Thursday, October 27, 2005

Intertextuality as memory: A few half-thoughts

Skimming through my Ong Collection notebooks looking for information so I can make a cross-reference, I stumbled upon this:

From Peter Vandenberg's "Intertextuality" in Keywords for Composition Studies (ed. Paul Heilker and Peter Vandenberg. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1996. 128-131)
According to Bazerman, an intertext is a 'strategic site of contention... the site at which communal memory is sorted out and reproduced, at which current issues and communities are formed and dynamics established pushing the research front toward one future or another' (194). For Bazerman, any given field's intertext is 'built upon a series of containments,' resulting in 'a literature set apart from other discussions, a literature following its own questions and listening to its own special evidence and arguments' (12)."
Clearly I'd written this down because it deals with memory, and I'd even noted "good for practices of memory" in my notebook, but I'm wishing I had more context now. In some ways, the idea of referring to or citing one text in another as memory is just plan obvious. At the same time, however, one must be thinking about the role of memory, about the practices of memory, about written texts as artificial memory, to make this connection. More significant for me, however, is Bazerman's equation of intertextuality to communal memory. Too few people think of texts as memory or even realize the Classical and Medieval understanding of memoria thought of written texts as artificial memory. Bazerman's clearly thinking along these lines.

As a practice of memory, for intertextuality to work one must first know the reference and then be aware that the reference is being made, although if one knows a reference is being made, one can try to find out what the reference is to. In terms of contemporary composition and citation, clearly contextualization works to help the audience get the reference. That said, this need for contextualization, while a traditional practice, is tied to the affordances and constraints of (late) print culture/logic.

Consider, for a moment, this practice of contextualized citation in print culture, with the citation in chirographic culture on the one hand and digital culture on the other. Although I'm sure we can find examples of contextualization in Western chirographic culture, a good deal of citation just quotes or paraphrases respected authorities without comment. The words of the cited authority stands in for those of the current author. On the other hand, as is increasingly becoming the case, digital culture increasingly just links to a citation and lets you follow the reference if you wish (see, for instance, Jacob Nielson's complaint against unspecified linking in blogs and a discussion of it (and other issues in Nielson's article) at Collin vs. Blog.

It's also worth noting that linking in digital culture works through apposition and juxtaposition in much the same way apposition and juxtaposition work in oral tradition. (This is not to say that they work in the same way. Linking assumes that there is a text which one can explore if they wish, and the "appositive style" of oral tradition assumes that the audience knows not just what the reference is to but that this reference will invoke a set of shared assumptions, emotions, and knowledge.

Work cited by Vandenberg: Bazerman, Charles. Constructing Experience. Carbondale: SIUE Press, 1994.

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