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Post-Structuralist Critical Lens

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Katie Hoffman

on 11 April 2014

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Transcript of Post-Structuralist Critical Lens

Post-Structuralist Critical Lens
First, What is Structuralism?
In general, structuralists didn't believe in individual choice and freedom but said human experience & behavior is dictated by structures.
Post Structuralism
While accepting Structuralism's analysis of language, post-structuralism refocuses on questioning the relationship between
language
and
meaning
, ultimately
rejecting any certainty of meaning
.
Basics of Post-structuralism
1. The author's intended meaning is
secondary
to the meaning that the
reader
perceives.
2. The author's intent is a fictional construct.
a. A work of literature
does not
need to have one meaning, one purpose, or one existence.
3. Rather, each individual reader can give a work a meaning, purpose, or existence (this is called "
destabilizing
" or "
decentering
" the author
4. Thus, Post Structuralists may examine things besides the author, like readers, cultural norms, etc.
In relation to analyzing literature, structuralist literary critics argued all literary texts relate to a larger structure (a genre, through intertextuality, through a cultural or universal narrative structure, reoccurring motifs, etc.)
Literary analysis through the structuralist lens means focusing solely on the language in the work and using that to determine the broader culture, historical context, social influences, etc. rather than actually studying those things to understand the work.
Semiotics - Peirce & Saussure
a '
signifier
' - the form which the sign takes
the '
signified
' - the concept it represents
The
sign
is the whole that results from the association of the signifier with the signified
Saussure
Peirce
Pierce said "we think only in signs."
Signs
can be the form of words, images, sounds, odors, flavors, acts or objects, but such things have no intrinsic meaning and become signs only when we invest them with meaning.

Anything can be a sign as long as someone interprets it as 'signifying' something - referring to or standing for something other than itself. Pierce states, "Nothing is a sign unless it is interpreted as a sign."
"Language is no longer regarded as peripheral to our grasp of the world we live in, but as central to it. Words are not mere vocal labels or communicational adjuncts superimposed upon an already given order of things. They are collective products of social interaction, essential instruments through which human beings constitute and articulate their world." - Roy Harris,
Language, Saussure and Wittgenstein: How to Play Games with Words
Critiques
Reductive of creative works (binary oppositions of the structures)

Signifier + Signified = Sign maybe not self-sufficient and reliable

Fell out of favor mostly by 1960s
Nietzsche
So, post-structuralists assert that if we cannot trust language systems to convey truth, the very bases of truth are unreliable and the universe - or at least the universe we have constructed - becomes unraveled or de-centered.
“The various languages, juxtaposed, show that words are never concerned with truth, never with adequate expression...”
Derrida
Deconstructionism:
Resists the binary oppositions that made up how meaning was made in Structuralism. Seeks to "deconstruct" the assumptions made about meaning and question them. There is a clear relationship between Post structuralism and questioning hierarchies of meaning.

Derrida came up with
freeplay
.
Essentially, post-structuralism holds that we cannot trust the sign = signifier + signified formula, that there is a breakdown of certainty between sign/signifier, which leaves language systems hopelessly inadequate for relaying meaning
Using deconstruction, the reader analyzes the text and especially its language to expose its ambiguity and upset the connection between the text and the "real world."
They primarily saw structures as binary oppositions (male/female, rational/emotional, signifier/signified) that relate to a hierarchy we all hold that form the meanings we give language.
How does the language/meaning in this text contradict itself? What might the author/work be revealing about the [un]reliability of meaning?
How can a work be interpreted in multiple ways? How is language thrown into
freeplay
or questioned in the work?
Questions to Ask as you Read:
Full transcript