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Calidad Revistas Científicas Españolas
Author / Raúl RODRÍGUEZ-FERRÁNDIZ Professor. Department of Communication & Social Psychology. University of Alicante, Spain.
Article / Paratextual Activity: Updating the Genettian approach within the transmedia turn
Contents /



Transmedia storytelling (TS) is a cultural phenomenon characteristic of the era of convergence, and consists of the systematic dispersion of substantial elements of a narrative fiction throughout different channels to promote a unified and coordinated entertainment experience through all of them. Ideally, each medium makes a distinctive, valuable and unique contribution to the development of the story (Jenkins, 2006a: 95-96). The ‘corporate’ expansion of the story encourages the most active viewers or readers to spread their interests throughout a variety of media and platforms and can also encourage them to make amateur contributions: ranging from Wikipedia articles or critical reviews to fanfic and fanvids, from homemade recaps or trailers to parodies, sequels or prequels, from v-logs about a narrative fiction to mashups that mix different narrative universes, and from cosplay to role playing and flashmobs.  

In fact, the dissemination of the story throughout different and complementary platforms is not what is characteristic of the TS of the new century. There are examples of TS that emerged way before the arrival of the Internet: The Wizard of Oz, The Lone Ranger, Batman, The Green Hornet, Star Wars, Pokémon (which has been recently revitalized by the Pokémon Go phenomenon), the narrative universes of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, Superman, Conan and many other characters from the DC and Marvel universes (Freeman, 2014; Santo, 2010, 2015; Scolari, Bertetti and Freeman, 2014). The creative contribution of fans to the fictional universe is neither exclusive of the age of convergence. In fact, this is demonstrated by two of Jenkins’ books, one published before the digital revolution and one published afterwards (Jenkins, 1992; Jenkins, 2006b).

What is characteristic of contemporary storytelling is the convergence of all these products, corporate and amateur, profic and fanfic, in a network that favours (and almost forces to) transmediality, and enables the feedback of the story in an exponential manner. The growing proliferation of corporate product tie-ins, which have very different nature, function and format, and orbit around the base story, stimulates in many cases amateur imaginative participation, and undoubtedly the enthusiast response of the community of fans motivates and orients the decisions of scriptwriters and producers in relation to the expansion and deepening of the story, enabling potentially endlessly deferred narratives (Rodríguez, Ortiz and Sáez, 2014; Rodríguez-Ferrándiz, Tur-Viñes and Mora, 2016).  

Before Jenkins popularised the term TS, other authors spoke of transmedia. In 1991, Marsha Kinder employed the term ‘transmedia intertextuality’ to refer to the relationships between television, movies and toys ‘as compatible members of the same ever-expanding supersystem of mass entertainment’ (Kinder, 1991:40). She emphasised the commercial aspect of this strategy, and remarked that an exclusively textual and narrative approximation was incomplete because it leaves out the industrial and promotional dimensions of the phenomenon. Kinder looked for theoretical support in the theory of intertextuality (or intermediality to be more precise) and was very critical of the typology proposed by Fiske (1987: 108-115) to differentiate between ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ forms of intertextuality. The first form would occur between ‘primary texts’ - television programmes, films, configured around such concepts as genre and character. The second between primary and secondary texts: ads, publicity, TV station idents, journalistic articles, and criticism.

Certainly, the new media landscape blurs the boundaries between those two types of texts and those two types of intertextuality proposed by Fiske. Another challenge today is to isolate, as Fiske did, another category of texts -the tertiary ones-, which refers to audience-generated discussions and comments about television products (Askwith, 2007: 42-43; Hills, 2013).

It is not only that a novel, a television series and a comic book can contribute to the same transmedia story. It is often the case that a final product (a primary text, as Fiske would say: a novel, a film, a TV series) and a promotional and dependent by-product (what would be a secondary text for Fiske) do not have fully defined profiles and their limits are blurred to some extent: the launching campaign of a film or a TV series, fictional websites that represent and validate institutions created in literature, cinema or television; webisodes, mobisodes and even webseries that function as prequels or sequels for a narrative fiction whose main vehicle is a series broadcast on TV, blogs and Facebook and Twitter accounts that belong to fictional characters, as well as twittersodes that are built around fictional characters in dialogue with fans, etc. They occupy this transactional space. The same happens with many autonomous creations of fans: fan fiction, fan vids, mashups contribute to different extents to the expansion or deepening of the official narrative. A collection of new ‘paratextual’ formats have blurred the limits between the narrative itself, the promotional and critical buzz around them and the creativity of fans.

The pioneering work of Gérard Genette on the different forms of intertextuality (or transtextuality, as he called it in 1989) has not been acknowledged by Fiske, Kinder nor Mittell (2015), but has been mentioned by other authors, such as Stam, Burgoyne & Flitterman-Lewis (1992: 206-209), Hansen (1999), Kernan (2004), Consalvo (2007), Gray (2010), Caldwell (2011), McCracken (2013), Geraghty (ed. 2015) and Pesce & Noto, (eds. 2016). All of them evaluate the Genettian speculation, and in particular the ‘paratext’ category as a theoretical framework capable of explaining the diachronic genesis and synchronic functionality of the fictional transmedia universes.


