Thursday, January 12, 2012

Text Text Text

What is (a) Text? TEXT is a semantic field of extraordinary range; boundariless; exceptionally difficult to define. The OED provides a narrow initial definition as its 1a) 'The wording of anything written or printed; the structure formed by the words in their order; the very words, phrases, and sentences as written'. Multiple other definitions refine this, particularly with regard to semantic specialisation: 'text' as 'scripture', the 'very words' of 'holy scripture', but it's clear that none of these definitions is sufficient to account for textness in a holistic sense. By this, I mean contemplating 'text' as a whole, without subdividing it into components like 'word', 'image', 'margin'. How can we talk about The Ellesmere Chaucer as a text (an object replete with intentionality, materiality and functionality) using the narrowness of this definition? How can we discuss the codex's meaning, including its value as a contemporary witness to Chaucer's work? ('Meaning' itself is circuitously defined by the OED (2.) as 'The sense or signification of a word, sentence, etc. a. Of language, a sentence, word, text, etc.: signification, sense.') 

TEXT might most usefully include all of the areas of investigation incorporated into Peter Barry's Literature in Contexts ( For Barry, these integral elements of textuality include epitextuality, peritextuality, metatextuality, cotextuality, and so forth, all of which, combined provide 'total textuality'. We might think, then, of the Ellesmere Chaucer, of the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life', of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass as 'pantexts' or 'omnitext' (a term coined by Taylor Field), each a rich repository of interpretative potential yielded by its creation, transmission and reception and enhanced by its value in the larger world.

1 comment:

  1. Origin of Omnitext
    Omni stems from: Forming compounds in which the first element has the sense ‘in all ways or places’, or ‘of all things’. (OED)
    Therefore, combined with “text” creates a definition which is meant to transcend the boundaries which may be presented by Peter Barry’s peritext or metatext , in an ongoing attempt to find an all-encompassing way to present TEXT. Just as Barry uses various “text”- inclusive terms to create a ‘total textuality’-- omnitext (and pantext) represent this totality.