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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: July 2019

46 - Intertextuality


The term ‘intertextuality’ (intertextualité) is a modern one, coined by Julia Kristeva in 1967. The theory of intertextuality suggests that a text needs to be read in the light of its allusions to and differences from the content or structure of other texts. No text functions as a completely closed system. As Worton and Still (1990, 1–2) argue: ‘Firstly, the writer is a reader of texts before s/he is a creator of texts, and therefore the work of art is inevitably shot through with references, quotations and influences of every kind[…] Secondly, a text is only available through some process of reading; what is produced at the moment of reading is due to the cross-fertilisation of the packaged textual material […] by all the texts which the reader brings to it.’

Intertextuality emphasizes the dialogic nature of reading and writing. The ‘literary word’, writes Kristeva (1980, 65–66), is ‘an intersection of textual surfaces rather than a point (a fixed meaning), as a dialogue among several writings […] each word (text) is an intersection of other words (texts) where at least one other word (text) can be read.’ Intertextuality creates relationships between texts, both for readers and writers. Although the word is relatively new, travel writing has, of course, been both implicitly and explicitly intertextual for centuries. Travel writing is often overtly intertextual, but, as is true for other genres, it also exists within a network of ‘partially denied or unacknowledged intertexts’ (Hulme 2002a, 223).

The explicit use of intertextuality within travel narratives serves a variety of functions. It can corroborate the truth-value of the text – someone else has done or seen or said the same thing. It can also serve to establish the travel writer as an authoritative figure, one who has done his research before leaving home and whose information can be trusted, although the author may still need to emphasize the primacy of his text. The Victorian traveller Eliot Warburton (1845, xiii) wrote that before visiting the East he had read the accounts of many previous travellers, but he assured his audience that he had ‘not (intentionally) […] used the thoughts of any author’, and that therefore they could trust in the ‘novelty’ of his impressions.