Like medium and genre, text and context are intimately related to each other. Text and context are like the old chicken and egg conundrum. You can’t really have one without the other. Mitchell states that the process of representation occurs in relation to a whole network of signs, in a context of systems of symbols together (13). The meaning of a story comes out of the relationship between text and context. Aspects of space and time form a context around a text. There is the time and space when the author wrote, and there are the repeated performative moments when readers engage the text. The reception of a text occurs within a context, within the many different spaces and times that a text is engaged. It should be noted that I am working with the post-structuralist notion that almost any object can be a text and that I will be exploring the distinctions between discursive and non-discursive texts, looking at the different forms of symbolism and interpretation. So, a text can be found in a variety of mediums. To avoid undue confusion, I will specify what type of text (CD-ROM, book, discursive or non-discursive) I am referring to in a given example.
I am concerned with the process of how the meaning of a story is related and experienced through and within text and context. M.M. Bakhtin explores this process in his book, The Dialogic Imagination. He discusses how the meaning of a given text is fostered by an open experience between the reader and the author of the text. The text has “an indeterminacy . . . a living contact with unfinished still-evolving contemporary reality (the open-ended present)” of the reading experience (7). So, there is a reciprocated dialogue occurring between both parties involved across the text and the meaning comes out of this conversation.
Similarly, Roland Barthes has written many books exploring the ways a text can have meaning for its reader(s). In S/Z, he defines two types of text; writerly and readerly (4). Both of these terms apply to what a text in relation to the position of the reader. A writerly text can be rewritten in the act of reading. The reader is “the producer of the text.” Meaning comes forth in the reading (4). A readerly text is one that is simply read and not rewritten. It is a “classic text” that is read (4). In his poetic books, Roland Barthes and The Pleasure of the Text, Barthes attempts to give the reader writerly texts.
Like Bakhtin and Barthes, Arnold Berleant is also interested in studying one’s contextual experience with an object rather than the interpretations of that object. In The Aesthetic Field, he looks to examine the process of experiencing a text itself. Likewise, Hayden White is concerned with the questions of how the form of a text means something for a reader. In his book The Content of the Form, he looks at the types of narratives we use and how these types, or genres, help us fill out the content of the story. The context of genre is a vital part of the medium of the text. Genre gives an intertextual framework to a narrative’s elements that form the text.
In their article, “Reading Intertextually: Multiple Mediations and Critical Practice,” Beverly Whitaker Long and Mary Susan Strine do an excellent job of delineating a process that they call intertextuality. Intertextuality is the process of drawing on one’s experience with a myriad of texts and making connections between these various texts and the present text being experienced (468). It is the context of other texts that help us to experience a new text. This intertextual context with a text exists on a continuum between unique and universal. There are our own personal and unique experiences that we bring to bear and there are the more universal and critical dialogues found in other related and critical texts. One type of intertextuality is not necessarily more valid than the other, they both contextually add meaning to a text. Long and Strine illustrate how the process of experiencing a text necessitates that the audience brings an intertextuality to bear in order to understand the text being experienced. So, when we read a book, we bring our intertextual experiences of all the other books we have read to play with the current text itself, and from this playfulness we garner a deeper meaning of the text(s) involved. The stories I am examining and telling are related through texts and experienced in context. Bringing an intertextual awareness to bear will help to fully understand and explain these stories.