1. Genettian paratexts and their species: peritexts and epitexts


As we have seen, Kinder used Fiske’s conceptions and typologies in her discussion of television intertextuality. However, neither Kinder nor Fiske mentioned Genette’s work, which addressed the transtextual relations between literary texts, and also illustrated, although marginally, the transtextual relations that can simultaneously be intermedia or transmedia (between theatre and cinema or between novel and film, for example). For Genette, transtextuality is the ‘textual transcendence of the text’ or ‘all that sets the text in relationship, whether obvious or concealed, with other texts’ (1997a: 1). The term intertextuality had been used to refer to this notion (Barthes, Kristeva, Riffaterre), but Genette used intertextuality to refer to one of the five types of transtextuality he identified more restrictively and accurately.[1]

One of these five types is the paratext, a concept that probably let a profound footprint on the author, because he later dedicated a monograph, titled Seuils in its original French edition (1987) and Paratext in the North American edition (1997b).[2] The paratext is everything that introduces the text that comes into our hands. As Genette notes, a paratext is not a limit or a monitored border, but a place of passage, a lobby, which invites us to learn more, but also provides what may eventually make us reject the reading of the actual text. The paratext is an undecided space between the inside and the outside of the text, between strictly literary, rhetorical, stylistic and genre regulations, and social, economic, industrial and advertising regulations; it is a transaction area.

Genette distinguishes between what he calls the peritext (titles and subtitles, pseudonyms, forewords, dedications, epigraphs, prefaces, intertitles, notes, epilogues, and afterwords, obviously all referring to the literary text and its privileged vehicle, the book) and the epitext, which can be both public (interviews, author’s comments) and private (authorial correspondence, oral confidences, diaries, and pretexts). Genette also considers the epitexts created by the editor (ads, promotions, synopses). While the peritext is sewn to the text -the book-, the epitext is not published alongside it: it is placed in another ‘transmedia’ dimension (newspapers, magazines, radio or television programmes, lectures and colloquia, and all public performances perhaps preserved on recordings or in printed collections).

This spatial disjunction is also accompanied, as a possibility, by temporal disjunction: the epitexts may precede the text they refer to (prior paratexts: testimonies of the author about his/her ongoing publishing projects, prospectuses and announcements of forthcoming publications), may appear simultaneously to the text (original paratexts: interviews or press conferences during the launch of the text), or may appear after the text (later or delayed paratexts: second or successive editions, comments, notes, memories of the writing of a past text) (5-6).

Genette dismisses to some degree what he calls the editorial epitext (in comparison to the auteur text, whether public or private) because its advertising and promotional functions do not compromise decisively the participation of the author, who is somewhat not responsible for the exaggerations that this epitext can make about his/her text: for the French author, paratextuality ‘is characterized by an authorial intention and assumption of responsibility’ (1997b: 3). Despite his little interest on this type of epitext, in 1987 the author predicted a transmedia form of this editorial epitext that seems to prefigure what is now called book trailers or book reels: ‘Our media-oriented era will no doubt see other props exploited, and publishers’ commercials have already been heard and seen on radio and television’ (1997b: 347).

2. Paratexts and seriality


In the epilogue to his book, Genette states that due to space limitations he had to skip a detailed study of three paratextual phenomena: translation, illustrations and serial publication. The latter seems particularly significant because it has direct applications to television narratives. Undoubtedly, TV series offer in advance, even before their transmedia expansion, a great affinity with paratextuality. It is precisely seriality what guarantees, on the one hand, the possibility of complex narrative plots (Mittell, 2006) and, on the other, long-term viewer engagement, because their duration often involves years and hundreds of hours of broadcast programming, and this prolongation of the intrigue is unreachable or difficult to maintain for other means of narrative expression (Askwith, 2007; Evans, 2011). This implies establishing strategies that ensure narrative continuity between deliveries, and these strategies are in many cases paratextual, whether peritextual, epitextual, or both.

During its broadcast, a TV show’s episode often has peritexts attached to it: the opening and the closing credits, the ‘previously on’ and the preview of the next episode, which serve as analepsis and prolepsis (Genette, 1980: 48-79) in serials, as well as the post-credit scenes (the tag scenes or blooper reels with which sit-coms sometimes end). Those peritexts are not –and cannot be- transmedia, since they are next to the text itself: they share the same textual vehicle. However, they can become independent to some extent and travel in different vehicles: YouTube and in general the internet may contain those peritexts as sections split up from the text to which they were attached to, i.e. as epitexts.

Many of them constitute a free-standing audiovisual format, which may be the object of contests and awards and may be recognised as such by fans, as it has happened with the opening credits of Six Feet Under (HBO, 1999-2005), Dexter (Showtime, 2006-2013), Mad Men (AMC, 2007-2015) and True Blood (HBO, 2008-2014), among others. Some of them are broadcast in advance of the premiere of the series itself, as it happened with the opening credits of American Horror Story (FX, 2011-), which generated a great deal of online discussion about the generic identity of the show.

