Intertextuality: Ariadne’s Thread in the Exploration of Literature

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Abstract


This essay is devoted to the phenomenon of intertextuality as an essential aspect of text generation and analysis. Following Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the dialogic nature of the text and culture, it deals with such aspects of the text as polyfunctionality, polysemy and anthropocentricity. It seeks to show that the text combines three functions: cognitive, communicative and aesthetic and focuses on quotations and allusions as omnipresent elements of literary texts. Applying text and genre analysis, I explore intertextual links in poetic and prosaic pieces by Russian, British and American authors. In these analyses intertextuality emerges as a way to connect times and experiences and stimulate creative thinking. They also illustrate that a literary text is distinguished by two seemingly contradictory tendencies: stability and constant innovation. It is the symbiosis of the two that stimulates the preservation of the old and generation of new knowledge.

What has been will be again, What has been done will be done again; There is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1: 9 1. Introduction A remarkable tendency in modern thinking is a shift of focus-from the sphere of systems towards the centre of all these systems - Man. He dominates language space, he is a link in the chain: nature, man, culture. He is the creation of the former and the creator of the latter. Present-day thinking is becoming increasingly human-centered. The human factor projects itself on linguistics and brings to the foreground communicative and pragmatic aspects of the language. Hence the interest in the maximum speech unit, the text, which is a medium for social interaction and an embodiment of culture. It is also a medium in which knowledge materializes. Text linguistics (TL), therefore, bridges the gulf between language studies and analysis of social interaction. This enables us to affirm that TL is not a “bastard” but a “legitimate child” of general linguistics. It is not simple to pinpoint TL’s founding fathers, but clearly, it received its first impulses from Russian linguists and literature scholars. The first to be mentioned are formalists: Roman Jakobson, Viktor Shklovskii, Vladimir Propp, Boris Eichenbaum, Boris Tomashevskii, Yurii Tynianov, to name the most renowned figures of this school. These scholars had a major influence on Mikhail Bakhtin, although in some respects he argued against their approach to poetics, in particular against the separation of poetry from prose and everyday language. Bakhtin’s concentration on the novel, which, he believed, would open the door to more profound understanding of all verbal art, put the text into focus. The study of the text as shown in Bakhtin’s work presupposed looking into all its complexities, contradictions and immersion in social life. TL was developing vigorously in the 1970s-1980s, see, e.g., theoretical investigations by M. Halliday (Halliday, 1975: 23-43), T.A. van Dijk (van Dijk, 1972), N.E. Enkvist (Enkvist, 1984: 45-68) and R. de Beaugrande and W.U. Dressler (Beaugrande, Dressler, 1988). Notably, in the Soviet Union theoretical investigations in the field of TL in this period were conducted not only on the material of the Russian language as presented in the books by A.V. Bondarko (Bondarko, 1978) and T. Tzivian (Tzivian, 1980), but also on the material of English, as exemplified by the books by I.R. Galperin’s (Galperin, 2009) and Z.Ya. Turaeva’s (Turaeva, 2009), German - Admoni and Sil’man (Adomni, Sil’man, 1968) and O. Moskal’skaya (Moskalskaya, 1974) French - E.A. Referovskaya (Referovskaya, 1983), etc. Dealing with texts in diverse genres and using linguistic and literary resources of different cultures LT achieved a panoramic view of the text. 2.1. Text linguistics: between structure and semantics One of the main domains of TL is the study of structural and semantic features of the text. The text is polyfunctional, polysemantic and anthropomorphic It embraces three functions: cognitive, communicative and aesthetic (Turaeva, 2016: 38-40). It has a cognitive function because it serves to materialize knowledge and model a picture of the world. The picture of the world may be factual or counter-factual and the latter may be very powerful. Let us call back to mind the famous anti-utopias of the 20th century: “1984” by George Orwell, “A Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, “We” by Evgeniy Zamyatin, and the works of the American school of black humor (1), such as short stories by Donald Barthelme, novels by John Barth, Philip Roth, and Kurt Vonnegut. TL studies how the picture of the world is transformed in the mind of the reader under the influence of the text. Any communicative act is intrusion into the thesaurus of the recipient, instilling into his/her mind a picture of the world that is not necessarily a replica of the real world. Thus the text may