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Dept of Culture and Identity, English Program

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1 Dept of Culture and Identity, English Program
TEXT AND SIGN CAMELIA ELIAS Dept of Culture and Identity, English Program

2 Theory is a mode of: Analyzing Interpreting Reading Contextualizing
analysis  structuralism  text  text, narratives, no distinction between literary and non literary works Interpreting interpretation  hermeneutics Reading text  reader-response  deconstruction  canon Contextualizing contextualization  Marxism  cultural phenomena  realist canon Evaluating criticism  new criticism  work  poetry, modernism

3 Theory is: interdisciplinary
analytical and speculative: an attempt to work out what is involved in what we call language, or writing, or meaning a critique of common-sense, of concepts taken as natural reflexive; thinking about thinking; inquires into the categories we use in making sense of things


5 Theory questions: the conception that the meaning of an utterance or text is what the speaker ‘had in mind’ the idea that writing is an expression whose truth lies elsewhere, in an experience or a state of affairs which it expresses the notion that reality is what is ‘present’ at a given moment NOTE: it is different from criticism

6 what is literature? language ideology secrets
lit. foregrounds language: rhyme patterns, sounds patterns, grammar ideology lit. follows conventions or resists interpretation secrets lit. is self-reflexive / intertextual / mysterious


8 On literature In reading, one should notice and fondle details. There is nothing wrong about the moonshine of generalization when it comes after the sunny trifles of the book have been lovingly collected. If one begins with a readymade generalization, one begins at the wrong end and travels away from the book before one has started to understand it. Nothing is more boring or more unfair to the author than starting to read, say, Madame Bovary, with the preconceived notion that it is a denunciation of the bourgeoisie. We should always remember that the work of art is invariably the creation of a new world, so that the first thing we should do is to study that new world as closely as possible, approaching it as something brand new, having no obvious connection with the worlds we already know. When this new world has been closely studied, then and only then let us examine its links with other worlds, other branches of knowledge.  Good Readers and Good Writers Vladimir Nabokov ( )

9 initiators of structuralism
1960  Ferdinand de Saussure Roland Barthes Claude Levi-Strauss Michel Foucault Louis Althusser Jacques Lacan Algirdas Greimas

10 claims all documents can be studied as texts – history, sociology can be analyzed in the same way as literature all culture can be studied as text belief systems, religions can be studied textually

11 position and concerns insistence on method
insistence on scientific rigor beyond humanism and phenomenology language is a self-authenticating system language is a system of differences ALL TEXTS CAN BE STUDIED AS LANGUAGE SYSTEMS


13 focus (Barthes) signs that which the signs refer to
convey meaning relate to the people who use them are constructed that which the signs refer to codes and organization of signs communication (the users of the signs)

14 Levi Strauss - culture To be in a culture means to be in preexisting but constantly changing sign-systems Being in a culture means being able to know how to read a text

15 background linguistic – Saussure anthropological – Levi-Strauss
literary – Russian Formalism (Vladimir Propp)

16 Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913)
Language consists of: ‘langue’ (an abstract underlying system of rules conventions which pre-exits actual speech) ‘parole’ (language ‘in use’) Original conception: symbol = thing Saussure’s conception: symbol ≠ thing “the linguistic sign unites not a name and a thing, but a concept and a sound image”

17 Saussure’s sign system
signifier (signifiant) sign =     signified (signifié) signified signifier

18 signs are arbitrary “Everything that has been said up to this point boils down to this: in language there are only differences.” “Even more important: a difference generally implies positive terms between which the difference is set up; but in language there are only differences without positive terms.” “Language is a system of signs which are arbitrary and differential.”