The opposite phenomenon also occurs: the DVD editions collect disjoint materials of different kinds that have been circulated as epitexts but become peritexts: cast & crew interviews, mini-documentaries that serve as historical or biographical entryways, Easter eggs or bonus materials (restored scenes, production stills, behind-the-scenes, blooper reels, etc.). In contrast to the materials that are strictly scheduled to be delivered at the time of the premiere (to maximise the promotional effect of both peritexts and the core text), the DVD compilation puts content and promotional material (i.e. the text with its accompanying epitexts, formerly peritexts) together in the same container.

In fact, once the critical time surrounding the premiere has passed, the internet functions as a repository where all the textual and paratextual materials that revolve around a narrative fiction[3] are collected and delivered on demand, whether free of charge or not.


3. Paratextuality updated


Genette stated that ‘defining a paratextual element consists of determining its location (the question where?); the date of its appearance and, if need be, its disappearance (when); its mode of existence, verbal or other (how?); the characteristics of its situation of communication –its sender and addressee (from whom? to whom?); and the functions that its message aims to fulfill (to do what?)’ (1997: 4).

Genette’s basic typology responds to the first question (where?: peritexts/epitexts), but addresses the other questions less systematically, approaching them with particular case studies that do not result in the formulation of typologies, maybe because they were formulated at a time in which they were premature. This time was prior to the period that we have termed the ‘transmedia turn’ (Rodríguez-Ferrándiz, 2014). A turn that pertains to the narrative imagination of scriptwriters, directors, producers and users, as well as to the methods of analysis of media researchers and narratologists. We are going to deal with these questions whose answers were prospective back then, recurring to authors who have recently revisited Genettian theory and have modulated or corrected its reach and explicative potential.


3.1 The question when?


Precisely with the implicit purpose of extending Genette’s speculations from the literary field to film and television texts, Jonathan Gray (2010) has offered an aggiornamento of the term ‘paratext’. For him, the specific film or television text is a small portion of a large textual universe that surrounds it: previews, teasers, trailers, sneak peaks, promos, interviews with creators, online discussion forums, entertainment news, reviews, podcasts, merchandising, guerrilla marketing campaigns, bonus materials, spoilers, fan creations, posters, videogames, alternate reality games, DVDs and CDs with the show’s soundtrack, prequels and sequels. Today, both film and television studies cannot be understood by making abstraction of these paratextual proliferations, because they can largely determine the meaning of film or television series (2010: 22).

Gray’s paratextuality certainly extends the boundaries of the original paratextuality proposed by Genette, which was limited by the other transtextual types and their mostly autographic condition (i.e. the author of the paratexts had to be the author of the text or at least someone authorised by the author of the text: the editor, the prolog writer or an interviewer, for example). Gray’s conception, for example, includes texts that Genette would have qualified as metatextual (critical comments, guest reviews), and texts that Fiske would have classified as secondary, along with advertising and promotional material. Moreover, Gray’s conception also includes contributions from fans, which are not considered by Genette and which would have been classified as tertiary texts by Fiske.

As mentioned, Genette established a basic spatial typology (peritexts vs. epitexts). Gray, on the other hand, proposes a temporal typology: 1) entryway paratexts, which are those texts that grab the viewers’ attention before they reach the text and try to control viewers’ entrance to the text, and 2) in medias res paratexts, which are those texts that flow between the gaps of textual reading or exhibition––between novels in a series, episodes in a television program, etc.––, whether websites, merchandise, or any other contextual material, and guide our ‘re-entry’ into the text, or come to us during viewing, working to police certain reading strategies in medias res (2010: 23).

A series that we have examined in detail in a previous study (Rodríguez-Ferrándiz, 2012) perfectly illustrates Gray’s temporal categories. The promotional campaign of True Blood (HBO, 2008-2014), which included the delivery of anonymous letters to influential bloggers six months before the premiere, the airing of a mockumentary about vampires three months before (In Focus: Shedding Light on Vampires in America), the launch of a comic book (True Blood: The Great Revelation)  two months before, and the airing of two documentaries the day before the premiere (True Bloodlines: Vampire Legends and True Bloodlines: A New Type), was entirely built upon entryway (Gray) epitexts (Genette).

After the series was premiered, two simulation websites (American Vampires League and Fellowship of the Sun), the blog of a fictional young newly-turned vampire (Babyvamp.Jessica) and a tourist website promoting the fictional town of Bon Temps (Welcome to Bon Temps) were launched. Viewers’ interest was maintained during the season breaks through minisodes (‘A Drop of True Blood’) and short videos that revealed the hidden faces of the truebloodian world. In addition, since 2010 the TV series bridged each season break with a comic book series (True Blood, San Diego: IDW).Through this ‘in medias res’ transmedia epitext, viewers receive additional information about the characters’ personality, which can help them understand certain aspects of the characters’ behaviour within the series.

