Post-Structuralism is a reaction to structuralism and works against seeing language as a stable, closed system. It is a shift from seeing the poem or novel as a closed entity, equipped with definite meanings which it is the critic's task to decipher, to seeing literature as irreducibly plural, an endless play of signifiers which can never be finally nailed down to a single center, essence, or meaning . Jacques Derrida's paper on "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" (delivered in 1966) proved particularly influential in the creation of post-structuralism. Derrida argued against, in essence, the notion of a knowable center (the Western ideal of logocentrism), a structure that could organize the differential play of language or thought but somehow remain immune to the same "play" it depicts (Abrams, 258-9). Derrida's critique of structuralism also heralded the advent of deconstruction that--like post-structuralism--critiques the notion of "origin" built into structuralism. In negative terms, deconstruction--particularly as articulated by Derrida--has often come to be interpreted as "anything goes" since nothing has any real meaning or truth. More positively, it may posited that Derrida, like Paul de Man and other post-structuralists, really asks for rigor, that is, a type of interpretation that is constantly and ruthlessly self-conscious and on guard. Similarly, Christopher Norris (in What's Wrong with Postmodernism?) launches a cogent argument against simplistic attacks of Derrida's theories:
Some commonly used terms in deconstructive theory:
Aporia - the inherent contradictions found in any text.
Derrida, for example, cites the inherent contradictions at work in Jean-Jacques
Rousseau's use of the words culture and nature by demonstrating that Rousseau's
sense of the self's innocence (in nature) is already corrupted by the concept of
culture (and existence) and vice-versa.
R. Selden, P. Widowson, A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory, ch. 6.
Though often used interchangeably with post-structuralism, postmodernism is a much broader term and encompasses theories of art, literature, culture, architecture, and so forth. In relation to literary study, the term postmodernism has been articulately defined by Ihab Hassan. In Hassan's formulation postmodernism differs from modernism in several ways:
In its simplest terms, postmodernism consists of the period
following high modernism and includes the many theories that date from that
time, e.g., structuralism, semiotics, post-structuralism, deconstruction, and so
forth. For Jean Baudrillard, postmodernism marks a culture composed "of
disparate fragmentary experiences and images that constantly bombard the
individual in music, video, television, advertising and other forms of
electronic media. The speed and ease of reproduction of these images mean that
they exist only as image, devoid of depth, coherence, or originality"
(Childers and Hentzi 235).
|© Jan Rybicki 2003 unless otherwise stated.|