assume a social significance. Ancient myths, as well as the Old and the New Testament have reigned over European thought for over two millennia. Added to them can be a long list of literary works ranging from the didactic moralizing novel of the Enlightenment to the contemporary philosophical novel authored by John Fowls, Iris Murdoch, Gabriel Garcia Marques, Milan Kundera, Paul Auster, Elliot Perlman to mention just a few Western writers, and by Russian writers such as Andrey Bitov, Liudmila Ulitskaya, Vladimir Sorokin, Mikhail Shishkin, and others. The power of the text over our mental and emotional state has been noted by the great Russian poet Pushkin who wrote: “Over fiction shall we weep”. We are often more sensitive to the tragedy unfolding before our eyes on TV or in a movie, on the theater stage or on the pages of a book we are reading than to the human drama and tragedies occurring in the real world. The text is polysemantic because it yields to the multitude of interpretations. These are only partially controlled by the author. They depend upon the thesaurus of the reader, the epoch he/she lives in, as well as his/her historical and educational background. We presume that audiences coming to see “Hamlet” on stage perceive the play differently from the spectators who gathered in London’s “Globe” theatre in Shakespeare’s time. Some of the information possessed by the then spectators has been lost, some other has accumulated instead. The experience and the mentality of our contemporaries differ from those of the people who lived in the Middle Ages or in the period of Renaissance. Among the main characteristics of a work of art is blending of the reflection of reality - complex, indirect and hierarchical - and a flow of imagination. A real work of art is always rooted in reality but does not replicate it. It presents an intricate, often unexpected combination of images capturing phenomena existing in the world around us and also created by the human mind and fantasy. Examples range from ancient Sphinxes, Centaurs and mermaids to the science fiction of the nineteenth, twentieth and the present centuries foreseeing future achievements of human civilization. Suffice it to mention submarine travels with Jules Verne, robots fantasized by Karel Capek, flights conquering space with Ray Bradbury, transplant surgery and its moral dilemmas as depicted by Alexander Belayev and many others. Possible worlds created in works of fiction reach the reader who experiences the same real world as the artist. But every individual has a unique perception of reality and so imaginary worlds in the works of art interact with the world as the reader sees it. This brings us to another characteristic feature of the literary text - its suggestiveness and ambivalence. A poetic word is characterized by the interplay of two spheres, the sphere of language semantics and the sphere of the knowledge of the world. As a result, two tendencies clash in a word of fiction, that of stability and of constant change. The shortest route to illustrate this idea is to fall back upon the metaphor. The metaphor is simultaneously a truth and a lie, a lie in the everyday impersonal world around us and a truth in an individual vision of the world born by the artistic mind. When Robert P. Warren says: “They had worked over his face until it looked like uncooked hamburger” (Warren, 2002), he creates a vivid image although “a face” and “a hamburger” are words belonging to different conceptual categories bearing little similarity in the world as we know it. Yet our knowledge of various properties of the two, such as color and texture enables us to recognize the author’s goal. Although blood is not mentioned in the quoted sentence, the reader infers the character’s face was a bloody mass. When William Butler Yeats writes, “An aged man is but a paltry thing / A tattered coat upon a stick...” (Yeats, 2016), we see that metaphor is an intrusion of an image into the realm of concepts, imagination into the sphere of intellect, individual into the realm of class, synthesis into the sphere of analysis. The metaphor is a challenge to clichés and stereotypes in language and thought. It rejects familiar classifications of people, objects and natural and social phenomena putting forward a new vision of the world. To illustrate this let us look at the following examples which bring together the incompatible and create striking comparisons: “I got out of bed handling myself with awe-struck care as though I were a basket of eggs”, “So I walked... and his eyes reached out and grabbed me like the last hope” (Warren, 2002). In both these examples there are semantic violations of the norm. “Handling” is not directed at the self, but at other people, objects or situations. “Grabbing” presupposes physical contact. Even in the figurative uses, such as “grab a sandwich”, this sememe is present. Grabbing hope and grabbing with one’s eyes increases semantic distance between literate and metaphoric uses even further, but it is the effort that is required of the addressee to bridge the gap which makes this metaphor vivid and memorable. 