The story of man alone on an island fighting to get home is an ancient tale that has been told and retold throughout history. Andy Weir’s “The Martian” is a retelling of the story of Robinson Crusoe, the teens of Flight 29 Down, the fearless crew of the SS Minnow, Gary Paulsen’s Brian Robeson, and the Odyssey, to name just a few. This intertextuality, the idea that all texts are connected and share stories, is so common today that it is nearly impossible to avoid. While we have countless examples of modern stories existing as variants of others, there may be a survival bias present. It is possible that only a few basic plots are popular enough to withstand the test of time, and as a result, we only see repetition when we look back. The success of these plots perpetuates this phenomenon as authors strive to replicate the popularity of their predecessors.
Writing is a form of autonomous discourse, standing alone against a passive audience, immutable and immune to the passage of time. Unlike in a dialogue, audience is passive and has no interaction with the narrative. The reader cannot ask the author for clarification or greater illustration; the text stands alone. Until the reactivation of Pathfinder, Watney kept logs without any expectation that they would be read in his lifetime. He relies on their autonomy to preserve his legacy and tell his story, clinging to the hope that their permanence will outlast him and one day be heard by many. When he is reconnected with Earth, his tale takes on a secondary orality by becoming the focus of innumerous television and radio shows. In an ironic twist, the loneliest man in universe became the subject of an entire world’s attention.
Writing has had enormous impacts on how we think. Compared to Plato’s time, today we put far less emphasis on the ability to purely remember, and instead focus on other aspects of intelligence, such as spatial, linguistic, mathematical, musical, and emotional. Having grown up reading extensively, I find that I am a visual learner, and can follow written ideas more easily than spoken ones. Writing has far further-reaching impacts than simply my learning style. The collective ability of humanity to store, safeguard, and share our knowledge through written word gives us access to far more intelligence than any one human could ever remember. The democratization of this technology, first through writing, and then print, and now through the Internet makes our collective science, religions, cultures, and histories virtually immortal. Additionally, this vast vault of shared knowledge drives forward progress and innovation, as new works are built on the foundations of their predecessors. In The Martian, Watney frequently references written texts to learn more about his equipment and communication methods. The durability of writing proves the existence of intertextuality, and provides us with thousands of years of stories to build upon.