19 key concepts system sign arbitrary differential
the signifier exists in TIME language operates in linear fashion what creates difference is VALUE

20 paradigmatic/syntagmatic relations
Paradigm: a sign that forms a member of the same category  patterns, motifs Syntagm: a relationship of choice  selection and combination Metaphor: un unfamiliar concept is expressed through a familiar concept Metonymy: the invocation of an object using an associative idea

21 language is: arbitrary: relational: constitutive ex: mouse/house
I trap the mouse I move the mouse constitutive I leave in September


23 Claude Levi Strauss extended Saussure’s theory of language as a structural system to cover all cultural processes (kinship system, myths, legends, dressing, cooking etc) to an extended sign definition studied ‘primitive’ cultures and found underlying structures for human practices  myth cultural patterns were studied like language patterns reflect structures of the human mind the most basic structure: binary oppositions

24 Vladimir Propp found an underlying system and 31 ‘functions’ (events or actions) in Russian folktales (Morphology of the Russian folk tale, 1928) There is a ‘grammar’ of the folktale

25 All narratives follow a ‘narrative grammar’
A. J. Greimas A. J. Greimas (Semantique Structurale, 1966) reduced Propp’s list and made his own model of actants All narratives follow a ‘narrative grammar’

26 theory All ‘texts’ (mythical narratives, literary texts, advertisements, fashion etc) are signifying structures that work according to an underlying system The underlying system is synchronic not diachronic The text does not have any truth-value – it is not a ‘reflection’ of reality but a construct that works according to conventions and codes The death of the author: the author is not an ‘origin’ because he is himself the product of the working of the linguistic system The reader is central, but not as a feeling conscious individual – he reads according to conventions, codes, expectation THE TEXT IS: A LANGUAGE SYSTEM, A STRUCTURE, A DIFFERENCE

27 initiators of poststructuralism
1966  Jacques Derrida Roland Barthes J. Hillis Miller Geoffrey Hartman Paul de Man Harold Bloom

28 what is ‘post’ about poststructuralism?
the fuller working out of structuralism reaction to structuralism

29 position and concerns lost belief in the scientific pretensions of structuralism a move from Saussure’s langue to discourse lost belief in the belief of a metalanguage claim: there is no final truth and no objective knowledge focus on the decentering of the subject

30 kinds of poststructuralist theories
psychoanalytic theories deconstruction new historicism and cultural materialism postcolonial and Diaspora criticism cyber theory

31 deconstruction Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) French philosopher
“Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” (Johns Hopkins University, 1966) The Structuralist Controversy (1972) questioning of “the structurality of structure”

32 theory western philosophy must be ‘deconstructed’ because it is ‘logocentric’, that is, based on a theory of ‘presence’ which represses absence and difference there is an ontological center and everything can be explained in terms of it it is a self-present word constituted not by difference but by presence (consciousness, subjectivity, God, reason) Saussure: signifiers and signifieds are defined in terms of what they are not, that is, in terms of difference. There are binary oppositions Derrida: in each binary opposition one element is privileged and one is suppressed differance

33 The subject is not an autonomous entity

34 theory Deconstructing the hierarchy
Note the hierarchy in the binary oppositions Overturn it by allowing the suppressed or marginalized term to subvert the privileged or dominant term Resist the assertion of a new hierarchy by displacing the second term from a position of superiority

35 theory deconstruction gives up any search for origin(s)/ground(s)
any structure/system/text is unfounded it has no ultimate reason “… deconstruction is, above all perhaps, a questioning of the ‘is’, a concern with what remains to be thought, with what cannot be thought within the present.” (Nicholas Royle, 2000) “Instead of a simple ‘either/or’ structure, deconstruction attempts to elaborate a discourse that says neither ‘either/or’, nor ‘both/and’ nor even ‘neither/nor’, while at the same time not totally abandoning these logics either. The very word deconstruction is meant to undermine the either/or logic of opposition ‘construction/destruction’” (Barbara Johnson, 1987)

36 focus 1 Deconstructive reading:
focuses on the displaced, in the background or marginalized aspects of the text focuses on the moment when the text transgresses the laws it appears to have set up for itself understands the text to be heterogeneous and ‘self-deconstructive’