2.2. Intertextuality: Polylogues of generations Another domain of TL is the study of intertextuality. The theory of intertextuality is based on Michael Bakhtin’s theory of the dialogical nature of the text (Bakhtin, 2000). He believed that the essence of culture is a dialogue and that philosophical thinking, as well as the entire field of Humanities are based on the dialogue. This view of the world proved to be very productive for understanding the mechanisms behind language change and innovation. In language, in our thinking, and everywhere in culture there is never an ideal order or system. Whenever we use linguistic and cultural resources inherited from the previous thinkers and speakers we introduce something new, something related to our unique vision of the world. So our words become dialogized attracting dialogized meanings. As Morson and Emerson aptly remark, “This potentially endless process pertains not only to particular words but also to other elements of language - to given styles, syntactic forms, even grammatical norms. Complex interactions of this sort serve as a driving force in the history of any language” (Morson, Emerson, Bakhtin, 1990:143). Cultural spheres have no boundaries, they are interlinked. Bakhtin’s ground-breaking theory was introduced to the Western reader by Julia Kristeva in her book “Semiotics” (Kristeva, 2013). It is Kristeva who coined the term “intertextuality” which is widely accepted in linguistics today. This term directs our attention towards the way a text integrates history and itself becomes part of it. The concept of intertextuality points to the relevance of the cultural context and postulates multiple links between different texts. Roland Barthes is often quoted as saying that the text is open into infinity. He also wrote about resilience of the text, “For the text, nothing is gratuitous except its own destruction: not to write, not to write again, except to be eternally recuperated” (Barthes, 1974:23). Barthes, Todorov (Todorov, 1982) and Kristeva found new proofs of Bakhtin’s theory and breathed in new life in it. Intertextuality is not just a conjunction of different texts, it is their interaction. It is a stimulus for creative thinking contributing to the discovery of unnamed meanings, covert meanings, and deeply buried meanings. Intertextuality sets in motion social contexts and frames of the text encoded in the mind of the receiver. Let us now turn to markers of intertextuality. These are allusions and quotations. Both have two-vector orientation: towards the original text (the “prototype” text) and towards the quoting text. The two are never completely assimilated. A quotation enters a new context but never fully merges with it. It has a metonymical character. It stands for the prototype text and renders its atmosphere. Intertextuality, when it is recognized by the addressee, breaks the linearity of text perception. In literature authors may disguise the quoted excerpts and/or cluster them in such an intricate fashion that it requires of the reader an effort to locate and interpret them, turning interpretation of the text into a test for the initiated, those who can share cultural background with the author (Yelenevskaya, 2000:246). When decoding of a prototype text is mistaken or incomplete, the interpretation of the target text will be inadequate. As text interpreters know, the deeper we probe into each linguistic phenomenon in the text, the more porous are the limits of the text and its senses, the more complicated categories for analysis emerge. Intertextuality is one of such categories (Lun’kova, 2008:93). The interaction between a quotation and a quoting text are distinguished by two opposing trends: harmony between the two and conflict between them. When harmony between the original text and the quoting text is created, nothing severs cultural links existing between them. On the contrary, this contributes to a continuity of culture. See, for example, the title of and the epigraph to Hemingway’s novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. They are borrowed from the work of John Donne, an English poet of late Renaissance and one of the first metaphysical poets. Both the quotation and the allusion retain their significance in our turbulent times: “No man is an Island, intire of it selfe; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the maine... any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee” (Donne, 2016), (2). The title of Irvin Shaw’s novel “Evening in Byzantium” (Shaw, 1996) can be traced to the poem by W.B. Yeats and to his conception of culture and history of mankind (Donne, 2016). For Shaw, early Byzantium was a symbol of harmony between aesthetic and practical life, between old age and youth, between life and art: “...never before or since in recorded history architect and artificers spoke to the multitude and a few alike”. Examples illustrating harmony between different