What is the difference between a pre-text and a pretext, and what is the significance of their difference for our understanding of literary, religious, philosophical, scientific, and other kinds of texts? What are their respective roles in determining the pragmatic, ideological, rhetorical, pedagogical, and sociolinguistic features of texts?
A pre-text may be a precursor of a text. It may anticipate or prepare the way for a text. It may also provide the foundation or establish the conditions for the being of a text. It may also serve other functions: it may inspire the creation of a text, and it may serve as a motive or stimulus for the production of a text. It may also be a (formal, structural, or empirical) model or prototype for a text, or an archetype from which subsequent texts are descended. It may also be an urtext (a source text from which a later text is derived, or an original text on which a later text is based).
A pre-text may also serve as a metatext, explaining how a text is to be produced and interpreted. It may also be a stage in the composition of a text, and a stage in the textualization of elements (such as perceptions, thoughts, ideas, emotions, and feelings) that are to become a text. It may also be a stage in the becoming of a text (and in the becoming possible and becoming actual of a text).
A pre-text may also be any kind of text that is presupposed by another text. A pre-text may in some cases be a pretext for something, and a pretext may in some cases be a pre-text for something.
A pre-text may also be a “pre/text,” or a text that plays the role of both pre-text and pretext. Insofar as it is a pre/text, a pre-text is first and foremost a text, possessing its own kind of textuality.
Pre-textuality may refer to the pre-textual nature of something or the state of being a pre-text. Pretextuality, on the other hand, may refer to the pretextual nature of something or the state of being a pretext.
A pretext may be a supposed, but not actual, reason for something. It may also be a misleading explanation of something. Actions may be performed under the cover of false pretexts. A pretext may serve as a method of concealing the true motives for an action. A pretext may also be a text that is taken out of context1 and that is used as an excuse or justification for something.
Pre-texts and pretexts may share coextensive and codetermining texts. They may share various subtexts, and they may be produced and interpreted in various (social, cultural, and historical) contexts.
A text may serve as both pre-text and pretext for some other text. The text that serves as pre-text for some other text may be a pretext for a particular interpretation (or way of reading) that text. There may be a pretext for a given pre-text, and a pre-text for a given pretext.
The pre-text of a pretext may include a desire to provide an excuse for performing an action whose justifiability is arguable or questionable. It may also include a desire to provide an excuse for performing an action, when there is a concomitant desire to conceal the true motives for performing that action.
Every word in a given lexicon or dictionary may function as a pre-text for some other word in that lexicon or dictionary. Synonyms may serve as pre-texts for one another. Rules of grammar and word usage may function as pre-texts for the construction of well-formed sentences. Each phrase in a sentence may function as a pre-text for the subsequent phrases in that sentence. Each sentence in a paragraph may function as a pre-text for the subsequent sentences in that paragraph. Each paragraph in a narrative may function as a pre-text for the subsequent paragraphs in that narrative.
Every text may also function as a pre-text for some other text. A text may therefore have pre-textual, as well as intertextual, properties, and may be part of the textual setting in which some other text is read and interpreted.
An answer to the question, “What comes before the text?” may be: “The pre-text.” An answer to the question, “What comes before the pre-text?” may be: “The possibility of textualization.”
Textualization may be described as the process whereby textual elements (such as words, phrases, or sentences) are assembled and integrated into texts. It may proceed in conjunction with narrativization (the process whereby narrative elements are assembled and integrated into oral and written narratives) and discursivization (the process whereby discursive elements are assembled and integrated into spoken and written discourse). The textual cycle or sequence may begin at a pre-textual level and continue through successive stages of increasing complexity and progressive textualization.
A text is an event, and it may therefore have to be interpreted in the context of other events. Pre- and post-text events may shed light on a text’s meaning and historicity.
A pre-text may incorporate extratextual elements, such as (1) production rules (or writing rules) for the text, (2) determining procedures for transmission of the text, and (3) a social, cultural, and historical context that conditions the reading and writing of the text. The pre-textual properties of an idea, emotion, feeling, experience, etc. may also allow the crossing of textual (as well as formal, thematic, and discursive) boundaries to become possible.
“Pre-texting” may be a means of testing the suitability of the conditions under which texting or textualization will occur.
A series of text messages exchanged between two people may be a pre-text of, or a pretext for, their continued dialogue and interaction.
A text message that is in the process of being composed and that hasn’t yet been sent may also be called a “pre-text.”
Marie Maclean (1991) describes a “paratext” as a frame for a text that guides the reader’s approach to the text, and that may also define, enhance, and contrast with the text.2 Examples of paratexts include the title page of a book, the frame around a painting, and the wall on which a canvas is hung. A paratext may serve as a means of conditioning the reader’s expectations of the text, and of lending credibility and authority to the text.3 It may be a pre-text or context; it may also be a parallel text. It may also be an accompanying or companion text that brings further meaning to the text or that plays a metatextual role.
Gérard Genette (1997) describes paratexts as “thresholds” of interpretation, and explains that they may include such elements of a book as its cover, title page, title, dedication, epigraphs, preface, chapter titles, notes, and publisher’s “epitext” or “peritext.”4 He also describes paratexts as transactional zones between the text and off-text, between the author and reader.5 Paratexts consist of “peritexts” and “epitexts.” Peritexts are texts (such as the book cover, title page, format, preface, and notes) that surround the core text of a book. Epitexts are texts (such as critical reviews not appended to the text) that externally present the text to the reader.6
The relations between a text and its pre-texts, pretexts, and paratexts may also be dimensions of its intertextuality or transtextuality.7 A text and its pre-texts, pretexts, and paratexts may all be read intertextually or transtextually, and they may each be interpreted in light of their own, as well as one another’s meaning.
1D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996.
2Marie Maclean, “Pretexts and Paratexts: The Art of the Peripheral,” in New Literary History, Vol. 22, No. 2, 1991, pp. 273-275.
3Ibid., p. 276.
4Gérard Gennette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 2.
5Ibid., p. 2.
6Gérard Gennette and Marie Maclean, “Introduction to the Paratext,” in New Literary History, Vol. 22, No. 2, 1991, pp. 262-264.
7Julia Kristeva describes the intertextual and translinguistic nature of texts in her collection of essays, Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, edited by Leon S. Roudiez, translated by Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), p. 66.