As I've mentioned in class, intertextuality was one of my favorite themes as an undergraduate English major. It was a personal project of mine to relate every single work we read in class with Aeschylus's Oresteia, like some sort of college version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Here, I'll do it right now: Pattern Recognition features a main character (Casey) whose back story involves a very famous father who disappears under mysterious circumstances, who was famous in his line of work, whose lack of presence hangs over the entirety of the narrative. Casey could be compared to Orestes and her father with Agamemnon. And while Casey's mother doesn't have Clytemnestra's murderous guilt, she does believe her husband is trying to contact her supernaturally and tries to send her daughter to appease him. Dorothea is of course reminiscent of Clytemnestra's darker nature. This is a rough attempt and not even remotely perfect, but you can see how the networks of literature will inevitably connect with each other, much like every film will have some player connected with the star of Footloose. Intertextuality is the natural conclusion one would come to after coming to understand semiotics - if every sign is defined just as much by what it is not as by what it is, then no book, novel, film, webpage, or other work of literature can escape comparison to others of its kind or other forms of literature. Blade Runner is not The Maltese Falcon or Neuromancer, but they are both comparable; Archer, my new favorite TV show, is not James Bond but the comparison is what makes the show so funny and entertaining.

As Jonathan Lethem's essay so perfectly illustrates, literature walks a fine line between appropriation, homage, and plagiarism and has since Shakespeare. Lethem's use of Naked Lunch reminded me of my Experimental Fiction class in college, the class that introduced me to Borges and Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveler, which Radford's essay borrows from and also played with themes of the Ideal Reader ala Eco. Any one of the works we read in that class would make an excellent example. Pynchon's Vineland is strewn with lifts from pop culture and more broadly mimics the structure of Homer's Odyssey, more or less (there is a cottage industry based on lifting the Odyssey and twisting it to make it new: also see Cold Mountain, O Brother Where Art Thou, Joyce's Ulysses, the list goes on and on and on and on). Lethem (or Gibson, or both of them at once) explained Burroughs and Naked Lunch; I don't feel the need to dwell on that one any more than he did. What I learned from that class is that all writing must make something new by transforming the old; there is no way to write a book outside of the network, indeed, I shudder to think what a book outside the network, free of allusions or influences, would even look like.

Oh, and on the subject of Lethem's book-gun and other more creative appropriations of existing works: Meti introduced me to this great blog, titled Fuck Yeah, Books! , during a presentation in our History of the Book class. I got the image below from there. This "adaption" of Joyce's Ulysses really enchants me.

Dublin 1904, by Matthew Picton - An Adaption of James Joyce's Ulysses
Dublin 1904, by Matthew Picton - An Adaption of James Joyce's Ulysses

-Tracy Carlin

The more I read about intertextuality, the more I began to realize the way it permeates everything I write and, by logic, everything I read or has really been written in the last two hundred years at least. My mother always told me that in order to be a better writer, I need to read as much as I can. I usually saw this positive correlation between amount of reading and strength of one's own writing as simply a measure of vocabulary. But now I realize that what I'm accruing is less single words and more whole phrases and sentences. To give it a metaphor, I am less painting a beautiful picture with the single individual paint daubs, and more creating a collage with giant blocky cut outs. These words are not more own, but instead are me simply mimicking things i've seen and ideas I've read. As Barthe's says "The writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. His only power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others...". As I mix and match phrases, sentences, words, and (arguably more importantly) ideas, I get the sense that none of these are my own. And, of course, they are not. Bakhtin explains that "the unique speech experience of each individual is shaped and developed in continuous and constant interaction with other's individual utterances...These words of others carry with them their own expression, their own evaluative tone, which we assimilate, rework, and re-accentuate." It is comforting to know that we all do this re-appropriation and overall dialogism and that, in our discussion today and the interactions we have with friends afterwards at lunch and forever forward will shape the way we write, speak, and talk.
William Eggleston
William Eggleston
William Eggleston
Christian Storm
Christian Storm
Christian Storm

For the most part, intertexuality is a positive and necessary thing. Personal problems arise for me, though, when trying to create an original voice in my artwork. As a photographer, it is very easy to fall into a traps set by your heroes. You can very easily find yourself continually taking the same picture, a picture they took 50 years before you. Originally, I found myself continually coming back to nostalgia as a crutch to create visually appealing works. The "cultural dictionary", as Eco puts it, with which I was working had already created a framework of signs and meanings and I was simply reinforcing and recreating the elements, but not adding or reshaping them. There certainly is a great ecstacy is subtle plagiarism, and I have experienced it many times. Lethem says that finding one's voice is about "adopting and embracing filiations, communities, and discourse", not "emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others." Embracing one's influences is one thing, adding nothing new is another. This is a struggle most artists work through until they find their unique method and style, one which will of course build off old styles, but build none the less. I hope to continue to work through my own intertexuality issues and reading about and examining such problems help me to be conscious of such decisions within my work.
-Christian Storm

Pdf file.

