Intertextuality

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Hundreds of books in chaotic order
(Alexander Spatari/Getty Images)

Intertextuality refers to the interdependent ways in which texts stand in relation to one another (as well as to the culture at large) to produce meaning. They can influence each other, be derivative of, parody, reference, quote, contrast with, build on, draw from, or even inspire each other. Knowledge does not exist in a vacuum, and neither does literature.

Influence, Hidden or Explicit

The literary canon is ever growing, and all writers read and are influenced by what they read, even if they write in a genre different than their favorite or most recent reading material.

Authors are influenced cumulatively by what they've read, whether or not they explicitly show their influences on their characters' sleeves. Sometimes they do want to draw parallels between their work and an inspirational work or influential canon—think fan fiction or homages. Maybe they want to create emphasis or contrast or add layers of meaning through an allusion. In so many ways literature can be interconnected intertextually, on purpose or not.

Professor Graham Allen credits French theorist Laurent Jenny (in 'The Strategy of Forms') for drawing a distinction between "works which are explicitly intertextual—such as imitations, parodies, citations, montages and plagiarisms—and those works in which the intertextual relation is not foregrounded" (Intertextuality, 2000).

Origin

A central idea of contemporary literary and cultural theory, intertextuality has its origins in 20th-century linguistics, particularly in the work of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913).

The term itself was coined by the Bulgarian-French philosopher and psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva in the 1960s.

Examples and Observations

"Intertextuality seems such a useful term because it foregrounds notions of relationality, interconnectedness and interdependence in modern cultural life. In the Postmodern epoch, theorists often claim, it is not possible any longer to speak of originality or the uniqueness of the artistic object, be it a painting or novel, since every artistic object is so clearly assembled from bits and pieces of already existent art."
(Graham Allen, Intertextuality.

Routledge, 2000)

"Interpretation is shaped by a complex of relationships between the text, the reader, reading, writing, printing, publishing and history: the history that is inscribed in the language of the text and in the history that is carried in the reader's reading. Such a history has been given a name: intertextuality."
(Jeanine Parisier Plottel and Hanna Kurz Charney, Introduction to Intertextuality: New Perspectives in Criticism. New York Literary Forum, 1978)

A. S. Byatt on Redeploying Sentences in New Contexts

"Postmodernist ideas about intertextuality and quotation have complicated the simplistic ideas about plagiarism which were in Destry-Schole's day. I myself think that these lifted sentences, in their new contexts, are almost the purest and most beautiful parts of the transmission of scholarship. I began a collection of them, intending, when my time came, to redeploy them with a difference, catching different light at a different angle. That metaphor is from mosaic-making. One of the things I learned in these weeks of research was that the great makers constantly raided previous works—whether in pebble, or marble, or glass, or silver and gold—for tesserae which they rewrought into new images."
(A.

S. Byatt, The Biographer's Tale. Vintage, 2001)

Example of Rhetorical Intertextuality

"[Judith] Still and [Michael] Worton [in Intertextuality: Theories and Practice, 1990] explained that every writer or speaker 'is a reader of texts (in the broadest sense) before s/he is a creator of texts, and therefore the work of art is inevitably shot through with references, quotations, and influences of every kind' (p. 1). For example, we can assume that Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic congresswoman and vice presidential nominee in 1984, had at some point been exposed to John F. Kennedy's 'Inaugural Address.' So, we should not have been surprised to see traces of Kennedy's speech in the most important speech of Ferraro's career—her address at the Democratic Convention on July 19, 1984. We saw Kennedy's influence when Ferraro constructed a variation of Kennedy's famous chiasmus, as 'Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country' was transformed into 'The issue is not what America can do for women but what women can do for America.'"
(James Jasinski, Sourcebook on Rhetoric.

Sage, 2001)

Two Types of Intertextuality

"We can distinguish between two types of intertextuality: iterability and presupposition. Iterability refers to the 'repeatability' of certain textual fragments, to citation in its broadest sense to include not only explicit allusions, references, and quotations within a discourse, but also unannounced sources and influences, clichés, phrases in the air, and traditions. That is to say, every discourse is composed of 'traces,' pieces of other texts that help constitute its meaning. ... Presupposition refers to assumptions a text makes about its referent, its readers, and its context—to portions of the text which are read, but which are not explicitly 'there.' ... 'Once upon a time' is a trace rich in rhetorical presupposition, signaling to even the youngest reader the opening of a fictional narrative. Texts not only refer to but in fact contain other texts." (James E. Porter, "Intertextuality and the Discourse Community." Rhetoric Review, Fall 1986)