Text (literary theory)

In literary theory, a text is any object that can be "read", whether this object is a work of literature, a street sign, an arrangement of buildings on a city block, or styles of clothing. It is a coherent set of signs that transmits some kind of informative message.[1] This set of signs is considered in terms of the informative message's content, rather than in terms of its physical form or the medium in which it is represented.

Various examples of texts in different languages

Within the field of literary criticism, "text" also refers to the original information content of a particular piece of writing; that is, the "text" of a work is that primal symbolic arrangement of letters as originally composed, apart from later alterations, deterioration, commentary, translations, paratext, etc. Therefore, when literary criticism is concerned with the determination of a "text", it is concerned with the distinguishing of the original information content from whatever has been added to or subtracted from that content as it appears in a given textual document (that is, a physical representation of text).

Since the history of writing predates the concept of the "text", most texts were not written with this concept in mind. Most written works fall within a narrow range of the types described by text theory. The concept of "text" becomes relevant if and when a "coherent written message is completed and needs to be referred to independently of the circumstances in which it was created."

Origin of the term

The word text has its origins in Quintilian's book on speeches, with the statement that "after you have chosen your words, they must be weaved together into a fine and delicate fabric", with the Latin for fabric being textum.[2]

Uses of the term for analysis of work practice

Relying on literary theory, the notion of text has been used to analyse contemporary work practices. For example, Christensen (2016)[3] rely on the concept of text for the analysis of work practice at a hospital.

See also


  1. Yuri Lotman - The Structure of the Artistic Text
  2. "How the Romans invented the text message...and the origins of some of the most common words and phrases". Daily Mail. 2012-01-06.
  3. Christensen, L.R. (2016). On Intertext in Chemotherapy: an Ethnography of Text in Medical Practice. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): The Journal of Collaborative Computing and Work Practices. Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 1-38

Further reading

  • Barry, Peter; Beginning Theory: an Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. ISBN 0-7190-6268-3.
  • Bakhtin, M. M. (1981) The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin and London: University of Texas Press.
  • Culler, Jonathan; (1997) Literary Theory: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-285383-X.
  • Eagleton, Terry; Literary Theory: an Introduction. ISBN 0-8166-1251-X.
  • Eagleton, Terry; After Theory. EdwISBN 0-465-01773-8.
  • The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism. ISBN 0-8018-4560-2.
  • Lodge, David and Wood, Nigek (Eds); Modern Criticism and Theory: a Reader. 2nd Ed. ISBN 0-582-31287-6
  • Patai, Daphne and Corral, Will H. (Eds.); Theory's Empire: an Anthology of Dissent. ISBN 0-231-13417-7.
  • Rabaté, Jean-Michel; The Future of Theory. ISBN 0-631-23013-0.

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