Intertextuality resists the classical tendency to regard texts as the unique work of geniuses. Texts exist in a network of already established meanings. Authors, then, assemble already available meanings, rather than produce new ones. And readers in an important sense create authors. In some cases, we know that writing is the product not of one person but of many (e.g., Aristotle's esoteric works). In other cases, we at least know that the meaning of a text is not the same as the author's intentions, but is mediated by the history of interpretation of that text.
Structuralist semiotics emphasizes the synchronic nature of codes, that is, the references they make to contemporaneous texts, and to the readers of the texts. Intertextuality relies as much on the diachronic nature of codes, the sequential and historical heritage or causal sequence of codes, as it does on the synchronic. Structuralism tends to isolate meaning in the present.
Whether this proceeds according to a reading along designated dimensions or codes or in a less regimented but still precise manner marks the difference between a structuralist and poststructuralist understanding of intertextuality. The latter has been the more influential. There are significant differences all the same between poststructuralist models of intertextuality. Thus, where intertextuality is understood as the very condition of language and the production of meaning, there is in principle no restraint on the writings 'ranged' over and made relevant.
'Intertextuality' thus has a double focus. On the one hand, it calls our attention to the importance of prior texts, insisting that the autonomy of texts is a misleading notion and that a work has the meaning it does only because certain things have previously been written. Yet in so far as it focuses on intelligibility, on meaning, 'intertextuality' leads us to consider prior texts as contributions to a code which makes possible the various effects of signification.
Any text is a new tissue of past citations. Bits of code, formulae, rhythmic models, fragments of social languages, etc., pass into the text and are redistributed within it, for there is always language before and around the text. Intertextuality, the condition of any text whatsoever, cannot, of course, be reduced to a problem of sources or influences; the intertext is a general field of anonymous formulae whose origin can scarcely ever be located; of unconscious or automatic quotations, given without quotation marks. ("Theory of the Text" 39).
In response to Ferdinand de Saussure's claim that signs gain their meaning through structure in a particular text, implying that meaning is transmitted directly from writer to reader, Kristeva argued that because of the influence of other texts on readers' consciousnesses, texts are always filtered through "codes" which bring the weight of other, previous meanings with them. We are, then, already imbricated in a web of meaning created by other texts and the connotations surrounding them as opposed to deriving meaning directly from the structure of signs as Saussure would have it in his semiotics.
Essentially, every text is informed by other texts which the reader has read, and the reader's own cultural context. The simplest articulation of intertextuality can be seen in the footnotes that indicate source materials to which a given text is alluding, or which are known to have influenced the author. A constructive hypertext can make this notion of intertextuality an externally accessible "mosaic" of multiple texts, placing the internal connections about which Kristeva theorizes into a visible forum which can be expanded by each subsequent reader.
Roland Barthes wrote in 'The Death of the Author' which helped inaugurate this new orientation: 'We know that a text is not a line of words releasing a single 'theological' meaning . . . but . . . a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.' It follows that: 'In the multiplicity of writing, everything is to be disentangled, nothing deciphered; the structure can be followed, 'run' . . . at every point and at every level, but there is nothing beneath: the space of writing is to be ranged over, not pierced.' Just how this 'multiplicity' of writing from 'innumerable' cultural discourses is understood will determine the kind of intertextual reading practised.
Tuve wrote long before the explicit concept of intertextuality appeared, by that name, in literary criticism, but the connection she described between the meanings (plural) that a poem had for its author and the sources he or she drew upon clearly foreshadowed it. Intertextuality in this sense refers to the significant relationship between specific and in some way similar passages in two or more authors' work, the significance residing in the way the original meaning changed as it resonated in the work of a later one, where it appeared in a new context and with some--perhaps major--difference of purpose or effect.
Derived from the Latin intertexto, meaning to intermingle while weaving, intertextuality is a term first introduced by French semiotician Julia Kristeva in the late sixties. In essays such as "Word, Dialogue, and Novel," Kristeva broke with traditional notions of the author's "influences" and the text's "sources," positing that all signifying systems, from table settings to poems, are constituted by the manner in which they transform earlier signifying systems. A literary work, then, is not simply the product of a single author, but of its relationship to other texts and to the strucutures of language itself. "[A]ny text," she argues, "is constructed of a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another" (66).