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The paratext marks those elements which lie
on the threshold of the text and which help to
direct and control the reception of a text by its
Threshold consists of a
• Peritext, i.e. titles, chapter titles, prefaces
• Epitext consisting of elements – such as
interviews, publicity announcements,
reviews by and addresses to critics, private
letters and other authorial and editorial
discussions– ‘outside’ of the text in
Paratext: Peritext + Epitext 3
The paratext performs various functions which
guide the text’s readers and can be understood
pragmatically in terms of various simple
questions, all concerned with the manner of the
text’s existence: when published? by whom?
for what purpose?
Such paratextual elements also help to establish
the text’s intentions: how it should be read, how
it should not be read.
Size, Typeface, images, design (powerful
As Genette demonstrates, there are a number of
ways in which the naming of the author or the
titles of works can function to control reception
of the text.
• Thematic titles: which refer to the subject
of the text
• Rhematic titles: which refer to the manner
in which the text performs its intentions.
major peritextual field
can have major effects upon the
interpretation of a text.
They can slip into modes of ambiguity
crucial for an interpretation of the text.
Paratexts can signify a text’s status as
part of a literary canon and thus worthy
Genette asserts that
the single most important aspect of
paratextuality is ‘to ensure for the
text a destiny consistent with the
function privileged at the expense of
Palimpsests involves ‘any relationship uniting
a text B (which I shall call the hypertext) to an
earlier text A (I shall, of course, call it the
hypotext), upon which it is grafted in a manner
that is not that of commentary’
What Genette terms the hypotext is termed by
most other critics the inter-text, that is a text
which can be definitely located as a major
source of signification for a text.
Genette’s hypertextuality is concerned not with a
general facet of language, or culturally signifying
practices, but with a generic aspect of the closed system
The meaning of hypertextual works depends upon the
reader’s knowledge of the hypotext which the hypertext
either satirically transforms or imitates for the purpose
Texts can be transformed by processes of self-
expurgation, excision, reduction, amplification and so
Novels and movies based on books
Self expurgation: differences between the first serialized version
and the final published edition of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the
Excision and reduction: versions of Shakespeare or popular
novels which Victorian publishers often published minus the
inappropriate or religiously controversial bits.
Amplifications: hypotexts can go through processes of extension,
contamination and expansion, as in Thomas Mann’s Joseph and
His Brothers, which amplifies a Biblical hypotext of approximately
26 pages to a novel of approximately 1,600 pages.
Transmotivization: Hypertexts can give a character motivations
lacking in the hypotext, as in the example of Prince of Egypt.
Genette seeks merely to explore the ways in which texts
are read in relation to other texts.
The problem of the missing or forgotten hypotext crops
up a number of times in Genette’s study.
• in the case of such texts, the text’s status changes
from hypotext to autonomous text.
Sometimes even the scholarly community forgets
important hypotexts, long buried in forgotten traditions.
• In such cases the hypertext becomes merely a text,
a non-relational, nontransformational work.
Genette also argues that all texts are potentially
hypertextual, but that sometimes the existence of a
hypotext is too uncertain to be the basis for a
Genette’s resolution of his own unease with
regard to uncertain cases is to remind himself
and his readers that ultimately every hypertext
‘can be read for itself and in its relation to its
For Genette, indeterminacies within an
individual text are unimportant, since his task is
to establish a general system of possibilities and
The French theorist Laurent Jenny, in his ‘The Strategy
of Forms’, distinguishes between works which are
explicitly intertextual – such as imitations, parodies,
citations, montages and plagiarisms – and those works
in which the intertextual relation is not foregrounded.
When a work enters into a relation of intertextuality
with a genre, what was, in that architextual genre, a
code (a generic structure) can become part of the text’s
or the hypertext’s message
We are close here to Kristeva’s point that intertextuality
involves the transposition of elements from existent
systems into new signifying relations.
In Genette’s view, in case of Palimpsests, the reader has
a choice between reading the text for itself or in terms
of its intertextual relations is a kind of bad faith.
Jenny’s insistence that intertextuality’s essence lies in
the ‘perturbation’ of formal and thematic structures,
might strengthen the argument against Genette that
what is required is not a poetics which can separate
textual from intertextual dimensions but a theory of
interpretation which can explore the interpretive
processes by which the clash of these two dimensions is
registered and reconciled
The core of Riffaterre’s semiotic
• his belief that literary texts are not referential
• they have their meaning because of the semiotic
structures which link up their individual words,
phrases, sentences, key images, themes and
• signaled by this anti-referential approach
Riffaterre refers to: ‘referential fallacy’
• the text refers not to objects outside of itself, but
to an inter-text
• For Riffaterre, true analysis seeks to describe the
uniqueness of the literary text.
Riffaterre states that the ‘largest analysable corpus that
we conceive in literature should be the text and not a
collection of texts’
The text itself, because of its uniqueness ‘control its
The reading strategy Riffaterre charts is one in which
the reader at first seeking for a textual mimesis is
forced, by the indeterminacies of the text, into a deeper
examination of the text’s non-referential structures.
Reading, then, takes place on two successive levels:
• first, a mimetic level which tries to relate textual
signs to external referents and tends to proceed in a
linear fashion; (Mimetic)
• second, a retroactive reading which proceeds, in a
nonlinear fashion, to unearth the underlying
semiotic units and structures which produce the
text’s non-referential significance. (semiotic)
What forces the reader into the leap from a mimetic to
semiotic interpretation of the text is recognizing what
Riffaterre calls the text’s ‘ungrammaticalities’.
