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Gérard Genette

Gérard Genette (1930-2018)

Photo of Génette. Digital Image. http://thecribsheet-isabelinho.blogspot.com. May 13th, 2018 (By user “Isabelinho”).http://thecribsheet-isabelinho.blogspot.com/2018/05/gerard-genette.html

Biography and Timeline

  • Gérard Genette (7th June 1930-11th of May, 2018) was a man who wanted to redefine the word “Intertextuality” as it stood within the world of literary study while connecting it with the French language.
  • Genette was born in France and, during his college years, spent time with fellow literary scholars such as Jacques Derrida.
  • Genette was a “Structuralist” in a time where the Post Structuralist movement was rampantly taking over French literary discourse; even to this day being named “French Theory”.
  • Genette, being interested in narrative, took to writing about narratology. Genette, being a fan of the French Language, loved word play and made his words strictly from roots that he felt would give a memorable feel to the term; a prime example being “Paratext.”
  • For the budding years of his career he was known strictly as a narratologist and literary theorist, yet when Kristeva’s definition of “Intertextuality” became a topic of literary debate his theoretical interest changed. 
  • In 1982, he published his book “Palimpsests” and his spectrum has been a host of much debate between French literary scholars.
  • The first of Genette’s five definitions of what he coined “Transtextuality” (his version of Kristeva’s Intertextuality) was indeed the “Paratext”.
  • Before he would completely define the word of “Paratext”, Genette made himself a spectrum; a set of five words that would signal the relationship between both author, text and reader.

 Key Terms Related to Transtextuality (Intertextuality).

  • Genette made a spectrum for reader and author relationships to a given text.
  • Some definitions apply better to a “Hand of the author” approach (its more author than reader) while some of his definitions apply to how one reads a text. This fits in line with Genette’s literary leaning towards the “Structuralist” movement.
  • Nonetheless, the definitions are loose enough that a case can be made for any piece of fiction being any of the following terms.
  • Palimpsests- This is a term that Genette uses to connect his theory on literary study to the French language. The term, Palimpsests, refers to a piece of literature that leaves room both for interpretation and leaves traces of its inspiration. This ambivalent wordplay is the title of Genette’s most influential work.
  • Transtextuality– This is the first and most expansive classification of Genette’s re-imagining of the word Heterosexuality by Julia Kristeva; it has the same definition but is meant to invoke more on the overlapping aspect of literature. Sometimes, Genette would even reintroduce this term as textual “Transeance” but the two terms are interchangeable.
  • 4 Other Types of Transtextuality
        1. Paratextuality: The text explicitly requires something else before reading or alludes to something else that must be researched or known by the reader. Examples are the writer’s personal history, the publisher, preface, illustrations, an interview the author had. For example, Christopher Hitchens’ book “Orwell Matters” requires you reading and understanding Orwell to get a full reading, either before or after as opposed to his biography on Thomas Jefferson that is meant to reintroduce the story. This was  Genette’s favorite of his five classifications, and he has a book written specifically on the word “Paratext.” From a perspective of his intertextual theory, Genette was, perhaps, trying to make a Paratext about the word Paratext itself; pretty neato, right, =].
        2. Metatextuality: The text references something without giving it a direct reference; thus the reader must pick up on it or the author must imply but not force a connection. For example, parodies; or Lolita commenting on the idea of romance in the romantic tradition without explicitly commenting on them. “The third type of textual “transcenaence”, which I call Metatextual~ is the relationship most often labeled “commentary.” It unites a given text to another, of which it speaks without necessarily citing it (without summoning it), in fact sometimes even without naming it.” (Palimpsests pg 4).
        3. Architextuality: Work that an author makes to critique the idea of literature itself, “the literariness of literature’ (Genette 1) or the idea of genre/ implicitness in our assumptions as consumers of literature “The romance of a rose” is not a romance but we think it is because of the title. Also, absurdist literature as well challenges this notion. An Archtext is to remain, as Gennette puts it, completely taxonomical, meaning that it must intentionally challenge a category we have assigned literature.
        4. Hypertextuality: A text reintroduces ideas or concepts in another text but doesn’t mention it. For example, if I were to say that Black Panther were to be playing on Batman, I would be right due to their shared similarities in their genre, time period, tropes, etc… Specifically, a hypertext is a revamping or rewriting of ideas found in an earlier text, for example Ovid and Mythology, Paradise Lost and the Bible. Though both can be read as being one of the four other categories, it is the reader’s interpretation or the author’s choice of chronology that can drive an argument as to whether a text is a “Hypertext.” 

Legacy (Important Works and Theoretical Debate)

  • To introduce yourself to the complexity of Genette’s theory, I would recommend this short article that Genette posted with Johns Hopkins University Press on the term Paratext, https://internt.ht.lu.se/doc/1408547525.calendarEvents.6300.pdf.0.Introduction_to_the_paratext.pdf/Introduction%20to%20the%20paratext.pdf
  • Palimpscests is a must read for anyone attempting to grasp Genette’s brilliant literary reasoning. Here is a PDF of the first 30 pages for those interested, http://users.clas.ufl.edu/burt/posthumographyeditorialexcrecences/palimpsests.pdf.
  • If you find yourself interested in his term, Paratext, he has a book written just on that one classification. Here is a PDF of the entire book, https://monoskop.org/images/4/40/Genette_Gerard_Paratexts_Thresholds_of_Interpretation.pdf
  • Genette has been somewhat ignored in literary study, as his works have been seen as “too broad.” Despite this, Genette’s categorization has been an inspiration for literary theorists to make their own categories. Other literary theorists such as Miola, have attempted to make their own categories of intertetuality without evoking Genette at all. However, even then the work of Miola fits into the definition of Genette’s original work, Palimpsest, and clearly draws on both Genette’s theory and Genette’s work itself; a double whammy of Trans-textual irony.
  • He had a personal “Bromance” with Barthes, and agrees with a notion of a reader centric view of theory. Co-authored a book, Recherche de Proust, together.
  • Genette was a critic of the “Post-Structuralist” movement. Genette, in particular, doesn’t align with Harold Bloom’s perspective but allies himself with his questions, “ This total field of relevant relationships is what I plan to examine here. Harold Bloom’s inquiry into the mechanism of influence, although conducted from an entirely different perspective, engages the same type of interference, which is more intertextual than hypertextual.” (Genette 3).

Works Cited Page


Genette Gérard. Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree. University of Nebraska Press, 1997.


Genette Gérard. Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2001.

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