<inside/outside intertextuality>

text-fields of identity


Because my autobiography feeds into both this essay and the hyperfictions discussed, I have written an autobiographical note. From 1992-1996 I researched and wrote a doctoral thesis on the notion of 'reading intertextually'. With over 200 colour illustrations in printed format, the thesis attempted to speak in the language of images as much as words. This work was a precursor to the hypertexts I now create in electronic format, incorporating both image and text. My doctoral research was preceded by the birth of my daughter, and my son was born half way through the project. Both the philosophy of reading I developed while writing my thesis and my creative writing were greatly affected by the arrival of my children. During this time I also worked closely with a writer who was having nightmares because of abuse experienced in childhood. The perceived or real threat of disinheritance by family and friends can lead to an aphasia which overflows into writing practice. In order to circumvent this fear, I began to use a fictional child to explore how abuse can affect identity. Having an interest in theory which flirts with poetry, poetico-philosophy or fictocriticism, I prefer to write upon a revolving stage which moves continually from restriction to the comparative freedom of a creative style of writing, Julia Kristeva's 'carnivalesque':

[c]arnivalesque discourse ... is the only dimension where 'theatre might be the reading of a book, its writing in operation'. In other words, such a scene is the only place where discourse attains its 'potential infinity' ... where prohibitions (representation, 'monologism') and their transgression (dream, body, 'dialogism') coexist.1


It is in wanting to know that one is often deceived.
I prophesy: then I seek to translate into words
what is being written in fevers, in heartbeats,
in luminous songs. I wonder what it is called.
Hélène Cixous

This essay explores the relationship between language, identity and technology. Language is considered as an intertextuality which transmutes as it voyages across the parallel virtualities of technology and reader-inhabited space. The notion of intertextuality involves the movement of various texts from spaces outside the body, to that 'virtual' library inside everyone's mind, and back again, in a ceaseless nomadic wandering which cannot be traced. I argue that identity is also an intertextuality, a conglomerate of splintered enmeshments ... bits assembled by individuals, but affected by a wide variety of influences both inside & outside the sensations of self. ‘Inside/outside intertextuality’ visits various theories of intertextuality and two hypertexts, Imaginative Reading V (http://www.overthere.com.au/writing/imaginative.html) and travels towards (http://www.overthere.com.au/travels/), collaborations by Diane Caney and Robin Petterd.

<A Name="language">Language</A>
Language is a process whereby a multitude of signifiers and their attendant array of possible signifieds are assembled into the 'virtual' spaces inhabited by readers.

<A Name="identity">Identity</A>
The notions of 'splintering' and 'enmeshment' are mobilised in this essay because for survivors of abuse there is a continual shifting from a survival strategy of 'splitting' one's self from the body in order to avoid pain/knowledge, and a desire to draw one's selves together.2

<A Name="technology">
Technology continues to provide new media with which to write. This essay was authored initially as a web site in order to reverse the assumption that the act of writing usually precedes authoring in html. The web site (http://www.overthere.com.au/digital/) has now been modified to act as a sibling to this essay, making use of computer-generated virtual space, moving images and hotlinks in ways that are not possible in a printed format. For examples of 'technology', this essay concentrates on computer technology, particularly the Internet, although the explosion of information technology as a means for textual dispersion is also considered. Intertextuality is only possible to the degree to which we experience it today, because we have access to so many different sounds, texts and images.

  Sidney Nolan, Kelly
[imagined detail], 1955,
ripolin enamel on hardboard
                       One need not be a Chamber -- to be Haunted --                        One need not be a House --                        The Brain has Corridors -- surpassing                       Material Place -- 		                        Emily Dickinson
... who will provide us with ointment and bandages for our woundsand remove the foreign ideas the glass beads of fantasy the bent hairpins of unreason embedded in our minds ...	                    Janet Frame

These two written epigraphs play with the idea that the mind is at once material while appearing not to be. Grey matter, complex psycho-biological processes, information drawn from behind glass screens, cultural conditioning, red corpuscles, the bohemian shiftings of hormones, and innumerable other factors can affect reader-inhabited space(s). Likewise, texts can be described as tangible objects of reality, and yet they might also be considered as semi-ethereal constructions moving through many different media in the course of their translations from: person to person, machine to machine, place to place, and language to language. I describe 'text' as anything and everything that exists across time, space and imagination.

As with any signifier, though, the list of possible descriptions for the signifier 'text' is open-ended. In this essay I use the term in a dualistic fashion. 'Text' denotes any entity which can act as a signifier (i.e. anything, even that which we can only imagine) and 'text' also signifies particular pieces of multi-media, literature, art or theory. Reading intertextually on the Net often foregrounds the notion of 'reading inter-imagically' (reading across images). Because all reading activities take place inside a body which is situated in a physical environment, however, 'reading intertextually' is not limited to the enmeshment of formal 'texts', but also thoughts, conversations, architecture, emotions, bodily activity, sounds and innumerable other signifiers.

