The Controversy of Intertextuality

Intertextuality is a term that has both been accepted and rejected by literary critics. This is because of the fact that this postmodern term has distorted the meaning of other terms and ideas such as allusion and influence. Intertextuality shares nearly verbatim the definitions and ideas of both allusion and influence because it both transforms and borrows from other texts shaping the text under these influences while simultaneously it alludes them. The literary critic, Linda Hutcheon, has vilified this term because the reader can only interpret intertextuality and has no role in the author’s purpose (Intertextuality). Furthermore, she goes to say that intertextuality is rather parody because it blatantly states the author’s intent without jargon that hides and obscures the author’s influence. The term has also been attacked and modified by film theoretician, John Fiske, by saying that there are two parts to intertextuality—the “vertical” and “horizontal” aspects. The horizontal the simple referencing of other books while vertical intertextuality is referred to the referencing of music and film (Intertextuality). The vertical aspect in Fiske’s idea is therefore looked at as a kind of hybrid because of the fact that it’s borrowing from other mediums of art, which is a form of adaptation as well. However, another issue arises in this form of “adaptation” as well—the issue of being too broad. The matter of the issue is that it is too “widespread,” as structualist Jonathan Culler states (Agger). Since intertextuality can be a referencing term to anything adaptation, allusion, and influence upon the text being examined from books to any form of media dissemination. In order to narrow the scope of intertextuality down the reader must, “place a work in a discursive place, relating it to other text,” as Culler states (Agger). By doing so, absorption, criticism, parody, and the deconstruction of a text to meticulously analyze it are easily done in this environment (Agger).

Julia Kristeva and Intertextuality

Julia Kristeva was a Bulgarian-French semiotician who studied the use of signs and symbols in literary interpretations. She first invented the term intertextuality in the late 1960s. Her definition for the term was: “In the space of a given text, several utterances, taken from other texts, intersect and neutralize one another” (Hagbi 37). She believed that intertextuality was a poetic language created by the study of many different sources (Hagbi 39). In semiotic terms, Kristeva emphasized that intertextuality consisted of both a horizontal and vertical axis. She explained them to be two different types of connections: connections between the author and the reader and connections between the text and other influential texts (__ According to Kristeva, “As a constant weaving of connections in and between texts, intertextuality both generates and retraces a web of tradition, and both activates and reinscribes the recollections shared in the interpretative community” (Döring 14). Julia Kristeva was associated with structuralist theorists because they believed that language had powers that both exceeded individual control and also determined subjectivity (__ Structural theories about interpretation and literature related a great deal with intertextuality.

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Theories of Intertextuality

Julia Kristeva
Kristeva says “any text is constructed as 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” (Irwin 2004). Kristeva notes that it is not just the literary components themselves (plot lines, characters, themes, etc.) that are related throughout different works, but also the “social work-the social text- that provides fabric for the textual tapestry” (Irwin 2004). Through examining the origins in which texts are derived, Kristeva believes that all texts are intertextual, as they are all derived from other texts, whether intentionally or not. Through the misuse and overuse of the term intertextuality, Kristeva currently prefers the term “transposition” (Irwin 2004).

Roland Barthes
Barthes worked closely with Kristeva as her partner on her theories of intertextuality. It was Barthes who developed the idea of “the death of the author”. His thought is that the “de novo and ex nihilo”, the origins of existence, the meaning of texts, is derived not autonomously from the author, but only from read in relation to other texts. Barth describes how this “death of the author” is a dyad for the “liberation of the reader”, as the reader is then free to relate the text as they wish, as there is no given intention from the author (Irwin 2004).

William Irwin
Irwin declares that allusion has been displaced by intertextuality, that “it is now naive and reactionary to speak of allusion” (Irwin, 2004). Irwin also supports Kristeva’s notion that historical and social events can be considered texts, as their accounts are recorded as texts- as an interpretation of the actual event. This idea asserts that intertextuality is unavoidable, as it exists everywhere.

