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Monday, December 16, 2013

‘Structuralism and Literary Criticism’ - Gerard Genette

Structuralism is a way to examines a literary text to arrive at their meaning, rather than the actual meanings of the text themselves. It is a study of structure wherever they occur. In the essay Genette analyses content, logics, grammars and semiotics. He is considering structuralism as a method to study literary criticism. In the beginning of the essay Genette is establishing difference between Bricoleur and Engineer, Art critic and Literary critic and a Writer and a Critic.                                                                                                                      Later on Genette moves to structuralism in literature and how it should engage with literature. He explains the importance of structuralism as follows:

·         Establishes the relation between the form and the message. It is concerned with the message too i.e, the bone structure.

·         Semantic phenomenon i.e, it attacks the meanings.

·         Larger unities of discourse i.e, system f Forms – code & System of meanings – meaning.

·         Study of structures wherever they occur.

Genette goes on to say that, Structuralism is not necessarily an intrinsic fact of nature but rather is a way of thinking and it tries to conceive structures rather than perceive them. In other words they are discovering, but are actually inventing. Criticism studies content, where as structuralism deals with language and its form. It is the explanation of texts or events in their own terms, not in relation to external causes. This is very clear from the example of Oedipus Rex. When one deals with text as an object, he reads biography and sociology structurally where they abandon psychological, sociological and explanations.                                                                                                                               He then moves on to how structuralism differs from others. Structuralism is not thematic analysis and it is in structures. New criticism is a structural methodology, even though it is not structuralism. In structural analysis of theme, it would be seen in relation of themes as a network of social meanings which constitute culture. Structuralist analysis is different from Marxism or psychoanalysis. According to Merleau-Ponty structuralism is related to ethnology. It is a way of thinking and requires us to transform ourselves.

Genette says when there is hermeneutics and when the text is available to us in that immediate way, then structural reading fades; but whenever we have to look more objectively, when we are transversing barriers of time, culture or interest, then the structural method. Genette goes on to suggest that the difference between hermeneutic and structural reading is a matter of the critical position of the critic. Genette suggests that topics is an area of study that structuralism can bring us to  the traditional subjects and forms of the culture. Creativity is in a sense structural, as it depends on our expectation, which it plays upon. As literature is a system, no work of literature is an autonomous whole; similarly, literature itself is not autonomous but is part of the larger structures of signification of the culture. Structuralism studies literature historically by studying it as it were in cross-section at different times, by seeing in what way literature divides up the traditional topics of the cultural imagination. A structural analysis of the construction of cultural meaning can thence replace the meaning of the individual instance, the particular work, while the meaning of the individual work is illumined and rendered more fully significant by being read in the context of its full systemic, cultural meaning.

 

References:

·         Original text of Gerard Genette's essay "Structuralism and Literary Criticism"

·          Classroom discussions and the lecture

(Notes of the lecture delivered on 10 December 2013 by Dr. Anil Joseph Pinto; prepared by Angel Joy)

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