turned attention to concepts like shared rhetoric and a recognised store of common literary material rather than to deliberate quotation by or from specific sources or authors.

47Some see this as a radical move into ’a literature of the intertextual’, as Topia has it (1984: 104). In this view we have been going through an epochal change in the treatment of quoting. Once-observed divisions between primary and secondary text have become blurred, thus marking a notable contrast to an earlier treatment of quotations as discrete inserts separate from and auxiliary to the ’main’ text. The recent pattern, it is argued, is to omit quotation marks and abolish the older hierarchies between original and secondary, with the appropriation of existing material now acceptable as a valid part of the creative process. Some postmodernist writers thus posit a new outlook which in effect removes the borders around quoting and abandons the idea of quotation:

Since the end of the nineteenth century the status of quotation has been one of the most crucial and problematic aspects of writing. Indeed the literary text is situated more and more in relation to the multitude of other texts which circulate within it… It ceases to be a block closed in by stable boundaries and clear origins of utterance. It then appears as an open configuration, strewn with landmarks and furrowed by networks of references, reminiscences, connotations, echoes, quotations, pseudo-quotations, parallels, reactivations. Linear reading gives way to transversal and correlative reading, where the printed page becomes no more than the point of intersection for strata issuing from myriad horizons
(Topia 1984: 103).

48This is an interesting take on the contemporary scene. But not all would recognise this ’eclipse of quoting’ (the phrasing in Sartiliot 1993: 3ff) or the sharp distinction from earlier practices. Appropriate as it may be for some genres it is scarcely applicable to all. Academic-based demarcations between ’quoted’ and other material are if anything more rigorously observed now than in the past, most novels still include demarcated dialogue, and it is not clear that the plural voices in all contemporary poems are radically different from those of a couple of generations ago. And other commentators, while recognising the fertile notion of intertextuality, would still detect relatively discrete examples of inserted quotation in current literary art.

49Nevertheless it is fair to set the current awareness of the constant links between texts against the contrasting ideology of the romantic period – another clutch of roots for the mix of current views, and a powerful background to which recent analyses still respond and interact. The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century romantic movement’s vision of ’originality’ and individual genius meant deploring the imitation of others – and especially of classical or neo-classical models – in favour of spontaneity, emotion and individual self-expression. Not that quoting ceased; allusion, parody, exposition, translation, and the reported speech of narrative characters still flourished. But rewriting based on earlier models was no longer the fashion and the vocabulary was of freedom and personal authenticity rather than quoting from others.

50And that in turn was no doubt itself a reaction against the long emphasis on imitation in the classical, mediaeval and Renaissance European literary traditions. In antiquity, as has often been noted, quotation was widespread. In classical Greek and Latin literature authors’ names were often given for specific quotations in exposition or narration (fictional or other), and intertextual allusion flourished, more, or less, recognisable by hearers and readers. The skilled imitation of earlier formulations and models was admired: ’not so as to filch but to borrow openly in the hope of being recognised’ (Seneca the Elder, Suasoriae 3.7 on Ovid, transl. Conte and Most 2003: 749). In Alexandrian poetry the technique of literary composition lay in the rewording or re-elaboration of earlier literature, and emulation meant both competition with and improvement of the original.So too in the mediaeval scholastic tradition where rewriting was the means to originality. Imitation of earlier authors spanned a wide spectrum from close reproduction to paraphrased, parodied, translated and allusive forms. The details clearly varied, but overall the extensive re-use and imitation of earlier material and models was both common and esteemed. That tradition has in various forms continued to run through Western literature for centuries. Writers like Pope or Dryden freely imitated others, feeling no need to appeal to the later ideals of romantic originality.

51The concept and practice of imitation, so deep rooted in antiquity and the following centuries and to an extent intertwining with the practices of later times, gives a long background to the present. It has been interwoven with many varied moves and rebuttals since, however, and criss-crossed with countervailing allegations, not least accusation of plagiarism and inappropriate copying (topics to be taken up in the next chapter). Even a quick overview of the centuries can remind us that the historical-cultural settings and concepts within which authors and their audiences work are one crucial dimension in both limiting and facilitating their experience, going alongside – and interacting with – political and technological settings or, equally, with culturally specific notions about the nature of the self, of the constitution of society or the value of the past. Our views of the arts of quoting today are coloured not only by current ideologies but also by the multi-stranded historical currents leading up to the present

52These broad-brush sweeps cannot however comprehend the variegated ways that people make use of – and interpret – quotation. Indeed as came out in the observations of the contemporary British commentators it is difficult enough even to pin down exactly how quoting is conducted and defined in one given region today. Within what might be dubbed a single historical phase or cultural setting many differences co-exist as authors and audiences tap variously into quotation’s many resources.

53So let me add a few specific cases to exemplify some of the manifold ways audiences and authors/performers have in practice made play with the multifarious arts of quotation. These will point up further the problems of definition and analysis for they spill across the edgeless spectrum of using others’ words and voices. At the same time they also up to a point take us beyond what has often been the narrow focus on Western history and literacy.

