James E. Porter’s “Intertextuality and the Discourse Community,” 1986.

James E. Porter, a respected scholar in rhetoric and composition, argues that all texts are intertextual (i.e., relying on previous texts for their meaning). He draws on a large body of intertextual theory as he makes this claim. And he “distinguishes between two types of intertextuality: iterability and presupposition” (35). To paraphrase, iterability is “citation in its broadest sense,” or “repeatability”–anything that might be considered “borrowed” in any sense, even if unacknowledged. Presupposition, on the other hand, “refers to assumptions a text makes about its referent, its readers, and its context–to portions of the text which are read, but which are not explicitly ‘there’.” In some sense, presupposition is also the “reality” that the text itself triggers, that it creates, that it calls into a kind of existence (an imagined existence, though not necessarily false).

Another point Porter makes is that all writing–and especially writing in society that is considered successful–is governed and shaped by readers and reader expectation. As an example of what Porter might call “successful” writing are the examples he uses: the Declaration of Independence, the text of a commercial, and a news story. Successful is not necessarily a word he uses to describe these, but he shows how each of his three examples was significantly controlled and shaped by the expecations of a particular audience (the Declaration, he shows, was changed quite a bit from its original version).

In addition to presenting the idea of intertext, he also discusses the concept of discourse community as potentially more comprehenseive than that of audience (see also Rafoth, 1988). He does make important connections between a number of concepts; however, the most innovative part of his article for me was the clarification between the “socialized” writer and the “post-socialized” writer. The former is able to enter into a particular community by (to a certain degree) adopting the norms and codes of that community–and if s/he fails to adopt those norms, s/he also fails to enter the community. But he aslo points out that writers who are glorified later as original and romantic are usually those who have achieved a “post-socialization” status in a community–and the implication seems to be that they have reached a point of leadership and experience within the community, and are thus willing to take more personal risk. More focus on “post-socialization” status in the future might be interesting, as this term marks a somewhat unconventional way of thinking about inner-focused writing.


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