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The Value of Intertextuality and the Generality of Discourse

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The Value of Intertextuality and the Generality of Discourse essay

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When we make an assignment based on an academic essay, we can compare this process with a journey through the tropical jungles; on the one hand, you can be gladdened by wild nature; on the other hand, you can hate the uncomfortable conditions. So, I invite you, my reader, to accompany me in this mystery and dangerous adventure.

Will we collect good memories from major scenery? Or will we curse that place and compare it to hell because of mosquitos and weather? We’ll see, and for the present, I am going to provide my agenda of this journey—firstly, I will summarize James E.Porter’s essay “Intertextuality and The Discourse Community”. I will provide definitions of intertextuality and discourse community and will discuss his view of how they are intertwined with each other. Then, I’ll try to effectively use acquired knowledge from Porter’s essay to intertextually analyze the advertisement and to find in it pieces of other people’s ideas and events. What traces will I find? And finally, I will make my impression of what Porter talks about. Does knowing about the existene of the intertext, everywhere, make a difference for you and me? In the final part, my reader, I’m going to share my impression of Porter’s essay and share my cheat code for reading such difficult and long essays; moreover, I will provide my process of filtering out Porter’s and Grant-Davies’s essays.

Part I: A Summary of “Intertextuality and the Discourse Community” James E.Porter wrote the essay “Intertextuality and the Discourse Community” for people (especially for teachers) who are interested in rhetoric and writing. He discusses the concept of intertextuality, its connections to the notion of “discourse community” and its pedagogical implications for compositions. Porter explains that all writing, speech and signs arrive from a single network, and that’s the principle of intertextuality. He explains that all writers are doomed to borrow bits and pieces of Text to create a new discourse. Porter distinguishes intertextuality between two types: iterability and presupposition. Iterability is composed by traces; in other words, all pieces of other texts that we are able to find such as citations, allusions, references, quotations, clichés, phrases, etc.

On the other hand, “a presupposition refers to assumptions, a text makes about its referent, its readers, and its context” (35). In other words, all the information we can take from reading between lines — logical and reasonable assumptions that audience can make from acquired information. Porter discusses the term “discourse community”. Poststructalist critics define the discourse community as “a group of individuals bound by a common interest who communicate through approved channels (forums) and whose discourse is regulated” (38). Discourse communities could be from personal communities such as family meetings to professional communities such as article in the Rhetoric Review. Discourse Community chooses what objects and other features (what is considered evidence, valid argument, and proof?) are appropriate.

Therefore, discourse community inevitably constrains the writer. Porter emphasizes that all writing is shaped and controlled by audience (discourse community) and audience’s expectations (does it reflect the discourse community’s episteme). He showed us this thesis by providing three examples: the Declaration of Independence, the text of a commercial, and a news story. In all these cases, he points out how to each of them was adjusted for their time and context. For example, according to Porter, Jefferson mixed a lot of traces and ideas, which were accepted within his discourse community, to create a new discourse (create the Declaration of Independence); Porter states that Jefferson was just a skillful writer who was able to masterly mix that web of others’ ideas and create the new and effective discourse; moreover, a lot of Jefferson’s original expressions were denied; thus, audience accepted only what it expected to get within its discourse community; it couldn’t accept so easily some new and original ideas.

Thus, Porter makes the statement that “…readers, not writers, create discourse” (38). In the last part, Porter highlights significant remarks for the pedagogy of intertextuality. Porter argues that students shouldn’t try to create on their own because the real creativity is the ability to create new meaning from Single Network/traces, and putting it into the context of the discourse community. Porter believes that real writing is an attempt to identify the self within the constraints of some discourse community; moreover, the main goal (pedagogical) of intertextuality is to help students learn to write for their discourse communities they choose to join. In other words, the immediate goal is to create “socialized writers”, who are able to produce competent discourse within their community, and the long-term goal is to create “post-socialized writers”, who are able to result changes without fear of exclusion from communities.

The last Porter’s point is about intertextual theory. Intertextual theory suggests that the key criteria for evaluating writing should be “acceptability” — adapting the community’s discourse values and using appropriate traces — within some discourse. Also, Porter provides a great example of intertextuality by this essay. He uses a lot of intertext during the whole essay. He took other people’s ideas and organized them into the one piece, giving examples and explaining his reasoning.

Part II: An intertextual analysis In the BigPond (an Australian internet service provider) Advertisement, the scene is placed in the setting of a parent (Dad)/teacher (woman)/student (boy) interview. A man and his son sit in front of a teacher in an empty classroom. They carefully listen for teacher’s reprimand. “Here’s an example of what I’m talking about”, says the teacher while she looks at her notes. “What does January 26 (official national day of Australia) mean to Australians? Everyone gets a day off to watch cricket.” The teacher looks reproachfully at Dad suggesting that the answer should be absolutely different.

In the next scene, Dad escorts his son out of a building, and he says, “Next time maybe you should mention the tennis as well”. And finally voiceover says, “Learn more with BigPond Broadband”. If, as Porter notes, intertextuality is the bits and pieces of Text that writers or speakers borrow and sew together to create new discourse, then we easily can find some traces. The scene where the teacher judges and criticizes Dad and his son is clearly well-known for anybody, who was in school, especially for me; when I was in middle school, my parents often were called for educational talks in school, and as result, I can understand feelings of the son and Dad: anxiety, uncertainty and awkwardness. Everybody was in a situation, where you are standing in front of a judging and influential person and waiting for the reprimand and punishment.

Personally, I associate this scene with the Last Judgment (Christian view) because it is a very terrifying event (as calling parents for educational talk when I was in middle school); you as a mere man (Dad and son/I) will answer for all your sins, and you will take your punishments. The other familiar trace is the personality of Dad. We can tell that he thinks outside the box and he is stubborn. This character reminds me Mr.Pink (Steve Buscemi) from Pulp Fiction (1992) by Quentin Tarontino. For example, in the tipping scene, Mr.Pink persisted and said, “I don’t tip because society says I have to”.

