Julia Kristeva: Intertextuality

A term popularised by Julia Kristeva in her analysis of Bakhtin’s concepts Dialogism and Carnival, intertextuality is a concept that informs structuralist poststructuralist deliberations in its contention that individual texts are inescapably related to other texts in a matrix of irreducible plural and provisional meanings. The term is used to signify the multiple ways in which any one literary text is made up of other texts, by means of its implicit or explicit allusions, citations, its repetitions and transformations of the formal and substantive features of earner texts, or simply its unavoidable participation in the common stock of linguistic and literary conventions and procedures that are “always already” in place.


In Kristeva’s formulation, any text is an “intertext” — the site of an intersection of numberless texts and existing only through its relation with other texts. This idea was anticipated in Barthes’ idea of the text as “a tissue of quotations”, as “fluid”, with many levels of meaning. The concept of intertextuality defuses the traditional humanist notion of the text as a self-contained, autonomous entity in the view that it is but a weave” of codes from other texts or discourses such as that of history, social conditions, philosophy, theology and so on.

Intertextuality vindicates the Derridean view that there is nothing outside the text — which means that all meanings reside in the interpretation and re-interpretation of texts and that no text exists outside its interpretation. The intertextual productions are thus fundamental to literary production, involving particular ways of seeing based on power relations, forms of resistance and so on, which have their import in various theoretical disciplines including Marxism, Feminism and Postcolonialism.

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