Intertextuality: Meaning of Life and Silk Cut

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What is intertextuality? How does intertextuality challenge E.D. Hirsch's idea that a text has a single meaning created by its author? Explain with reference to examples drawn from any media format.

According to American literary critic, E.D. Hirsch, in order to interpret a body of text, one must ask one's self the only question that can be answered objectively – "what, in all probability, did the author mean to convey?" He believed that the author's intended meaning equates the meaning of a text and it is in fact, the reader's duty to uncover the the author's intentions.

"The meaning of a text and its author's intentions are one and the same."

Hirsch's concept revolves around the assumption that a body of text is original, and is purely a body of the author's sole "intentions". The production of text, if one were to adhere to Hirsch's theory, is therefore exclusive to the author's own ideas and concepts and free of external influence. However, the notions of langue and parole disputes this idea. According to Barthes in 1984, "It [la langue] is the social part of language, the individual cannot himself either create or modify it". Furthermore, Ferdinand de Saussure's work on structuralism and semiotics demonstrates the subjectivity of language and can be said to have sewn the seeds for modern concepts of intertextuality (such as those developed by Roland Barthes and Julia Kristeva). Intertextuality challenges the idea of a text's ability to be truly original and therefore disagrees with Hirsch's theory. In this essay, I will focus on how conscious intertextuality as well as the semiotics involved in unconscious intertextuality both dispute the idea that the meaning of a text belongs exclusively to its author's intentions.

Julia Kristeva, who was the first to use the term "intertextuality", proposed the idea that a text should not be interpreted merely by its words at face value, but also studied based on other works it has adapted and was influenced by. The concept can be further expanded upon by Gunther Kress' notion of "ceaseless semiosis" which brings to light the social aspect of a text's creation.

"From the beginning, I use materials which I have encountered before, which bear the meanings of their social contexts, to weave a new text which, because it is woven from materials of other texts, everywhere and always connects with those other texts." -Kress, 2000

Conscious intertextuality thus enables a reader to participate in this "ceaseless semiosis" by the identification and application of their prior knowledge to a text, along with creating their own version of the text by combining their existing knowledge gleaned from other texts with the works of others a text is based on (e.g. someone watching a satirical television show such as The Simpsons).

The best example of this sort of intertextuality would be the process of a reader (or surfer) browsing the world wide web. Here, an author cannot control the way in which a reader approaches his or her body of text. There is seldom a linear fashion in which a reader consumes information while surfing the internet. It is common for him or her to absorb only small chunks of texts on one page of a website before being led to an entirely different webpage via links. Through surfing and following links of their choice, readers effectively thus begin to construct their own text of sorts as they make their way through various sites on the internet.

Unlike newspapers or most other forms of printed media, intertextuality on the internet is often one of a blatant and conscious nature. Here, almost more so than anywhere else, it is clear that content is not entirely original, nor is it based on an author's sole ideas and concepts. It is common for a great many websites to host a multitude of links, and consist of short articles that link to other sources of information that the work was based on, or that provide further elaboration.

Even on the...
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