texts are plenty. See R.P. Warren’s “All the King’s Men”, W. Faulkner’s “the Sound and the Fury”, E. Hemingway’s “Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises”, and others. The second type of interaction between a prototype text and the quoting text is a conflict between the quotation and its background. We find it in parodies, burlesque and travesty. The effect is usually ironic or satiric. A vivid example is Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s parody of Edgar Poe’s “Raven”: The End of Various Affairs What is that great crow doing Flying into my picture Flying into my various love affairs (with various “Lenores”) As if to mark the end Of my amores? This huge black crow floats through The salty air And lands on a branch by my window Stretching and shaking Its dingbat wings. The broken sky above the trees Has birds for fishes In his seas (what waves what rocks what shores!) While this landlubber crow lets out A great lost cry As if to mock the end Of my amores And louder and louder cries and cries Never never nevermore! (Ferlinghetti, 2016) Ferlinghetti travesties the atmosphere of solitude, despair and yearnings for the lost beloved. His poem is a grotesque imitation in which Poe’s elevated style created by lexical and syntactic repetitions and the hissing sound of abundant fricatives is replaced by the down-to-earth manner and vocabulary of everyday speech. Instead of the Raven whose appearance on the scene has become a symbol of bad omen, Ferlinghetti chooses a crow, the bird that is associated with loud and annoying behavior, as well as stupidity and conceit that are ascribed to it in Aesop’s fable. (Note that Poe spells it with a block capital, which lends the name of the bird the role of a proper name). Poe uses a capital letter spelling the name of the bird which elevates it to a proper name. Ferlinghetti does not only use a low-register letter, but adds the deictic “that” implying irritation and annoyance. Even if the reader familiar with the original recalls the atmosphere of despair, mystery and mysticism that dominates it, changes introduced by Ferlinghetti tune his/her perception to a completely different wave. Other metamorphoses in this poem are birds turning into fishes, one and only love turning into affairs, and the name of the deceased beloved transformed into various “Lenores” - the inverted commas signaling that this name can be applied to these lady-friends only ironically. The plural noun “amores” also shows that these affairs are not taken seriously by the protagonist. Ferlinghetti’s poem also evokes associations with John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” (see a detailed analysis of intrasemantic ties in Atlas (Atlas, 1988). The trigger for these associations is the following lines: “This huge black crow floats through / The salty air / And lands on a branch by my window”. Compare this to Milton’s “Thence up he flew and on the tree of Life / The middle tree and highest there that grew / Sat like a Cormorant” (Milton, 2007). Finally, there is also an allusion to T.S. Eliot, whose poem “Marina” opens with the following lines: What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands” What water lapping the bow And scent of pine and the wood thrush singing through the fog What images return O my daughter. (Eliot, 2016) T.S. Eliott apparently himself alludes to Shakespeare’s play “Pericles” in which Marina, presumed drowned is found alive. In Ferlinghetti’s parody the seas belong to the “landlubber” crow and so the alluded lines sound like mockery and not as an exclamation emphasizing the tension permeating T.S. Eliot’s piece. In the parody we observe a conflict of at least two linguistic personalities, a blend of the “I” of the poet and the “I” of the parodist, a double vision of the world, a unique combination of creative and reproducing activities. The parody creates a topsy-turvy world which balances on the verge of life and game, and truth and fiction. The parody is ambivalent. It presents an alternation of negation and affirmation, denunciation and recognition. This is the basis of the comic synthesis - the junction of the serious and the comic, the tragic and the facetious. The parody throws its target into sharp relief through the medium of its mock double which may appear the same but isn’t. It is an interplay of contradictions which are in constant motion. The double overpowers the original and pushes it to the background overshadowing it. It is worth mentioning that in one of his best known works, “Poetry as Insurgent Art” Ferlinghetti warns his contemporaries that mankind is on the way to self-destruction and implies that no single work of art stands alone, but all are related and interwoven with each other. Moreover, he calls on other poets to use the power of the word to counteract dangerous tendencies in the development of civilization: If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic. You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words.... (Ferlinghetti, 