54We can start with the long-lived Japanese traditional poetry termed waka, an elite form of carefully cultivated poetic language practised from ancient times up to the present. One conspicuous element is the repetition of place-names, drawing connotations from earlier poems about places and creating a web of associations for readers and hearers. But the highly conscious repetitiveness of waka poetic style goes well beyond this. Like the fossilised remains of an old tree long buried in a river bed but with its beautiful grain still remaining– a recurring image – old material is lovingly re-used and re-created in living poetry.

55The result is a huge canon of thousands of waka poems – polished antiques – many of which look and sound strikingly alike. It is precisely these resemblances that make the poems poetic and the facet to which the reader’s and hearer’s interest turn:

Each bit of waka language dredged and re-dredged from the poetic past carried its own store of sentiment and accrued invested power. That sentiment remained viable precisely because it had been felt and understood so many times through the ages, and that power remained desirable because it had enabled poet after poet to be a maker of poems and a transmitter of that power
(Kamens 1997: 18).

56As with making a beautiful garden (another frequent image) the poet’s skill lay in rearranging known material to display both the points of contact and the departures from previous formulations, weaving allusions and links among and between poems, the more valued for being ’repeatedly dredged, refashioned, and displayed in new artifacts that reveal, and revel in, their pedigrees’ (Kamens 1997: 22).

57Or take the well-known example of Virgil’s epic, the Aeneid, composed in the first century BC and long admired and imitated as a classic work of antiquity. It presents the legendary tale of Aeneas’ wanderings after he fled from Troy and his battles leading to the founding of Rome. It does not glory in the re-used patina of salvaged material in the Japanese waka style, but is nevertheless saturated with reminiscences and imitations of earlier works. Above all it builds on the still-famous classic Greek epics of Homer from centuries earlier. From its now-famous first words, ’I sing of arms and the man’, it reactivates Homer’s key themes: the Iliad’s account of war and warriors and, even more directly recalled in the Aeneid’s opening lines, the Odyssey’s tale of the long wanderings of its hero, ’that man of many wiles’. Homeric imitations continue all through the Aeneid. There are recycled episodes (funeral games, horrendous storms, the intervention of gods and goddesses, heroic combat, a visit to the underworld of the dead), replicated metaphors, even near-exact translation from Homer’s Greek into Virgil’s Latin. Equally reminiscent is Virgil’s style. In formulaic ’Homeric’ epithets, extended similes and dactylic hexameter, Virgil is signalling that he too is a master of the epic rhetorical tradition, and that what he is presenting is indeed an epic to parallel Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.

58His audience’s understandings, at the time and over the centuries, form part of the picture: on the one hand an appreciation of the epic style and its connotations, on the other their (no doubt variable) recognition of earlier models for passages now incorporated within Virgil’s text but carrying poetic echoes of other voices and prior poetic experiences. And the chain continues. As Ralph Waldo Emerson pertinently notes

Read Tasso, and you think of Virgil; read Virgil, and you think of Homer; and Milton forces you to reflect how narrow are the limits of human invention. The ’Paradise Lost’ had never existed but for those precursors (Emerson 1876: 160).

59For the even more contrived importation of texts from elsewhere take the twentieth-century modernist writer T. S. Eliot whose poetry reproduced a vast amount from other writers, some exactly repeated, some more allusive. His was an articulate painstaking strategy, directed to a readership of cognoscenti. Though the quotations were in one sense integrated within his poetry, Eliot was far from seeking to conceal his practice. In ’The Waste Land’ detailed notes signalled his sources, among them Milton, Shakespeare, Dante, Ovid, Spencer, Verlaine, the Bible, St Augustine, and a multitude of others. His critics call it rehash, cribbing, repetition. His own and his admirers’ position is that his art – carefully constructed – lies precisely in the surprising interrelationships and ironies represented in these repositioned quotations. And even while his readers recognise the quoted sources from which the poem is made up, they are at the same time to acknowledge its unique voice as Eliot’s own. Here it is the poet’s mind that compels the disparate materials into unity; and the creativity lies not in the quoted inserts or allusions but in the poet’s voice as he manipulates and repositions them in new contexts. In Eliot’s much-quoted claim

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion
(Eliot 1921: 114).

60Contemporaries like Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore or E. E. Cummings took the same approach, similarly creating quoting poems and bringing the direct appropriation of earlier writing into fashion. Marianne Moore for example described one poem as ’a little anthology of statements that took my fancy – phrasings that I liked’, commenting further that ’a good stealer is ipso facto a good inventor’ (quoted in Diepeveen 1993: 23, 62). Or, to cite Eliot again, ’the most individual parts of [a poet’s] work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously’ (1975: 38).

61Moving to the contrasting setting of West Africa, we can consider the quoting techniques of twentieth-century Ghanaian novelists: in some ways comparable to Eliot and his colleagues, in others in very different style and context. Starting from the 1940s and continuing over many decades, large numbers of English-language novels were produced and published in Ghana. A popular genre, this revolved round issues of domestic and conjugal life and the pitfalls of marriage: the erring husband, the virtuous tolerant wife… The ’distinctive, culturally specific quoting technique’ (Newell 2000a: 36) of the novelists bound together quotations and allusions, unsignalled as such, from a large repertoire of sources, not least those of English literary texts, often in high moral language redolent of Victorian English.

