Academic journal article Reading & Writing

Reading for Empowerment: Intertextuality Offers Creative Possibilities for Enlightened Citizenry

Academic journal article Reading & Writing

Reading for Empowerment: Intertextuality Offers Creative Possibilities for Enlightened Citizenry

Article excerpt

Understanding textuality

Reading (or literacy in general) is something that calls out for attention in our society today, because the reading process invariably opens up worlds and expands one's horizons. If one cannot read, one's life effectively becomes a dead end, a cul-de-sac, in a manner of speaking. The compelling force of Kristeva's notion of intertextuality, this article argues, provides profound insights into the concept of reading that leads to enhanced literacy and empowerment for the reader. For the 21st century citizen the notion of reading for empowerment denotes one's ability to experience the world in its diversity and multiplicity as a result of exposure to various forms of literacies and proficiencies. In other words, to fulfil one's destiny one must learn to adapt and translate one's life to broader functions and applications through reading and literacy. To that end, this article foregrounds the ideas of Kristeva, Gagostino and Carifio in an attempt to answer, amongst other things, the following questions: What is a text? What is reading? What is literacy? What reading (and literacy) approaches can we put in place in our societies in order to deliver the kind of empowerment the people need at all levels?

Let us start by defining the term 'text' or 'textuality' in a rather conservative, restricted and limited sense to mean a word. Thus when we encounter a word such as 'mother', for instance, the underlying assumption is that the meaning of the word is consistent with what the word's symbols denote, that the word stands still and refers, that what it says is what it refers to, that as a signifier 'mother' gestures towards some self-contained totality, which as a formation will stand for the same thing in all places and at all times. The same could be said about other related texts such as a sentence, a picture, a drawing, a paragraph, a chapter, a book, and so forth.

However, Kristeva's theory of intertextuality calls into question the existence of such a hermetically closed and autonomous text or narrative by proposing that, by its very nature, a text is in fact 'a network of fragments that refer to still other narrative texts' (Boje 2001:74). Put another way, the theory of intertextuality maintains that a text is an embodiment or the coalescence of disparate, intertwined stories, voices, or discourses which are knit together in ways that often imply or suggest that the narrative is singularly coherent and homogeneous; and yet, this seeming coherence veils or masks a whole range of intertexts or layers of other stories that lie beneath the original. Such a text is nothing less than a web of complex, sometimes interlacing discourses in which the text becomes the centre of the creative process of reading, with its author having no last word on his or her text. The nature of discourse in this case is such that whilst much information in the text is obviously stated in most explicit terms (through information dissemination, persuasion or as offering an opinion about the world), other bits of information remain unstated, or understated even. In such cases it is the reader's active stock of knowledge of the world that comes in handy if any full comprehension of the text is to be realised. Allen (2000) explains the process of reading succinctly, as follows:

Reading thus becomes a process of moving between texts. Meaning becomes something which exists between a text and all the other texts to which it refers and relates, moving out from the independent text into a network of textual relations. The text becomes the intertext. (p. 1)

At this point it is important to point out that, understood in a wider context, Kristeva's expansive idea or principle of intertextuality is not her brainchild per se, for the concept (and its application) was not uncommon in classical times, particularly amongst the Greeks and the Romans, who are famed to have told stories which had built-in dynamics of interconnected and intersecting stories. …

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