Ungrammaticalities are aspects of the text which are
contradictory on a referential reading but resolved when
we reread the text in terms of its underlying sign
By analyzing a poem by Sylvia Plath, the necessity of a
semiotic analysis is pinpointed which apparently
ambiguous images and phrases are connected on a
deeper, non-referential level.
Riffaterre resists the traditional literary critical notion of
‘ambiguity’ and the various poststructuralist and
deconstructionist versions of that concept.
Riffaterre prefers to substitute alternative figures and
explanatory concepts which work to reinforce the
notion of a move from initial ambiguity or
ungrammaticality on a mimetic level to final
decidability on a semiotic level.
Against the term ambiguity, Riffaterre offers the
rhetorical term ‘syllepsis’, a word which means
something in one context and has an opposed or
clashing meaning in another context.
Another term frequently invoked by Riffaterre, the
‘interpretant’ is a sign which explains the relation
between one sign and another sign.
For Riffaterre, texts produce their significance out of
transformations of socially normative discourse, which
he calls the ‘sociolect’.
A text’s significance, we might say, depends on an
‘idiolect’ which transforms a recognizable element of
the sociolect by means of inversion, conversion,
expansion or juxtaposition.
The way the reader recognizes this transformation, and
so recognizes the text’s semiotic unity, is to discover
what Riffaterre calls the poem’s ‘matrix’, a word,
phrase or sentence unit which does not necessarily exist
in the text itself but which represents the kernel upon
which the text’s semiotic system is based.
The matrix is hypothetical, being only the grammatical
and lexical actualization of a structure
The text’s structural unity is created by the
transformation of this matrix.
Only when we have recognized the matrix and passed to the
semiotic significance of the text, do the text’s various
apparent ‘ungrammaticalities’ become understandable as
referring to an ‘invariant’ structure.
Riffaterre is a superb close reader of texts, his characteristic
manner of presenting theoretical points being through
intricate interpretations of canonical texts.
Riffaterre’s concern is with what it is to read, with what it is
to produce a text.
This concern with the phenomenology of reading can be
discerned in the rather blurred relationship drawn in his work
between the notion of the ‘intertext’and of the ‘hypogram’
Intertextuality is the web of functions that constitutes
and regulates the relationship between text and intertext
inter-text is a corpus of texts, textual fragments, or
text-like segments of the sociolect that shares a lexicon
and, to a lesser extent, a syntax with the text we are
reading (directly or indirectly) in the form of synonyms,
or even conversely, in the form of antonyms. In
addition, each member of this corpus is a structural
homologue of the text.
inter-text is an aspect of the sociolect rather than a specific
text or group of texts
for semiotic interpretation to occur, all that is required is
what he calls the presupposition of the intertext.
We do not, that is, need to discover specific inter-texts
behind the texts we read; all we need to do to produce a
sufficient interpretation is to assume that such an inter-text –
either a specific text or a piece of socially significant
language – is being transformed by the text in question.
Intertextual reading is the perception of similar
comparabilities from text to text; or it is the assumption that
such comparing must be done if there is no intertext at hand
wherein to find comparabilities.
hypogram is ‘the text imagined by him [the reader] in its
This hypogram (a single sentence or string of
sentences) may be made out of clichés, or it may be a
quotation from another text, or a descriptive system.
Since the hypogram always has a positive or a negative
‘orientation’, the constituents of the conversion always
transmute the hypogram’s markers ...
This means that the significance will be a positive
valorization of the textual semiotic unit if the hypogram
is negative, and a negative valorization if the hypogram
the hypogram represents specifically literary or
A hypogram depends on the notion that certain words
or word groups already possess a ‘poetic’ function in
Riffaterre’s interpretive practice is dependent on
discovering the ways in which texts produce semiotic
unity by transforming socially shared codes, clichés,
oppositions and descriptive systems; yet such an
approach refuses to accept that such a reliance on the
sociolect involves the text in anything other than its
own self-generating system, its idiolectic and thus
Riffaterre is a celebrated theorist and
practitioner of literary criticism. But his
reliance on a notion of linguistic or literary
competence has produced a series of criticisms
when he is evoking literary competence
Riffaterre is not referring to knowledge of texts
and canons, but is rather referring to an
adequate possession of the sociolect.
the competence he is referring to involves the
reader’s awareness of language as it is presently
used in communication and as it has been used
in previous eras.
The spectacle is born not of a spectator’s
delusion but of a cancellation of sociolectic
conventions: this is enough to make the poem’s
representation a coded sign, the self-sufficient
icon of a truth deeper than conventional
A related critique is voiced by Culler, and the
critics Paul de Man and Geoffrey Hartman.
This concerns Riffaterre’s oversimplification of
Riffaterre’s arguments about hypogrammatic
structures, and more generally about the
essential semiotic unity of texts, represent the
fullest articulation of one source of the whole
post-Saussurean project of semiology.
Riffaterre’s theory, for all its significance within the
area of textual and intertextual studies, remains blind to
the disrupting effect of what has been called ‘the
This phrase is employed to refer to the fact that it is
impossible to ascertain whether reading produces the
theory of textuality or whether reading supports and is
driven by that theory.
Readers come from numerous backgrounds and have
numerous reading experiences. They clearly do not
share a single ‘sociolect’. We cannot, therefore, refer to
the presupposition of readers as if it were a singular, or