To elaborate, we know who people belonging to a nation are, what its anthem, symbols, values etc. stand for, but even with such information which when closely examined will seem substantial, we cannot precisely explain what the essence of the nation in itself is. Also, a nation is not singularly defined by its people or certain achievements, because from history and contemporary goings-on we know that they constantly evolve. Similarly, across groups, societies and cultures, different points (God, patriarchy and so forth) are attributed or assume centrality. And in opposing this, post-structuralism finds its primary rationale – challenging/ denying the centre. Perhaps, it also questions if there is something as a centre; if for many of us this is difficult to comprehend, the underlying point is what kind of a worldview expects us to expect a unifying centre?
While the structuralists sought to unearth a quintessential structure, as in Levi Strauss’ analysis of Oedipus myth, post-structuralism reacts to it by deconstructing narratives to see where the myth assigns its centre and arranges events around this centre so as to give an illusion of having resolved the conflict. Structuralism, it can be said, causes a legitimising of the centre. Post-structuralism, on the other hand, frees one from the guilt of the centre.
As such, post-structuralism is a way of reading, wherein one critically analyses the text’s supposed centre and further, consciously recognises that often concepts have to be understood in their binary relationships. Only an idea of “evil” will aid our judgement of what is “good”.
Another facet of this school of thought is to examine how acts of naming sanction power and control over the object. For example, christening an area “SG Palya” gives a resident the claim of ownership and defines the boundary within which the residents’ association can exercise authority.
But how is post-structuralism relevant to literature? To rephrase an earlier statement, it liberates the reader from having to conform to the centre and its set derivatives. There is no compulsion to merely read a text from one point of view, say to examine the imagery as the romantics or the formalists did. Post-structuralism allows for plural readings and denies that any one reading is absolute.
(Compiled by Marlyn Thomas, with inputs from Preethi Ninan, Aditi Rajgopal, Deepti Rao, Suchita Isaac, Karishma Christopher and Gayatri Ganju)