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Commentaries on this Media!

Silly Elephants Dancing Without Meaning? On "Paratexts Without Texts"

by Ethan Tussey

by Jonathan Gray for IN MEDIA RES

I will never see this film. It should therefore seemingly only ever be a “paratext without a text” for me. And yet it is a text. This trailer brings me pleasure in its sheer awfulness, and creates a text that has meaning for me. Thus, as important as I think it is to study paratexts when what Barthes would call their accompanying “work” is absent, I offer this as an example of how paratextuality is inseparable from the text. If the paratext means something – anything – it is part of the text. And we can’t truly appreciate that meaning, nor paratexts’ role in the construction of meaning in general, if we see the paratext as removed from the text.

Here, I diverge from Gerard Genette, who offered us the term “paratext,” but forestalls its utility when he insists of “paratexts without texts” that, “The paratext is only an assistant, only an accessory of the text. And if the text without its paratext is sometimes like an elephant without a mahout, a power disabled, the paratext without its text is a mahout without an elephant, a silly show” (410).

This is a very bad metaphor (“C Me Metaphor”?). Most obviously, its desire for Orientalist spectacle and its devaluing of an Indian man without his elephant is cringeworthy. But it also doesn’t allow for a paratext to create the text, to be the text. C Me Dance’s trailer is definitely a silly show, but not because it needs an equally silly elephant. The trailer effectively conjures up the text, or as much of the text as I will ever need, want, or consume. It needs no accompaniment, and is far more than an “accessory” for me as viewer. In Barthes’ terms, I have no familiarity whatsoever with the work, but there most definitely is a text, constructed in total for me by this trailer. Paratexts are always already part of the text, so one simply cannot have a paratext without a text, no matter how much this ticks off the Devil.

Film Trailer and On "Paratexts Without Texts"

Trailer for C Me Dance

from C Me Dance - Official Trailer (2010)
Creator: Gravitas Ventures
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey