What is intertextuality? How does intertextuality challenge E.D. Hirsch’s idea that a text has a single meaning created by its author? Explain with reference to examples drawn from any media format.
According to American literary critic, E.D. Hirsch, in order to interpret a body of text, one must ask one’s self the only question that can be answered objectively – “what, in all probability, did the author mean to convey?” He believed that the author’s intended meaning equates the meaning of a text and it is in fact, the reader’s duty to uncover the the author’s intentions.
“The meaning of a text and its author’s intentions are one and the same.”
Hirsch’s concept revolves around the assumption that a body of text is original, and is purely a body of the author’s sole “intentions”. The production of text, if one were to adhere to Hirsch’s theory, is therefore exclusive to the author’s own ideas and concepts and free of external influence. However, the notions of langue and parole disputes this idea. According to Barthes in 1984, “It la langue is the social part of language, the individual cannot himself either create or modify it”.
Furthermore, Ferdinand de Saussure’s work on structuralism and semiotics demonstrates the subjectivity of language and can be said to have sewn the seeds for modern concepts of intertextuality (such as those developed by Roland Barthes and Julia Kristeva). Intertextuality challenges the idea of a text’s ability to be truly original and therefore disagrees with Hirsch’s theory. In this essay, I wi...
ll focus on how conscious intertextuality as well as the semiotics involved in unconscious intertextuality both dispute the idea that the meaning of a text belongs exclusively to its author’s intentions.
Julia Kristeva, who was the first to use the term “intertextuality”, proposed the idea that a text should not be interpreted merely by its words at face value, but also studied based on other works it has adapted and was influenced by. The concept can be further expanded upon by Gunther Kress’ notion of “ceaseless semiosis” which brings to light the social aspect of a text’s creation.
“From the beginning, I use materials which I have encountered before, which bear the meanings of their social contexts, to weave a new text which, because it is woven from materials of other texts, everywhere and always connects with those other texts.”
Conscious intertextuality thus enables a reader to participate in this “ceaseless semiosis” by the identification and application of their prior knowledge to a text, along with creating their own version of the text by combining their existing knowledge gleaned from other texts with the works of others a text is based on (e.g. someone watching a satirical television show such as The Simpsons).
The best example of this sort of intertextuality would be the process of a reader (or surfer) browsing the world wide web. Here, an author cannot control the way in which a reader approaches his or her body of text. There is seldom a linear fashion in which a reader consumes information while surfing the internet. It is common for him or her to absorb
only small chunks of texts on one page of a website before being led to an entirely different webpage via links. Through surfing and following links of their choice, readers effectively thus begin to construct their own text of sorts as they make their way through various sites on the internet.
Unlike newspapers or most other forms of printed media, intertextuality on the internet is often one of a blatant and conscious nature. Here, almost more so than anywhere else, it is clear that content is not entirely original, nor is it based on an author’s sole ideas and concepts. It is common for a great many websites to host a multitude of links, and consist of short articles that link to other sources of information that the work was based on, or that provide further elaboration.
Even on the internet, certain etiquettes are often observed, one of them being the courtesy of giving credit where it is due. A graphic or piece of digital art someone uses on his or her website, for example, often requires credit and a link back to the page of the artist that created it. Upon following the link to the artist’s page, one might find further credit and a link to the photographer who provided the stock photograph from which the graphic was created. One then clicks on the link that leads us to a page of stock photography, on which, perhaps, yet another link to the homepage of the model in the photograph might be provided. One visits the aforementioned homepage, and might perhaps chance upon the history of the model or a little story about his or her life. The initial graphic no longer stands on its own, and new history and meaning is produced with every link the surfer clicks, tracing a “path” that paints a story beyond the original piece of art.
Hirsch’s idea of a text having one sole meaning – that of the author’s – no longer applies. The readers construct their own text, and therefore their own meanings as they navigate through the internet, often with no apparent logical progression. The existing knowledge they possess, along with their ability to identify the other works a text is based on, shapes their interpretation of an idea being presented. Even the authors themselves often acknowledge the lack of complete originality in their content, and through links and credit on their page, make it obvious that their text is a coalition of ideas and texts by other authors, whose texts are a coalition of ideas and texts by yet, other authors etc.
There are also varying degrees of intertextuality on the internet. Some sites, such as The Onion (www.theonion.com) restricts the level of interactivity on their website by limiting links to only those of their advertisers. However, the content of their site is a testament of classic conscious intertextuality. Much like the Simpsons, “The Onion” is a satire. It parodies legitimate news websites and global current affairs. Readers’ prior knowledge of these affects the way in which they view the site and interpret these satirical “issues” of The Onion.
A webpage that allows
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