In this second interlude, Foster returns to the argument that “there is only one story.” He imagines the reader asking what this story is about, but admits that it’s not about anything, at least in the way individual works of literature can be reduced to a subject matter or theme. Rather, it is about everything.
Asking what the “one story” is about is slightly akin to asking about the meaning of life. Because the one story encompasses all the fundamental aspects of human experience, it is impossible to summarize.
While not all writers might think of this “one story” in the way that Foster does, pretty much every author will know that it is impossible to write a completely original work of literature. (Indeed, a piece of literature with which readers had no familiarity at all would probably strike them as strange and off-putting.) On the other hand, writers need to employ a level of willful “amnesia” in order to not simply regurgitate all the literature they have already read when they write.
Critics such as Harold Bloom have pointed out that intertextuality can create anxiety in authors, as they are constantly comparing their work to that of others who have gone before them. Here, Foster suggests that “willful amnesia” is one method through which authors might overcome this anxiety.
For the first time, Foster explicitly introduces the concept of intertextuality. This was an idea invented by the Russian formalist scholar Mikhail Bakhtin, which highlights the way that all works of literature are inherently connected, like a giant network or web. Some writers (such as Mark Twain or Jack Kerouac) downplay the influence of other literature on their work, but the evidence—both within texts and in the lives of authors—tends to expose this as false posturing.
Although at its most basic level intertextuality simply refers to the connection of different texts to one another, as Foster indicates it can prove a surprisingly controversial way of thinking about literature. Authors such as Twain and Kerouac prefer a more organic notion of literature, one that emphasizes texts as the natural expression of one individual.
Foster then introduces another analytical term: archetype. An archetype is an image, gesture, figure, or idea that is repeated and modified and can be identified through pattern recognition. There is no use going back and trying to search for the “original” upon which an archetype is based, as this would be basically impossible (and not particularly useful). Similarly, there is no one story upon which all other stories are based; rather, it is better to think of the one big story as all around us, all the time.
Although Foster only introduces the terms “intertextuality” and “archetype” at this (fairly late) point, he has been discussing examples of them throughout the book. Note that by introducing them together, Foster emphasizes how they are related; after all, archetypes exist as a result of intertextuality.