Once Upon a Time… There Was Intertext

As readers, we come across different types of texts every day, and increasingly, in other languages. By doing this, we are decoding the symbols that make up words and create meaning. This process is so automated that all the connections we make when reading are likely to be taken for granted.

Texts, which can be understood as everything that is said or written, are not independent of other texts, and above all, they are not static. Rather, texts are dynamic and usually evoke or reference other texts. Each time a reader encounters a new text, it will contain something, whether a phrase, a name or a mere concept, which refers to other texts and that will influence the reader’s current experience and how it will be interpreted.

This interconnectivity and interdependence among texts known as intertextuality. When texts are read, it’s not just meaning that’s created, but an entire network of textual relationships made up of everything we know, and all existing texts (whether we’re familiar with them or not). After all, it is the reader who establishes the connections. Each of us has a different, specific cultural background shaped by our own experiences. We create links that will never be exactly the same as those created by someone else. The more we experience, the greater our intertext will be.

If a character is named Juliet and is tormented by an impossible love, we are likely to relate the text to Shakespeare and the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. In fact, today, intertextuality has taken on a particular new role: hyperlinks, which in a way, are nothing more than intertext made visible; a click of the mouse is enough to be transported to a near infinite amount of new pages and ideas.

Another clear example of this phenomenon can be observed in the traditional phrase “Once upon a time…” No more than this short phrase is necessary for us to know what comes next. We know that this is a children’s story, which probably takes place in the past and is located in a remote and imprecise location, there are kings, talking animals, among many other things, and there will most likely be a moral to the story. Without realizing it, we immediately become lost in fantasy and begin to remember our experiences with all the stories we know that begin with this phrase.

These links that we create enrich the text and give it more depth. There will always be many interpretations among readers; some references will be clear to many, while others to just a few, but they are always below the surface waiting patiently to be discovered.