Intertextuality: An Introduction

By Martin, Elaine | The Comparatist, May 2011 | Go to article overview

Intertextuality: An Introduction


Martin, Elaine, The Comparatist


Intertextuality, which has occasionally been used somewhat blithely to designate interdisciplinary and comparative investigations of various sorts, may, in its theorization and historicization, not be blithe at all. That is, we may not agree on its meaning. Most critics agree that the term was coined in the late 1960s by Julia Kristeva, who combined ideas from Bakhtin on the social context of language with Saussure's positing of the systematic features of language. (1) Kristeva's definition, in her essay "Word, Dialogue and Novel," reads: intertextuality is "a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another. The notion of intertextuality replaces that of intersubjectivity, and poetic language is read as at least double" (Kristeva 85, cited in Moi 37). (2) Kristeva's work on intertextuality in the late sixties coincided with the transition from structuralism to poststructuralism. Graham Allen describes this move as "one in which assertions of objectivity, scientific rigour, methodological stability and other highly rationalistic-sounding terms are replaced by an emphasis on uncertainty, indeterminacy, incommunicability, subjectivity, desire, pleasure and play" (3). This uncertainty undercut authorial intention and allowed Roland Barthes to proclaim the liberation of the reader 'from the traditional power and authority of the figure of the 'author,' who was now 'dead'" (Allen 4). The foregoing constitutes a seriously abbreviated history of the term intertextuality, but the bottom line is its current association with postmodernism, which in turn, is associated with "pastiches, imitation and the mixing of already established styles and practices" (Allen 5). Intertextuality gains definitional specificity by comparison with "other globalizing and rival terms for cultural recycling such as 'interdiscursivity,' 'interdisciplinarity' and 'hypertext'" (Orr 7). Also potentially in the mix is the term intermediality, which leapfrogs altogether the necessity of a text--explicit or implicit--a characteristic that separates it clearly from intertextuality. Graham Allen writes that "[ijntertextuality seems such a useful term because it foregrounds notions of relationality, interconnectedness and interdependence in modern cultural life" (5). Mary Orr adds: "By highlighting unvoiced modes of intertextual work in other guises--paraphrase, formulaic expression, variant, recontextualization, translation--various tacit critical agendas behind intertextuality's representations become visible. Among intertextuality's most practical functions is (re-) evaluation by means of comparison, counter-position and contrast" (7). The "tacit critical agendas," to which Orr refers, would include a challenge to the cultural hegemony of originality or uniqueness over reproduction/ copy (Allen 6). Finally, intertextuality has been appropriated and adapted by nonliterary art forms so that it is not--despite the embedded word "text"--exclusively related to works of literature or other written texts, including virtual texts. And it has a critical function: intertextuality, like influence or imitation, is not neutral and thus hints at its underlying socio-political importance.

The essays grouped together here were originally presented in a seminar at the 2010 ACLA meeting in New Orleans entitled "Intertextualities: Text, Image, and Beyond." The seminar had a dual focus: an exploration of the various manifestations of intertextuality along a continuum ranging from influence to plagiarism and equally a theoretical investigation of the continuum itself. The interests represented in these essays are widely varied and include the interplay of a text and (seemingly unrelated) photos; an ekphrastic commentary on a painting, both of which are treated in a poem; an overview of iconoclastic tendencies in the graphic novel; and a close reading of an innovative graphic novel, which, at first glance, seems highly unsuited thematically to the genre. …

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