What is a text?

In lit-crit terms, please.

It’s used all over the place in modern critical theory, but is there an accepted common definition that most theorists agree on?

Wikipedia defines it as “a coherent set of symbols that transmits some kind of informative message.” How widely accepted is that definition among scholars?

Over at onelook.com is a link to ODLIS: Online Dictionary of Library and Information Science which has pages of definitions which may be applicable to your area of interest.

Pages of definitions suggest there’s no one that’s both concise and widely accepted.

The idea of texts as texts mostly comes up in postmodern philosophy, anyway - although pomo litcrit is often heavily laden with philosophical concepts.

Short answer: a text is anything that can be read.

A “text” can be an actual text or more or less anything else, including a TV broadcast, movie, comic book, album, painting, statue, advertisement, postcard, back of a cereal box, etc… Click here for more details.

Lovely snark, but he doesn’t define what he means by text.

I’m not looking for an explanation of post-structuralist critical theory. I’ve read quite a bit of it and understand it fairly well. My question is much more technical:

“Is there a current definition of ‘text’ that is widely accepted in academic circles?”

Booshwa. It’s not meant to be understood. It’s meant to separate the game-players, the chasers of tenure, constructors of castles in the air and keepers of the mystique, from the retrograde old clucks who can’t even think until they figure out what things “mean.”

That sounds pretty good to me, although I’d leave out “informative”. The message of a text is not necessarily educational or instructive, and there are forms of writing that contain information but that would not normally be considered “texts”.

In literary criticism then “texts” includes books, stories, essays, articles, plays, poems, and published letters and journal entries. It does not include something like the list of nutritional information on a cereal box, although it could include the promotional text on the back of a cereal box.

In a broader sense then a text could be any expressive work that has been recorded in some fashion, not necessarily in writing. As Wikipedia notes, in film studies then movies are considered the text. Not the movie script or the dialogue from the movie, but the entire movie including visual and aural elements. Musical recordings, television programs, paintings, sculptures, etc., could all be considered texts. However, an unrecorded live performance of a dramatic or musical work would not normally be considered a text. A text is a thing that you can come back to again and again and study, it isn’t a fleeting experience.

Yeah. And he just told you what a text is. Lamia elaborated quite nicely. I’m not quite sure what you’re getting hung up on. If it can be subjected to that type of criticism, it’s a text.

Disclaimer: I have a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in English and I’m employed in that field, and even I get lost in criticism sometimes.

The best answer I can give is that when you distill all the various theories, the “text” that is left over meets 3 guidelines:

It was created–by an author, auteur, painter, advertising consultant, etc.

It exists outside of its creation (wrapped up in the whole ‘death of the author’ thing) and outside of the experience of it (the rejection of reader-response criticism.)

It can be experienced.

That’s the best I can do.

(I can recommend a textbook called, IIRC, “Literary Criticism - A User-Friendly Guide.” That was my text in grad school, and it was infinitely easier to understand than the Norton anthology of theory and criticism that we used in college.)

Thanks, **Lamia **and BlakeTyner. The “exists independently and can be revisited” aspect you both mention is completely missing from the Wikipedia definition, and, I think, a key element.