Paratext – a useful concept for the analysis of digital documents?
In his study, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation , the French literature scholar Gérard Genette introduces the concept of the “paratext” to the public. Genette explains the term paratext as that “what enables a text to become a book and to be offered as such to its readers and, more generally, to the public” (Genette 1997, 1). Genette’s concept has since also been applied to other media, especially audiovisual forms, such as film and television. Film scholars are using the concept when analyzing the importance of opening scenes and credits in films , or the significance of different technologies in providing the viewer with extra material about the film. Other media scholars have applied the concept to computer games and gaming , electronic literature and digitized narratives. The process of digitization, both the digitization of former analogue media like printed books and celluloid film and digital born material, raises new questions, especially in relation to the document’s materiality. Birke & Christ argue “that as long as a text […] is available in the form of a distinct physical object like the CD-ROM and is, as such, limited in its expanse, the concept of paratext can be applied productively”, while the concept “loses its analytic value at the moment when, on the World Wide Web, context […] moves so close to the text” that paratextual elements become “difficult to isolate and identify” (2013, 80). This paper takes this argument as its point of departure to discuss the paratextual elements of different digital documents, showing that the complexity of documents not necessarily is an argument against Genette’s concept.