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Intertextuality is the shaping of texts' meanings by other texts. It can refer to an author’s borrowing and transformation of a prior text or to a reader’s referencing of one text in reading another. The term “intertextuality” has, itself, been borrowed and transformed many times since it was coined by poststructuralist Julia Kristeva in 1966. As critic William Irwin says, the term “has come to have almost as many meanings as users, from those faithful to Kristeva’s original vision to those who simply use it as a stylish way of talking about allusion and influence” (Irwin, 228).

Intertextuality and poststructuralismEdit

Kristeva’s coinage of “intertextuality” represents an attempt to synthesize Ferdinand de Saussure’s structuralist semiotics—his study of how signs derive their meaning within the structure of a text—with Bakhtin’s dialogism—his examination of the multiple meanings, or “heteroglossia,” in each text (especially novels) and word (Irwin, 228). For Kristeva (66), “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 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 an artistic work does not reside in that work, but in the viewers. 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 [How to reference and link to summary or text] like to talk about the relationship between "intertextuality" and "hypertextuality"; intertextuality makes each text a "mosaic of quotations" (Kristeva, 66) 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.

"Intertextuality" and competing termsEdit

Some critics have complained that the ubiquity of the term "intertextuality" in postmodern criticism has crowded out related terms and important nuances. Irwin (227) laments that intertextuality has eclipsed allusion as an object of literary study while lacking the latter term's clear definition. Linda Hutcheon argues that excessive interest in intertextuality obscures the role of the author, because intertextuality can be found "in the eye of the beholder" and does not necessarily entail a communicator's intentions. By contrast, parody, Hutcheon's preferred term, always features an author who actively encodes a text as an imitation with critical difference. However, there has also been attempts at more closely defining different types of intertextuality. The Dansih filmtheoretician has made a distinction between what he labels 'vertical' and 'horisontal' intertextuality. Horisontal intertextuality denotes references in a that are on the 'same level' ie. when books make references to other books, whereas vertical intertextuality is found when, say, a book makes a reference to film or song or vice versa.

Examples and history of intertextualityEdit

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 (though on using 'intertextuality' to describe the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, see Porter 1997). 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;[How to reference and link to summary or text] 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 intertextualiy is taken as plagiarism as in the case of Spanish writer Lucía Etxebarría whose poem collection Estación de infierno (2001) was found to contain metaphors and verses from Antonio Colinas. Etxebarría claimed that she admired him and applied intertextuality.

Some examples of intertextuality in literature include:

Intertextuality in pop cultureEdit

Intertextuality occurs frequently in popular media such as television shows, movies, novels and even interactive video games. In these cases, intertextuality is often used to provide depth to the fictional reality portrayed in the medium, such as characters in one television show mentioning characters from another. Fox Television's The O.C. is one example of television using intertextuality, with its frequent references to comic book and movie characters such as Spider-Man and Star Wars protagonist Luke Skywalker.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Drama series Lost has a large number of intertextual tie-ins, including websites, broadcasts, and even a novel written by a character, which purport elements from the series to be real.

Notable examples of intertextuality include animated series like The Simpsons, Futurama, and Family Guy which are very heavily dependent upon intertextual references as a source of humor. Intertextuality should be seen as more than sly references and in-jokes, however. Babylon 5's interplay with The Lord of the Rings or Buffy the Vampire Slayer's frequent riffing on themes from older mythological source material are considered examples of intertextuality.

The comic book series Hellboy by Mike Mignola is a collage of ideas from mythology and folklore as well as the literary weird tale by authors such as H. P. Lovecraft, mingled with the popular concept of the paranormal investigator and utilizing many cliches of the horror genre, presented in a manner purposefully reminiscent of Jack Kirby's famous monster comics of the 1950's. As in many cases of intertextuality, the casual reader does not need to get any of these references to enjoy the work but it may add to appreciation.

References Edit

  • Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms. New York: Methuen, 1985.
  • Irwin, William. ''Against Intertextuality''. Philosophy and Literature, v28, Number 2, October 2004, pp. 227-242.
  • Kristeva, Julia. Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. New York:Columbia University Press, 1980.
  • Porter, Stanley E. "The Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament: A Brief Comment on Method and Terminology." In Early Christian Interpretation of the Scriptures of Israel: Investigations and Proposals (eds. C. A. Evans and J. A. Sanders; JSNTSup 14; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 79-96.

See alsoEdit

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