Intertextuality and the Study of Texts

January 31, 2011

Today, we discussed Jonathan Gray’s first chapter of Watching With the Simpsons.

Jonathan Gray’s chapter “Intertexuality and the Study of Texts” discusses how each text and genre influences others and feed into one another.  As readers, we can enhance our understanding of the work if we allow texts to “become intermingled.”


  • Texts talking to texts, endlessly feeding/connecting into one another
  • Text and context bleed into each other, becoming intermingled
  • The shaping of text’s meanings by other texts
  • The constant give-and take of meaning-making with the text
  • Texts do not end when we reach the work’s physical end

Historically, the Romantics denied any influence from previous literary works or authors and proclaimed their own text to be “utterly unique.”  This idea is an example of “overly text-centric analysis,” meaning that texts can be studied individually.

“To Wordsworth, the poet did not write to be read, and as such, the reader became irrelevant” (Gray 20).

In the past, texts were not written to allow the readers to construct meaning themselves.  However, now it is more widely accepted that different people can produce vastly different readings and understandings of the same text.  A person’s societal ‘status,’ experiences or individual worldview affects how he/she interpret the text.

“An individual reader’s positioning within societal structures and groupings…frequently inflects what meanings that reader will ‘find’ in the text” (Gray 22).

Intertextuality allows each reader to produce vastly different interpretations of the same text.

“Intertexuality offers a text the chance to mean multiple things at once, so that the text may propose one meaning for itself, while each intertext may add others” (Gray 27).

There are four main models of interaction…

Hierarchical model: teamwork, intertextuality is restricted to influence, texts draw upon other texts or references, meaning travels from the past to the present

Example: “The Simpsons”

Working Together model: the object of study becomes their combined work, each text is seen as fulfilling the same role within the “team,”

Example: the role of the media in depicting violence –> sometimes draws unrealistic representations, the use of violent imagery leads people to assume the world is a violent place

Divided Responsibility model: divides responsibilities or roles between different team members, different genres fulfill different tasks

Fully Interactive model: involves a more complex interaction between texts, seeing texts working on each other’s ground, “every utterance begins as a response to something else, and ends, prepared or otherwise, as something responded to, the conversation never ends. (Gray’s preferred model)

Genres and Intertextuality

Genres are categories that are each based on a loose set of shared stylistic elements.  According to Gray’s piece, “genres help us taste-test and select what to watch.”  Genres are broad groups; they are not easily defined and quite complex.  The reader’s understanding of a genre affects their interpretations of the text and vice-versa.

“Not only do genre and expectation partially control our understanding of a text upon entrance, but that text can partially control our understanding of the genre upon exit” (Gray 31).