In a recent work, Gray suggests a third type of paratexts, those materials that are likely produced and attained more often after watching the film or the television show itself: interviews and reviews that regularly address themselves to an audience that is presumed to have seen the movie or the TV show already, fan productions and commentary that similarly hail connoisseur audiences, or spinoff and collectible merchandise marketed at past viewers, not at would-be viewers (2016: 34). The author does not put them in a separate category, but we have decided to call these paratexts launched after the premiere of a film or television show memorabilia paratexts, in the sense that they either acquire certain elegiac character, of homage or goodbye of fans and even the producers themselves, or serve as memories from a favourite show and as a public demonstration of support and loyalty to the franchise.

 Gray’s book sheds light on the timing of paratextual strategies around serialized products (such as TV series and film sagas). However, from a general point of view, he also calls for an appreciation of the para, a prefix that suggests what is parallel and attached, and evokes, contemptuously, what is subsidiary, auxiliary, clandestine, unregulated, and even usurping. Now the paratext receives a flattering new light because the internet is the paratext paradise: everything is together in some way, everything has its surroundings, and we just have to find out how many clicks separate us from them, and how much, if any, do we have to pay to get access to them and, last but not least, which product will be the text and which one will be the paratext for each visitor, and even for each visit. Paratextuality is not an abnormal or paranormal, but a very normal activity.


3.2 The question to do what?


Theoretically, each medium involved in a TS must make a connection with a text that offers something new, narratively speaking, so that its contribution simultaneously enriches and widens the narrative as a whole. ‘What is emphasised by Jenkins’s concept of transmedia storytelling is not so much the question of how a story is translated into another medium (adaptation) or how a medium refashions another medium (remediation), but the possibility of expanding the scope and meaning of a narrative by using a range of different media. Several different media are used because certain media can explore certain facts better than others. […] While each media needs to be self-contained in order to allow individual consumption, reading across the various media platforms used provides a type of experience that encourages and motivates more consumption’ (Straumann, 2015: 256-257). The literature on TS debates whether Jenkins’ concept applies better to the construction of the narrative itself and rather to the furnishing of the fictional worlds, the rightly called transmedia worlds (Klastrup and Tosca, 2004, Tosca and Klastrup, 2014). In other words, crafting a transmedia narrative is about crafting the story or about crafting the world in which this story exists (Long, 2007: 60). It has also been debated whether the term should only be applied to texts that are transmedia from birth (native transmedia), extended to be transmedial after initial success or regarded as transmedia post factum in the cultural memory (Saldre and Torop, 2012).

In any case, as Pearson (in Bolin, 2011: 100) has pointed out, a complicated task is to distinguish between those paratextual features that directly contribute to narrative progression (undoubtedly qualified for being components in transmedia storytelling) and those paratextual features that points to the work, but contribute nothing or very little to the narrative progression within it (although they contribute to the production of meaning in reception, for example by anchoring generic expectations). In other words, it seems that the concept of paratext, at least in Gray’s work, is wider than Jenkins’s concept of transmedia storytelling. In order to conciliate both perspectives, the notion of paratextual orientation formulated by Jason Mittell can be inspiring and act as a bridge between the strictly narrative and hype, promotional paratextuality.

Mittell reflects on the concept of paratext applied to fiction television series (2013: 165-181; 2015: 261-291). For him, ‘in the digital era, a television program is suffused within and constituted by an intertextual web that pushes textual boundaries outward, blurring the experiential borders between watching a program and engaging with its paratexts’ (2015: 7). The complexity of contemporary television narratives is largely due to the overflow of the television text across other platforms. This, undoubtedly, challenges ‘the ease with which casual viewers might make sense of a program, inviting temporary disorientation and confusion’ (2015: 261). As Mittell points out, in order to prevent this effect, there are orienting paratexts, which belong to a third category that is next to the transmedia paratexts (which are the narrative extensions described by Jenkins and Mittell himself (2015: 292-318) and the promotional paratexts, the coming soon formats that aim to hype, promote, or introduce a program (Gray, 2010: 47-79). Orienting paratexts aim ‘to create a layer atop the program to help figure out how the pieces fit together or to propose alternative ways of seeing the story’ (261-262).

It could be argued that transmedia (storytelling) paratexts underpin the story, and ultimately merge with it. Promotional paratexts, for their part, prescribe the story, on behalf of the TV production company or network, which explicitly communicates with its target audience. Meanwhile, orienting paratexts occupy an intermediary and instrumental position.  

Orienting paratexts ‘reside outside the diegetic storyworld, providing a perspective for viewers to help make sense of a narrative world by looking at it from a distance’ (ibid.). Their role is to intervene in four basic storytelling facets that might require orientation: time, events, characters, and space. Mittell includes in this category wikis, guides, timelines, mapping chronologies, graphics, family trees, recaps -which summarize narrative material in a straightforward manner-, split-screen synchronizing, and even reedited versions of the series in chronological order.

