Intertextuality: Wednesday Workshop

Intertextuality

Intertextuality is the dialog that takes place between texts or as Merriam-Webster explains it: “the complex interrelationship between a text and other texts taken as a basic to the creation or interpretation of the text.”

Often we write from an intertextual perspective when we respond to other writers and their thoughts and imagery. This is why, in the creative process, reading can be as important as writing. Reading expands our vocabulary. It reinforces some of our own opinions and challenges others. Without reading, we are lonely rocks in sunless seas.

To be creative, we need to be aware of what others are writing and how they view the world we inhabit. When we read creatively we read with an eye to improving our creativity and our structures. We look for new ideas, new images, new words, new ways of expressing our thoughts.

Often we think we are being original when in fact we are re-processing, just as I am now, the ideas of other people. Given the nature of modern media, we are not always aware of all the multiple sources of our material: telephone, twitter, blogs, radio, television, newspapers (less and less), books, chapbooks, magazines, e-sources, lectures, chat groups, Facebook, and general conversations with other people who are also unaware of their sources. Thus ideas abound, float in the air, circulate and recirculate, submerge and resurface, shift their shapes and colors.

As writers we dip into that enormous moving mass of current and past culture and creativity and we choose our narrative lines, our characters, our structures, our images, our metaphors. As Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known as Molière, once wrote, “Mes idées? Je les prends où je les trouve.” My ideas? I take them from wherever I find them.

Imitation is the best form of flattery. Indeed it is. We cannot, however, borrow wholesale and just copy. Miguel de Cervantes borrowed the first five chapters of Don Quixote (the first sortie) from an earlier entremés entitled El Entremés de los romances. For a very long time, critics thought that Cervantes was the author of both pieces: they are very similar. However, even a quick analysis also shows that they are very different. The language of the entremés is much older while the conversion of theatre into narrative distinguishes them at a very basic level. Cervantes borrowed: but in borrowing, he adapted, he changed, he took the old form and converted it into something new and completely original. Nevertheless, we are still aware of the origins of the great novel that has many other borrowings woven into its fabric.

So, we indulge in intertextuality when we engage in a dialog with other texts and ‘borrow’ from other authors. To be original, we have to take that borrowing and turn it into something entirely different, something that becomes a part of ourselves and no longer exists as a part of that other text. Intertextuality is not copying. If we take a text in its entirety, if we ‘copy’, then we must acknowledge the source. However, when we indulge in a dialog with a text, when we transform a text, when we are ourselves transformed by a text, then that is a totally different situation. Think of the links between Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film, The Seven Samurai, and its offspring, the 1960 western entitled The Magnificent Seven. They are very similar in so many ways … and yet they are so very different.

While intertextuality refers more to the larger elements of character and narrative structure, it also exists at the level of metaphor and image. Sometimes, without thinking, we use metaphors that we have heard before. Often we like the sound of a group of words, shuffle them around, and come up with a new meaning for them, a new metaphoric reality. This too is intertextuality.

At its best it is a very valuable addition to our creative tool kit.

While on the topic of creativity, let us spare a thought for our needs for creative time and space. We cannot create when we lack the blessings of time and space. Creativity is greatly hindered when we go hungry and need to complete back-breaking work just to sustain our lives and feed our families. Our relative wealth and leisure is a blessing: without them, we would be floundering in the pre-industrial world of subsistence farming, working at manual labor from dawn to dusk.

Let us spare a thought too for those oral societies that existed when people could not write. Or those early societies in which only the few, the happy few, were educated to the level at which they could actually read and write.

Intertextuality is a blessing, not a curse. Use it wisely, use it well.

Comment: I would like to thank Meg Sorick who suggested that I expand an earlier conversation that we had on the topic of Intertextuality. If you have other literary topics that you would like me to investigate, please suggest them to me and I’ll see what I can do.

 

People of the Mist 16

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9:20 AM

Tim walked up the street towards the centre of town, moving slowly, from window to shop window, still hesitant to go to the baths. A craft shop packed with bric-à-brac and old curiosities caught his attention. The shop held an irresistible sense of mystery and he tried to look in but couldn’t see much through the dust and cobwebs. He opened the door and copper goat bells jangled. An old man, dressed in an artist’s smock, emerged from a room behind the counter.

“Are you looking for anything in particular?”

“I’m not sure. May I look around?”

“Of course you may.”

The old man’s eyes followed Tim as he walked from shelf to shelf and examined the dusty objects. A figure of the Spanish knight, Don Quixote, built from scrap metal sat on the reinforced toe of a workman’s boot. Tim marveled at the artist’s innovative use of recycled materials: valves soldered together with nuts and bolts and springs.

“Did you make this?”