Mr.Pink and Dad have their own specific opinion on things and they don’t care about society’s secret rules (tipping/appropriately spending a holiday). On the other hand, the teacher who cares about children’s awareness is a cliché: responsible, kind and strict teacher who makes everything possible for good of children. Thus, this contrast between kind woman and cynical man makes this scene hilarious and memorable. After I performed an intertextual analysis of this ad, I obtained more awareness that these bits and pieces of Text are in every our writing and speech. Even in routine talking with my friends about trifles are traces. For example, I notice that my way of conversation is very similar to my father.

I suppose, subconsciously I imitate the style of my father (specific central Ukrainian accent). And I guess, if I delve deeper, I would find more traces from my speech like imitatio of some actors and other influencing people. Definitely, it’s impossible to find all the traces of the discourse. However, after I analyzed this ad I understood that to be more aware of intertext of discourse, we should be more erudite by reading more books or by other ways of getting knowledge (movies, comics, songs, etc.). Definitely, it depends upon the type of discourse to which we are drawn. Thus, it gives me some motivation to get new information. Maybe I will read more?

Part III: So What? A lot of academic writers such as Porter and Grant-Davie provide a lot of definitions, advice and instructions; sometimes, these recommendations are disputable, and to gain the most profit we could get, we should sift out these recommendations through our experience, intuition and our responsible reflection; personally, I filter out such instructions through my experience: I check do these advice applicable for real life, and do they make a difference in my life and if they don’t meet my criteria I abandon them. Therefore, if we don’t agree with an author’s recommendations, we shouldn’t adjust ourselves to forcefully accept them; we should just leave them and go further.

We should always keep in mind that most academic writing is just the discussion and it is not the complete verity. I mentioned it because, lately, our class did a peer review workshop, and I was surprised by their works on Porter’s essay; most my classmates agree on everything he says, despite the fact that he provides very controversial and humiliating things such as his neglect of the autonomous writer. Thus, we should be able to say no to the recommendations of powerful persons such as Porter if we have another opinion. As I read Porter’s piece, I pictured myself as the accidental traveler who is stuck in the tropical jungles.

I am cutting my way through the thick, airless underbrush (Porter’s essay). I always am attacked, of course, by leeches (Porter’s neglect to the autonomous writer) and mosquitoes (unnecessary information) and stinging ants (his depressing thoughts about originality and the writer’s determinism); the only thing that holds me from giving up is the sun (useful definition of the discourse community) that passes through the vast trees’ canopy. It gives me the hope to find an exit (read to the finish) from this hell. Porter’s essay is controversial; it is obviously hard to read because when I read his thoughts about writers’ determinism, originality and the role of writer (he states that the writer is just a part of a discourse tradition), I am not able to accept a lot of his points. Because of a difference of opinions, I needed more time than usually to process his essay. First of all, I cannot agree with Porter on the fact that intertext makes writers less important.

Even in spite of that fact that we take other people’s basic thoughts, it is formed together in a way that is an absolutely original argument of the writer itself. And personally, I always admire people who are able to include a lot of references — intertext — to the discourse; it’s the true creativity — the more speaker/writer brings intertext(references to others) to the discourse, the more creative he is. Secondly, Porter wants to shift the priority of pedagogy, from the autonomous writer to the sources and social contexts. And I cannot accept his point of view because such things as personal insight, personal voice, originality, calling motivation from “within” are the key timeless features of modern writer, and sources and social contexts are the secondary things.

However, I admit that the part about the discourse community and “acceptability” as true evaluation ideas makes sense. It gives us ideas about how significant and powerful the discourse community is — with its limitations. After I read about the discourse community, I began to ask myself important questions — about adapting the discourse community’s values and about usage of appropriate traces — and that helped me to shape my writing in necessary limits. Thus, writers are supposed to know to whom they create the discourse and the limitations of that discourse community.

According to Porter, it will give the writer a lot: awareness about appropriate topic, format, style, standards for evidence and validity, etc. Let’s compare Grant-Davie’s explanation of rhetorical situations and their constituents and effect of them to my life and Porter’s explanation of intertextuality and its effect. How does knowing about these terms help me in my life? Grant-Davie states that it’s a huge advantage to be aware of your and others’ roles (constituents) in the rhetorical situation; he states that it would be much easier for us to deal with obstacles. I haven’t reasons to ignore Grant-Davie’s message. As I see, Grant-Davie’s advice is applicable for real life; for example, now that I have read his essay, I have begun to use his advice in my writing and speech; I ask myself significant questions (about constituents and how can I use them for myself) that improve my negotiating results. On the other hand, Porter explains the concept of intertextuality and traces.

Porter’s definition of intertextuality gives me just awareness and thinking about writing in a different way. Before I read Porter’s essay, I’ve already used principles of intertextuality (traces); for example, I had used a lot of appropriate traces — phrases from movies and books — for my online chatting with friends, even when I had no idea about intertextuality. Thus, everybody uses intertextuality, and it doesn’t matter if a person knows this term or not; moreover, when we read such long academic essays, we should carefully filter out information to decide on which points we should focus and which points could be neglected. Definitely, I have become more rhetorically aware of what’s going on around me due to these essays and I am grateful to Grant-Davie and a little bit grateful — only for providing the discourse community — to Porter.

Work cited

  1. Porter, James E. “Intertextuality and the Discourse Community.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 5, no. 1, Taylor & Francis, Ltd., Autumn 1986, pp.34-47, . Accessed 24 Oct. 2014.
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