1974) Parody, burlesque and travesty merit additional attention. Humans seem to be more responsive to what contains humor than to what lacks it. In his work devoted to Rabelais, Bakhtin writes about the importance of laughter, which is linked with ancient culture and its early manifestation, carnival, as an initial stage of folk festivities (Bakhtin, 2016). “Rabelasian” has come to mean jovial and coarse, for there is an enormous strain of hyperbolical bawdiness in Rabelais. It combines with his obvious love of life with all the good things it has to offer, and his extraordinary torrential style - punning, lexical innovativeness, the tone which is alternately mock-pedantic and earthy. A major figure in the literature of Renaissance in France, his art of grotesque humor is rooted in the Middle Ages, and contemporary parodies pay tribute to him by stretching their associative links to the works by Rabelais. An example of intertextuality is offered by Bakhtin himself in his work about Nikolai Gogol (Bakhtin, 2016). Gogol’s is akin to carnival perception of the world. The rich palette of carnival laughter distinguishes his works “The Government Inspector”, “Dead Souls”, “The Overcoat”, “Evenings on the Farm near Dikanka”, Mirgorod” and others. Gogol’s laughter is overwhelming and rests on his perception of the world with its many absurdities, where the laughable is interwoven with the sad. This humor is rooted in folk tradition-down-to-earth, bawdy and boundlessly hilarious. At the same time his laughter is not petty derision but purifying and elevating the reader over imperfections of the world. In one of his less critiqued drama works “Leaving Theater after the Performance of a New Comedy” the main protagonist, the author says: “Why is there such melancholy weighing on my heart? Isn’t it strange that nobody noticed one honest character that appeared in my play? Yes, there was one character that acted throughout the play. This honest and noble character was Laughter. It was noble, because it dared appear despite the low status it has in society” (Gogol’, 1948). And in the concluding words the author of the play, and together with him Gogol himself, says that in cold laughter one can discern hot sparks of eternal and powerful love and “...the one whose soul often sheds deep tears is the one who laughs more than anybody else”. This ambivalence and the frequent blending of the funny and the sad, virtue and evil are typical of the carnival. Stripped of laughter, the evil unmasked and exposed would anger us. Clothed in laughter it encourages reflections and brings peace to one’s soul. The realm of laughter is often the realm of contacts of writers of different epochs and cultures. Laughter creates special ties with precedent texts. They represent epochs gone by, but they are not “gone with the wind” and continue living with us. 3. Conclusions Drawing a brief conclusion to what has been said about intertextuality, I would like to focus once more on the following aspects of this literary, and more broadly, cultural phenomenon: 1. Intertextuality has no boundaries. And referring again to Ecclesiastes we can always find similarity in dissimilars, the unexpected in the familiar and conventional. Intertextuality has a cognitive function. Knowledge acquisition and systematization of new facts inevitably requires putting them in context with what we learned earlier. Processes of comparison on the basis of similarity and contrast, classification, and building hierarchies occur in all fields, including linguistics. These operations are at work when we process texts. 2. Intertextuality is a manifestation of the dialogical nature of human thinking and of the language itself. The richer the reservoir of texts familiar to an individual the easier it is for him/her to recognize connections between them and participate in the polylogues of voices from different times. 3. Intertextuality permeates literature, folklore and everyday practices of lay people when they rely on authority and summon precedent texts of their culture to reinforce their opinions or make light of serious problems. Each epoch and each culture has its own repertoire of precedent texts. One of the reasons for intergeneration gaps is that texts important for one generation sometimes “do not speak” to the next generation. Therefore, it is essential in the education of linguists to train them to establish connections between texts, places and times. Notes 1. Black humor also referred to as “black comedy” presents the world as fantastic and nightmarish, and the events narrated are simultaneously comic, horrifying and absurd. Absurdist techniques were used to express social protest implicitly in totalitarian regimes (Abrams, 2009). 2. E. Hemingway preserved the original spelling of the time. 3. Translation of this and the following excerpt is mine.

Zinaida Yakovlevna Turaeva

Independent scholar

Email: zinaida.turaeva@mail.ru
14, Furtwanger Str., 71034, Boeblingen, Deutschland

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