This category of texts also includes analyses and expansions that look outward to connect the series with other textual, intertextual or extratextual realms beyond the core program. In other words, on the one hand, there are figures and even synoptic schemes about the transmedia paratextual universe around the text: the network of associated products that compose the intertextual matrix of the franchise. On the other hand, there is a connection of the series with another fictional series or texts or aspects of the real world, intertextually interwoven with the mothership. In the case of Lost, for instance, Lostpedia provides information about videogames (Lost: Via Domus), ARG (The Lost Experience, Find 815), (Lost: Missing Pieces), novels (Gary Troup, Bad Twin), websites (Oceanic Airlines, Dharma Initiative, Janelle Granger Dairy…), podcasts, among other materials, that have emerged around the series. In addition, Lostpedia highlights the intertextual references of the series: the novels read by some of the characters, from Dostoievsky, Joyce, Nabokov and Bioy Casares to Steinbeck, Agatha Christie and Stephen King; the biographies of the philosophers and scientists after whom some characters are named (Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Bakhunin, Faraday) and their connexion with the characters’ personality and role; and the cultural matrixes referenced by the series: novels about shipwreck survivors in an apparently desert island (Defoe, Verne, H.G. Wells, William Golding…); films and series about that same subject, whether original or adaptations, techno-scientific conspiracy theories, supernatural or mystical explanations of the events, etc.

Both, the network and fans themselves offer these compasses to correctly navigate in a transmedia narrative universe. This produces a very interesting tension between the official canon and the fanon (fan-produced content), between the actual story and the theoretical, parodic and promotional meta-discourse. The mapping consists of faithfully describing the territory, but the temptation to increase it (to expand the territory or to fill it with new information), magnify it (with advertising) or even falsify it, is very strong.

As we can notice, the boundaries between the three types of paratexts are very fuzzy. Orienting paratexts can become creative and narrative acts of major importance by themselves, as it has happened with fan-made videos that are produced with footage from Lost, The Sopranos or Dexter, and are true hermeneutic exercises on dark or ambiguous aspects of the plot. Moreover, many wikis (such as Lostpedia, for example) do not only summarize and/or order what we have watched, but also present plot alternatives or hypothetical pairings between characters who do not have such relationship in the canonical story. All of this blurs the boundaries between fan creativity and fan documentation (Mittell: 277-279).

On the other hand, the most overtly promotional epitexts also form and feed our expectations, and guide the viewer. The promos and sneak peaks of TV series serve as anticipators of the plot and characters that will be offered in the episode. Movies’ teasers and trailers, as mentioned by Kernan (2004) and Gray (2010: ¿???)) are advertising paratexts that serve as clues about the film’s genre, cast and crew, and raise expectations about relations between characters, locations and scenes. However, TV series, as the ones previously mentioned, also have peritexts that are adhered to the episode they open or close: the opening and the closing credits, the ‘previously on’ and the preview of the next episode, the post-credit or tag scenes.

Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011-) provides a relevant example of a combination of guiding and promotional peritexts: its title (and credits) sequence offers clues about the episode that we are about to see. The bird’s eye view over the 3D map of the fictional world moves and focuses closely on five or six locations, in Westeros and Essos. The computer-illusion camera swoops from kingdom to kingdom, focusing on the family crest that sits atop each place. The model of the place emerges out of the floor of the map and comes to life. However, some of the locations are fixed (King’s Landing, Winterfell, The Wall) while some change in every episode depending on their particular plot (The Eyrie, The Twins, Harrenhal, Pentos, Qarth, Astapor…). As the map is constantly evolving, attentive viewers can anticipate on which cities and, thus, on what characters and new scenarios will the episode focus.

In this way, and without the need to present a trailer with actual footage that summarises the episode, these paratexts act as a type of visual index of the plots. A new functionality is given to the opening credits, which are usually identical from episode to episode in the series; they are turned into variant titles sequences that combine fixed material with unpredictable elements that both encourage and orient narrative expectations, without abandoning their important role as promotional material, with extraordinarily attractive and suggestive motives (i. e. the main theme of the series). They are paratextual features of prestige, the visual equivalent of the hardback binding of a book, denoting quality, seriousness of intent and the buyer’s willingness to pay more. But at the same time, are clues that guide the viewer and inspiring forms of bottom-up remixing that often reformulate the narrative priorities of the series. On the other hand, those mixed peritexts are complemented by orienting epitexts, as part of a complex and coordinated paratextual apparatus: HBO website provides an interactive map charting out each episode’s events and linking the map to characters and their genealogies.

An interesting case that mixes the promotional and transmedia (narrative) functionalities of paratexts is provided by the aforementioned True Blood TV series: the campaigns launched by Campfire -a marketing agency formed, in part, by members of the team that pioneered ‘dispersed’ storytelling with The Blair Witch Project (2001)- in classic advertising formats (TV ads and outdoor advertising) did not mention the TV series or the network, but products and services within the fictional universe, targeting the vampire niche market: from fictional products (the Tru Blood drink, which was later actually manufactured and sold like a cola drink: diegetic marketing, C. Johnson 2007: 15-16) to real products and brands that were advertised with content tailored to the ethos and pathos of the vampires.

