A literary work consists, entirely or essentially, of a text, defined (very minimally) as a more or less long sequence of verbal statements that are more or less endowed with significance. But the text is rarely presented in an unadorned state, unreinforced and unaccompanied by a certain number of verbal or other productions, such as an author’s name, a title, a preface, illustrations. And although we do not always know whether these productions are to be regarded as belonging to the text, in any case they surround it and extend it, precisely in order to present it, make present, to ensure the texts presence in the world, its “reception” and consumption in the form (nowadays, at least) of a book. These accompanying productions, which vary in extent and appearance, constitute what I have called elsewhere in the work’s paratext, keeping with the sometimes ambiguous meaning of this prefix in French.

Gerard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (1)

‘Para’ is a double antithetical prefix signifying at once proximity and distance, similarity and difference, interiority and exteriority, . . . something simultaneously this side of a boundary line, threshold, or margin, and also beyond it, equivalent in status but also secondary or subsidiary, submissive, as of guest to host, slave to master. A thing in ‘para,’ moreover, is not only simultaneously on both sides of the boundary line between inside and out. It is also the boundary itself, the screen which is a permeable membrane connecting the inside and outside. It confuses them with one another, allowing the outside in, making the inside out, dividing them and joining them.

J. Hillis Miller, “The Critic as Host” in Deconstruction and Criticism, cited by Genette ibid.

1 thought on “Paratext”

  1. Citing these without comment leaves them to stand in edifying betise – not so much the Genette, but the Miller, who mastered the art of writing that same tedious sentence, with different nouns, a long time ago.

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