"The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond its title, the first line and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration, its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences." 2500 words.

A book cannot be a one-way dialogue. Crafted in language and others signifiers such as colour, paper or stone, the physical existence of a text means nothing to us unless perceived through those differential indicators and what we might ascribed to them. Historically in these texts, authorial intent was 'revealed' by critics, until

 post-Structuralist narratology moved away from the assumed transparency of the narratological analysis towards a recognition that the reading, however objective and scientific, constructed its object. Structure became something that was projected onto the work by a reading rather than a property of a narrative discovered by the
reading
.[1]

(Although since there has been much academic nostalgia for a perceived past stability of critical interpretation, and derogation of the type of cultural criticism which engages itself with drawing inferences between "obviously" un-related texts.)

Following the lead of Toril Moi ("Modern critical theory tells us that all readings are in some sense reductive, in that they all impose some kind of closure on the text." [2]) I shall be examining the medium of the short story and that of the episodic narrative to identify the implications of intertextual narratives, and the issue of the extent to which agency is granted the reader given the dethroning (if not demise) of the author.

The new narratological formations were places where the identity of the reader was at stake both in the way that particular readers construed particular fictions and in the way that particular fictions contributed to the formation of those identities.[3]

What they shared were an opposition to the author as transcendental signifier and the location of meaning. In fact, a paradoxical homogenisation of heterogeneity occurs through the "shared descriptive vocabulary" [4] of disciplines such as deconstruction, gender theory and post-colonialism. An example of this is the manner in which ideology became "a point of convergence for the interests of poststructuralist and Marxist criticism."[5]

Historically, the term "intertextuality" was first developed in theoretical discourse by Kristeva, in the context of opposition to essentialist tendencies of French feminism. In alignment with Beauvoir's declaration that "One is not born a woman; one becomes one",[6] her use of postmodernist technique indicated a refusal of the presumed nature or essence located in Showalterian gynocritique, on the grounds of its potential participation in negative constructions of the female as an Other, and the legitimatisation of prejudice possible in the celebrated difference of binary opposites.

Narratological use of hierarchical oppositions implying a self-contained duality became a critical arena for transitional theory breaking with Structuralist surety. Recognition of political difference devoid of naturalised hierarchy and indefinite deferral of the Derridean school of thought brought the realisation of an empowerment and freedom from texts inscribed with artificial closure:

Because a text contains [...] gaps and silences, it is always incomplete [...] there is no central essence to it, just a continuous conflict and disparity of meanings[7] (Eagleton)

Furthermore, as Toril Moi conjectures:

An aesthetics recommending organic unity and the harmonic interaction of all parts of the poetic structure for example, is not politically innocent. A feminist might wonder why anybody would want to place such an emphasis on order and integration in the first place, and whether it could have something to do with the social and political ideals of the exponents of such critical theories.[8]

Derridean indefinite deferral and the denial of a fixed moment of meta-lingual distance are of great importance to anyone finding that definitions construct and constrain. The realisation that language does not "co-operate" with any stabilising model, since it is not itself a stable model,[9] and that the "snapshot" approach of synchronic analysis ignore the possibility of a temporal dimension empowers appropriation of signification and a non-exclusory possibility of meaning as fluid.

Thus, I concur with the post-Structuralist acknowledgement that: "A narrative does not speak for itself. It needs to be articulated by a reading, and a reading will always be a re-writing."[10] The filmic overtones of the narrative in Adult Video led me, on re-reading, to internally cast Edward as Euan McGregor circa A Life Less Ordinary. I mention this because shifting the vocal tone immediately led me to interpret the character as more sarcastic and confident than, say, an apologetic Four Weddings and a Funeral-esque Hugh Grant (also a rewarding reading.) Clearly I was performing the same process I had upon initially reading the piece, yet with enhanced consciousness; I now find that I cannot remember or recreate my initial context. Interestingly, the human brain seems to be incapable of processing negatives. For instance, whilst reading this sentence, try not to think of a taking a bite from large, round and ripe green apple and not feeling sweet juice run out down your chin.

Similarly, a discussion of any issue, however negatively charged, contains a promotion. It brings to awareness. (The 'crime' of buggery was omitted from the statute books of new-founded Puritan America for the reason that knowledge of the act could serve as temptation to commit—as Bhabha[11] and others have noted, the process of demonising and marginalizing the Other is an implicit recognition of its power to corrupt.) It follows that other forms of textual discourse such as narrative are also implicated by the location and substance of their discussion, especially marginalizing absences:

If we study stereotypes of women, the sexism of male critics, and the limited roles women play in literary history, we are not learning what women have felt and experienced, but only what men have thought women should be.[12] (Showalter)

This ascription of female identity may take place at a microcosmic textual level, in which the paradigmatic alteration of a word affects the wider structure of the sentence (and the sentence the text.) Whether a female character is introduced as a woman, girl or lady may prefigure reader perception of age, character, physical development or deportment. Edward introduces a significant other as "Felicia, my girlfriend" and the "possessive + noun" structure of the English language implicitly objectifies her as belonging to him.[13] This prefiguring can only occur through referential parallels drawn with other texts and use of language, be they written or aural in form.