Finally, each of the transmedia paratexts that are properly narrative and are sold as ‘content’ can be considered implicit cross-promotion of all others. And in turn, the apparently ‘non-textual’ merchandising becomes (para)textualized. For example, action figures are not only objects, but also the instrument used by children to build narratives in their games, while the powerfully narrative transmedia texts do not only become part of inevitable intertextual networks, but also of the cross-promotion networks created between them.


3.3 The question how?


Genette focused his work on literature (mainly Balzac, Stendhal, Victor Hugo, Flaubert, Proust) and mostly written (monomedia) paratexts, in an era prior to the digital networks. There have been important attempts to transfer his theory to different, non-written, textual substances in both monomedia and trans-media relations. The pioneers were Stam, Burgoyne & Flitterman-Lewis (1992) and Hansen (1999) and their employment in film semiotics and television studies, respectively. Consalvo (2007) and Stewart (2010) applied the Genettian paratextuality to video-games and multimodal interactive fiction, respectively. Jonathan Gray, on the other hand, analyzed some dimensions of the paratextual constellation around film and television productions (the DVDs of The Lord of the Rings saga, the promotion campaign for Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, the ‘fan spoilers’ for Lost, and the opening credits of The Simpsons and The Sopranos) and even off-screen paratexts, like the toys and games created around Star Wars (2010).   


This mixture of peritextuality and epitextuality allows to extraordinarily enhance our reading experience: the text can be enriched with definitions and origins of words as one reads, we can access the ‘popular highlighting’, i.e., the praiseworthy quotations of the online community of readers, we can adjust the font-size, the brightness and the contrast, and we can choose between landscape and portrait reading modes, we can search for words of phrases included in the text, and even listen to the text audio, we can write notes over certain words or fragments and retrieve them at will, together or individually, next to the verbal context that inspired them.

Moreover, from any point of the book that we are reading we can access our e-library and open a different book, which by default will open in the last read page. We can order our library into sections, by authors, genres, language, or whatever variable we choose. The device guarantees absolute contiguity in all of those volumes: each book or document in our library has as paratexts the rest of books and documents, linked according to our interests as readers.

That is why McCracken prefers to replace the peritext/epitext dichotomy with the centrifuge vector (which takes us out of the text) or centripetal vector (which modifies our reading experience of the text strictly speaking, altering its physical appearance, delving into it or facilitating navigation inside of it) of the paratexts of e-literature. In other words, the fluidity and malleability of the digital medium forces us to modify the question with which we approach this phenomenon, from ‘where is the paratext?’ (it is almost always inside the device and the web to which it is connected, just some clicks away from the text) to ‘where does it takes us?’, i.e., ‘how does the paratext operate on the reading experience of the text’.


Moreover, a new mode of paratextuality is insinuated now: the home screen and screen savers of the ‘Kindle with Special Offers’ (which is sold for a reduced price) incorporate ads and banners of products that integrate more than text and are related, in another way, with the specific reading material in front of us. As McCracken points out (116):


A reader of popular romance novels (or even Flaubert’s Madame Bovary) on the Kindle, for example, might align the personal fantasies she engages in while reading a novel with the tropes of ideal womanhood in the ads for Olay Regenerist Serum, which promises eternal youth. Kindle ads for discounted women’s swimwear, luxury hotels upgrades, and expensive cars will interact with the text being read.


If we go from reading books on a Kindle to an iPad, then a new paratextual universe (transmedial, in this case) appears in front of us: the enhanced e-book, digi-book, o Vook (video-book), of which there is a growing catalogue available in iBooks. These electronic texts allow readers to quickly link to an embedded video clip, Wikipedia excerpt, map, street view, photograph, illustration, and easily return to the text with a click. Some enhanced e-books include author’s research photos, deleted scenes from manuscripts and even video clips of film or TV adaptations: we can travel with a single click to a whole continent that was hitherto only available in an epitextual manner, after tiresome and even expensive searches. A whole continent of handwritten and stylized paratexts at our disposal.

In this way, Hachette-Penguin released an enhanced e-book of Ken Folett’s Pillars of the Earth, which includes video clips from the current TV series. However, this enhanced e-book does not fit only for publishing news. In 2011 Penguin launched an enhanced version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. The front cover displays a link to the text and several categories of additional material: photos, audio of Kerouac reading, his essays on the Beat Generation, maps and sketches of his late 1940’ trip across U.S and Mexico, textual comparisons between the scroll and the first edition, brief biographies of the members of the Beat Generation, etc. For its part, the vook The Sherlock Holmes Experience augments two Sherlock Holmes stories with video clips and other bonus materials, altering the textuality of Conan Doyle by introducing sections (paratextual marks) that are not included in the printed versions of the original stories.

It is obvious that all these new dimensions of paratextuality go beyond Genette’s predictions, but are not radically incompatible with the functionality that he granted to paratexts: ‘a kind of canal lock between the ideal and relatively immutable identity of the text and the empirical (sociohistorical) reality of the text’s public […] the lock permitting the two to remain ‘level’’ (1997b: 408).

For McCracken, in short, ‘an expanded model of the Genette’s groundbreaking theory of paratexts offers one key optic through which to categorize and understand the new exterior and interior pathways offered on portable e-reading devices’ (2013: 120).


