Icky Theory: Paratexts and Metatexts

Posted on 15/07/2011 by


Paratext and Metatext

The next few Icky Theory posts are going to be looking at the ways I’m hoping this textual performance can be made.

Para- and meta-texts describe ways readers can engage with ebooks in a way that they can’t with fixed print. These are texts which surround and infuse the seed text, providing new channels for pleasure which otherwise wouldn’t be open to readers.

Starting with Genette’s idea of the paratext. These are ancillary texts at the threshold of the original: interviews, reviews, and public critique external to, but also about the seed text. His idea is to suggest that those threshold texts mediate how we approach the seed.

[Paratexts are] an airlock that helps the reader pass without too much difficulty from one world to another, a sometimes delicate operation, especially when the second world is a fictional one. (Genette, p408)

Jonathan Gray broadens this with idea of the ‘overflow’, that media and merchandise lives in this cloud of paratexts, meaning that audiences can’t ‘just leave’ the show itself. This is “an image of a text that is too full… necessitating the spillover of textuality into paratexts.” (p40) These aren’t only authorized texts, but also informative, intertextual links. Beautifully, by

… placing the [seed] text at hand into a conversation with previously viewed texts, not only will earlier-viewed texts be able to talk to a current text—the current text will also be able to talk back to earlier texts. (Gray, p44)

Within the online environment, readers can easily create and share (embedded within the seed) this kind of hypertextual paratext. Paratexts mean that readers have the power to directly connect layers of meaning to the seed. Meaning which the author may not have considered, or had been unable to–because the new text hadn’t existed at the time.

It’s important to note, that while these paratexts have always existed, a set of dynamic, online texts allows them to be embedded and not only referenced.

Posted in: Icky Theory, Paul