Michael Worton + Judith Still:
Worton and Still believe that “the theory of intertextuality insists that a text cannot exist as a hermetic or self-sufficient whole and so does not function as a closed system.” The first of their two main reasons for making the notion that a text cannot stand alone are that since the writer of texts also partakes in the reading of other texts, references inevitable are drawn from existing knowledge. The second is that through definition of what a text represents, written word, it is only absorbed through the reading of that written work, and the reader inevitably draws from other, previously read works. (Worton & Still 1990).

Godard and Intertextuality

In Godard's Prenom Carmen there are examples of Fiske's Vertical and Horizontal axises of intertexuality. Horizontally we have the references to the 'Documentary' that the film makers are supposedly creating with their robbing of a bank and the end scene in the hotel. Additionally on the horizontal axis we have Godard's presence in the film which directly invokes all of the movies he has created as well as his own reputation as a filmmaker. Furthermore the film is dedicated in memory of small movies which affects the viewing of the film and makes the viewer associate what they have just seen with small movies or the attempt at reaching intellectual value without high production value. Also, he has Carmen utter the words from 'That American movie' where she quotes Carmen Jones in Carmen Jones: "If you love me that's the end of you.". This quite obviously is horizontal intertexuality as Godard is using another movie in the context of his film.
The Vertical Intertexuality is represented in several ways. Firstly, there is the consistent use of the string quartet playing Beethoven's 9th symphony. This invokes music as an art form and also the classics and their transcendent ability to affect the mind and spirit. Clearly Godard intends to compare himself and his work to the works of a great classical composer such as Beethoven and draw parallels between their ability to invoke emotions via unconventional means and mastery of their craft. Continuing with Vertical Intertexuality there is the presence of the fuzzy television screen that Joseph lazily moves his hand over. This image alone invokes a dismal view of television or the use thereof. It brings to mind the 'fuzzy' nature of television programming and the mindless, unguided nature of TV itself. Godard seeks to make the statement that TV is useless to Joe and will not satisfy his lust for Carmen or for life in general. Furthermore, the language itself seems to be poetry. Very little of what the characters say can be mistaken for anything but lines of poetry.Their statements do not fit conversational language and frequently are irreverent of what is going on in the scene and at times due to the juxtaposition of words and images the audience is given meaning directly via only a few words uttered, seemingly, out of context. Godards design of these moments is genius and reflects a deep understanding of the human psyche and the overarching themes that reappear constantly in art and likewise in life.
“Influence as I conceive it, means that there are no texts, but only relationships between texts” - Harold Bloom

“One may see intertextuality as either an enlargement of a familiar ida or as an entirely new concept to replace the outmoded notion of influence” - Jay Clayton & Eric Rothstein

“Influence has to do with agency, where as intertextuality has to do with a much more impersonal field of crossing texts”- Jay Clayton & Eric Rothstein


Julia Kristeva:
Döring, Tobias. Caribbean-English passages: intertextuality in a postcolonial tradition. London [etc.: Routledge, 2002. Print.
Hagbi, Yaniv. Language, absence, play: Judaism and superstructuralism in the poetics of S.Y. Agnon. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2009. Print.
"Semiotics for Beginners: Intertextuality." Aberystwyth University - Home . N.p., n.d. Web. 11 May 2011. <>

The Controversy of Intertextuality:
Agger, Gunhild. "Intertextuality Revisited: Dialogues and Negotiations in Media
Studies." Université Du Québec à Trois-Rivières. Web. 14 May 2011.
"Intertextuality." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 14 May 2011.

Theories of Intertextuality
Clayton, Jay. & Rothstein, Eric. Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History.
pp 3-9 The University of Wisconsin Press, 1991.

Irwin, William. Philosophy and Literature. Against Intertextuality. Volume 28, Number 2, pp 227-242. The Johns Hopkins University Press October 2004.

Worton, Michael. & Still, Judith. Intertextuality: Theories and Practices. Manchester University Press, 1990.