Even the most cursory look at different literary schools through the ages easily shows the difference a shared canon (or the absence thereof) makes in the way the process of textual creation and elaboration is played out. In the Middle Ages, for example, cultured people were expected to have a knowledge of a shared allegorical code, which then allowed a compressed, multilayered reading, such as the four levels of textual fruition (literal, moral, allegoric, and anagogic) famously detailed by Dante in the second book of his Convivio.
Stasi, M. (2006). The toy soldiers from leeds: The slash palimpsest. Fan fiction and fan communities in the age of the internet, 115-133.
In this paper, Stasi is interested in the relationships between different fanfiction works, as well as the relationship of those works to the canon they’re based on. She uses the metaphor of a palimpsest (a piece of writing material with multiple layers of writing on it, where parts of the earlier layers may still be visible) to describe slash works and fanfiction more broadly. The palimpsest for Stasi is “a nonhierarchical, rich layering of genres, more or less partially erased and resurfacing, and a rich and complex continuum of themes, techniques, voices, moods, and registers”. Being able to rely on the reader’s knowledge of the canon enables fanfiction authors to compress meaning through dense intertextual references. Stasi argues that such extreme compression of meaning is highly unusual in modern prose: “it points back to techniques more commonly used in poetry, or in genres such as folktales or mythological cycles”.
Amusingly, Stasi recounts William Blake’s attempt to create his own system of intertextual symbols and references. The result was so incomprehensible that Blake effectively became “a fandom of one”.