62This has sometimes been interpreted as mindless importation from English models – a ’parrot-like’ imitation of earlier texts, at best derivative and uncreative. But as Stephanie Newell has elucidated, there were more complex dimensions to their art.

An important question not asked by critics who are dismissive of ’stereotypes’ in African literature relates to the function of these ’quotations’ from foreign and local resources… Just as many proverbs are incomprehensible to those without detailed contextual knowledge and experience of a culture, so too the ’deep’ meanings that attach to popular plots and character types require contextualisation in order to be understood
(Newell 2000b: 160).

63It was in part through quoting that authors displayed their skills of selection and of originality, drawing on a wide and variegated array of narrative resources. Quotations came not just from Western writing and genres – sometimes mocked as part of an individual’s characterisation – but also from local proverbs and the story-songs of young men’s local concertparties. In this jamboree of resources ’foreign’ was not distinguished from ’local’ as authors drew on multiple literary sources to fuse their own messages to their readers.

In a single text, protagonists might use quotations from Shakespeare to conclude a lengthy argument about the deceptive nature of an African woman’s love; the details of a young couple’s relationship might be narrated in a language drawn from English romantic novels, while the surrounding text is narrated in a non-romantic register; and the anti-social behaviour of a character might be judged through the quotation of English moral maxims, placed alongside translations of African-language proverbs (Newell 2000a: 35).

64The readers played a crucial role too. Just as hearers interpreted and applied proverbs from accomplished Ghanaian orators, so readers expanded quotations in the novels into insights and connotations carrying them beyond the words of the moment: ’compressed into each quotation is a dynamic body of advice, which readers selectively extract and utilize in the process of constructing commentaries about themselves and their futures’ (Newell 2000a: 41).

65Contrast thus with the system of quoting in the Kuna oratory described in Chapter 6. Here it is not synthesis into some main text, but an overt system of ’quoting within quoting’. Kuna verbal performances, remember, are filled with tellings, retellings and tellings within tellings – and expected to be so filled: reported speech is omnipresent in Kuna verbal art. Sometimes it is word-for-word repetitions, sometimes less direct interpretations of others’ words. In speeches the words are often to be understood not as those of the current speaker but of quotations from earlier times and places and of other voices from both past and future.

66An even more conspicuous separation between quotation and ’main text’ comes in the genre of academic writing. Imported passages are not seamlessly integrated but ostentatiously demarcated. This tradition in some ways goes back many centuries – pedantic scholastic quoting was comically lampooned in Rabelais – but is arguably particularly prominent in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Texts are studded with quotations and references, sometimes exuberantly obtrusive and lavishly displayed, and usually accompanied by an obligatory apparatus specifying in laborious detail the original sources of these words of others (for exemplification, if needed, see Appendix 1). Besides these flaunted references to other voices there is also often close paraphrasing from earlier sources, blended into the text and not always acknowledged, as well as plentiful allusion to images, names and concepts that carry great meaning for those in the charmed circle, less so for others – the practice is more complex and varied than the ideal model suggests. But there is no doubt that obtrusive and loudly signalled citation of the words of others typically characterises such writing, part of the expected artistry and ritual – the poetics – of this particular genre of written prose.

67Different yet again is the next example – the narrative poems sung by bards in the Yugoslavia of the early to mid-twentieth century (Lord 1960, Foley 2002). In this South Slavic tradition long epics about the deeds of legendary heroes were orally composed in the full flow of performance. The singers tailored their songs to the specific audiences and settings of the occasion to produce unique performances, but at the same time framed them within familiar and well-known style, plots and scenes, and marshalled phrases, runs and epithets that can be characterised as ’formulaic’. Drawing on this traditional store of themes and wordings enabled the singers to pour forth long epic songs in uninterrupted flow without writing or verbatim memorisation, a parallel to the repeated Homeric epithets (like ’wily Odysseus’ or the ’wine dark sea’) of early Greek epics. The heroic songs were strewn with variants on repeated familiar passages, sung and re-sung again and again in differing settings and combinations. It was a poetic style redolent with an aura of tradition from the past, originating in one sense from earlier wordings, in another newly recreated in each performance. This could be seen as another form of quoting – of repeating and recontextualising words from earlier minstrels. But in its apparent seamlessness it presents a marked contrast to the clearly demarcated quotation style adopted in academic citations or the overtly multivoiced Kuna oratory.

