On: Margaret Atwood's Surfacing Academic blogs:
Atwood's Surfacing
Coetzee's Disgrace
T. S. Eliot's Prufrock


       Can you list all the different texts mentioned in Surfacing? Better still, can you recognize their significance?
       Intertextuality, or intertextual reference, is where 'texts', be they novels, poems, nursery rhymes, myths, paintings, music - in short, anything with cultural significance - are included in the text you are reading and thereby add some sort of symbolic mantle or resonance.
       Surfacing has a number of these in various guises, and it helps our total understanding of the novel to be aware of them. These intertextual references help make up the fabric of the novel - and help give it a 'place' in the culture.
       If you've read the section of this site on Anna or the discussion of Chapter One, you will already have some awareness of intertextuality. The songs that Anna sings and the type of books that she reads all contribute to our understanding of her situation - but we have to do a bit of research to find out exactly what. There are many other instances, too. Here are some examples:

...Robert Burns, Boswell's Life, Thompson's Seasons, selections from Goldsmith and Cowper. (32)

Nobody loves me
Everybody hates me
I'm going to the garden to eat worms. (55)

I lean against a tree, I am a tree leaning (175)
       The first of these examples is the simple listing of literary works on her father's bookshelves, and thus gives us more of an idea as to what kind of a man he was. In this passage we would learn (if it weren't also explained to us) that he had a definite (R)omantic streak; he admires writers who, broadly speaking, glorify Nature in their work.
       The second example is directly quoted text, rather than just named books, and this has a slightly different function. In this instance, its inclusion bears the hallmarks of the stream-of-consciousness style of narrative; it sort of pops into the prose as though it just occurred to the Narrator as she started to dig for worms. It shows us a little about the universality of her childhood - the rhyme is well-known - and it might also show us how strong a presence her childhood is, both in this place and in the whole of her life.
       The third example I've included is not (so far as I know) a direct or indirect quotation of anything. So why include it? Here, my intertextual analysis needs some critical license - i.e. I'm a critic so I'm allowed to say the sort of things original critics sometimes say. This piece of text, and the few sentences preceding following it, break the normal syntax of this novel and ought therefore to be worthy of some comment. If we take an intertextual approach (which is not the only approach worth taking here), we might say that this syntax, and the sense of the words, bears striking resemblance to a poem called 'Song of Myself', by the Nineteenth century American poet, Walt Whitman. The reason that I like this idea is that 'Song of Myself' is basically an exuberant ramble back and forward through scenes of American landscapes and life, and it is 'sung' by a poet who describes himself at various stages as being bound up with the spirit of everything that surrounds him. In the final segment of this work he writes,

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
Which sounds like something our Narrator would do or say! So, in this piece of intertextual analysis, I am noting a merging of styles and identities - and perhaps smiling at the irony of one of Canada's most celebrated writers being caught in the syntax of one of America's most celebrated writers...
1. Introduction
       To the students
2. The Techniques
       Narrative Position
       Narrative Structure
       Parataxis as Metaphor
3. The Tensions
       [Spiritual] Journey
       Language as theme
       Garden vs. Wilderness
4. Chapter Discussions
       Chapter One
       Chapter Two
       Chapter Three
       Chapter Four
5. The Other Characters

6. Wider Reading
       Academic books

Copyright © Richard Cheadle, 2004-2006. All rights reserved.

Richard Cheadle, Hemsted House, Benenden School, Nr. Cranbrook, Kent. TN17 4AA.