by Honglan Huang
In the narrative preceding the marbled page in Tristram Shandy, continuing the discussion on noses, the narrator suddenly warns the female reader to keep her fancy away from obscenity and introduces an intertextual reference to Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel. While the narrator attempts to rein the female reader back from reading further into the seemingly chaste surface of the text, he whips and urges his male reader to enter into the intertextual world outside the text. At the command of “Read, read, read, read” (3.36.180), the narrator makes it clear that the reader has to read beyond what is within the text so as to make the text itself legible. If the reading of a text necessarily leads to reading what is not in the text, where does the reading of a text begin and end?
The marbled page appears immediately afterwards on the facing page, transforming itself from an element of paratext to that of the text and expanding what is outside the text from consisting solely of the less tangible intertexts to something more material. A text is therefore not only porous to other texts, but also to its very own material constituent. If according to Gérard Genette the function of a paratext is to provide a variable setting for the text that remains unchanged, Sterne’s performance with the marbled page is therefore radical. It is not a simple disruption of the boundary between the text and the paratext, but rather a challenge to Genette’s concept of the abstracted text as something more stable than its material form.
If the text itself is not so constant after all, how shall we think about the relationship between texts, and what is then able to bind a text together despite all the contingencies? In one of my dissertation chapters, I would like to propose a new way to think about the relationship between text and what is outside the text. If Genette proposes to think about intertextuality and paratextuality through the architectural metaphor, it is perhaps time to turn to the theatrical metaphor, through which we are able to see the text as a stage composed of bodies, objects, light and backdrops, with motion binding everything together and revealing the play’s true shape.
Centuries apart, Komagata Katsumi’s experimental picture book Blue to Blue responds to these questions in a more visual form. Komagata’s practice of creating images through means other than illustration and letting qualities of paper itself signify aspects of the narrative introduces paper-cutting as his main form of writing. Some of the paper used in Blue to Blue also appear as endpapers in art books. Without cutting, the book would look no different from a paper sampler. More importantly, cutting dramatizes the text porousness to the outside, trimming the pages into a multi-layered stage, conjuring up shadows that assume different shapes depending on the light in the reader’s space, and creating die-cuts that allow the paper to bend and twist at the reader’s hands. The beginnings and ends of the text are therefore always in motion.
Honglan Huang is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at Yale University. She is especially interested in picturebooks, puppets, and other animatable beings.
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by Honglan Huang