68These cases can in turn be contrasted with the remarkable way in which quoting pervades the oral literature of the Western Nigerian Yoruba referred to earlier (Chapter 6). Here quoting is again explicit, a prominent and prized feature not just in single genres but throughout much of their literary art, with specific chunks of text marked out as having a kind of separate quotable existence, ’a detachable autonomous formulation’ (Barber 1999: 20). Yoruba praise poetry for example is lush with passages presented as utterances from or about the praisee (the person being praised) and with quotes within quotes. They carry an impression, as Barber puts it, of a ’prevailing quotedness of the entire text’, further underlined by the frequent quoting of words presented as uttered by the praisee. The chanter swells her text by imported fragments from elsewhere, not just brief phrases but fuller songs, proverbs, chain-narrative poems. These are ingested into the praising environment and yet by their slight foreignness in the text are at the same time a mode of expanding the subject’s reputation: ’the suggestion is that the performer’s skill is so great and the subject’s charisma so magnetic, that all imaginable verbal resources will be induced to flow towards the subject to feed his reputation’ (Barber 1999: 31). The great cycle of divination verses too are notably hospitable to migrant texts. These can come from other genres like myths, aetiological tales, proverbs, riddles and gnomic sayings, and are both fed into the authority of the text and to a degree retain their own identity – at once detached and recontextualised.

Phrases, passages, fragments constantly migrate from one genre to another and are incorporated. They are not fully assimilated to their host environments, but neither do they remain fully distinct. They are co-opted but retain, as it were, the aura of otherness and the possibility of reverting or opening out into a different text
(Barber 1999: 26-7).

69Not that the sources of the imported quotations in these Yoruba texts are always precisely defined or, indeed, accurately sourced. But the pervasive mode of attribution means that even if the original formulation is unknown, the idea of quotation is constantly present. As Karin Barber sums it up

Quotedness, or quotability, is not only characteristic of a whole class of utterances, but is also acknowledged and represented as such by the practitioners of those genres. It is constantly foregrounded and alluded to in the texts themselves. Ranging from light allusions to wholesale textual incorporation, from echoes to explicit citation, from a seamless polyvocality to attributed direct and indirect speech, quotation is [a] pervasive and polymorphous feature of Yoruba textuality
(Barber 1999: 21).

70This then is a different kind of quoting art from that of the repeated runs and phrases in South Slavic epic, of the polished waka poetic language or the specificities of Kuna reported speech. Here imported chunks of text are both inserted and yet retain something of their ’other’ – and detachable – existence.As Barber makes clear, the texts of praise poems ’constantly stress that they are, in some sense, quotations of previously uttered, already existent formulations, and not just the traceless development of a common stock of formulas’ (Barber 1999: 26).

  • 1 Amidst the huge literature and fan material on Dylan I have found Cartwright 1985, Gilmour 2004 an (...)

71The art of quoting has also of course been extensively exploited in song, whether in the conventional high-art western canon, folk traditions, or the rock compositions of recent years. Quotation, repetition and imitation are constants, with the added dimension of musical allusion. Take as one example the American singer songwriter Bob Dylan, popular over five decades from the 1960s.1His lyrics draw inspiration from a wide range of models, both musical and verbal. His tunes and verbal idiom grew out of the folk and blues tradition, mixed in with gospel and rock as well as Scottish and Irish folk song. His songs resonate with these associations, often the more effectively for being turned in unexpected directions. Phrases and lines from earlier songs are repeated and reworked. The chorus of ’Hard times in New York town’ for example evokes the leftwing folk anthology from which it was taken, but now expressed in a new tone and voice. In his famous ’Hard rain’ the verses and initial poetic format directly recall those of the traditional Scottish ballad of Lord Randal (’O where ha’ you been, Lord Randal my son?/ And where ha’ you been, my handsome young man?’) before turning to the hard rain that’s ’a gonna fall’ (Dylan 1962).

72Dylan draws many literary sources into his songs, among them Browning’s poems or Bunyan’s ever-popular Pilgrim’s Progress, working them to his own purposes. Proverbs reappear too, to be re-worked, like ’Standing on the waters casting your bread’ or ’Fools rush in where angels fear to tread’ – a saying that goes back at least to Pope. Or again a refrain ’Like a rolling stone’ brings together the dual associations of popular blues image and the well-known proverb ’A rolling stone gathers no moss’. His lyrics are suffused above all with biblical wording. There are allusions to Old Testament prophets, to biblical stories, to Gospel images, to the Sermon on the Mount. We hear of Gates of Eden, Sodom and Gomorrah, the poor being uplifted, the lion lying down with the lamb, the good shepherd, ’every grain of sand’, ’you can’t live by bread alone’, and (from ’When the ship comes in’) how we’ll be drownded in the tide like ’Pharaoh’s tribe’ and conquered like Goliath (Dylan 1964).

73As often with quotation, no doubt many members of Dylan’s enthusiastic audiences could not pinpoint the detailed sources of his words or even recognise them as in some sense others’. Some probably did, the more so given Dylan’s famed knowledge of the Bible and the active and enthusiastic fan groups with their multiplying web sites. But perhaps it was not Dylan’s aim to expect exact chapter-and-verse recognition. As he said

A lot of times you’ll just hear things and you’ll know that these lines are the things that you want to put in your song. Whether you say them or not they don’t have to be your particular thoughts. They just sound good, and somebody thinks them. Half my stuff falls along those lines… You have to have seen something or have heard something for you to dream it. It becomes your dream then... It comes to me so I give it back in my particular style
(quoted in Gilmour 2004: 14-15).

