Summary of Post-Structuralism

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  • Topic: Structuralism, Post-structuralism, Jacques Derrida
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Post-Structuralism
 Post-structuralism is a continuation and simultaneous rejection of structuralism – not only literary structuralism but even more so the anthropological structuralism of Levi-Strauss (Bertens, 2008: 93). * Post-structuralist thought has discovered the essentially unstable nature of signification. The sign is not so much a unit with two sides as a momentary ‘fix’ between two moving layers. Saussure had recognized that signifier and signified are two separate systems, but he did not see how unstable units of meaning can be when the systems come together (Selden & Widdowson, 1997: 151). * In view of post-structuralism, each of the signifieds becomes yet another signifier which can be traced in the dictionary with its own array of signifieds (1997: 151). Assumptions of Post-Structuralism

* Derrida assumes that language is inherently unreliable. Language operates on the basis of differentiation. What enables words to refer to whatever they refer to is their difference from other words, not a direct link to their so-called referents (Bertens, 2008: 96). * Every single word contains traces of other words – theoretically of all the other words in the language system. For example: the word ‘red’ may have a completely different meaning in the words ‘red rose’, which means ‘love’ while in traffic lights, red means ‘stop’. The red of traffic lights, then carries the ‘traces’ of amber and green within it, and is not pure red (2008: 97). * The ‘present’ of a word we speak is therefore not the true present, which forever eludes language: ‘spacing’ and ‘temporization’ intervene. Derrida captures this in a self-coined term, differance that contains both the idea of difference and the process of deferral of meaning. Derrida destabilizes the relationship between signifier and signified. The signifier or the word we hear or read – is of course stable enough, but what it signifies – the signified – is according to Derrida subject to an...
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