So, is Felicia using Edward as a relationship of convenience (much as he uses her), or is the doubt "she returned to seek me out" more than his self-justification? Feminist-minded readers of this essay might be pondering my 'excusing' of Edward's motivation on grounds of identification with the character. I know I myself am. Further, the previous two sentences subtly imply that I regard myself as feminist-minded, and perhaps hint at my personal understanding of the term "feminist", which is a notoriously culturally variable signifier.

It is part of the referential illusion of narrative that we infer about fictional characters as we would 'real' people.[14] Currie suggests "we sympathise with people when we see other people who do not share our access to their inner lives judging them harshly or incorrectly." [15] However, that 'sympathy' may be as much based on assumptions based on that access, leading us to draw parallels with the text of our own experience. Thus, it would be more difficult for a fetishist to deny sympathy for Edward when "[he searches Felicia's] laundry basket for a pair of soiled knickers to masturbate into"[16] and is foiled in his autoerotic intention. The extent of this 'sympathy' has important implications for the extent to which personal context is implicated in intertextual relation to the narrative. Booth (a Structuralist critic) makes the distinction that "sympathy amounts to little more than feeling of goodwill towards a character. Identification suggests self-recognition"[17] for the reason that the shift of meaning indicated in identification denies objective distance from the fiction.

Barthes (once a Structuralist critic) opines that "theory is no longer a prescriptive model for critical practise but part of the critical performance itself [... It] becomes necessary to recognise and signal the textuality of one's own critical language" [18] Indeed, later in his career, Barthes recognised the possibilities of an inversion of this logic: the narrative as explicit discussion of narratological and linguistic theory, recognisant of its intertextual links with other narratives and reader context.

Looking at the fragmentary Adult Video once more, I deconstructed the title as connoting sex, mature content, film, and characters acting out roles. Examining sub-headings of the "play", "rewind", "fast-forward" trope, I came to wonder what difference in signification was indicated by "memory" and "repeat", since the temporal disjunctions are a curious mixture of VCR commands and script directions. Here interpreting retrospective analysis versus fictive 'fact', I moved toward an inference of the fast-forward sequences as delusional predictions rather than likewise possible 'fact', then turned to explicit mention of differential signification in the text:

'Why is Heyst so passive?' Gianluca asks. 'He's like he's stagnante.' 'Same word,' I say, wondering why, indeed.[19]

Firstly, the signifiers cannot carry the exact same connotations (in fact, Gianluca explicitly conjoins rather than equates them with the word "like".) Edward then ponders the protagonist of Conrad's Victory. Whilst I have not read the entire text, any reader might speculate upon Boyd's juxtaposition of Heyst's intellectual distance from emotion with Edward's self-aware 'pretension'. Referential details such as this encourage or permit speculation, highlighting the intertextual weave of literature and language. To paraphrase Umberto Eco, books do not simply tell of things "human or divine, that lie outside books",[20] they communicate with and through other texts.

The theme of referential fiction continues with my reading of A Small Matter For Your Attention.[21] I found my interpretive construction of the text influenced by the nearest approximation of the narrative I had yet encountered elsewhere: the BBC political satire, Yes, Minister. To conceal the comparisons I mentally drew between the two texts would be to perpetuate the illusion that we do not habitually draw such comparisons on a continuous basis, or that we in some way desist from thought of them in the 'objective' process of essay writing. As Currie suggests: "When I tell my own story, I must deny that I am inventing myself in the process in order to believe that I am discovering myself." [22]

In my internal monologue the private secretary is, if not Sir Humphrey Appleby, at least some close administrative relation fitting the facile civil service stereotype (intoned by Nigel Hawthorne.) A cultural critic with a Structuralist bent would also note that the near sum of the Home Secretary's 'job' is to sign papers in his name, and various other similarities, though in doing so I am casting my lot in with "a whole generation of literary critics who see literary texts as allegories of their favourite bits of literary theory [confident] that this is what the texts are actually about." [23] Clearly, we can impose dissimilarity as readily as similarity, notably that there is a differential distinction between satire and parody or pastiche—Yes Minister seeming to have some direct political relevance, A Small Matter too removed to be credible as a contemporary parallelism: It is somewhat anathematic to a modern 'civilised' society for people to be put to death for merely voicing an opinion, however hateful.[24]

