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Visual pragmatics of intertextuality: ghosts from Wonderland in Jeanette Winterson’s Gut Symmetries (1997)

Abstract : Though intertextual allusions can be very legible and empirically verifiable, they more often elicit elusive flickers of recognition that we struggle to find a use for when interpreting texts. This uncertainty in the working of literary allusion has been crucial to theories of intertextuality, from attempts at narrowing down and classifying references, to studies that conversely widen their scope, identifying intertextuality as an iterative principle fundamental to textuality itself. This paper explores the doubt inherent in textual interplay: considering intertextuality as a form of haunting, it focuses on fleeting references that make readers see the ghosts of characters and words past hovering between the lines. It does so by analysing Winterson’s Gut Symmetries (1997), a novel fascinated with the spectral quality of the universe described by contemporary physics, and the resonance between the paradoxes of quantum reality and the whimsical logic of Carroll’s wonderlands. From the protagonist’s name, Alice, to ontologically challenged rabbits and cats, the Carrollian intertext signals a paradigmatic change in our attempts at making sense. In their visual liminality and stubborn reluctance to signify, intertextual creatures remind us that meaning is not within the sign, waiting to be discovered, but emerges in the provisional, possibly infelicitous interaction between linguistic entities. This emphasis on the pragmatics of verbal and visual encounter between texts and readers calls for another theory of interpretation: one which considers the fragility of recognition, not as an obstacle to ‘proper’ practices of reading, but as the very condition through which meaning can emerge.
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Diane Leblond. Visual pragmatics of intertextuality: ghosts from Wonderland in Jeanette Winterson’s Gut Symmetries (1997). Textual Practice, Taylor & Francis (Routledge), 2020, 34 (8), pp.1309-1325. ⟨10.1080/0950236X.2019.1580212⟩. ⟨hal-02944932⟩



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