Being a critical reader also involves understanding that texts are always developed in a certain context. A text is neither written nor read in a vacuum; its meaning and interpretation are affected by a given set of circumstances. Thus, context is defined as the social, cultural, political, historical, and other related circumstances that surround the text and form the terms from which it can be better understood and evaluated. Knowledge of the text’s context helps in appreciating the text’s message more deeply. In discovering a reading context, you may ask questions like:
- When was the work written?
- What were the circumstances that produced it?
- What issues does it deal with?
Another important technique in analyzing the context of a text’s development is defining its intertextual link to another text. Intertextuality is the modeling of a text’s meaning by another text. It is defined as the connections between language, images, characters, themes, or subjects depending on their similarities in language, genre, or discourse. This is seen when an author borrows and transforms a prior text, or when you read one text and you reference another. This view recognizes that the text is always influenced by previous texts and in turn anticipates future texts. A text contains many layers of accumulated cultural, historical, and social knowledge, which continually adds to and affects one another. Thus, intertextuality becomes a dialogue among different texts and interpretations of the writer, the audience, and the current and earlier cultural contexts.
Take, for instance, the local legend of folk hero Bernardo Carpio. Many versions of his tale exist, but local folklore says he is a giant who is the cause of earthquake mythology. In Greek mythology, there is also Poseidon, who is the god of sea and earthquakes. Many cultures also attribute natural disasters to legendary figures. This is an example of intertextuality. Intertextuality is also seen in the story of “Tall Story” by Candy Gourlay. This is the story of a British-Filipina teenager who meets Bernardo, her long-lost half-brother. Bernardo turns out to be eight feet tall and suffers from gigantism. However, the people from his village believe he is the legendary giant who has come to save everyone from earthquakes. The inspiration of the Bernardo Carpio myth is clear in this story and creatively updated to make it more appealing to modern and foreign audiences.
Meanwhile, hypertext is a relatively new way of reading a text online. Traditionally, reading was viewed as a linear process, where you read from the beginning until the end. However, the advent of the Internet and technology has created new ways of reading and processing a text, which includes hypertext. Hypertext, therefore, is a nonlinear way of showing information. Hypertext connects topics on a screen to related information, graphics, videos, and music—information is not simply related to the text. This information appears as links and is usually accessed by clicking. The reader can jump to more information about a topic, which in turn may have more links. This opens up the reader to a wider horizon of information or to a new direction. A reader can skim through sections of a text, freely jumping from one part to another depending on what aspect of the text interests him/her. Thus, in reading with hypertext, you are given more flexibility and personalization because you get to select the order in which you read the text and focus on information that is relevant to your background and interests.
Therefore, you create your own meaning out of the material. For example, you are doing research about the Philippine eagle. A quick Google search would lead you to a Wikipedia article on it. Information on it would include a picture and a brief, written description. While reading about the Philippine eagle, you will also encounter links to its conservation status. This may lead you to more information about conservation efforts. However, if you were interested in the appearance of the Philippine eagle because you wanted to sketch it for your art class, the same page would provide its physical description and even give you links to pictures and videos of the Philippine eagle. Thus, depending on your purpose and interests, the article on the Philippine eagle could lead you to a variety of different, detailed paths.
Relevant to the above discussion is identifying assertions.