74And it is also true that many of his echoes and allusions are to an extent part of a recognised vocabulary and imagery in the popular song tradition, not necessarily heard as direct ’quotations’ from specific sources. But this does not prevent them adding an air of mystery and special weight to his lyrics even for those not directly acquainted with what some might label their origin. The idiom comes across not as ’plain’ univocal language but as carrying heavy overtones of voices from elsewhere, an ambience of working simultaneously on several levels.

75And adding to this interweaving is the fact that in some cases Dylan is reworking known tunes – an old slave song popularised by Paul Robeson, for example, or a Scottish ballad – using their associations to add new words and turn them to unexpected purposes. Dylan’s compositions, it must be recalled, are songs, not just ’texts’. This dimension too offers an additional dimensions of multivocality, the familiar and apparently simple tones of a musical style sometimes contrasting with the cynical tone of the words and the manner in which they are performed.

76Let me end this array of cases with a specific example: the widely quoted ’This Be the Verse’, by the British poet Philip Larkin.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself
(Larkin 1974).

77Widely considered one of the leading English poets of the later twentieth century, Larkin’s verse is by now treated seriously within the recognised literary canon. But this particular poem has also become part of popular culture. It appears on thousands of websites, is famous enough to be regularly parodied, and was recently voted one of the ’nation’s top hundred poems’ by UK television viewers. Extracts from it were mentioned several times by the British mass observers as among the most-cited quotes, used especially by students and adolescents, and invoked, they implied, to bring the authority and perspective of an outsider’s voice.

78But that voice is not itself single. On the face of it in plain language and simple format without conspicuously demarcated quotation from elsewhere, the poem is also intershot with multilayered allusions. Indeed its art could be said to lie significantly in the many voices and overtones that echo within it. The title is a direct repetition, no doubt deliberate, of the ringing finale to Robert Louis Stevenson’s much-quoted ’Requiem’ with its own host of associations:

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

79The figure of the sins of the fathers being visited on their children runs through Larkin’s poem, ironically (perhaps) echoing biblical words and imagery. And beyond this there are the resonances of the genre, for the poet also plays on the juxtaposition of the dignified associations of traditional metre and style with the irreverent language of some of the lines. So too with the (perhaps?) touch of parody in the ’Man hands on misery to man’ with its gnomic ring and grandeur of language in the final verse before the snappy ending: a clash of voices.

80No doubt only a proportion of its admirers identify the specific source of the poem’s title, even perhaps that is a quotation – except that its style already gives it a feel of ’otherness’. More probably recognise if not the specific biblical source about fathers’ sins, then at any rate a redolent image deeply embedded in the culture. And perhaps all sense something of its sonic metrical allusiveness. Within this plurality of voices a longer history goes before it. There are the long-resonating biblical echoes that have rung down the centuries (a heritage well-known to the contemporary British observers as to so many others before them), the familiar generic conventions of metre, rhyme and style, the ’requiem’ tradition, the works of earlier writers like Robert Louis Stevenson (but not just him), and the loaded linguistic registers. The poem, like so many, holds accumulated layers of words and voices with long and varied roots through the ages.

81The human resources drawn on in exercising the arts and rituals of quotation are thus of enormous scope, creatively manipulated in a starry constellation of diverse ways. They have to be understood not just within broad cultural-historical phases or geographical regions, important as these are for locating the variegated practices and ideologies. They are also manifested through the infinite diversities of differing genres, authors, audiences and sensitivities, whether the quoting techniques of Ghanaian novelists or – different but equally distinctive – of poets like T. S. Eliot, Japanese images of gardens and polished antiques, sonic echoes and parallelisms in song, the plural if quietly sounding voices of Larkin’s ’verse’, or the ritual invoking of ancestral voices in academic prose. But if diversity is in one way the key – in quoting there is perhaps no end – at the same time we need to be alive to the long reminiscences that can be carried by quoted voices, sometimes over centuries, not least in the enduring tradition of Western literary art where accumulated layers of styles, genres, and wordings bring with them echoes and repetitions, at times half-submerged, of past voices re-sounded in the present.

7.3. How do the thousand flowers grow and who savours them?

82The arts and rites of cultivating others’ words and voices are thus varied indeed. Some flowers are carefully tended, grown in well bordered plots, consciously admired and labelled in their differentiated species. Others spring up in more mixed form, less deliberately gardened or recognised but admired in their profusions of colours. Some come year after year after year, others fade after a season or lapse to be revived later. Some are kept separate and marked out, others crowd together along that huge continuum between the signalled ’quote’ and the integrated text where quotation is no longer distinct but perhaps spreads its perfume through all.

  • 2 These debates (in particular on the meaning of ‘allusion’) are not reproduced in detail here, but (...)

