Structuralism and post-structuralism in opposite sense
Structuralists look for specific conditions under which meaning becomes apparent
Post-structuralists say meaning is nonexistent
Takes the ideas of the arbitrary, relational and constitutive nature of linguistic signification and
pushes it to the extreme level
Suggests that considering full implications about the nature and functioning of linguistic signs
has radical consequences – it completely changes how we have been used to thinking about
ourselves and our world, our value systems
The biggest thinker and big name you all should know: Jacques Derrida, French philosopher
His big ideas
Our thoughts and perceptions of reality work by a process that is very similar to the
process by which language functions.
The process of exclusion through which linguistic signs work (the “relational”) is
also fundamental to our consciousness; it is the process of cognition, of how we
think and gain “knowledge.”
This relationality and process of exclusion, Derrida terms “différance”: a process
of deferment in time and difference in space.
“Ideas and things are like signs in language, there are no identities, only
Basic human instinct is to categorize, differentiate
Sanity depends on being able to categorize things correctly
Impact of “différance” Linguistic signifiers are differentially/relationally related to signifieds but the
signifieds themselves (the dog/hut/horse) are in turn, themselves differential.
“Reference inhabits reality and makes it possible”
Each presence bears the trace of its others.
There is no Absolute Presence: identities are referential, relational
There is no “transcendental signified”: no idea/value/phenomenon exists outside of this
process of signification through difference that you can apprehend instantaneously and
Breaks down differences between “real” and “signification” or “reality” and “textuality”
Thus, when Derrida says, “All reality is textual” he means that “the structure of difference
in reality resembles signification.”
What this means for ideas of “Self”
We are not really in control of linguistic systems (they constitute us).
Disrupts the very notion of reason, or the idea of the human being as an independent
entity, ‘dissolved’ or ‘constructed subject’ individual – a product of social or linguistic
forces, not an essence at all, merely a tissue of textualities
What this means for idea of stable text
No absolute, stable meaning. If author is center of textual authority, then author is dead.
Text something that is produced by the reader – death of the author. Free play of
meanings, undermining of textual authority, identifying and dismantling sources of textual
Post-structuralism in critical practice: Deconstruction
Approach the text to question or challenge it If you fight against a given meaning, you find weird exceptions to the meaning
We ignore these things normally, we’ve been trained to stick with the obvious meaning
In this theory, follow oddities through to new meanings
Derrida’s “différance”: a process of deferment in time and difference in space
The nature of absolute presence or absolute identity subverted
The important aspect of this that Post-structuralists latch on to in their practice as critics
Each presence bears the trace of its others.
Post-structuralist approach to a text: Texts are not stable entities with coherent meanings.
Instead the texts are fundamentally self-contradictory and unstable.
Terry Eagleton’s definition: Deconstruction = reading the text against itself; “teasing out the
warring forces of signification within the text” so as to “make the text betray itself.”
Usually, when we “interpret” a text – we talk about how various elements such as imagery,
setting, foreshadowing, symbols all contribute to a particular theme or message or idea in a text.
Thus, we consider the text as a unification of all these different factors that interact and
harmonize with each other to convey the message of the text. There might be different
interpretations of a text of course. But, when we write papers or offer an argument about a
particular work – eg. Huck Finn is pro- or anti- racism -- our interpretations might be subjective
but we ‘prove’ our view of the text by showing how the imagery, symbol, dialogue, plot etc. all
contribute that view. Thus, even with different interpretations, what we do, in practical terms is,
to treat a literary work as a harmonious whole.
Post-structuralism and deconstruction teach us to be suspicious of such ideas about wholeness,
harmony, and clear/unproblematic ‘messages.’
Instead, they would treat the text as “full of gaps, breaks, fissures and discontinuities”. It could be (1) Saying something quite different from what it appears to be saying, or (2) saying
fundamentally contradictory things simultaneously, so that instead of “univocal” meanings,
multiplicities of meaning.
Thus, for you as a textual critic, using deconstruction strategies would mean you would show
that a particular text is “at war with itself,” often saying something very different from what it
seems or wants to say. And/or, you would show that instead of having a clear and unified
meaning, it has a plurality of significances which are often at odds with each other.
The point at which the text reveals its inconsistency or contradicts itself is termed aporia.
Deconstruction is a critical strategy that reveals these gaps, breaks, fissures, disunities,
multiplicities, inconsistencies, contradictions, faultlines of a text.
So, how do you go about doing this:
(1) Of the various ‘relational’ aspects of language that Structuralists identify, for Post-
structuralists the binary opposition is most important.
--As per structuralists meaning is created through binary oppositions
--But according to Derridean differance each term bears the trace of its ‘Others’
--So binaries are never really water tight. Instead there is constant ‘contamination’ or ‘spillage’ of
‘slippage’ of meaning.
--Thus, if meaning is dependent o