3.4 The question from whom?


With regards to the question ‘from whom, to whom?’, it is obvious that Genette was interested in the responses to a notion of strong authorship and passive reception: the first part of the question only had, in his view, two possible answers, the author and the publisher (acting as the delegate of the author: ‘the correctness of the authorial (and secondarily, of the publisher's) point of view is the implicit creed and spontaneous ideology of the paratext’ (408). The second part also had two possible answers: public or private paratexts, depending on whether the paratexts constitute public communications (although with potentially different reach: the general public, the effective readers of the book, the critics, the distributors or the retailers) or private communications (intimate diaries, letters, private notes). Genette never conceived the possibility that there would be a reversal of roles: paratextually active publics, and authors and editors turned into receptors (and maybe beneficiaries) of the amateur production.

Great part of the theorization on TS, starting with Jenkins’ formulation, has turned precisely towards the benefits of fan productivity, while the most critical authors wondered whether the very digital media that have been hailed as blurring lines between producers and consumers and creating a more participatory culture instead reinforce cultural hierarchies. This is what Roberta Pearson calls the Jekyll and Hyde of TS (2008).

In the opinion of John T. Caldwell (2011: 175-194), paratextual agency has been simplistically divided into two types: corporative or official and amateur or fan-made, i.e., between a ‘top-down’ corporate ephemera on the one hand (authorised by the industry) and the ‘bottom-up’ user generated content (UGC) on the other. However, a third instance deserves to be taken into account: a worker generated content (WGC), i.e., ‘professional labour work worlds that operate in the shadow of both the multimedia conglomerates and the celebratory, ostensibly unruly fans’ (183).

According to Caldwell, the corporate paratextual production includes branding promos, marketing tapes, making-ofs, electronic press kits, franchise cross-promotions, DVD bonus tracks, authorized online sites, soundtracks, legal downloads, ancillary merchandise and box-set extras. On the other hand, the professional production on the margins of the industry (termed ‘insider textual poaching’) is manifested through formats such as demo-tapes, comp reels, trade stories, how-to panels, technical retreats, collective craft rituals, worker websites, spoilers from crews, leaks from assistants, unauthorised blogs, etc.[4]

For Caldwell, ‘media corporations now obsessively cultivate, solicit and welcome fan paratextual production’ and thus ‘bran themselves by creating psychological relations with fans via viral marketing, multiple platforms, ancillary content and fan-produced media’. Workers consider fans as intruders: they share production and aesthetics competencies with commercial film/TV workers, but work for free.

WGC in some way denounces the new gift economy of fan-studios, and serves to defend the profession. While Jenkins, in Caldwell’s words, ‘has operated on the implicitly ‘sunny side’ (the enabling public side) of the industry-audience interface’, Caldwell has focused on the ‘dark side’: the industry’s subterranean cultural activities, forms of ‘unauthorized’ agency and cultural hijacking in which producers and workers themselves ‘poach, filk, spoil, mash up videos and circulate them off screen in social gatherings –as unauthorized individuals and as small craft groups or associations struggling to survive in the industry’ (183).


3.5 Diagramming paratextuality


The following table summarizes the main differences (and complementarities) that exist among Genette, Gray, McCracken, Caldwell and Mittell’s field of application of paratextuality, typologies, usual formats, criteria and requirements in relation to texts and paratexts of identical authorship (Table 1).





Usual Formats



Genette (1987)



Titles, subtitles, pseudonyms, forewords, dedications, epigraphs, prefaces, intertitles, notes, epilogues, afterwords

Spatial (attached to or disentangled from the text)



Interviews, author’s comments, authorial correspondence, oral confidences, diaries, pretexts (author)

Ads, promotions, synopses (editor)

Gray (2010-2016)

Cinema &



Previews, promos, teasers, trailers, sneak peaks, posters

Temporal (before the launch, during the exhibition or after it)



-          In medias res

Mobisodes, webisodes, minisodes, ARG, videogames, comic books, novels, soundtrack


Interviews and reviews after the finale, fan productions and commentary for connoisseur audiences, spinoff and collectible merchandise





Editor’s suggestions, home screen and screen savers with ads, Wikipedia entries, YouTube links.

Mode (Outward, Inward the text)



Popular highlighting, font-size, brightness and contrast adjustment, landscape or portrait format, rating, comments.

Embedded videos



Cinema &



Branding promos, marketing tapes, making-ofs, electronic press kits, franchise cross-promotions, DVD bonus tracks, authorised online sites, soundtracks, legal downloads, ancillary merchandise, box-set extras


(official, professional unofficial, amateur)



Demo-tapes, comp reels, trade stories, how-to panels, technical retreats, collective craft rituals, worker websites, spoilers from crews, leaks from assistants, unauthorised blogs.


