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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Main differences between Structuralism and Post-Structuralism

Theoretical differences:

Structuralism was a literary movement primarily concerned with
understanding how language works as a system of meaning production.
That is to say, structuralism asked the following question: How does
language function as a kind of meaning machine? To answer this
question, structuralism turned its attention to form. Focusing on the
form or structure of the literary work, and the particular use of
language in the work, would allow structuralists to think of language
as a kind of science.
The primary theorist framing the ideas associated with structuralism
was Ferdinand de Saussure, who developed the idea that language was
composed of arbitrary units that were void of concept or meaning until
they acquired meaning through a language system that relied on
differences between terms within their larger linguistic and social
contexts. One of structuralism's characteristic views is the notion
that language doesn't just reflect or record the world: rather it
shapes it, so that how we see is what we see.

Post-structuralism, on the other hand, is less singularly defined as a
movement than structuralism. Is post-structuralism a continuation and
development of structuralism or a form of rebellion against it?
Post-structuralists accuse structuralists of not following through the
implications of the views about the language on which their
intellectual system is based. Post-structuralism offers a way of
studying how knowledge is produced and critiques structuralist
premises. It argues that because history and culture condition the
study of underlying structures, both are subject to biases and
misinterpretations. A post-structuralist approach argues that to
understand an object (e.g., a text), it is necessary to study both the
object itself and the systems of knowledge that produced the object
A number of literary theories fall under the larger umbrella of
"post-structuralism," including "gender theory" and "reader-response"
theories. These theories recognize the overarching notion that meaning
does not exist outside of the text and that meaning is not fixed but
rather contingent and unstable. Post-structuralism evolved alongside
Jacques Derrida's theory of "deconstruction," which emphasized this
concept of unstable, unfixed meaning as it functioned in language.
According to Derrida, language is made up of units that do not contain
inherent meaning and relate to other units (or signifiers) through
their difference. Meaning, in deconstructionist theory, is therefore
constantly deferred, never landing in one place or becoming stable.
Post-structuralism emerges in this context, recognizing this lack of
fixed or inherent meaning and yet also acknowledging the need for
language to acquire meaning.

Some main differences can be listed as follows:
1. Origins: Structuralism derives ultimately from linguistics. It
believes that if we observe accurately, collect data systematically
and make logical deductions then we can reach reliable conclusions
about language and the world. Structuralism believes in this and also
in the method, system and reason as being able to establish reliable
truths. By contrast, post-structuralism derives ultimately from
philosophy which has always tended to emphasize the difficulty of
achieving secure knowledge about things. They inherit the habit of
scepticism and intensify it.
2. Attitude to language: Structuralists accept that the world is
constructed through language in the sense that we do not have access
to reality other than through the linguistic system. By contrast,
post-structuralism is much more fundamental in insisting upon the
consequences of the view that, in effect, reality itself is textual.

Practical differences:

An initial problem here is that post-structuralism often claims that
it is more an attitude of mind than a practical method of criticism.
After all, in what sense could, say, Marxist or feminist or even
liberal humanist criticism be called a method? Only in the loosest
way, since none of these provide anything like a step-by-step
procedure for analyzing literary works. All they offer is an
orientation towards a characteristic central issue and a body of work.
The post-structuralist literary critic is engaged in the task of
'deconstructing' the text. This process can be roughly defined as
'applied post-structuralism'. It is often referred to as 'reading
against the grain' or 'reading the text against itself', with the
purpose of 'knowing the text as it cannot know itself'. (Terry
Eagleton's definitions) At the same time structuralists look for
features like parallels, echoes and reflections. The deconstructionist
looks for evidence of gaps, breaks and discontinuities of all kinds.

The structuralist seeks: The post- structuralist seeks:
Parallels/ Echoes Contradictions/ Paradoxes
Balances Shifts/ Breaks in: Tone
Reflections/ Repetitions Conflicts
Symmetry Absences/ Omissions
Contrasts Linguistic qiurks
Effect: to show textual unity Effect: to show textual disunity
and coherence


Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory An Introduction to Literary and
Cultural Theory. 3rd. New Delhi
: Viva Books, 2012. Print.
Pinto, Anil. Class Lecture. Twentieth Century Critical Traditions.
Christ University. Bangalore,
India. 13 Jan. 2013.

(Notes of the lecture delivered on 13 January. Prepared by Dhanya
Zacharias, 1324128)

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