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Tuesday, July 10, 2012


The concept of intertextuality should play a major role in studies on Sanskrit and Indian culture, given that most Sanskrit authors tend to identify themselves as commentators and given the general tendency to re-use textual materials.
Through the concept of intertextuality, we are made aware of the facts that

1. Literature is a system made not just of the sum of its parts, but –most importantly– of their reciprocal relations and each work is created and defined in relation to the system.
2. Literary works are dialogic works, whose life depends on the dialectical relation between originality and convention.
(Marina Polacco, L'intertestualità, pp. 7-8, summarised in Monica Berti, L'intertestualità e la storiografia greca, my translation).
This depiction of the cultural world as an ecosystem rather than a set of closed books seems to me to explain better the situation in India, also as depicted in the close books which are its relics. How do you see intertextuality at work in your field of study?

For my thoughts on the re-use of texts in India, you can see this post (including some sort of a call for papers), this one (on quotations in Western and Indian culture) and this one (on a tangential problem, but listing all previous posts on this topic).


Sabio Lantz said...

I hadn't heard of "Intertextuality" but the two "facts" seemed correct enough. So I looked it up.

The facts I know are:

(1) Writers create pieces in response to other writers/genre or influenced by an other or several writers.

(2) Writers allude to other writers or genres

If "intertextuality" captures that non-isolated notion, then great. Delineating these connections show what a complex system literature is. "Reductionism" gets a bad name because if assumes that "Reductionists" are only interested in the parts and not their inner workings. Mechanics (reductionists, for sure) certainly don't do this, Scientists don't do it and I doubt literature folks do it.

I don't know anyone who thinks the sum of the parts equal the whole -- everyone realizes that relationships between parts is part of the whole.

Using "ngram" we can see the swift rise of this word. It seems it points to the obvious for which we have other terms and thus I worry that it may be the tool of some ideology. Words, after all, are not just the sum of their letters.

Have you seen this word used in any academic ideologically? Are there real-life reductionists in Sanskrit circles?

Sabio Lantz said...

Now following -- I had a bit of trouble with the Italian on the Google comment page, sorry.

elisa freschi said...

Hi Sabio, nice to read you again! I am not sure I understand your point re. reductionism: was it for this post or for the previous one?
As for the ideology of intertextuality, you are right, fashion is surely one of the reasons for its raise. But another reason is the fact that books and texts have become increasingly "closed" and, consequently, intertextuality needed to be stressed again (whereas until, say, the 1650, it was obvious). I am not aware of any "ideological" use of this term, if you are thinking of extra-intellectual ideologies.

Phil the Philologist said...

I think it, and the work around the concept, is very useful for thinking about pre-modern texts. I've been trying to utilize it in regards to textual practices such as redaction, composition, and the like, during the middle-period of Buddhism in South Asia. Some of the post-modern articulations of it can be annoying, but I think there are some useful concepts for Indologists and others to use. I've found Graham Allen's Intertextuality (The New Critical Idiom) the most useful introduction.

Sabio Lantz said...

Thanx, elisa. I looked more into the word "intertextuality". It seems to be used lots of different way with each scholar making it their best friend. Words are funny.

I read a few pages of Graham Allen's text (google books) it was incomprehensible to me -- not being a literature person.

Thanx for the info!

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