Roland Barthes proposes that texts are re-written on readers during the reading process. He writes,

a text is ... a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writing, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture ... The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination. Yet this destination cannot any longer be personal: the reader is without history, biography, psychology; ... [s/he] is simply that someone who holds together in a single field all the traces by which the written text is constituted [emphasis added].3

Language could not be understood if readers did not inter-relate the myriad (inter)texts apprehended throughout their lives. It would be almost impossible, though, for any reader, except those with flawless memories (the mythical ‘ideal reader’ who exists only in theoretical texts), to hold together everything constituting an external text, ‘all the traces’. And even then, readers might not be aware of countless contexts which might be described as the 'traces by which ... [a] text is constituted'. Donna Haraway proposes that
[w]riting is pre-eminently the technology of cyborgs, etched surfaces of the late twentieth century ... [but] [c]yborg politics is ... the struggle against perfect communication, against the one code that translates all meaning perfectly ... [insisting] on noise and ... pollution, rejoicing in the illegitimate fusions of animal and machine.4

The inscriptions on both silicon chips and pages, sing ... scratch and screech when they encounter readers' intertextual mine-fields.


In pieces
(write by violent fragments,
by splinters.)
Hélène Cixous


Julia Kristeva coined the term intertextuality in her essays, ‘The Bounded Text’ and ‘Word, dialogue, and novel’, both of which were first published in 1969 (Roudiez 3-4). In his glossary of terms, Léon Roudiez comments of the term intertextuality,

[t]he concept ... has been generally misunderstood. It has nothing to do with matters of influence by one writer upon another, or with the sources of a literary work ... It is defined in [Kristeva’s] La Révolution du langage poétique [1974] as the transposition of one or more systems of signs into another ... ‘Any signifying practice is a field (in the sense of space traversed by lines of force) in which various signifying systems undergo such a transposition’.5

The shifting nature of the Internet, with its mixture of image, text and disappearance makes the Web a space both ‘traversed by lines of force’ and an intertextual zone which metaphorises the notion of Kristeva’s ‘signifying systems undergo[ing] ... transposition[s]’.

Any reader assembling the endless textual territories of the Web is both seeing and becoming the embodiment of the (inter)textual field(s), the myriad fields, the plains bursting with embryos, teeming with invitations to read, to run, to adventure, to play in the vast force-field of intertextual possibilities. Identity is also an intertextual entity, always shifting and adopting different stances. The Net now seems to mirror that process. Web sites, when revisited, have often been altered by their web-managers and can also change depending upon the computer hard- and soft-ware used by readers to view those texts. The text is no longer a certain fixity. It was not ever that, but cultural myths described the interplay between texts and readers as that of tutor and pupil – one of power-play which could not revert to interplay ... and there was never room for regression to the unknown and/or the unknowable. In one sense, the Web acts not as an archive of information and/or art, but as a mind, continually shifting in its reinterpretations, rerepresentations and playful reinventions of texts.

As intertexts are woven into new external texts by author/artists, or into new 'internal' (or reader-modified) texts by reader/viewers, those intertexts produce kaleidoscopic effects, as new perceptions and meanings appear. In ‘The Bounded Text’, for instance, Kristeva writes,
[t]he text is ... a productivity, and this means: first, that its relationship to the language in which it is situated is redistributive (destructive-constructive) ... and second, that it is a permutation of texts, an intertextuality: in the space of a given text, several utterances, taken from other texts, intersect and neutralize one another [emphasis added].6

By using words like ‘space’ and ‘neutralize’, Kristeva's writing about the terms textuality and intertextuality metaphorises the world of texts as ‘territory’, rather than free space or unstable, unowned entity. 'Neutralize’ can be read as inferring that intertexts neither belong to their original contexts nor to the contexts into which they have been placed. To follow this argument, any (inter)texts that can be recognised as ‘alien’ in a novel/film/electronic work are in a sort of limbo within the new text, in a state of no-context.7 Or, Kristeva’s use of the term ‘neutralize’ might mean that any intertexts in a work, no longer belong to their texts-of-origin, but are now ‘citizens’ of the new work.

I would prefer, however, to think of intertexts and any new text as being in a state of flux in which meanings and/or perceptions are moving from intertextual-collage (which indicates enmeshment of new text and its intertexts) via the new text to a reader-modified intertextual-collage, and so on, as many times as the reverberation makes sense to any reader. Any reader-modified intertextual-collage is an enmeshment of texts and intertexts in which meanings and perceptions are vibrating. New texts, intertexts in their various contexts (including any new contexts), and intertextual-collages are alternately and/or sporadically foregrounded, moved to background positions, and/or erased in a reading activity that is incapable of being traced in all its intricacies of motion, intersections, and erasures.

When surfing the Web, reading experiences are not often concentrated around one main text (or new text). They might involve both searches for a range of keywords and/or random explorations during which the Web becomes one enormous disjointed intertextuality. The term 'intertextuality' usurps the position conventionally given to the word 'text' with 'intertextuality' being the norm and any single text being an unusually prominent single entity within a vast intertextual zone.


