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Cultuurtekst as Discourse and Representation

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    In the previous chapter, I already pointed to the notion of ‘cultuurtekst’, text as culture, coined by Maaike Meijer, a Dutch feminist literary theorist. She developed this notion of text into a theory of text interpretation or reading, mainly for literary analysis purposes. She focuses particularly (following Kristeva, 1966) on the notion of intertextuality contained in Bakhtin’s view of language being ‘echoes of the past’, but, in literary analysis, she maintains, recognizing intertextuality is a limitless task. Often it cannot even be determined exactly how or where a text is borrowing from other texts. In order to create a framework for literary interpretations outside the notion of literary intertextuality, it makes more sense, she suggests, to recognize the discourses (in a Foucauldian sense) in a text. Texts are not created as fresh and new meanings, but are a reworking of old notions and ideas and conventionalized historically accepted ways of talking about certain things. This ‘culturally routinized way of talking’, Meijer calls ‘cultuurtekst’.

    Culture then, in ‘cultuurtekst’ is the ‘conglomerate of accepted and recurrent motifs and ways of representation around a theme, which is organizing itself again and again in new texts, whether literary, journalistic scientific or otherwise’ (my translation) (Meijer, 1996: 33). It is meaning-making in relation to the whole cultural space; ‘the scenarios’ which are provided by the surrounding culture. Each individual text is a retake of those scenarios, she says. ‘Cultuurtekst’ encourages us to look at how a text rewrites and reproduces the available scenario. Or, in other words, how a text re-articulates the commonly accepted meanings, values, and attitudes.

    Meijer’s view of ‘cultuurtekst’ is not a completely open-ended framework. It is not about a text having a single meaning, but about not having infinite meanings either. Groups of readers who have been socialized in similar ways, will ‘smell’, as Meijer calls it, similar discourses. They recognize the underpinning ideologies and values without being able to quite ‘put their finger on it’, as students have explained this sense of vague recognition to me.

    Meijer’s notion of ‘cultuurtekst’ is close to Foucault’s notion of discourse, but it differs from it in that her notion encompasses both that of the individual concrete text itself, as well as that of the ‘invisible’ or implicit discursive fields which are operating within those texts. (1996: 33-35). This notion is useful for language teaching, as we are not just dealing with discourses, but also with text itself at a ‘textual level’.

    This page titled Cultuurtekst as Discourse and Representation is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gerdi Quist (Ubiquity Press) .

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