Structure (I)


I. Structural Linguistics via Saussure

            A. Diachronic vs. synchronic study example

            B. Langue vs. parole

            C. Sign, signifier, signified

            D. Arbitrariness of this relationship—i.e., its unmotivated, contingent nature.  Important why?

                        1. from a mimetic/referential view to a structuralist one example

                        2. language precedes thought; we don’t invent  example 1

                        3. a system of differences, not positive terms: signification vs. value, as part of a system

                        4. words (signs) have

(a) syntagmatic/horizontal/diachronic relationships

                                    (b) vertical/associative/ synchronic relationships example

            E. The struturalist/Saussurean insight: the world is not made up of things, but of relations; meaning is relational

1. this is true for more than just language:

(a) Saussure’s semiology (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)

(b) Signs of the apocalypse  example 1  

(c) R. Barthes on wrestling, striptease, soap: an “intelligible spectacle”: “of course the world has never stopped

looking for the meaning of what is given it and of what it produces; what is new is a mode of thought

(or a "poetics") which seeks less to assign completed meanings to the objects it discovers than to know

how meaning is possible, at what cost and by what means” (“The Structuralist Activity”)

(d) my necktie

(e) your examples


II. What does it do for us?

            A. Some examples:

1. Propp on the folktale (1) (2)

                        2. Wright on the Western

                        3. Todorov on the Fantastic

            B. Some advantages:

                        1. analytical, not evaluative

                        2. remorselessly demystifying and anti-common sense

                        3. disregards high culture / low culture distinctions

                        4. an antidote to formalism—poems are not “verbal icons” but species of a type; question is not “does this poem

work?” but “how does this text work, i.e., what systems of signification make it intelligible to us?”

            C. Some disadvantages:

                        1. embarrassed by historical change; profoundly ahistorical

                                    2. inattentive to individual phenomena and the discursive level (though this is a strength from a structuralist

point of view)

3. another  idealism disguised as objectivity (Eagleton, of course—but see also this collection of remarks)

4. poststructuralist critique (for next time): “structure” is a postulate that makes systems available for study—but

when we confuse the two and reify structure, rather than letting it remain a heuristic, we run into trouble.  Is

structure really real, or just a simulacrum (Barthes)?