The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018
Intertextuality: The condition of interconnectedness among texts, or the concept that any text is an amalgam of others, either because it exhibits signs of influence or because its language inevitably contains common points of reference with other texts through allusion, quotation, genre, style, and so forth. French critic Julia Kristeva, who popularized and is often credited with coining the term intertextuality, views any given work as part of a larger fabric of literary discourse, part of a continuum including the future as well as the past. Other critics have argued for an even broader use of the term, maintaining that literary history per se is too narrow a context within which to read and understand a literary text. So viewed, intertextuality has been used by new historicists and cultural critics to refer to the significant interconnectedness between literary texts and contemporary, nonliterary discussions of issues represented in those texts. It has also been used by poststructuralists to suggest that works of literature can only be recognized and read within a world of signs and tropes that is itself like a text and that makes any single text self-contradictory and undecidable.
EXAMPLES: In his article “Ben Okri’s The Landscapes Within: A Metaphor for Personal and National Development” (1988), Abioseh Michael Porter explores the ways in which Nigerian writer Ben Okri drew on a variety of other sources, including Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968) and James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), in his Künstlerroman The Landscapes Within (1981).
The television drama Lost (2004—10) tapped and played off of myriad other sources before itself becoming a source of frequent and wide-ranging reference. For instance, in Lost, the con-man Sawyer is regularly shown reading books, whether real, such as John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (1937), or made-up, such as Bad Twin, said in the show to have been written by Gary Troup, a fellow passenger on the doomed plane. Likewise, the show incorporated real events, such as the 2004 U.S. presidential election and World Series, and pop culture, such as music by the 1960s band the Mamas and the Papas and the movie Pulp Fiction (1994), which is invoked while an “Other” plunges a giant needle into Sawyer’s chest. Soon, references to Lost itself were popping up everywhere: podcasts delved into every mysterious detail; Mad magazine spoofed the show (“Lots” ); Jim Meddick’s comic strip Monty parodied it in 2006, positing that the “Others” were castaways from Gilligan’s Island (1964—67), a sitcom about shipwrecked survivors; Laurence Shames, using Troup’s name, actually wrote a book called Bad Twin (2006); the writers and producers of Lost created The Lost Experience (2006), an interactive, alternate reality game; and characters from South Park (1997— ), Will & Grace (1998—2006), and the U.S. version of The Office (2005—13) all discussed the show.
British Army (1914)
U.S. Army (1917)
Red Army (1920s)
Visual media, such as ads, magazine covers, and posters, often exhibit intertextuality. For instance, numerous military recruitment posters have featured an image of a person pointing at the viewer, imitating “Lord Kitchener Wants You” (1914), an iconic British World War I poster, originally designed as an ad by Alfred Leete, that featured the war secretary calling on Britons to join the army. The British poster, along with two imitations, is shown above.
Likewise, Rosie the Riveter, who initially represented women who supported the American World War II effort by working in factories, has become a broader cultural icon representing women’s empowerment, as shown by the following examples: the Saturday Evening Post’s 1943 cover image of Rosie, against the backdrop of an American flag; Josephine the Plumber, created to advertise the cleanser Comet in the 1960s—70s; the DC Comics character Rosie the Riveter, who uses her rivet gun as a weapon; and Pink’s and Beyoncé’s incarnations of Rosie — Pink in her music video for “Raise Your Glass” (2010) and Beyoncé in a picture she posted on Instagram in 2014, set against the backdrop of the “We Can Do It!” poster. In the tumultuous U.S. presidential election of 2016, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters adopted and adapted the iconic Rosie, whether on posters, T-shirts, or bumper stickers.