Furthermore, in A Small Matter, we are drawn upon to infer more about the motivations of the narrative protagonists, since we are presented with only the responses of the narrator, reliant upon polyphonic dialogue to supply the side of the dialogue belonging to the Minister—"The blood-on-the-lens episode will not soon be forgotten ... Are you quite all right, Home Secretary?"[25] To grasp how the fictive parallel world differs from our own, we are reliant upon our cultural knowledge of antiquated laws of Britain to recognise the narrative for a pastiche of the situation that might arise had the penalty of execution for treason not been tacitly withdrawn from practise from the statutes. We are also reliant upon our personally understood definition of the word "treason" extending to an idle verbal threat to the life of a monarch. The juxtaposition and de-familiarisation of "modern technology and ancient ritual" [26] highlights the political uses of euphemisms such as "treasonous behaviour", as in "pacification" (killing people); "neutralisation of threats" (killing people) and the oxymoronic "friendly fire" (killing your own people.) Dehumanisation is achieved through a multi-stage process of coding de-identification with "us" and simultaneously coding identification with an oppositional and unsympathetic "other".

Further demonstration of reader consciousness led by authorial construction is provided by the entertaining assessment of narratological structuring illustrated by this excerpt from Yes, Prime Minister:

"[The] market researcher asks questions designed to elicit consistent answers. [...]

'Mr Woolley, are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?'

'Yes.'

'Do you think there is a lack of discipline and vigorous training in our Comprehensive Schools?'

'Yes.'

'Do you think young people welcome some structure and leadership in their lives?'

'Yes.'

'Do they respond to a challenge?'

'Yes.'

'Might you be in favour of reintroducing National Service?'

'Yes.'

[...]

'[Are] you worried about the danger of war?'

'Yes.'

'Are you unhappy about the growth of armaments?'

'Yes.'

'Do you think there's a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill?'

'Yes.'

'Do you think it wrong to force people to take up arms against their will?'

'Yes.'

'Would you oppose the reintroduction of National Service?'

I'd said 'Yes' before I'd even realised it" [27]

Here the phraseology of conceptual hypothesis and the relational sentence structure conspire to produce the consistent response desired. This relationality is equally perceptible in the non-questioning framework of: "John had flu. He couldn't make the seminar." Syntactically these are two separate statements, but may be conjoined to varying degree as a (simulated) speech act. Our interpretation as audience is being led to assume (passively) that John could not make the seminar because of his flu, not that he (perhaps) felt well enough to travel but went to the cinema instead. We are being implicitly conditioned to abstain from making inferences that may be based on the context of our own previous experience: Intertextuality in (masked) evidence.

Whereby, I reach a similar indefinite summation as does Currie that: "There is always [apparent] a kind of oscillation between objectivity and subjectivity in reading: the reading invents the narrative no more than it is invented by it." [28] I condition this with a snappier, equally broad and non-conclusive pithy quote taken from earlier in his own critical study: (Culler) "meaning is context-bound, but context is boundless." [29]


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory, London 1990

Mark Currie, Postmodern Narrative Theory, London 1998

Roger Fowler, Linguistic Criticism, Oxford 1986

Rivkin & Ryan (ed.), Literary Theory: An Anthology, Blackwood 1998

Kennedy & Fowles (ed.). New Writing 9, Vintage 2000

(anthology containing Adult Video—William Boyd, A Small Matter For Your Attention—Toby Litt, The Best Death Ever—Whoever amongst others)

Lynn & Jay (ed!), Yes Prime Minister: The Diaries of the Right Hon. James Hacker Volume 1, BBC London 1986

Joseph Conrad, Victory, http://www.litrix.com/victory/victo001.php (28/01/2002)


[1] Postmodern Narrative Theory, p2

[2] Sexual/Textual Politics, p85

[3] Postmodern Narrative Theory, p29

[4] Postmodern Narrative Theory, p14

[5] Postmodern Narrative Theory, p3

[6] Sexual/Textual Politics, p92

[7] Sexual/Textual Politics, p94

[8] Sexual/Textual Politics, p85

[9] Postmodern Narrative Theory, p45

[10] Postmodern Narrative Theory, p81

[11] Literary Theory, "The Location of Culture", p937

[12] Sexual/Textual Politics, p76

[13] Linguistic Criticism, p20

[14] Postmodern Narrative Theory, p17

[15] Postmodern Narrative Theory, p19

[16] Adult Video, p482

[17] Postmodern Narrative Theory, p28

[18] Postmodern Narrative Theory, p48

[19] Adult Video, p479

[20] Postmodern Narrative Theory, p69

[21] Henceforth abbreviated to A Small Matter

[22] Postmodern Narrative Theory, p131

[23] Postmodern Narrative Theory, p132

[24] Or, as Sir Humphrey might remind us, to be seen to be.

[25] A Small Matter, p345

[26] A Small Matter, p346

[27] All quotes from Yes Minister, p106

[28] Postmodern Narrative Theory, p133

[29] Postmodern Narrative Theory, p81