LINGUIST List 31.1546

Wed May 06 2020

Review: Discourse Analysis; Ling & Literature; Pragmatics: Mason (2019)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <jecoburnlinguistlist.org>



Date: 16-Feb-2020
From: Carly Pettiona <cpettionagmail.com>
Subject: Intertextuality in Practice
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Book announced at https://linguistlist.org/issues/30/30-3883.html

AUTHOR: Jessica Mason
TITLE: Intertextuality in Practice
SERIES TITLE: Linguistic Approaches to Literature 33
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2019

REVIEWER: Carly Pettiona, University of Melbourne

SUMMARY

Jessica Mason’s Intertextuality in Practice offers a new approach to studying intertextuality in literature. Combining linguistics, literary studies, neuroscience and sociology, Mason proposes the narrative interrelation framework to analyse intertextuality in discourse. This dynamic and novel approach encourages analysts to shift the focus of intertextuality research in literary studies away from the author and their intentions, and toward the reader. Throughout the book, Mason demonstrates the applicability of the framework by analysing a range of texts, including books, book reviews, movies, television shows and a range of other genres. The framework allows analysts to look at intertextuality in a way that is applicable across texts and encourages an understanding of the identity work that is involved in intertextuality.

Mason begins by arguing for a need to develop tools and metalanguage in order to identify texts as intertextual. She introduces two terms to characterise her approach to intertextuality, “narrative interrelation” – the cognitive process a reader goes through when identifying an intertextual reference – and “intertextual reference” – the evidence of narrative interrelation (p. 21). The former is more difficult to analyse, as it requires self-reporting and, as Mason goes on to outline, many people will not report their narrative interrelations. The latter is the primary focus of this book, looking not exclusively at the interrelations people make, but the way they are articulated.

Mason uses this basis to establish the “narrative interrelation framework”, the analytical approach being proposed in this book. For this review, a few of the terms associated with this framework are significant. Mason defines narrative by aligning herself with the Labovian (1972) view that a narrative is not classified based on a value judgement, but on the teller’s view that the story is tellable. Base is the word Mason gives the primary narrative being discussed, and narrative schema, which stems from schema theory particularly as used in cognitive linguistics, is used to describe an individual’s conception of a text in their mind. This terminology is used to build an understanding of how the framework operates, the way a reader conceptualises a Base and consequently, makes intertextual references from it.

Mason proposes a cline in the realisation of intertextual references. Using a quadrant matrix, she establishes the range of references as relating to a specific text (specific) or multiple texts (generic) as well as being clearly and directly stated (marked) or being expressed in a way that relies on the reader being familiar with the referenced text (unmarked). These are not binaries, but existing on a scale, for example an unmarked reference could be to something widely known, or niche to a text or community. She also introduces the concept of ‘mind-models’. These are used to highlight the way intertextual references can impact the reader – in their understanding of the text, the author, and the author’s intended reader – as well as the way the author constructs themselves and their intended audience.

The perceived superiority of intertextual references is an example of the way that intertextual references can be used to demonstrate a hierarchy between texts or highlight similarities. Mason argues that these references are always intrinsically linked with identity work. For example, the author of the text, or the review, may be marking themselves as superior to a text by utilising a reference that is widely understood to be superior, i.e. comparing it to Shakespeare. It is not the comparison which Mason argues does this identity work, but the way the author positions themselves (or their characters) in relation to the intertextual reference.

Mason convincingly argues for the use of the narrative interrelation framework and demonstrates how intertextual analysis offers a dynamic and wide-reaching insight into the minds of readers, writers and into the construction of the text.

EVALUATION

As Mason mentions in the summarising chapter, one of the strongest features of this book is the range of texts Mason has used in her analysis. From Chapter Two, when Mason uses six word stories (as the name implies, these are stories that are only six words long) as examples to begin to outline some foundational knowledge around intertextual theory, it was clear that she was invested in applying this theory in a manner befitting her approach to education and literary theory. This continued, with chapters including analysis of the intertextuality evident in book reviews, as well as books that are generally snubbed in literary circles, such as Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight. Mason also uses television shows, such as How I Met Your Mother, popular movie franchises, like Star Wars, and pop culture phenomena that have traversed multiple genres, such as Harry Potter, and the Marvel Universe.

The choice of texts that are analysed is successful not only for supporting the author’s stance, but also for demonstrating the application of the framework. When analysing online reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey, Mason is able to demonstrate the way individual narrative schemas differ so greatly. The array of references that people rely on when discussing the book is unpredictable and wide-ranging. The way Mason uses these texts to exemplify her approach also helps with gaining clarity in chapters that are heavy with definitions and theoretical grounding. In particular, Mason’s use of six-word stories as support for defining and outlining the theoretical approach aids the reader to understand the concepts in a manner that is easily comprehensible.

This book comes together in Chapter Six. It is in this chapter that the reader comes to appreciate the way Mason has exemplified the use of her framework. She demonstrates how education is currently working to reinforce ideals around literature and literacy that are from a time when literacy in the West was a sign of wealth and prestige. This discussion takes the reader back to Chapter Five, when Mason described a classroom in which children were taught exactly what Orwell was writing about in 1984, giving them no room for interpretation beyond that of the curriculum. Mason continues, highlighting how these beliefs around literature extend into creating an ideal reader, someone who snubs all but the most prestigious of media. At this point, the previous examples Mason has used become clear. Mason has herself ensured that her book does not continue to buy into and perpetuate norms of elitist literature and instead values a range of texts and media.

The thread of analysis and narrative that is woven throughout this book makes it a particularly successful text. Chapter Eight is the only chapter which did not fit in with this thread so clearly.
The opening section of this chapter looked at the way people ‘chain’ narratives together using interesting real-world examples of how this is done, and applying it to social media through a brief discussion of the way hashtags operate as a chaining device. Mason goes on to summarise and briefly analyse three Stephen King novels in order to demonstrate how applicable the narrative interrelation framework is for analyses beyond the traditional intertextuality perspective. The intratextuality of King’s novels, as well as the intertextual references between his novels, demonstrates how reader’s mind-model the author in their understanding of a text. While this chapter was an interesting different perspective on intertextuality, it was slightly out of place as the final analysis chapter of this book. The first section began to demonstrate how the narrative interrelation framework can offer a different perspective on narratives that have been built by communities and on social media – which was building on the themes evident throughout the book of the value in a range of stories. However, this analysis was not fully carried out and much of the second half of this chapter was spent explaining the premise of King’s novels.

Mason’s book introduces and expertly demonstrates the use of her narrative interrelation framework for intertextual analysis. As recommended by Mason, the narrative interrelation framework could easily be utilised by researchers who are focussing on intertextuality or who may adapt it for their own research goals. While this book may be more suited for post-graduate students and academics, it was easy to follow, with clearly marked out definitions and entertaining and engaging examples that would make it accessible for working with undergraduate students as well. The multidisciplinary approach and the well-constructed and supported ideological stance of this book make it a timely addition to intertextual analysis theory.

REFERENCES

Labov, William. 1972. Language in the inner city: Studies in the Black English vernacular. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Carly Pettiona is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne. Her research areas include discourse analysis, genre analysis, feminist linguistics, and healthcare communication. She is currently researching maternal health communication, focusing on the construction of birth plans.



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