83Amidst these many frames, transformations and diversities, it is understandable that commentators have spent much effort in trying to get to grips with the labels under which they have flourished or been described – quotation, allusion, imitation, reminiscence, replication, borrowing, plagiarism and a host of others (Fig. 7.3 gives a rough idea of their range). Here then is another approach – more comparative and ahistorical perhaps – to the understanding of quoting’s arts and rites. It has not resulted in much permanent agreement, it is true. ’Allusion’ for example has drawn much debate about whether it is to be looked for in the text itself or in author intention, audience recognition, generic expectations, levels, integration, degree or locus of imitation, or elsewhere. Sometimes the onus is on laying down the ’best’ or ’right’ ways to quote, sometimes (maybe simultaneously) on seeking exact terminologies so as to pin down the nature and categories of ’quoting’ – a contentious and perhaps ultimately impossible endeavour.2

84Certain threads do emerge from these analyses however. When set together with the diversities of practice illustrated earlier, they point to certain key dimensions in this multifaceted congeries of modes, intentions and levels that run through literary history and cultural practices. The varying terms can be approached not as a road to some general theory or set taxonomy, far less prescriptions about how quoting should be conducted – as they have sometimes been treated – but more as clues to gradients in people’s uses of quoting, differently manifested in different eras and for different occasions and groupings but recurrent all the same: a spectrum of dimensions in the unbounded arts of using and hearing others’ texts and voices.

Fig. 7.3 A confusion of quoting terms.
These many English terms – some more central and established, others more dimly or peripherally or occasionally used – have all at one time or another been employed as concepts, synonyms, parallels, elaborations or metaphors to analyse, replace or link to the idea of quoting and quotation. Some work as nouns, some as verbs or verbal nouns, some are abstract, some more concrete, but between them they bring out multiple dimensions and connotations, indicating something of the range and elusiveness of this complex spectrum of human thought and practice (Design © Mark Cain

85The participants in the arts of quotation continually crop up as one significant, if varying, dimension. The obvious starting point, indeed for some analysts the crucial element, is the input of the creator – author, writer, speaker, singer. This itself is of course complex and varied. The potential division of labour in constructing and forwarding verbal art goes beyond some simple, if in some contexts meaningful, role of definitive ’author’ for people are involved in many different ways in forwarding words and voices that are in some sense both their own and not their own. Goffman’s still-useful distinction (1981) between the ’principal’, responsible for what is said, the ’author’ who formulates the words, and the ’animator’ who utters them, reminds us of the distributed voices of textual creation. ’Authorial voice’ is no single concept and can carry others’ words and voices in elusive ways. A multiplicity of creators may interact in differing ways – and with differing degrees of deliberation – in the arts of invoking others’ texts or voices: interpenetrating, reinforcing, opposing, qualifying, distancing, commenting and much else.

86The author’s ’intention’ is for some the crucial criterion. But how far an author (in whatever sense) deliberately calls in others’ words and voices is a matter of degree. It ranges from the carefully signalled quotations in some academic or judicial exposition, right across to the less deliberate – perhaps scarcely conscious – cross-referencing and echoes of literary idiom and poetic language. Many authors may sympathise with Coleridge’s famous complaint about how difficult it was to write ’without finding his poem, against his will and without his previous consciousness, a cento of lines that had pre-existed in other works’ (Letter to Thomas Curnick, 1814, in Griggs 1959: 469). Indeed just what ’deliberation’ consists of in this context, and the processes by which things move into and out of conscious awareness, remains mysterious. People can ’quote without realising’ as the British observers pointed out, and along that multifaceted gradient there can be many levels of intentionality.

87Other participants enter in too: audience, hearers, readers, recipients, interpreters, co-creators, users who – in varying degrees and fashions and from a variety of viewpoints – recognise and activate a text’s multivocality. Here too the degree of explicit recognition can vary. Kellett may have expressed it in overly prescriptive terms in advising authors not to

go beyond your public. If you allude, you must allude to what it knows. This is a main law of Literary Reminiscence: do not, except with due precautions, remind your readers of what they do not remember
(Kellett 1933: 9)

88but he is right that this can be an essential (and sometimes overlooked) strand in the texture. The audience’s and readers’ knowledge and expectations make a difference to how quoting in practice works out, sometimes long after a work’s first creation, and there can be variations not only between different audiences (and periods) but within them too. Some hearers may pinpoint a source, others merely (but still significantly) react through some ’slight titillation of the memory’ (Kellett 1933: 69, 11). Or it may be just some aura of poetic style or imagery, whether from classical epic, South Slavic heroic performance, Bob Dylan lyric, Larkin’s verse, academic papers or Sunday’s regular sermons. Perhaps Woody Allen was right that while some ’drink deeply from the river of knowledge’, others ’only gargle’.

