Question Ciaran Art, Media & Literature

Form, Content and Intertextuality

What are form, content and intertextuality, and how do they contribute differently in the construction and consideration of a text’s meaning?

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Answer Internal Staff

Form denotes all the technical features of a text’s composition – whether it is written in prose or verse, the specific literary genre it occupies, any specific plot format it follows, any character archetypes that are present, the style and register of its writing, and its use of specific techniques.

Content is the core, unique material within the text – e.g. for a novel the events of its story, its characters, its setting, and any themes or underlying message present across it.

Intertextuality refers to how our reading of the text is influenced by any others. In its strictest interest, these might be other volumes of a narrative series it inhabits, notable instances of the same form or genre, other works by the same author, or texts that have a contemporary relationship. Broadly, of course, everything else the reader has read in their entire life will contribute to the reading of a text. A text may be consciously intertextual on the part of the author – as in the aforementioned narrative series example, or it may be a parody of another work, or it may make noticeable allusions to other texts. Yet, like the reader, they certainly have literary experience that has unconsciously gone into writing it.

Both the form and content of many renowned literary works have frequently produced combined effects, enabling critics to extrapolate and discuss meaning. Intertextuality has also become a prominent notion in literary studies, tracing the meaning of any one text across all literature. A skilled analyst has the opportunity to involve all three critical facets in discussing a text.