Genette on Transtextuality

Gérard Genette defines transtextuality as “all that sets the text in a relationship, whether obvious or concealed, with other texts” (Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree [1981; 1997]). A txt can never stand alone; it is exponential.


Genette’s five categories of transtxtuality are

  1. architxtuality [arch- “original”],
  2. hypertxtuality [hyper- “above”],
  3. intertxtuality [inter- “between”],
  4. metatxtuality [meta– “after”], and
  5. paratxtuality [para- “beside”].

1. architext: a general txtual category that a txt may embody, e.g., mode of discourse, genre (txt-type), etc., i.e. a txtual archetype (see Genette).

2. hypertext: more broadly, a txt with a network of links to other txts, i.e. a networked txt; more narrowly, for Genette, a txt (B: the hypertxt) that is grafted onto an earlier txt (A: the hypotxt) but not in the nature of commentary (see Genette), the canonical categories being

  • parody and travesty, which are transformative, and
  • pastiche and caricature, which are imitative (the former of each pair being satirical and the latter non-satirical).

(For genette, a hypotext is the cited txt when a txt refers to its source, or a previous edition or version of it [hypo– “under”]; see Genette.)

3. intertext: a txt present within another, i.e., a citation (Kristeva thinks intertxtuality more broadly, i.e., as roughly equivalent to transtxtuality); thus, e.g.,

  • quoting,
  • plagiarism,
  • allusion.

4. metatext: a txt that comments on an earlier txt, i.e., a commentary.

5. paratext: the apparatus of a txt, i.e., that which surrounds the main body of the txt: prefaces, introductions, illustrations, dust jacket, footnotes, bibliography, etc., even typography.

For Genette, then, a txt is necessarily networked; all txts are hypertxts.

Paul Baran, Types of Network

Of course, the kind of network the txt sets up will vary based on our starting point, i.e., whether we begin with a single txt, or several, or the network as such, and whether we consider the network syn- or diachronically (see my intro to Tagmemics as a heuristic).

N.B. also:

context: the circumstances that determine or clarify the meaning of a txt [con- together]

cybertext: a txt in which the medium matters [cyber- abbreviation of kubernetes, “steersman, governor”] (coined by Espen Aarseth in 1997; see Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature [2007], ergodic literature being txts where the reader must do nontrivial work to navigate the txt).

plaintext: (computing) unformatted or human-readable (as against machine-readable binary) txt, a.k.a. flat text or cleartext; (cryptography) the txt before it is encoded (and becomes ciphertext), a.k.a. cleartext.

subtext: content implicit in a txt [sub- “under”].

urtext: a a primitive, seminal, or prototypical example of a txt-type [ur- G “original”].

+ pretext, teletext/videotext, inter-/intra-/extratextual, etc.


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