89There is also the question of how users manipulate what they read or hear. In live performance this can be activated vocal repetition. Thus choruses reiterate the refrains of songs, in one sense echoing the main presenter, in another importing yet other voices into the text, while the call-and-response repetitions by congregations of Afro-Baptist preachers intensify the drama and add to its polyphony. Other responses may be more quiet but nonetheless frame the interpretation. In Hellenistic oral poetry people built on the spontaneous quotations where, as M. D. Usher put it, ’each verse… like a link in hypertext, opens up a window onto a much larger set of semantic and aesthetic parameters to activate meaning’ (2006: 194). More recently, Orson Welles neatly caught the sense of recognition and satisfaction felt by play-goers in his observation that ’we sit through Shakespeare in order to recognize the quotations’. Diepeveen somewhat similarly describes an audience’s reaction to the American writer Rosmarie Waldrop’s rendition of her Differences for Four Hands immediately after reading out a text from which she had quoted. Each time she reached one of these quotations

A good third of the audience would shift slightly in its seat, sending a rustle of cotton through the auditorium. At the same time, one or two members of the audience would involuntarily grunt. The shifters and grunters reinforced in me the belief that quotations do get from its perceivers a different type of attention than do allusions, and that we do mark quotations off from the quoting text, sometimes in charmingly naïve and involuntary ways
(Diepeveen 1993: vii).

90In texts for the eye too, readers co-construct the meaning. They expand abbreviated quotes or allusions, or, as with the readers of Ghanaian popular novels, pursue links and literary reminiscences they themselves create, an interactive blending of voices. Those acquainted with biblical words and images rediscover them in many verbal contexts, academic readers respond to the allusive words of authorities they revere or abhor. So too footnotes, references, hypertext links and blogging techniques, leading into others’ words and voices, can all be treated by those who so choose as, at least, a congener of quoting.

91Participants’ judgement enters in too. Admirers of Eliot or of Dylan may see their constructs as controlled artistic creations, others be impatient or bored with what they assess as derivative or plagiarised. Specialists in particular genres and periods pick up quotations and polyphonies in texts others read as univocal. The perceptions participants bring with them, whether individual or widely shared, play a major part in whether something is conceptualised as, say, a matter of appropriation, rupture, corruption, parody, synthesis, or artistic originality; or, again, as complement, illustration, witness, embellishment, reminiscence, or show-off; and what by contemporary readers might be taken as assembling a random series of disparate copying, might earlier have appeared as creative rewriting. All in all the multifaceted spectrum of (multiple) participants’ inputs and reactions remains impossible to capture in simple definitions, another indication of the multicoloured diversity of the arts of human quoting.

92A further strand relates to the degree of integration or separation, by some analysts taken as the key differentiating element. At one pole lies explicitly signalled citation, clearly demarcated from its surrounds and deliberately flagged as different. At the other is full assimilation and incorporation, where different sources and voices blend into some new synthesis rather than being held separate and where, even if there is still some slight feel of foreignness, terms like ’allusion’ and ’intertextuality’ seem more apt. Most texts can be seen as falling somewhere along this gradient. One well-known example is the contrast between the Roman poets Virgil and Horace – the former’s integrating tendency in minimising the junction, as against Horace’s technique of starting off a poem with a quotation from another poet, calling attention to his artifice and signalling it as separate while yet colouring his own through the allusion (Conte 1986: 12, 25).

93And then, at the extreme end of this particular continuum, there are the cases where quotations are so distinctly demarcated as to become near-autonomous. Epigraphs and titles are one example. Set as they often are at starts of works or heads of chapters they are both apart and to be read together with their following text. Even more clearly quoted chunks of text are sometimes displayed as such, as in compilations of quotations or, in other settings, as self-standing calligraphic displays, epitaphs, posters – or indeed in a mixture of ways at different times. Thus the gravestone inscription

It is not dying that distresses me, since this is measured out to all
But before my prime of life and before my parents

94was in one context an autonomous text (this one from third-century AD Phrygia), in another lines incorporated over many centuries in the popular literature of the Greek-speaking world (Hansen 1998: 329).

95The separation/incorporation continuum again defies any simple characterisation for the differential experiences and expectations of both author and audiences criss-cross the scale, and the degree of integration or otherwise may be more, or less, noticed. A subtle and not necessarily fully deliberate indication of setting-apart in a text – a slight change in style, a raised eyebrow in face-to-face delivery, a light touch or sound in a multimodal setting – may for one person seem a clearly signalled literary allusion or direct quote, for another merely part of the running-on text. And where one might see full synthesis, others might find polyphonous voices sounding through – part indeed of the complex mystery of the artistries and rituals of quoting with its hospitality to simultaneous co-presences.

96And then there is the issue of what a ’quotation’ consists of: its content. If the art of quoting means manipulating and re-presenting clusters of words, this can be along a scale from more or less exactly duplicated words through to looser re-presentations or paraphrases, inexact allusions, adaptations, fabrications, parodies, or merely glancing references. There are the more or less exact repetitions of modernist quoting poems, Bible-based sermons, the repeated formulae of ritual enunciations and the carefully copied quotations of academic discourse; but we also have abbreviated or passing allusions to quotes like Shakespeare’s ’Uneasy lies the head…’ or abridged proverbs like ’Many cooks…’. For relatively identifiable words, there is also the question of their length and durability: how long particular chunks of words seem to last varies, as well as in how exact and extensive a form. The transformations of translation too have long played their part (quotations of a kind): witness the extensive translations from classical Greek to Latin, Latin to vernacular, African-language performances to English or French text, and biblical Hebrew or New Testament Greek into languages through the world and down the ages. Sometimes the art lies precisely in a deliberate change from known and familiar wording, as in parody, jokes and epigram, sometimes in a new setting for the same – recontextualised – words which give them a new tone and meaning.