The artisan nodded and smile. Tim took the medallion out of his shirt where he had hidden it next to his skin and showed it to the shop keeper.

“Have you ever seen anything like this before?”

The artisan’s eyes narrowed and he shook his head.

“I’m looking for the other half. Could you make one for me?”

“Impossible.”

“Why?” Tim offered it to him for closer inspection, but the artisan threw up his hands and backed away.

“I don’t need to look closer. I can’t help you.”

“I need to repair the medallion.”

“I can do nothing for you.”

“Then what do you suggest?”

“Go to El Brujo. He’s the only one who can help you.”

Door bells jangled and the shop door opened.

“Speak of the devil ….” the artisan looked relieved. “It’s the man himself.”

“My ears were burning,” El Brujo‘s eyes held a mischievous twinkle.

“Here he is,” the artisan turned to Tim. “You can ask him yourself now.”

“Ask me what?” El Brujo stared at Tim who turned red in the face as he pushed the medallion back under his shirt.

“It’s nothing,” Tim readjusted the buttons.

“You won’t find it here.”

“Find what?”

“The other half of your medallion; have patience, my friend. It knows that you are searching for it. It will be drawn to you, never fear. The baths are across the road, incidentally. Alonso told me you might go there this morning. I’ll go with you.”

“But I thought you were going to Yalalag; I saw you on the bus this morning. You spoke to me.”

“Indeed I was and indeed I did. But I got off the bus, didn’t I? And you didn’t understand me when I spoke to you, did you? So I’m here, now; where I’m needed. Come along. Let’s go.”

He nodded to the artisan.

Adiós, Pepito. Thanks for calling me. By the way, have you thought about that offer I made you?”

“I have indeed.”

“And your answer?”

“I think you know what I will say.”

“I do. But you must make up your mind quickly. The circle is broken and we must rebuild it.”

“When I am needed, I will be there.”

“You will be needed tonight.”

“Then I’ll be there.”

El Brujo and Tim exited the shop together, crossed the street, and walked towards the baths …

Maritormes

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Merry Tormes

Men of La Mancha

“Carters and peasants
found me soft to the touch.

I’ve had my fill of everything,
save money, youth, power, fame …
yet pleasure brings its own reward.

I never treasured money
more than the sweet caress,
flesh on treasured flesh.

Better a trellised bed
with horsehair blankets
than that bed of sour, dry earth
where I will one day lie.

Come:
let us strike a bargain,
for when midnight strikes
there’s no one prettier than I
for that is the hour of my greatest
power.

Lead me then to where
I can get your full attention.

But keep me far from madmen
who call me outlandish names:
virgin, maiden, sweet and chaste …

 … all foreign to my every intention.”

 

 

 

 

Dulcinea

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Dulcinea

 Men of La Mancha

Insubstantial dream
extracted from a madman’s mind,
who dares to magic her back to this world?

Who could want what with her now?
She exists nowhere.
Can you conjure her up from mists?

Once she was Echo: her voice
dependent on a mad rogue’s tongue.

Moonlight through the glade.
White foam atop the sea.
Betrayal of every dream
once she is found.

For he who creeps into her bed
finds plain Aldonza there.
The enticing breasts that made him drool
are shrunken dugs when seen up close.

Her horse is but a donkey
and she herself is but a dream
woven from the fabric of another’s whim.

Begone.
Allow Dulcinea her well-earned rest.
Take care lest she roll over and start to snore:
Dulcinea turned Aldonza ever more.

Sancho Panza

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San Chopanza

 Men of La Mancha

“How much did you say?
Is it in writing?
Let me see the words.
Better, since I cannot read,
let me taste the gold.

You have not brought it?
Just this paper signifying cash?
And promises? Promises
I can trust because you’re known
to keep your word?

Thank God I cannot write.
I will not make my mark.
Men like you I met
when I governed my island,
and I chased them from my realm.

Owners of hollow staffs,
muscular women
strong in the arm and weak
in defense of their honor.
Do you, sir, take me for a fool?

When you awake the man,
beware the grown-up’s fist.
Do you know who I am?
Have you read my history
that tours the world in print?

 Read it, sir, and know me
for who and what I really am.
And the next time that we meet,
if you would drive a bargain,
bring gold, good food, and wine.”

Don Quixote

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Donkey Hotay

 Men of La Mancha

Saddle his steed
and let him ride
uphill and down.

The world is wide
enough for a knight
and his faithful squire
to find at road’s end
what they most desire.

Let him obey his vow.
Let him best portray how
a true knight,
worthy of the name,
guards from shame
his knightly honor
and his beloved’s fame.

Let no mage
despoil that Golden Age.

Onward, ever onward,
to glory and renown,
and let him once again

tilt at windmills and knock
falsehoods down.