Interparatextuality: Love It, Use It

Oh, how I love jargon! And thus, I unleash “interparatextuality” into the blogosphere.

As I will soon explicate in my own blog (still yet to be created), I will be doing thesis research on the discursive history of the paratext of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. I’ve been clumsily attempting to articulate the phenomenon for which I am searching: something to do with paratext–specifically, the epitext, or paratext within the literal bounds of a monograph–being an important site of the development of generic discourse. I don’t think I could meaningfully prove my point just by close reading the paratext because, if my suspicions are at all correct, I highly doubt that contemporary readers were handling paratextual elements in isolation from the very complex discursive culture surrounding the production and consumption of the novel. As such, I’m planning on forming a discursive narrative of the rhetorical development of the paratext of Pamela over three “seminal” editions (seminality being determined by the extent of revisions andd marketing hoopla). I will not only be examining the paratexts themselves but also the paratexts of novelistic responses to Pamela, such as Pamela Censured and Fielding’s Shamela. What I am attempting to do is demonstrate how paratexts were responding to one another, citing each other, etc.

Thanks to a totally unrelated novel and a burst of Twitter inspiration, I can now concisely describe the discursive element which will be the focus of my research: interparatextuality, which is when one paratext implicitly or explicitly references other paratext(s). I’m currently cataloging late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century American novels at the Library Company of Philadelphia will fellow researcher Ben Ellentuck. I was checking one of Ben’s excellently done records for an 1836 novel entitled Sheppard Lee and noticed that the epigraph was actually a quote from the Advertisement to Hunt’s Blacking. To use some more jargon, the source claim appears to be bullshit, as I was unable to find anything that might plausibly be “Hunt’s Blacking”. At any rate, being a paratext nerd, I excitedly posted about this on our Twitter and, in the heat of the hashtagging moment, I handily refined the beloved term “intertextuality” to suit my paratextually-motivated purposes.

Interparatextuality is not always so transparent as it is in the instance of Sheppard Lee, but I would argue that nearly every paratextual element, particularly prose elements, bear some interparatextual feature. One can see this in the rhetoric of and discourse concerning 18th century novels. Just as novels were alluding to each other in their texts, paratexts were communicating with and talking about each other. This is something worth tracking, perhaps not in END, but certainly in discourse studies.

About the Author

Alison Devine

Student Researcher