97The question of just what it is that is quoted may not just be a matter of verbal repetition. The impersonation of performance for example leads to a range of possibilities. Mimicry of someone’s delivery or tone can bring an atmosphere of quoting another, effective whether the words, in a narrow sense, are different or the same. Equally significant are the repetitions associated with style and genre. Waka poetic language, Bob Dylan’s images from the black song tradition, Virgil’s metrical form with its reminiscences of Homeric epic, the overtones of formulaic expressions, Larkin’s combining of earthy language with high-culture poetic style – in such cases the artistry partly lies not just in the words themselves but in their flavour and their evocation of voices that are not just the poet’s own or just from today.

98These many diversities and gradients may indeed seem to have brought us to the edge of what is perhaps after all an edgeless and slippery arena. But this is perhaps the point. There is no one way to characterise the arts of quoting, resistant as they are to being captured within neat or discrete categories. The lines between intertextuality, allusion, reminiscence, echo, parallel and the many other terms which cluster around the art of calling in others’ words and voices are ambiguous and shifting and the multiple terms slide into each other. Allusion is sometimes distinguished from quotation but the division hard to agree; parallels merge into intertextuality; rewriting into originality; emulation and imitation into copying, ventriloquism or plagiarism; repetition into echo, reminiscence or transformation. Reproduction, imitation, authorial voice, report, witness, formulae, borrowing, inspiration, model, allusion, intertextuality – all throw their varied light on the human uses of others’ words and voices. Quoting can indeed be seen – and experienced – as an interruption, a strength, a highlight, a pretension; can be conspicuous, integrated, cryptic, recognised, interwoven; regarded differentially by the many participants in the process; and much else besides. Small wonder that the British mass observers both recognised the significance of quoting yet puzzled about just what it meant. For the malleable resources that humans draw on to create and inhabit the worlds of others are deployed and experienced in multiple imaginative ways not just in different periods or for different genres, but even in the experience of the very same text or performance by differing participants along plural gradients of explicitness, conscious awareness, integration/separation, fixity, interpretation, verbal exactness, and genre expectations.

99But while it remains important to insist on the specificities with which quoting is deployed – of culture, period, genre, occasion, individual – yet with all the differences we can scarcely deny the rich creativities to which others’ words and voices have been turned, rooted it seems in an impulse to bring together the old and new in the context of art, chained together, often enough, in the continuities of history. Here is an astonishing resource, both in the repertoire on which the co-creators of human verbal art and ritual can call and the recognition that, whether or not all participants fully grasp all the potential resonances, people do indeed draw lavishly on multiple voices in the service of art and ritual. We may puzzle over just how to pin them down, but long heritages of frameworks, genres, re-used words and individual manipulations indubitably lie behind the quoting arts of today – the long-lived human marshalling of quotation in the rites of art, the artistries of ritual.


1 Amidst the huge literature and fan material on Dylan I have found Cartwright 1985, Gilmour 2004 and Ricks 2003 especially pertinent here.

2 These debates (in particular on the meaning of ‘allusion’) are not reproduced in detail here, but can be richly illuminating not in reaching any agreed final definition but on the spectrum of practices and the complex issues of ideology and interpretation that they uncover: see especially Irwin 2001, Perri 1978, Ricks 2002 and further references there.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 7.1 ’Lord Randal’.In this widely-distributed and quoted traditional Anglo-Scottish ballad the characters’ interchanging voices and their developing repetitions and parallelisms carry the narrative forward, their interchanges and contrasting voices made clear both in the layout of print, as here, and in a singer’s contrasting vocal delivery in performance (Sir Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, ed. T. F. Henderson, Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1902, Vol. 3, pp. 57-8)
Fichier image/jpeg, 35k
Légende Fig. 7.2 The Ten Commandments on Buckland Beacon.The Ten Commandments, inscribed in 1928, are still to be seen on rocks at the top of the 1,253ft Buckland Beacon in Dartmoor, Devon, though by now somewhat faded. The left-hand slab has the first four of these famous Commandments, here quoted from the biblical book of Deuteronomy, followed by a favourite quotation of William Whitely’s (the lord of Buckland Manor, who commissioned the inscriptions). On the right (only partly visible here) are the remaining Commandments and a quotation from John’s gospel (Chapter 13 verse 34: ’A new commandment/ I give unto/ You/ Love one another’) and a verse from the well-known hymn ’Oh God Our Help in Ages Past’ (Photo: David Murray)
Fichier image/jpeg, 85k
Légende Fig. 7.3 A confusion of quoting terms.These many English terms – some more central and established, others more dimly or peripherally or occasionally used – have all at one time or another been employed as concepts, synonyms, parallels, elaborations or metaphors to analyse, replace or link to the idea of quoting and quotation. Some work as nouns, some as verbs or verbal nouns, some are abstract, some more concrete, but between them they bring out multiple dimensions and connotations, indicating something of the range and elusiveness of this complex spectrum of human thought and practice (Design © Mark Cain
Fichier image/jpeg, 146k


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