“When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen– they happen because of you.” — Peter Parker, Captain America: Civil War
Transtextuality is a part of just about every story that you can think of. In a sense, it’s how texts relate to texts. Like, sure, it’s references to other media, but it’s also how the text relates to itself. In the scene that introduces Peter Parker to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he says the page quote and you understand the phrase that they want you to be thinking of, even though he doesn’t actually say it. In Marvel comics, they even have a name for people who recognize certain versions of transtextuality– the “True Believers”. But it goes beyond comics, of course.
I want to talk about this because understanding how texts relate to each other is kind of my thing? Part of what I do here is look for structural resonances between disparate works and do what I can to reconcile them. lt can be as simple a visual reference or dialogue, and it can be as complicated as whatever the hell James Joyce’s Ulysses is. I use transtextuality all the time. It’s the language of a fictional canon that includes every story, song, and saying that anyone has ever heard.
Gérard Genette, a French literary theorist associated with the structuralist movement, split transtextuality into five subcategories: intertextuality, paratextuality, archetextuality, metatextuality, and hypertextuality. Some of these you might have heard of, some you might not, but I’ll break each of them down and explain how they work.