Here again is another installment of “Scott is Too Lazy to Blog and Thus Will Paste His School Assignment Instead”
This week we are discussing intertextuality, or the way in which “all texts (films, plays, novels, anecdotes, or whatever) are made out of other texts” (Abbott 101). Here is my response paper (that I will admit was a bit rushed). Please leave comments for discussion!
Side note: a comic that seems suited for this post.
With the quick rise of digital communication and online information, imagining the intertextuality of all narratives is not difficult. As texts emerge in new technological forms (websites, blogs, wikis, e-books), notions of “borders” begin to dissolve. The argument is not that technology is bringing about this new intertextual landscape, but that it is now beginning to reflect the expansive “tapestry” of textuality that has been suppressed by the covers of books and magazines for centuries.
As Abbott points out, ideas of allusion and imitation have long been an active part of narrative discourses. Authors seek to imitate other authors or allude to great works; it is the effort to play a role in the “Great Conversation” of our culture. At times these allusions and imitations are quite intentional; if not noticed immediately in the work, authors or filmmakers often cite others as sources of inspiration. For example, one might have noticed Martin Scorsese’s homage to Stanley Kubrick in the opening scenes of his most recent film Shutter Island. A car winds its way up a hill to the sounds of dramatic classical soundtrack, calling to mind the opening scenes of Kubrick’s The Shining. These types of imitations often play with a culture’s recognition of popular works and serve to both acknowledge the genius of another and prepare the audience or readers with a foreshadow of what is to come.
This type of interplay has been a large part of narrative creation, but Abbott is going beyond this with Julia Kristeva’s concept of intertextuality. Kristeva argues all narratives are comprised of a “pre-existing cultural web of expressive forms” (101), and hence are a result of an “inescapable” link to other texts. While allusions and imitations are “skillful[ly] select[ed]” by the author, intertextuality takes away all intentionality from the “creator” of a narrative. This has several consequences for the interpretation of narrative by the reader. Intentional readings that assume a “single creative sensibility” are problematized by the notion that the text is not whole but rather a node in the larger plateau of information and meaning. Intentional readings limit interpretation to systematic speculation and biographical investigation. Symptomatic readings, however, acknowledge intertextuality and allow the reader the freedom to engage the text not as an autonomous entity but as an open-ended dialogue. These types of readings dissolve the traditional borders of a text and provide the space for engagement and deconstruction.
No where is this type of interpretation and narrative more evident than on the internet. One could argue that websites like Wikipedia or IMDB (or even the ITunes store) are narratives without borders that are connected (usually through hyperlinks) to an immense, unrestrained landscape of information. I have spent hours on Wikipedia by starting on one page and clicking through dozens of corresponding pages. I could easily begin with George Washington’s wiki and in a matter of minutes end up reading about Iranian psychedelic rock in the 1970’s. To strip a
text of its physicality is todissolve its autonomy. With the rise of e-books publishers are beginning to worry (among other things) about the loss of free-advertising when a reader no longer displays the cover of a book while reading in public. This illustrates the changing nature of the way we understand texts as independent physical works. Kristeva’s concept of intertextuality seems to be somewhat prophetic as technology is illuminating the way texts truly function.
In many ways technology is finally allowing the culture to do away with hierarchies of information. Despite the still-existing problem of information poverty and global access to the internet, the digital revolution is flattening out texts and allowing for factors other than economic vitality to determine the popularity and accessibility of information. With this new lens that advanced technology provides, we can finally begin to see the ways in which texts are always already engaged with and comprised of other texts. Western Enlightenment concepts of independence and individuality are quite irrelevant in this newly realized textual environment. Creativity has become the art of assembling.