- Sarah

As I read the works by Eco and Barthes, I was reminded of Barthes' own book, Empire of Signs, in which he travels to Japan in an attempt to understand a culture which possesses (he believes) no transcendental signified. Arguing that Western culture is often too caught up in the search for its telos and a belief in a transcendental author (God), Barthes attempts to break down post-War Japanese culture (while also perhaps overly-romanticizing its 'traditional' culture') through a series of semiotic exercises. In one of these pieces, he writes of the Japanese 'dinner tray', or bento box:

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Here, the 'eater' takes the form of Eco's 'reader'. The meal is not organized into chef-designed, chronologically linear courses, but instead is presented at once to the diner, who is left to his own imagination and desire to begin and end his meals as he chooses. Now obviously his imagination and desire are always already formed as part of the 'cultural encyclopedia', but nevertheless, the diner still demonstrates an agency that is more tangible and visible than that of the historical 'reader' who consumes only what the author has given him.

Another example of a reader's agency, or interpretation, occurred a few weeks ago when published the following 'racist' headline:

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The blog editor who wrote it, however, affirmed his innocence and claimed that he never intended it to be racist. He was simply using an expression that articulated a failure in something that had been normally functioning - a destroyed Achilles heel. As I read Eco's "The Theory of Signs and the Role of the Reader", I thought about how often our interpretations of works, or texts, are left up to our own "competence" and personal experiences. Questions arise over whether or not the editor unconsciously wrote the racist headline, consciously wrote the racist headline, or simply wrote a headline that he thought described Jeremy Lin and the Knicks's predicament. Regardless of the author's intent, however, nearly the website's entire audience (and soon the global audience) interpreted the statement immediately as racist.

- Jen Feldman

All new cultures are come from dialogues. On Feb 27, Conan O’Brien pointed out the Chinese show “Da Peng” had rip-off his opening in his talk show. He said that since Chinese people always rip off us, we should also ‘rip off’ them. Then he copied the way that Chinese post-production team would like to do, tagging key words onto the screen. He tagged Chinese character “木河春恩!” mu chun he en(it doesn’t have a meaning) on the screen.

On Feb 28, Conan show was added Chinese subtitle and got popular via Chinese social network website like weibo.

On March 1, Da Peng show used an opening with a black background with a white subtitle that said “片头”, which means “opening” in English. Da Peng introduced Conan and his show to Chinese audiences and referred the popular Japanese anime ‘Detective Conan’. ‘Detective Conan’ has been very popular in China for a long time. The actor who acted as a Qing Dynasty zombie started to use the name “木春河恩mu chun he enas his name. Until this time, “mu chun he en” owns a meaning. In the show, Da Peng mocked himself that he got famous because he was on a famous talk show in the United States. He used a dance from a Korean song named “sorry sorry” to say sorry and he also said that Conan should feel proud since their goal was to export American culture and values to the world.

English Subtitle version:

On March 5, Conan said sorry for bringing this thing up and made an opening for the Chinese talk show by adding more Chinese elements. He also imitated the “sorry sorry” dance.

Then Da Peng used the opening and said ‘thank you’ to Conan. He imitated Conan show and used a word “nuibility”, which equal to niubi (means fucking awesome in Chinese)+ility (the English suffix). A lot of new cultures and new subcultures like this were created in this dialogue.

English Subtitle Version:

The Chinese website 'sohu' even made a theme of the whole process and called "Opening-Gate Scandal" (from ‘watergate’).


-recycling and rehearsing from cultural repositories
-allusion as network traces
-the present as the only meaningful referential

The Present Culture: Nowness in the Dialogic Model

If language is incomplete, than culture is an ongoing conversation. As Mikhail Bakhtin suggests, there can be no dialogue without the exchange between the self and the other. The occurrence of the self-referential is how we are able to connect to the priori of meaning and project it further beyond ourselves. Dialogue directs existence outside of the self into a relational dependence. If we continue with this narrative model of culture, what remains is a network of history readers, or actors, and audiences. The traces of this network are apparent with every implicit references, gestures, and unmarked quotations from other works.

A Tour of Some Cultural Reincarnations

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The past is altered in our present recollection and nostalgia, while the present in turn is affected by its perceived memory. If this is true than the only genuine relation is between the self and the immediate performance.
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We are now in the era where we may freely access a vast cultural encyclopedia through perennial heuristics. In his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, T.S. Eliot states that “the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past”. We are precisely engaged in this dynamic. We continuously rehearse the past and simultaneously reanimate it with new life in the present. All of us participate in this on-going spectacle; this ultimate demonstrative dialogue. Yet, nowhere have I seen this “dialogue” better manifested than the fluid core of Japan’s intercultural society.
-Metasebia Yoseph