37 focus 2 “As a critique of a certain Western conception of the nature of signification, deconstruction focuses on the functioning of claim-making and claim-subverting structures within texts.” “A deconstructive reading is an attempt to show how the conspicuously foregrounded statements in a text are systematically related to discordant signifying elements that the text has thrown into its shadows or margins, an attempt to recover what is lost and to analyze what happens when a text is read solely in function of intentionality, meaningfulness, and representativity.” “Deconstruction thus confers a new kind of readability on those elements in a text that readers have been trained to disregard, overcome, explain away, or edit out – contradictions, obscurities, ambiguities, incoherences, discontinuities, ellipses, interruptions, repetitions, and plays of the signifier.” “In this sense it involves a reversal of values, a revaluation of the signifying function of everything that, in a signified-based theory of meaning, would constitute ’noise’.” (Barbara Johnson, 1987)

38 focus 3 Deconstructive reading is not interpretation
“There are thus two interpretations of interpretation, of structure, of sign, of play.” “The one seeks to decipher, dreams of deciphering a truth or an origin which escapes play and the order of the sign, and which lives the necessity of interpretation as an exile.” “The other, which is no longer turned toward the origin, affirms play and tries to pass beyond man and humanism, the name of man being the name of that being who, throughout the history of metaphysics or of ontotheology – in other words, throughout the entire history – has dreamed of full presence, the reassuring foundation, the origin and the end of play.” (Derrida, 1966)

39 focus 4 Deconstructive reading displaces the hierarchical relationship between literature and criticism ”Literature as well as criticism – the difference between them being delusive – is condemned (or privileged) to be forever the most rigorous and, consequently, the most unreliable language in terms of which man names and transforms himself” (Paul de Man, 1979) ”All that ’philosophy’ as a name for a sector of culture means is ’talk about Plato, Augustine, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Frege, Russell … and that lot’. Philosophy is best seen as a kind of writing. It is delimited, as any literary genre, not by form or matter, but by tradition – a family romance involving, e.g., Father Parmenides, honest Uncle Kant, and bad brother Derrida.” (Richard Rorty, 1982) How to do deconstruction / Derrida on deconstruction

40 The Purloined letter in structuralist reading
narrative form: status quo  status quo is threatened  status quo is restored function of the characters: the good detective must be rational, and act in the name of order the villain must be punished, or gain nothing from his acts he must participate in the restoration of the order binary opposites: D____ vs. Dupin vs. (poet vs. better poet; disorder vs. order) the queen vs the king (weakness vs. power) the queen vs D____ (helplessness vs. cunning) the queen vs Dupin (passive vs. active) 1. The queen via P -- letter -- The queen The Prefect Dupin D_____ 2. the prefect revenge Dupin the letter Dupin D____

41 structuralist reading
Consolidates a traditional frame re-establishment of power relations assertion of the culprit as independent implementation of reason to restore the status quo the story institutes and reinforces the ideological formation of the detective genre

42 The Purloined letter in poststructuralist reading
paradoxes Dupin is in a relationship of dependency to D___ sites of disturbances the criminal’s mind is both rational and poetic displacements power is always out of reach ‘inspired reasoning’ reason is constantly inspired or disturbed by ‘other’ reason (defined as unreason) identical identities/doubles detective/criminal identification of the detective with the criminal the ideological conservatism of the detective genre is undermined by ambiguities the story deconstructs itself

43 The chain of signification: symbolization or mythologizing?
Signifier 1 (letter) Signified 1 (paper) Signified 2 (love) Signified 2.1 love letter = compromising the woman in love Signified 3 (power) Signified 2.2 love letter = woman weak & vain Signified 3.1 letter = corruption Signified 2.3 love letter = emotion Signified 3.2 letter = man dangerous and calculated Signified 3.3 letter = reason

44 contrasts structuralism depth:
the prefect’s search is described as thorough; he searches for a letter that suggests authority in the prefect’s eyes the letter is hidden language and signs are fixed in or constrained to conventions mathematicians’ language unity poststructuralism: surface: the letter lies open on the surface though its appearance is altered in Dupin’s eyes the letter seems to be hidden, but is not language and signs float  puns, play on words and signs: Dupin/du pain (bread) poets’ language disunity

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