What is Transtextuality? Understanding The Meaning of the Words We Read

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Texts within texts. Image by Uncial 0208 (Gregory-Aland)

How do you read texts? Are you sure your interpretation and understanding of what you are reading is only coming from the text in front of you or is some of the meaning being transferred from  elsewhere? The idea of transtextuality suggests that it is.

French literary critique Gerard Genette (1930) took the idea of Bakhtin and Kristeva’s concept of intertextuality – that texts are not the original product of one author- one step further; his work Palimpsests proposes and defines ‘transtextuality’ as a more comprehensive term that determines “all that which puts one text in relation, whether manifest or secret, with other texts.

In other words, Genette’s theory of transtextuality describes the numerous ways a later text prompts readers to read or remember an earlier one. He puts forward five types of transtextual relations.

Intertextuality

Genette takes the original idea of intertextuality and reduces it to the “co-presence of two or more texts” in the form of quotation, plagiarism, and allusion; providing a more practical relationship between specific linguistic and literary elements of individual texts.

Paratextuality

Paratextuality refers to all other messages and commentaries which surround the text, and can affect the interpretation of a text. The paratext has a more pragmatic role; it guides the readers to consider the context of the document – to understand when the text was published, who published it, and for what purpose, also how the text should or should not be read. It can be categorized as peritext and epitext.

  • The peritext includes elements such as titles, chapter titles, prefaces, captions and notes. It also involves dedications, illustrations, epigraphs and prefaces.
  • The epitext consists of elements beyond the text such as interviews, public relation announcements, reviews and other authorial and editorial discourse.

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