Science Envy?

The simulacrum, thus constructed, does not render the world as it has found it, and it is here

that structuralism is important. First of all, it manifests a new category of the object, which is

neither the real nor the rational, but the functional, thereby joining a whole scientific complex which is

being developed around information theory and research.


(Barthes, “The Structuralist Activity,” 873b)


So while no one expects literature itself to behave like a science, there is surely no reason why criticism, as a systematic and organized study, should not be at least partly a science. Not a " pure" or "exact"  science, perhaps, but these phrases form part of a nineteenth-century cosmology that is no longer with us. Criticism deals with the arts and may well be something of an art itself, but it does not follow that it must be unsystematic. If it is to be related to the sciences too, it does not follow that it must be deprived of the graces of culture.


(Frye, “The Archetypes of Literature”, 693a)


Whatever emendations the original formulation may now call for, everybody will agree that the Saussurean principle of the arbitrary character of linguistic signs was a prerequisite for the accession of linguistics to the scientific level.

The confusions and platitudes which are the outcome of comparative mythology can be explained by the fact that multidimensional frames of reference are often ignored or are naively replaced by two- or three-dimensional ones.  Indeed, progress in comparative mythology depends largely on the cooperation of mathematicians who would undertake to express in symbols multidimensional relations which cannot be handled otherwise.

(Levi-Strauss, “The Structural Study of Myth,” 861b, 867b)


By studying rites, customs, etc. As signs...I believe that we shall throw new light on the facts and point up the need for including them in a science of semiology and explaining them by its laws.

(Saussure, Course in General Linguistics)