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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 poststructuralism

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 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 terms

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.

Examples and history of intertextuality

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; 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...".


In True History, Lucian asks Homer about the wrath of Achilles.

"Two or three days after my arrival [on the isle of the blessed] I met with the poet Homer, and both of us being quite at leisure, asked him several questions [...] I then asked him how he came to begin his “Iliad” with the wrath of Achilles; he said it was all by chance." tr. Thomas Francklin

Faust and Don Juan

Certainly Faust is a reproduction of Don Juan. ... Like Don Juan, Faust is a demonic figure, but at a higher level. .. --Either/Or, Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard, who had been working up a project on the three great medieval figures of Don Juan, Faust and Ahasuerus (the Wandering Jew), abandoned his project, although he later incorporated much of the work he had done into Either/Or

The literary characters that most influenced Kierkegaard were Don Juan (representing pleasure), Faust (doubt) and the Wandering Jew (despair), and that he used characters based on them in his writings. For example, both Don Juan and Faust personify the demonic in Kierkegaard's Either/Or, Part One. (Joakim Garff)

Hoffmann's work was so influential that it has been adapted into oblivion

Below is an interesting quote (from the tabula-rasa site) on oblivion and intertextuality. Some authors are apparently so popular that their work does not survive with the name of the author attached to it, but rather through an osmotic process which dissolves the works in public consciousness. Another example of this process in the history of European literature may have been Eugène Sue in France.

"Hoffmann is one of those artists whose works were so influential in their own day that they have been adapted into oblivion. Certainly it is fair to say that more people have read Freud's essay or the numerous commentaries on that than Der Sandmann, or seen Tchaikowsky's Nutcracker Suite than read Nussknacker und Mausekonig, or Wagner's Die Meistersingers von Nuremburg than Meister Martin Der Kupfner und Sine Gesellen. Of course, we all know the stories and generally yes, would consider them to have just that touch of something uncanny." --[1]

20th century examples

Some examples of intertextuality in 20th century literature include:


  • 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 also


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Intertextuality" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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