Photos and music slideshows, fan-vids, songvids, v-logs, fan remixes, mashups, fan fiction

Mittell (2015)



Tie-in novels, tie-in videogames, tie-in websites,  ARG, collectible merchandises as diegetic extensions

Functional (storytelling, mapping or hype)



Wikis, guides, timelines, mapping chronologies, graphics, family trees, recaps, split-screen synchronizing, reedited versions of the series in chronological order

Intertextual matrix of the franchise


Previews, promos, teasers, trailers, sneak peaks, posters

Table 1. Comparison of Genette, Gray, McCracken, Caldwell and Mittell’s paratextuality theories.

* Author’s terms



4. Conclusions


The products orbiting around a cinematographic or television mothership demand attention over their role in the narrative construction. This role is not merely peripheral or ancillary (Gray, 2010). Neither the temporal limitation derived from its qualification as ephemeral (Uricchio, 2011) nor the spatial limitation suggested by interstitial (Ellis, 2011) seem to fit their current functionality. The term paratext, taken from literary theory, in contrast, suggests an interesting coalescence between the centre and periphery of the story, between a transition zone and a transaction space. Paratextuality is not new at all; it is a well-known dimension of textuality. Each text inevitably becomes part of intertextual networks, whose modalities precisely include ‘to be next to’, ‘to accompany’, ‘to present’ ‘to recommend and monitor’ the text itself.

However, it is necessary to extrapolate the fertile notion of Genette beyond its original field. It can be adjusted to a transmedia, malleable textuality, to narrative worlds that do not fit within the limits of a single medium, unable to contain them. These worlds are managed by media conglomerates that want to maximize the cross-production and viral-dissemination strategies they generate. These worlds are re-created, post-produced and re-circulated by communities of users and workers (professionals in the periphery of the industry) who intervene in their expansion and deepening and demand their acknowledgement and visibility as co-authors in this paratextuality. To achieve this, several operations of adjustment have been needed:

First, to emphasize the temporal dimension of paratextuality, which was originally a mainly spatial concept, in particular when applied to serial narratives, that are delivered in parts over time and ration out their texts as well as their paratexts.

Second, to relax the Genettian demand for a paratextuality whose authorship was the same as the text’s (or in its absence, the authorship of the editor, authorized by the author). In other words, to conceive a re-authored paratextuality, not only by the author and/or editor, who limit the canon, but also by the community of users and fans, and even anti-fans (Gray, 2003).

Third, it is necessary to conceive the possible functionalities of the paratexts (promotional, guiding and narrative) not as exclusionary but as phenomena that are updated in all the paratexts in varying degrees.

  1. Fourth, to emphasize the polemic dimension (in contrast to the celebratory or promotional dimension derived from many studies) of the paratexts, manifested itself in the contest between corporative, fandom, and almost-professional contributions (Caldwell, 2011), as well as to verify that none of the products or formats is exclusive of a certain type of sender. There is an incessant promiscuity and transvestism that creates confusion about authorship: different paratextual producers can appropriate-legally or illegally- not only textual materials, but also paratextual ‘frameworks’ that are more typical of another author profil, as part of a great volatility that is not free from conflict.     

Fifth, and lastly, to watch over the paratexts, to take care of them (and not only ‘to watch out’, as Genette said), not only as essential pieces in the construction and circulation of the social sense of the texts, but motivated by their physical conservation, their archival and classification. Like the television scholars prior to the emergence of the VCR suffered from the anguish provoked by the irreparable loss of the emissions from the flow of the Hertzian waves, today there is a paratextuality, both digital and analogue, that runs the risk of vanishing, when it undoubtedly has contributed to the construction of the meaning of the texts we enjoy. As Gray has pointed out, ‘paratexts matter’.





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[1] Intertextuality (in a narrow sense), paratextuality, metatextuality, hypertextuality and architextuality. Cf. Genette, 1997a.

[2] Scholars of the vast work of Genette speak of a ‘transtextual trilogy’: Introduction a l’architext (1979), Palimpsests (1982) and Seuils (1987). He dedicated the third volume of the trilogy precisely to one special kind of transtextuality, the paratextuality. We should also mention a fourth partial revision of the transtextual theory, which can be found in L’œuvre d’art: immanence et transcendance (1994, English edition, 1997c). Cfr. Re, 2016: 60-74.


[3] As Federico Pellizzi points out (2006: 5): ‘The distinction made by Genette between text and paratext […] becomes problematic in the digital world: in digital textuality paratext […] is enhanced by devices which connect portions of text to possible actions. They are, therefore, elements that do not merely have the function of presenting the text, as Genette’s paratext does, they also serve to make it work. This is a characteristic that only digital textuality really possesses: even in this aspect each connection is not purely metaphorical, but is operational. Digital text is materially linked to the frames that surround it, and the frames are themselves interconnected, and each part is linked to the available functions’.

[4] As our previous studies on official and fan TV productions have proved, amateur production includes photos and music slideshows, fan-vids, songvids, v-logs, fan remixes, mashups, and it is possible to establish distinctions between official paratextual productions (of the TV network or the production company) and the non-official professional productions (created by small video o TV production companies, the actors, the technical staff, advertisers with products placed in the series, etc.) (Rodríguez-Ferrándiz, Tur-Viñes and Mora, 2016).


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