Intertextual Transactions in Contemporary British Fiction

by Patrycja Podgajna (Author)
©2021 Monographs 178 Pages
Series: Mediated Fictions, Volume 18


This study focuses on presenting the techniques of reworking and incorporating intertextual material into contemporary British fiction. Analysing emblematic intertextual strategies: adaptation, pastiche, transworld identity, and historiographic metafiction, the study provides a good insight into how the intertextual impulse can be inscribed not only in the structure and semantics of a given text but also in the narrative plane. Adopting Gerard Genette’s and Boris Uspensky’s theoretical models, the book aims to demonstrate how the discussed intertextual strategies transform a source text, genre, or literary component and how these creative decodings function on different planes of a literary text.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • 1.1 Introduction
  • 1.2 Transpositions on the spatiotemporal plane in Howards End and On Beauty
  • 1.3 Transpositions on the psychological and phraseological planes
  • 1.4 Transpositions on the ideological plane
  • 1.5 Conclusion
  • 2.1 Introduction
  • 2.2 Subverting literary conventions in Night Train and Wilt in Nowhere
  • 2.3 Subverting generic points of view through the literary pastiche
  • 2.4 Conclusion
  • 3.1 Introduction
  • 3.2 The transworld identity of the character in The Book of Evidence and Ghosts
  • 3.3 The transworld identity of the narrator
  • 3.4 Conclusion
  • 4.1 Introduction
  • 4.2 The representation of the historical and the fictional in Chatterton and Moon Tiger
  • 4.3 The representation of subjectivity in historiographic metafiction
  • 4.4 Conclusion
  • Index of names
  • Series index

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In the constant search for generic eclecticism and dialogical perspectivism, contemporary writers frequently adopt intertextual practices so as to reveal new meanings and dimensions. Historically, this intertextual impulse has a solid theoretical grounding which, in its roots, goes back to the pioneering concepts of Mikhail Bakhtin’s dialogism1 and Julia Kristeva’s notion of intertextuality.2 Culturally, the practice of intertextual juxtaposition between an intertext and a source text is also linked to the postcolonial idea of hybridity, which indicates how various concepts and ideas are “repeated, relocated, and translated in the name of tradition” to generate new meanings (Bhabha 207). The notion of text as a space of textual interrelatedness and polyphonic nature has successfully found its way into postmodern3 poetics, which, in conjunction with the concepts of deconstruction and playfulness, embraces the idea of a decentralised universe, in which all works exist in a web of mutual entanglements. The considerations of the convergent theoretical impulses and ideas between intertextual and postmodern poetics have led some critics such as Graham Allen and Martin Traversi to consider intertextuality as a dominant tenet of postmodernism which allows “the postmodernist novel to obtain the richness of detail and polyphonic perspectivism” (Traversi 201). Similarly, Manfred Pfister advocates that in postmodern poetics “intertextuality is not just used as one device amongst ←7 | 8→others, but is foregrounded, displayed, thematised and theorised as a central constructional principle” (214).

Described by Graham Allen as one of the most commonly used and misused terms in contemporary critical theory (2), the notion of intertextuality and its exact definition generate considerable ambiguity, partly because of its wide applicability, and partly due to the proliferation of different critical models appropriating and developing the term. Conceptually, Kristeva’s concept of intertextuality, expanding on Bakhtin’s theory of language advocating that every utterance is produced in a dialogical context, has made a progressive contribution to critical theory as it has initiated a more dynamic approach to the text. In her essay, “Word, Dialogue and Novel,” Kristeva defines Bakhtin’s meaning of the “literary word” as “an intersection of textual surfaces rather than a point (a fixed meaning), as a dialogue among several writings that of the writer, the addressee (or the character) and the contemporary or earlier cultural context” (65). In her reading, Bakhtin visualises a literary text as an interrelated and boundless system rather than a closed and autonomous structure. Together with the concept of dialogism, Bakhtin’s expansive view on literature allowed Kristeva to “go beyond a static structural model for literary texts” (Pfister 211). As Pfister further points out, Kristeva’s intention was to “revolutionise our notions of art, literature, text, and subjectivity” (211) rather than to coin an umbrella term for various forms of textual interconnectedness. The acknowledgement of this dialogical interrelatedness in both Bakhtin’s and Kristeva’s theories paved the way for later intertextual models, which encompass, among others, deconstructive approaches as represented by Roland Barthes, structuralist views as exemplified by Gérard Genette and Michael Riffaterre, and social and ideological adaptations of the term as articulated in Harold Bloom’s theory.

Representing a post-structuralist approach, the textual analysis proposed by Ronald Barthes was particularly influenced by Julia Kristeva’s concept of intertextuality and by Jacques Derrida’s deconstructive theory of signs. The impact of these collective influences is manifested in Barthes’s critical model of the narrative text in which the nature of literary meaning and the role of the author in its production is considerably challenged. Rejecting the structuralist approach of relating literary texts to a larger structure, Barthes undermines the idea of a stable meaning. In his seminal work ←8 | 9→“The Death of the Author” (1977), he argues that texts originate not from their authors, but from multiple meanings and layers of other utterances and texts. Rather than being creators of original works, modern authors are merely “scriptors” who mimic and recombine what has already been written. In “The Theory of the Text” (1981), Barthes defines any text as:

a new tissue of past citations. Bits of code, formulae, rhythmic models, fragments of social languages, etc. pass into the text and are redistributed within it, for there is always language before and around the text. Intertextuality, the condition of any text whatsoever, cannot, of course, be reduced to a problem of sources or influences; the intertext is a general field of anonymous formulae whose origin can scarcely ever be located; of unconscious or automatic quotations, given without quotation marks. (39)

In the light of his theory, any text derives its meaning and significance not only from other texts but also out of prior discourses, cultural codes, ideological norms, etc. Adopting a post-structuralist viewpoint, Barthes proposes an idea of text as a cultural phenomenon dependent not only on previous discourses but also on social codes. Detecting the limitations of the structuralist approach, he expands on the meaning of text by liberating it from the influence of the author as the sole originator of the textual meaning.

