- Graham AllenGraham AllenDepartment of English, University College Cork
Intertextuality is a concept first outlined in the work of poststructuralist theorists Julia Kristeva and Roland Barthes and refers to the emergence of and understanding of any individual text out of the vast network of discourses and languages that make up culture. No text, in the light of intertextuality, stands alone; all texts have their existence and their meaning in relation to a practically infinite field of prior texts and prior significations. Such a vision of textuality emerges from 20th-century developments in our understanding of what it means to use and to be in language. No speaker creates their language from scratch; all linguistic utterances depend upon the employment and redeployment of already existent utterances. Intertextuality is part, then, of a radical rethinking of human subjectivity and human expression, a rethinking that at its most extreme argues it is language rather than human intention that generates meaning.
Having found expression in the radical texts of early poststructuralism, intertextuality became a popular concept within literary criticism, often reimagined in ways that appear far less skeptical about authorial intentionality. A survey of literary theory and practice from the 1970s onward will show a host of critics and theorists employing the term to foreground formalist, political, psychoanalytical, feminist, postcolonial, postmodernist, and other modes of interpretation and commentary. At times these approaches bring the concept much closer to ideas centered in the humanistic subject, such as influence, allusion, citation, and appropriation, while at other times they continue and extend the deconstruction of traditional models of intention. What all theories and practices of intertextuality seem to share, however, is a need to reimagine the act of reading, given that reading can no longer be confined to the reader’s encounter with a single, stable, inviolable text. Taken together, intertextual theories and practices have demonstrated in a myriad of ways the need to move beyond the
model to models of reading which, by treating all texts as intertexts, confront the limits of interpretation itself.