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Structuralism Post Structalism
Structuralism/post-structalism, 1. Origins - Structuralism is derived from linguistics and as such subscribes to an Aristotelian epistemology that believes in the discovery of reliable/concrete truths through the use of the scientific method, system, and reason. On the other hand, poststructuralism hails from philosophy and consequently is skeptical concerning the existence of absolute truth or reliable knowledge.

2. Tone and Style - Due to the scientific outlook that characterizes structuralist criticism, writing by structuralists is often detached and anonymous, whereas post-structuralist writing is much more connected to the text and is clearly the creation of the author.

3. Attitude to Language - Whereas structuralists view the world and reality as constructed through the orderly system of language, post-structuralists see a certain anxiety in the reliance on language as the path to knowledge. Because post-structuralists see meaning as fluid, they emphasize the lack of attachment between the verbal sign and the idea or concept to which it is supposed to refer. This free play of meaning breaks down the concept of signifier/signified in that the relationship can be compromised when everything becomes a signifier -- a sort of chain effect with no beginning or end, or when there are multiple elements on either side of the relationship. The idea that words cannot be defined without viewing them in terms of their opposites also troubles post-structuralists in that this relational nature of language defies the possibility of ‘pure’ or ‘true’ meaning. In the same way that words are influenced by other words, they are also contaminated by their own histories. Since language does not take place within a vacuum -- the very history or connotation of words influences how they are used in present day.

4. Aims - Structuralism is constantly searching for ways to describe the world through the scientific method. Structuralists look for patterns and systems that can change the way we perceive our reality. They seek to describe things that are familiar in terms of systems or structures. Post-structuralists, on the other hand, do not see reality or individuals as constructed through independent systems but a collage of various influences. Structuralism is based on the belief that cultural objects such as literature, art, architecture, etc. cannot be understood in isolation -- they must be studied within the context of the larger structures to which they contribute and within which they developed. In terms of text, it is viewed as a function of a system and not so much as an individual creation. The emphasis is placed not on the author as the origin of the text or of meaning, but on the structures that texts inhabit and how they constrict the culture within which we live.

This systematic view of literature is based on the work of Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist who saw language as a closed or self-contained system. Saussure's conception of language was based on the premise that the meanings that words are associated with are arbitrary and are maintained only through cultural conventions, and that as such these meanings are relational in that no word can be defined in isolation from other words within the same system.

Because meaning and representation are arbitrary constructs, Saussure also believed that language is the midium through which reality is established. In other words, language does not merely label the world, but as meaning is attributed to objects/ideas within the mind and expressed through language, reality is created.

Key terms used by Saussure and applied to structuralist literary theory are langue -- which represents the whole system of language and the rules and conventions therein, and parole -- any particular utterance within that system that only makes sense when viewed in relation to the larger structure that contains it.

Structuralists adapt Saussure's linguistic concepts and apply them to literature. Whereas words within the structure of language have meaning only in relation to other words surrounding them within that system, elements in literature are seen in the same relational terms -- especially in regard to binary oppositions. The meaning attached to each term or concept in an opposing pair is established not by looking outside of the system for a natural equivalent but by comparing/contrasting and/or analyzing the term within the system that contains it. This system is the langua within which certain concepts are defined according to paradigmatic rules and are viewed in terms of simultaneously existing syntagmatic or sequential rules. A general example would be that a certain genre is the langue, the conventions of the genre are the paradigmatic rules and the sequential occurrence of those conventions are the syntagmatic rules, and the specific text that fits into the rules of the langue is the parole. When viewed in these terms, it is clear how scientific and systematic structuralism is regarding the analysis of texts.


The first part outlines his ideas on history and a prediction on what is yet to come. He...
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Structuralism / Post-Structalism. EssayMania.com. Retrieved on 12 Oct, 2010 from