Rejecting a post-structuralist dispersal of meaning, structuralist literary critics such as Genette or Riffaterre employ intertextuality to emphasise the possibility of a fixed literary meaning and greater interpretative certainty. Among structuralist theorists focusing on establishing certain limits to the intertextual scope of a given text, Gérard Genette pursues the most systematic approach to textual transcendence as articulated in his trilogy: The Architext (1992), Palimpsests (1997a) and Paratexts (1997b). In his book Palimpsests, Genette introduces a general poetics of “transtextuality”4 with five textual categories: intertextuality, paratextuality, metatextuality, hypertextuality and architextuality (Palimpsets 1). In his taxonomy, intertextuality is no longer dependable on prior cultural codes, but becomes a ←9 | 10→“relationship of co-presence between two texts or among several texts” and “the actual presence of one text within another” (ibid.: 1–2). Defined as a basic category operating at the textual level, Genette’s intertextuality denotes an infiltration and penetration of an individual text by other texts by means of direct quotation, allusion, parody, pastiche, etc. Paratextuality, on the other hand, denotes all verbal texts such as titles, prefaces, subheadings, footnotes, epigraphs, as well as non-verbal elements such as illustrations which accompany the text proper. Performing predominantly an epistemic role of a framing device, a paratext also facilitates the act of interpretation by guiding the reader through the contextual frame of a given text. Defined broadly as an explicit or implicit critical relationship that “unites a given text to another, of which it speaks without necessarily citing it” (ibid.: 4), metatextuality aids to the interpretation of a literary text by performing a commentary role. Genette’s fourth type of textual transcendence, architextuality, refers to “the entire set of general or transcendental categories – types of discourse, modes of enunciation, literary genres from which emerges a singular text” (ibid.: 1). In other words, architextuality denotes all those elements which determine the generic category of a given text. Lastly, hypertextuality denotes “any relationship uniting a text B (hypertext) with an ealier text A (hypotext),5 upon which it is grafted in a manner that is not that of commentary” (ibid.: 5).

As may clearly be seen from Genette’s taxonomy, intertextuality is no longer an all-embracing term denoting heterogeneous sources of influences but is largely reduced to the literal co-presence of one text within another.6 Some critics such as Michał Głowiński or María Martínez Alfaro point out that Genette’s typology clearly attempts to delimit the poststructuralist visions of intertextuality as not only linguistic but also cultural and ←10 | 11→sociological phenomenon (Martínez Alfaro 280). And even though both critics agree that Genette’s typology features conceptual overlappings,7 nevertheless, his concepts “may be taken as a useful point of departure to be sufficiently defined later on by each individual critic/theorist, and, above all, they contribute to underlining the complexity of the notion of intertextual” (Martínez Alfaro 281).

The tendency to confine the expanding intertextual space with a systematic method also resonates in the critical works of Michael Riffaterre who proposes a number of terms to delineate various aspects of the notion. Taking into account the relevant role of the reader, Riffaterre conceptualises intertextuality not only as the possible interconnectedness of texts, but also as “the mechanism specific to literary reading,” which “produces significance, while linear reading common to literary and non-literary texts, produces only meaning” (“Intertextuality” 781). He defines intertextuality in relation to texts and with reference to the readers and their possible reactions to the text.8 Despite differences in their theoretical stances, both critics “employ intertextual theory to argue for critical certainty, or at least for the possibility of saying definite, stable incontrovertible things about literary texts” (Allen 4).

In contrast to the previous theories, Bloom’s version of intertextuality demonstrates “that the different ways in which intertextuality has been used often stem from specific social and ideological agendas and perspectives” (qtd. in Allen 4). His interest in the motivation behind artistic production ←11 | 12→is reflected in his view of intertextuality as “The Anxiety of Influence.” Denoting the inevitable presence of the creative influence of previous poets, Bloom’s concept implies that poetry, and literature in general, can only emulate previous texts. With the impossibility of originality, the meaning of the poem arises from its intertextual relationships with other poems, and its interpretation from other readings: “Any poem is an inter-poem, any reading of a poem an inter-reading” (The Anxiety 3). As Graham Allen attests, with this critical stance:


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (March)
contemporary literature the theory of intertextuality intertextual strategies point of view thematic transpositions
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 178 pp.

Biographical notes

Patrycja Podgajna (Author)

Patrycja Podgajna is Assistant Professor of English Literature at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin. Her main research interests include postmodernist fiction, the fantastic in contemporary literature, and utopia/dystopia in literature and film. She has published on British contemporary fiction and utopian/dystopian narratives.


Title: Intertextual Transactions in Contemporary British Fiction
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180 pages