Intertextuality is the shaping of a text's meaning by another text, either through deliberate compositional strategies such as quotation, allusion, calque, plagiarism, translation, pastiche or parody, or by interconnections between similar or related works perceived by an audience or reader of the text. These references are sometimes made deliberately and depend on a reader's prior knowledge and understanding of the referent, but the effect of intertextuality is not always intentional and is sometimes inadvertent. Often associated with strategies employed by writers working in imaginative registers (fiction, poetry, and drama and even non-written texts like performance art and digital media), intertextuality is now understood to be intrinsic to any text.
Intertextuality has been differentiated into referential and typological categories. Referential intertextuality refers to the use of fragments in texts and the typological intertextuality refers to the use of pattern and structure in typical texts. A distinction can also be made between iterability and presupposition. Iterability makes reference to the "repeatability" of certain text that is composed of "traces", pieces of other texts that help constitute its meaning. Presupposition makes a reference to assumptions a text makes about its readers and its context. As philosopher William Irwin wrote, the term "has come to have almost as many meanings as users, from those faithful to Julia Kristeva's original vision to those who simply use it as a stylish way of talking about allusion and influence".
Julia Kristeva was the first to coin the term "intertextuality" (intertextualité) in an attempt to synthesize Ferdinand de Saussure's semiotics—his study of how signs derive their meaning within the structure of a text—with Bakhtin's dialogism—his theory which suggests a continual dialogue with other works of literature and other authors—and his examination of the multiple meanings, or "heteroglossia", in each text (especially novels) and in each word. For Kristeva, "the notion of intertextuality replaces the notion of intersubjectivity" when we realize that meaning is not transferred directly from writer to reader but instead is mediated through, or filtered by, "codes" imparted to the writer and reader by other texts. For example, when we read James Joyce's Ulysses we decode it as a modernist literary experiment, or as a response to the epic tradition, or as part of some other conversation, or as part of all of these conversations at once. This intertextual view of literature, as shown by Roland Barthes, supports the concept that the meaning of a text does not reside in the text, but is produced by the reader in relation not only to the text in question, but also the complex network of texts invoked in the reading process.
While the theoretical concept of intertextuality is associated with post-modernism, the device itself is not new. New Testament passages quote from the Old Testament and Old Testament books such as Deuteronomy or the prophets refer to the events described in Exodus (for discussions on using 'intertextuality' to describe the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, see Porter 1997; Oropeza 2013; Oropeza & Moyise, 2016). Whereas a redaction critic would use such intertextuality to argue for a particular order and process of the authorship of the books in question, literary criticism takes a synchronic view that deals with the texts in their final form, as an interconnected body of literature. This interconnected body extends to later poems and paintings that refer to Biblical narratives, just as other texts build networks around Greek and Roman Classical history and mythology. Bullfinch's 1855 work The Age Of Fable served as an introduction to such an intertextual network; according to its author, it was intended "for the reader of English literature, of either sex, who wishes to comprehend the allusions so frequently made by public speakers, lecturers, essayists, and poets...".
Sometimes intertextuality is taken as plagiarism as in the case of Spanish writer Lucía Etxebarria whose poem collection Estación de infierno (2001) was found to contain metaphors and verses from Antonio Colinas. Etxebarria claimed that she admired him and applied intertextuality.
More recent post-structuralist theory, such as that formulated in Daniela Caselli's Beckett's Dantes: Intertextuality in the Fiction and Criticism (MUP 2005), re-examines "intertextuality" as a production within texts, rather than as a series of relationships between different texts. Some postmodern theorists like to talk about the relationship between "intertextuality" and "hypertextuality" (not to be confused with hypertext, another semiotic term coined by Gérard Genette); intertextuality makes each text a "living hell of hell on earth" and part of a larger mosaic of texts, just as each hypertext can be a web of links and part of the whole World-Wide Web. The World-Wide Web has been theorized as a unique realm of reciprocal intertextuality, in which no particular text can claim centrality, yet the Web text eventually produces an image of a community—the group of people who write and read the text using specific discursive strategies.
One can also make distinctions between the notions of "intertext", "hypertext" and "supertext". Take for example the Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavić. As an intertext, it employs quotations from the scriptures of the Abrahamic religions. As a hypertext, it consists of links to different articles within itself and also every individual trajectory of reading it. As a supertext, it combines male and female versions of itself, as well as three mini-dictionaries in each of the versions.
Examples in literature
Some examples of intertextuality in literature include:
- Perhaps the earliest example of a non-anonymous author alluding to another is when Euripides, in his Electra (410s BC), spoofs (in lines 524-38) the recognition scene from Aeschylus's The Libation Bearers.
- East of Eden (1952) by John Steinbeck: A retelling of the account of Genesis, set in the Salinas Valley of Northern California.
- Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce: A retelling of Homer's Odyssey, set in Dublin.
- Absalom, Absalom! (1936) by William Faulkner: A retelling of the Absalom story from Samuel, set in antebellum Mississippi.
- Earthly Powers (1980) by Anthony Burgess: A retelling of Anatole France's Le Miracle du grand saint Nicolas during the 20th century.
- The Dead Fathers Club (2006) by Matt Haig: A retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet, set in modern England.
- A Thousand Acres (1991) by Jane Smiley: A retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear, set in rural Iowa.
- Perelandra (1943) by C. S. Lewis: Another retelling of the account of Genesis, also leaning on Milton's Paradise Lost, but set on the planet Venus.
- Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) by Jean Rhys: A textual intervention on Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, the story of the "mad woman in the attic" told from her perspective.
- The Legend of Bagger Vance (1996) by Steven Pressfield: A retelling of the Bhagavad Gita, set in 1931 during an epic golf game.
- Bridget Jones's Diary (1996) by Helen Fielding: A modern "chick lit" romantic comedy replaying and referencing Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
- Tortilla Flat (1935) by John Steinbeck: A retelling of the Arthurian legends, set in Monterey, California, during the interwar period.
- Mourning Becomes Electra (1931) by Eugene O'Neill: A retelling of Aeschylus' The Oresteia, set in post-American Civil War New England.
- The Gospel of Matthew narrates the early years of the life of Jesus while following a pattern from the Hebrew Bible's Book of Exodus.
- Frankissstein (2019) by Jeanette Winterson: A retelling of Mary Shelley's 1818 classic Frankenstein, examining updated issues of the monstrous, i.e. sex-bots and cryogenics.
Linguist Norman Fairclough states that "intertextuality is a matter of recontextualization". According to Per Linell, recontextualization can be defined as the "dynamic transfer-and-transformation of something from one discourse/text-in-context ... to another". Recontextualization can be relatively explicit—for example, when one text directly quotes another—or relatively implicit—as when the "same" generic meaning is rearticulated across different texts.: 132–133
A number of scholars have observed that recontextualization can have important ideological and political consequences. For instance, Adam Hodges has studied how White House officials recontextualized and altered a military general's comments for political purposes, highlighting favorable aspects of the general's utterances while downplaying the damaging aspects. Rhetorical scholar Jeanne Fahnestock has found that when popular magazines recontextualize scientific research they enhance the uniqueness of the scientific findings and confer greater certainty on the reported facts. Similarly, John Oddo stated that American reporters covering Colin Powell's 2003 U.N. speech transformed Powell's discourse as they recontextualized it, bestowing Powell's allegations with greater certainty and warrantability and even adding new evidence to support Powell's claims.
Oddo has also argued that recontextualization has a future-oriented counterpoint, which he dubs "precontextualization". According to Oddo, precontextualization is a form of anticipatory intertextuality wherein "a text introduces and predicts elements of a symbolic event that is yet to unfold".: 78 For example, Oddo contends, American journalists anticipated and previewed Colin Powell's U.N. address, drawing his future discourse into the normative present.
While intertextuality is a complex and multileveled literary term, it is often confused with the more casual term 'allusion'. Allusion is a passing or casual reference; an incidental mention of something, either directly or by implication. This means it is most closely linked to both obligatory and accidental intertextuality, as the 'allusion' made relies on the listener or viewer knowing about the original source. It is also seen as accidental, however, as the allusion is normally a phrase so frequently or casually used that the true significance is not fully appreciated. Allusion is most often used in conversation, dialogue or metaphor. For example, "I was surprised his nose was not growing like Pinocchio's." This makes a reference to The Adventures of Pinocchio, written by Carlo Collodi when the little wooden puppet lies. If this was obligatory intertextuality in a text, multiple references to this (or other novels of the same theme) would be used throughout the hypertext.
Sociologist Perry Share describes intertextuality as "an area of considerable ethical complexity". Intertextuality does not necessarily involve citations or referencing punctuation (such as quotation marks) and can be mistaken for plagiarism.: 86 While the two concepts are related, the intentions behind using another's work is critical in distinguishing the two. When making use of intertextuality, usually a small excerpt of a hypotext assists in the understanding of the new hypertext's original themes, characters, or contexts.[page needed] Aspects of existing texts are reused, often resulting in new meaning when placed in a different context. Intertextuality revolves on the creation of new ideas, while plagiarism attempts to pass off existing work as one's own.
Students learning to write often rely on imitation or emulation and have not yet learned how to reformulate sources and cite them according to expected standards, and thus engage in forms of "patchwriting," which may be inappropriately penalized as intentional plagiarism. Because the interests of writing studies differ from the interests of literary theory, the concept has been elaborated differently with an emphasis on writers using intertextuality to position their statement in relation to other statements and prior knowledge. Students often find it difficult to learn how to combine referencing and relying on others' words with marking their novel perspective and contribution.
In addition, the concept of intertextuality has been used analytically outside the sphere of literature and art. For example, Devitt (1991) examined how the various genres of letters composed by tax accountants refer to the tax codes in genre-specific ways. In another example, Christensen (2016) introduces the concept of intertextuality to the analysis of work practice at a hospital. The study shows that the ensemble of documents used and produced at a hospital department can be said to form a corpus of written texts. On the basis of the corpus, or subsections thereof, the actors in cooperative work create intertext between relevant (complementary) texts in a particular situation, for a particular purpose. The intertext of a particular situation can be constituted by several kinds of intertextuality, including the complementary type, the intratextual type and the mediated type. In this manner the concept of intertext has had an impact beyond literature and art studies.
In scientific and other scholarly writing intertextuality is core to the collaborative nature of knowledge building and thus citation practices are important to the social organization of fields, the codification of knowledge, and the reward system for professional contribution. Scientists can be skillfully intentional in the use of references to prior work in order to position the contribution of their work. Modern practices of scientific citation, however, have only developed since the late eighteenth century and vary across fields, in part influenced by disciplines’ epistemologies.
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