Thursday, September 08, 2005

Barthes' Intertextuality

It probably was not fair of me to start a discussion on authorial intention with a Barthes quote, my attempt at intertextual play perhaps was confusing, but for Barthes there is no more author, that is for sure. However, this does not mean what Sameer has to say is irrelevant, it just means I need more time to think it through, until then let me clarify Barthes position.

Roland Barthes

While it may have been Kristeva's gloss on Bakhtin which eventually led to the term intertextuality, it is Barthes who has played the term and developed it into a theory of posts-structuralism. For Barthes the key to intertextuality is to get away from a modernist view of the text. To this end he employs the term 'work' as a replacement of 'text':

A work is a finished object, something computable, which can occupy a physical space (take its place, for example, on the shelves of a library); the text is a methodological field. One cannot, therefore, count up texts, at least not in any regular way; all one can say is that in such and-such a work, there is, or there isn't, some text. 'The work is held in the hand, the text in language'.[1]

The text is a process in signification rather than a medium within which meaning is secured and stabilized, writing for Barthes opens the sign up to a Derrida like explosion, infinite and yet always already deferred dimension of meaning.[2] Barthes' theory of the text, therefore, involves a theory of intertextuality, in that the text not only sets in motion a plurality of meanings but is also woven out of numerous discourses and spun from already existent meaning. Barthes intertextual text is:

woven entirely with citations, references, echoes, cultural languages (what language is not?) antecedent or contemporary, which cut across it through and through in a vast stereophony. The intertextual in which every text is held, it itself being the text-between of another text, is not to be confused with some origin of the text: to try to find that 'sources', the 'influences' of a work, is to fall in with the myth of filiation; the citations which go to make up a text are anonymous, untraceable, and yet already read: they are quotations without inverted commas.[3]
Unlike Kristeva, for whom the reader is the absent mediator-translator, Barthes reader is the body of mediation or medium for the texts effects to come into play. The reader is not a passive vehicle, not an echo chamber, but rather the regent of the text.[4] The author then is an arranger or compiler of the always already written likewise the text is, then, 'a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centers of culture.'[5]

It is important for Barthes that one recognize that textual meaning is not created from an author combining a signifier with the signified, the Barthesian concept of the intertextual, does not mean we can simply move to the intertextual level of the signifier and signified. To say that the text is constructed from a mosaic of quotations does not mean we can find a text's pretexts and then view them as the signified of the texts signifiers. The inter-texts, other works of literature, other kinds of texts, are themselves intertextual constructs, and are themselves able to offer us nothing more than signifiers.[6]

For Barthes the pleasure of the text is to follow the 'derive,' the drift of a ship off coarse, to see where it might take you, or where you might take it. The reader then is to chase the pleasure principle through the most deviatory routes, and play with other texts in a counter-directional manner.[7] Unlike Kristeva who ultimately sought from the dialogical nature of intertexts the ability for ideological critique, in Barthes one gets the sense that the only redeeming value of texts is how they play, or as Mary Orr has aptly put it, the brilliance in Barthes is '....the choreography of the intertext as ephemeral and sensate, the white heat of pyrotechnics.'[8]

[1] Roland Barthes, "Theory of the Text," in Untying the Text: A Post-Structuralist Reader, ed. Robert Young (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981), 39.

[2] Allen, Intertextuality, 65.

[3] Barthes, Image - Music - Text, 160.

[4] Orr, Intertextuality, 34, 35.

[5] Roland Barthes, "The Death of the Author," in Image - Music - Text (Fontana, 1977), 146.

[6] Allen, Intertextuality, 73.

[7] Orr, Intertextuality, 37.

[8] Orr, Intertextuality, 40.


Sameer said...

Sorry that this post is a repeat from earlier. I just thought I'd post it to your most recent relevant post, and clean up a typo or two.

