This important collection explores and clarifies two of the most contested ideas in literary theory today, influence and intertextuality. The study of influence tends to center on major authors and canonical works, identifying prior documents as “sources” or “contexts” for a given author. Intertextuality, on the other hand, is a concept unconcerned with authors as individuals; it treats all texts as part of a network of discourse that includes culture, history, and social practices as well as other literary works. In thirteen essays drawing on the entire spectrum of English and American literary history, this volume considers the relationship between these two terms—their rivalry, their kinship, their range of uses.
Debates about these two concepts have been crucial to the “new historicism” and the resurgence of interest in literary history. The essays in this volume employ a refreshing array of examples from that history—poetry of the Renaissance and the twentieth century, novels of the eighteenth through twentieth centuries, Old English texts, and postmodernist productions that have served as recurrent “intertexts” for contemporary theory. The contributors treat such currently vital questions as the role of the author, canon formation, gender, causality, and the social dimension of texts. They illuminate old assumptions and new ideas about agency that lie behind notions of influence, and they examine models of an anonymous textual field that lie behind notions of intertextuality.
The volume takes much of its character from its own intertextual origin as a group project of the English faculty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Though diverse in their academic interests, concerns, and experience, the contributors particpated in an ongoing intellectual exchange that is a model of how new scholarship can arise from dialogue.