Intertextuality and Post-Structuralism

By: Louis Thibault


In the study of semiotics, intertextuality is the rejection of the commonly-encountered structuralist semiotic approach. Whereas structuralists treat a text as a closed system — one in which all symbols, structures, and relationships between the two apply only within the boundaries of a given text — academics subscribing to the notion of intertextuality describe written codes as transcending structure (Chandler). When viewed in this context, a literary work is no longer the sole product of an author, but of its relationship to other texts and authors, as well as its relationship to language (semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics) (Keep et al). Critics and semioticians subscribing to this interpretation of literature are called post-structuralists.

Post-Structuralism and Intertextual Analysis

The development of the semiotic idea of intertextuality is largely attributed to the French semiotician Julia Kristeva who, in her pioneering of intertextuality, brought on the rise of post-structuralism. Kristeva describes texts as a unification of two axes. The horizontal axis represents the relationship between the text and the reader. The vertical axis describes the relationship between said text and other texts. Both axes are united by what semioticians and linguists call codes: interdependent informational contexts and references (Chandler).
As such, post-structuralism makes it possible for one to consider both textual and extra-literary elements in the analysis of a piece of literature. Post-structuralism refutes the concept of literature as hermetic, self-sufficient, and detached from the impact of external norms and references. Creating a literary work is a function of all existing text, and the creation of said work alters the body of created text (Keep et al). Consequently, Kristeva argues that attention should be focused not on the structure of a text, but rather on how a text came into existence — it’s “structurization”. The dichotomy between text and context is refuted (Chandler). The only text in which structure can be of interest, is a text fulfilling the impossible condition of relating only to itself. Even writing a circular text such as “I am writing about this text” (assuming this statement is published independently of this Wiki page) is not exempt from context. It was written as a result of the author (one Louis Thibault) being made aware of post-structuralism. Furthermore, the symbols used to create the work can be contextualized, as can other various semiotic elements.

Consequences of Post-Structuralism and Intertextual Analysis

In practical terms, subscription to post-structuralist thought subverts a number of mainstream literary concepts. Language now has an influence that impacts subjectivity on a very fundamental level, and this drives semioticians like Kristeva to oppose traditional literary and aesthetic thought. The uniqueness of text and author, the derived sense of authorial creativity and originality, and even the sense of authorship is called into question.
As writers write, they are forced to use current concepts and conventions, which change dynamically as new works are conceived. As a result, stripping the meaning of a text down to authorial intent and originality is a logical fallacy. Authors may communicate ideas without being aware of it, and any writing further perpetrates any number of concepts and conventions (Chandler).
Viewed in this light, the writer is an orchestrator. He is unable to conceive anything truly original, and all he can do is blend, unify, and oppose written works and their respective structures and codes (Chandler).
Equally important is the role of the reader. In 1968, Roland Barthes, a French literary critic, social theorist, philosopher and semiotician, declared “the death of the author” and “the birth of the reader. He further said that “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination” (Chandler). Thus, the dominant and notable alternative interpretations of a text are a large part of what constitutes the text’s meaning.
The mass propagation of electronic media has exposed a trend that further renders a text’s meaning problematic by introducing an extreme form of concrete intertextuality. Electronic media allows a reader to instantaneously jump from one work to another, regardless of origin or authorship, as it were. The linearity of a literary work is now under siege, and the result is a further insignificance of intent and authorship. This radical intertextuality has been coined “hypertextuality” (Chandler). Regardless of intent, a work will be shaped by what portions a reader reads, and what related texts said reader choses to read instead. Authorship is further called into question as the act of linking two works creates a larger meta-work.

Works Cited

Chandler, Daniel. “Intertextuality.” Semiotics for Beginners. 04 10 2003 . 19 Nov 2007 <>.
Keep, McLaughlin, Paramar, “Intertextuality.” The Electronic Labyrinth. 2000. 19 Nov 2007 <>.