On the Internet, the freedom to form intertexts when both authoring and reading can cause overload with the enormous intertextual palette available to authors and readers today – a palette which will only expand as the Internet continues to grow and as new technologies continue to increase the potential for information dispersal. Intertextual variations of any text might be created at a later date, by intersecting that text with any of various theories, images, poetico-philosophy or creative texts. In a sense, every text is always already an intertextual variation that has not yet been made.

The process of reading intertextually can also be stopped altogether, though, by deliberate reader-initiated strategy (in as much as that is possible, given our propensity to bring the 'intertextuality' of our 'identity' to any textual interaction). While the resonances that operate between new texts and intertexts are capable of transforming all those (inter)texts, readers can theoretically suspend knowledge of any intertexts in order to view a work without their reading/viewings of that work being influenced by information about its intertexts. In such instances, intertexts temporarily enjoy the status of imaginary, no-context, or solely new-context, and the dynamic interaction between the text under consideration and its intertexts ceases for a time.

It is integral to theories of intertextuality that during acts of deliberate reading, readers can choose not to intertext with certain texts, whether remembered texts or new texts drawn into the reader from outside her/his body. Jean Lescure, for instance, argues that ‘[k]nowing must ... be accompanied by an equal capacity to forget knowing. Non-knowing is not a form of ignorance but a difficult transcendence of knowledge’.8 It is desirable then, for the strategy of reading intertextually to be accompanied by an equal capacity to forget intertextuality. This means that a textual boundary is deliberately enforced during the activity of reading, that the usually porous boundaries which operate during any reading process become impermeable for a time. By combining both deliberate suspension of knowledge and reader-initiated (inter)textual filtering readings can facilitate escape from 'the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves ... [and usher in] not a common language, but ... a powerful infidel heteroglossia'.9

Diane Caney, 1999
© all rights reserved


Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon, 1969.
Barthes, Roland. ‘The Death of the Author’. Twentieth Century Literary Theory. Ed. K. M. Newton. London: MacMillan, 1988. 154-57.
Bass, Ellen & Laura Davis. The Courage to Heal. Harper & Row, New York, 1988.
Caney, Diane & Robin Petterd. Imaginative Reading V. http://www.otheredge.com.au/prj/imaginative/
Cixous, Hélène & Mireille Calle-Gruber. Hélène Cixous, rootprints: Memory and life writing. Routledge: London, 1997.
Cixous, Hélène. Stigmata: Escaping Texts. Routledge: London, 1998.
Cixous, Hélène. 'First Names of No One'. The Hélène Cixous Reader. Ed. Susan Sellers. Routledge: London, 1997.
Cixous, Hélène. 'FirstDays of the Year'. The Hélène Cixous Reader. Ed. Susan Sellers. Routledge: London, 1997.
Frame, Janet. An Angel At My Table. London: Paladin, 1987.
Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs and Women: the Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Johnson, Barbara. A World of Difference. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins U P, 1987.
Kristeva, Julia. Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. Ed. Léon S. Roudiez. Trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, & Léon S. Roudiez. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984.
Kristeva, Julia. 'Word, Dialogue and Novel'. The Kristeva Reader. Ed. Toril Moi. Trans. Seán Hand & Léon S. Roudiez. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984.
Lacan, Jacques. 'The Mirror Stage'. A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader. Ed. Antony Easthope & Kate McGowan. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1993.
Petterd, Robin & Diane Caney. travels towards. http://www.overthere.com.au/travels/.
Roudiez, Léon, S. ‘Introduction’, in Julia Kristeva. Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984.
Simpson, J.A., & E.S.C. Weiner, eds. The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1989.

1 Julia Kristeva, 'Word, Dialogue and Novel', The Kristeva Reader, Toril Moi (ed.), Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984, p. 49.

2 'Splitting ... describes the feeling the survivor has when she separates her consciousness from her body, or "leaves" her body'.
Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, The Courage to Heal, Harper & Row, New York, 1988, p. 42.

3 Roland Barthes, Roland. ‘The Death of the Author’, Twentieth Century Literary Theory, K. M. Newton (ed.), London: MacMillan, 1988, pp. 156-57.

4 Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women: the Reinvention of Nature, New York: Routledge, 1991, p. 176.

5 Léon, S. Roudiez, ‘Introduction’, in Julia Kristeva, Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984, p. 15.

6 Julia Kristeva, Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984, p. 36.

7 By new text (or primary text) I mean to infer any text that is being considered as the focus for intertextual exploration. The category of new text is always arbitrary and shifting, depending upon which text has been chosen as the primary text (either by a reader, or by a textual analyst). With chronology of production being inconsequential to readers an older text can feasibly be the focus (or the new text) for an intertextual reading with intertexts that chronologically post-date the (older) text’s production.

8 Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, Boston: Beacon, 1969, pp. xxviii - xxix.

9 Donna Haraway, p. 181.