I confess that in my post I was only making use of 'intertextuality' in the minimalist sense akin to 'allusion.' Indeed, that minimalistic sense is all I can make of Barthes or Kristeva’s explications, and I take much of their attempts at capitalizing on the utility of this notion vis a vis hermeneutics to be largely confused, nebulous and not very carefully or precisely argued (when arguments are offered at all). Nevertheless, even when reading my previous post on a more robust Barthesian reading of 'intertextuality,' I think there remains a legitimate point to be made. That is, even Barthes recognizes the authorship of texts in the sense of agent causation – that is, physical objects upon which a series of natural language strings are inscribed (granting that he would equally admit of *any* object of interpretation as a 'text,' including tables, Tupperware and tapioca). Still, in order for, say, a book to function as an 'orchestration of the already-written,' and in order to at the same time be properly called an *object* of interpretive play on the part of the reader, it is necessary that the book function as an individualized (discrete) textual entity, even if its *functionality* as 'text' (exhibted perhaps, in its reading) consists in a seamless flow of pre-existent langue, as Barthes would have it. It would seem that Barthes himself recognizes this, in that he construes the power of the writer (scriptor) as producing a 'mixing of writings' which are anterior to him. The only sense I can make of this idea is that the creation of a discrete text (e.g. a book) should really be seen as a unique mixing and representation of pre-existent texts (the citation or individuation of which is impossible). But it is easy to see that this understanding dramatically neuters his bold proclamation of the 'death of the author' precisely by locating in an author the ability to uniquely rearrange or configure pre-existing texts, albetit in such a way as to produce (facilitate?) the manifold textures that find their play in the responsive reader of that book. To avoid this result, he would either have to deny the existence of linguistic objects, their causal production by humans, or the phenomenon of reading (understood in a very minimalistic, pre-theoretical way). Each of these can easily be established by simple empirical observation and their denial looks pretty inadvisable to me -- ludicrous even. So the implication of Barthes’ own characterization, whether he recognized it or not, is that the author still ends up playing a fundamental role in the shaping of meaning. In any case, I don’t see any good reason (indeed, I don’t find Barthes giving me many) to accept his notion of intertextuality, so my own motivations for retaining the concept of authorial intent (albeit in a chastened formulation) are altogether different than the line suggested above.

metalepsis said...

O.k. let me attempt a response here which will probably not be an answer as such but more of an opportunity for clarification of sorts (not clarification for you, but rather for me, I can be thick sometimes).

First of all I am not completely sure what you mean by linguistic objects (are these touchable semes), or are you speaking in response to a post-structural appropriation of Saussure?

If all texts are shot through with the already written, is it essential that the author know his pretexts, and if the author does not know all the pretexts, in what way can they be said to be intended. I imagine that the death of the author is along the same pronouncements as the death of god, its purpose is to liberate the 'other'. What I see Barthes as trying to do is to wrestle meaning away from the author, and to give the reader his proper place.

We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture….the writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. His only power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others, in such a way as never to rest on any one of them. Did he wish to express himself, he ought at least to know that the inner ‘thing’ he thinks to ‘translate’ is itself only a ready-formed dictionary, its words only explainable through other words, and so on indefinitely…

Here we see Barthes would not dispute that the author may have put these texts (already written) together, but in doing so he looses any claim of originality, any ability to determine meaning, naturally because the already written is itself dialogical. He continues…

Once the Author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile. To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing. Such a conception suits criticism very well, the latter then allotting itself the important task of discovering the Author (or its hypostases: society, history, psyche, liberty) beneath the work: when the Author has been found, the text is ‘explained’—victory to the critic….Thus is revealed the total existence of writing: a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader, not, as was hitherto said, the author. The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination. Yet this destination cannot any longer be personal: the reader is without history, biography, psychology; he is simply that someone who holds together in a single field all the traces by which the written text is constituted.

I find Barthes to be very liberating, and radical, but not crazy (not that you think this, or even think this). If you have a chance you should read S/Z, simply because he is such a good reader of texts, and as such, we can all hope to learn how it is he does what he does.

I know that I am not answering your questions directly, and hope that does not frustrate you too much, I value your criticisms, it drives me to question and to better understand my own position (and reveals how thick I actually am).

I would be very interested for you to explain your 'chastened' idea of authorial intention.

Again I would not completely do away with authorial intention, but as I have said before, and here echo Barthes, I would protest that idea that what the author intended is the 'only' meaning.