Lines And Ladders Performance Diary 17: Transtextuality

An important part of my research theory is Gérard Genette’s network of transtextuality, which, for me, is vital for articulating how texts work in relation to one another. Genette was writing about literature and I first came across his theories in my undergraduate degree in English Literature. I have been smitten with this theory since I was first introduced to it in a course about film adaptation and wrote one of my better undergraduate essays on the transtextual use of the Mentoes theme music in Clueless. Completely besotted, it became the focus of my undergraduate dissertation on transtextuality in English fairytales. Because the theory is primarily literary, it does need a little adaptation to use when writing about live performance.

The theory of transtexuality is simply that all these texts exist in relation to others and Genette provided a fabulously useful set of terms that we can use to talk about these relationships. Sadly, in May this year Genette passed away  and, I thought, before the year is out, that I would introduce the way in which my re-casting of his theory underpins the whole Sharing Stories PhD project.

Influenced by Roland Barthes, I am using text in the broadest possible sense here. Texts can always be interpreted, but their form can be almost anything: the written word, the oral story, a photograph, the performance piece, the set of the show, the historical context. These texts feed into one another; some texts are adaptations of others; some incorporate others directly; some comment on others; some are influenced by others; some are recognisable because they share common forms. The key is that every text is in some way connected to others and what Genette’s theory does is help reveal how they are connected.

At the core of Genette’s network is the hypertext. In my example, this is Lines And Ladders as played. Each game is a new performance hypertext. This is the site where all the different texts meet and intersect. This is the text that is at the apex. Any other texts that I write about are in relation to this one.

What you are reading now, that is part of the paratext. The paratext exists alongside the hypertext. Specifically, this is the epitext, because it is in a different space to the hypertext. The game takes place in a cafe; this performance diary exists in the virtual space of the internet. It might be experienced before, after or without playing the game. And it’s still changing; each new post extends this epitext. The epitext aims to document the project, by exploring its different components whilst I am still trying to work out what it all means. This epitext is a rawer form of what the thesis will be, although the way it’s looking, that epitext might well be just as raw!

If you play the game, you’ll experience the other part of the paratext, which is the peritext. The peritexts of Lines And Ladders include the paperwork prologue and epilogue. The paperwork that you are given to read and complete, as a part of the performance, whilst you’re in the same space, is a part of the peritext.

And the peritext also includes the setting. The decision to play in a public place affects the experience of the hypertext. Playing in one café is different to another, and is different to playing in a museum or a library. We can read these spaces based on our prior experience, judging them before we enter, whilst we play and after we have left. Even the comfiness of the chair is a part of this peritextual experience.

There are also intertexts, metatexts, an extratext and architext, but, as I am well over the 500 word limit that I set myself for these Performance Diaries, I’ll have to save them for another day and conclude by wishing anyone who reads this a very happy new year!


Barthes, Roland, ‘From Work to Text’, in Image Music Text, selected and trans. by Stephen Heath (London: Flamingo, 1984), pp. 155-64

Genette, Gérard, Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree, trans by Channa Newman and Claude Doubinsky (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), pp. 1-7


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s