In this chapter the idea of intertextuality and its application to literary studies will be briefly discussed. The underlying notion of dialog and its usefulness for analysis of narrative texts will also be presented. References will be made mainly to the work of Mikhail Bachtin, which is fundamental in this area, and to Julia Kristeva, who develops his ideas.


Intertextuality is a word coined by Julia Kristeva in an essay on Bachtin written in 1966. The coinage has been since used by many authors in a variety of more or less differing meanings (Morace 1989: 7). Kristeva uses this term to denote the interdependence of literary texts. She describes a text as a "mosaic of quotations, an absorption and transformation of another text" (Kristeva 1983: 396). This perspective is a development of Bachtin's idea of the dialogic nature of the "word". Analyzing the phenomena of parody and stylization Bachtin talks about the two-directionality of the word. In parodic and stylized texts it is directed simultaneously towards the speaking subject and towards another word, towards the speech of others - without being aware of this it is impossible to understand properly parodic or stylized text; they would be taken to be simple instances of non-metalinguistic utterances instead of being interpreted as comments on other texts (Bachtin 1983: 320). This condition of the word in parody and stylization is only an especially flagrant case. Bachtin argues that all word is essentially dialogic. It has been passed from mouth to mouth, it has been used in different context and with different intentions. And the traces of all these contexts, intentions and conflicting voices are present in the word. There are no neutral words, all words are an effect of long dialogic intercourse. It is impossible to use the word innocently as if it has not been used before by others (Bachtin 1983: 331-332).

The idea of the word as a dialog makes it possible to view the structure of a literary text not as something given, but as a dynamic relation to other structures. The literary text is to be analyzed as a dialogic relationship of several elements such as the writing subject, the addressee, the past and present cultural context. This dialog, on Kristeva's analysis, has two axes: the horizontal one (subject - addressee) and the vertical one (text - context) (1983: 394-396). What is of most relevance for our purposes is the vertical axis - intertextual dialog. Such is also the most widely used meaning of intertextuality. It is something that happens between a text and other texts. Since words have always already been used, and modified by those multiple uses, a text can only be a modification of what has already been written.

One approach to intertextual interpretation of a text would include the traditional study of sources, the looking for influences. But it would not limit itself to establishing the literary models, the sources, of the text - it would explore the play of meaning between the text and these sources (Alzaraki 1984: 282-283).

A more radical procedure is to explore the play of meaning between a text and other texts that are not its sources in any straightforward way. The precursor of intertextuality, Borges, does something like this in "Kafka y sus precursores" (1988: 203-205). He finds Kafkaesque motives in a heterogeneous set of texts (beginning with Zenon's paradox about the impossibility of movement). These texts are all quite different and the motives they share would not be perceived if Kafka had not written his own texts.

[C]ada escritor crea a sus precursores. Su labor modifica nuestra concepci�n del pasado, como ha de modificar el futuro.

(Each writer creates his precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past as it should modify the future.) (Borges 1988: 205)

It is thus possible to read Gustave Flaubert in light of what was written later by Marcel Proust (Barthes 1973: 59). Under this perspective the assumptions underlying the traditional pre-modernist study of sources are left out. The presence of an author who makes conscious, intentional references to the literary tradition, filling his or her text with citations and literary allusions is no longer presupposed (cf. Matsuba 1997). The focus is on the texts themselves and on their endless dialog; on the way they refer to one another; include one another; transform one another; influence the reading of one another and interact in other ways. In confrontation with this intertextual intercourse the notion of the writing subject is gradually obliterated (Kristeva 1983: 398). And that is why a vast collection of texts, a library, is such a well-suited setting for fictions that explore intertextuality.