Ex. 8: Post-Structuralism: Transforming History through Meaning

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Post-structuralism, derived from structuralism, is a method that shows how a text has ambiguity and does not have one specific meaning. Roger Jones, a philosophy teacher, stated “he did not think that there were definite underlying structures…and he thought that it was impossible to step outside of discourse” (Jones 1). This concept is similar to Derrida’s essay in Keesey’s Context for Criticism because it shows how a post-structuralist approach can not be definite.

In addition to Jones, Dr. Bush published “Poststructuralism as Theory and Practice in the English Classroom” in which he lists three focus points when studying post-structuralism. They include “The Primacy of Theory, The Decentering of the Subject, and The Fundamental Importance of the Reader” (Bush 1). The “The Primacy of Theory” relates with how a reader theorizes a text before and after reading. Dr. Bush also gives credit to Eagleton’s text in which literary scholars can learn from. “The Decentering of the Subject” and “The Fundamental Importance of the Reader” are a form of author intent and question what the “subject” was intedned to mean from the author. One option that a reader can refer to is deconstruction, from Derrida’s essay, and the ability to use a subject with irreversible meanings. In other words, if a reader uses violence as a subject, then they can deconstruct it to mean freedom or harm.

Moreover, Dr. Mary Klages, a professor at the U. of Colorado, wrote an article entitled “Structuralism/Poststructuralism” which discusses a “humanist model.” Dr. Klages stated that “the SELF--also known as the ‘subject’ is self in language” (Klages 1). When a reader refers to theirselves as the speaker or critic, then a reader associates that idea with the author or speaker. As a critic, it is important to understand that the “self” can be demoted by simply finding one person that does not agree with what a specific author, reader, or critic is stating. If the “self” is related to language, then we have no specific structure or basis to form our ideas from. This results from how society and culture change the meaning of language. If a reader begins their ideas from a “self” view or their representation of language, then anyone else could use Derrida’s concept of deconstruction. Some may ask, “If the self is a form of language, then why should readers deconstruct, if everyone has a different interpretation?”

Another academic article entitled “Critical Theory, Poststructuralism, and the Philosophy of Liberation” by Douglas Kellner stated “the Philosophy of Liberation is that Western Philosophy is the philosophy of the center” (1). If post-structuralism was birthed from Western Philosophy, then it is a form of language or self. In addition, if language is associated with Western Philosophy, then how can a reader have one specific “center” if some can deconstruct any meaning? Furthermore, the word “liberation” can have multiple meanings which include freedom or captivity, but this term in relation to philosophy would promote freedom as a meaning because philosophy is formed from knowledge which results in language.

Lastly, from "Poetics Today" Ellen Spolsky published “Darwin and Derrida: Cognitive Literary Theory As a Species of Post-Structuralism.” In this article’s abstract it stated “the very flexibility that destabilizes meaning is not only good enough, it is responsible for our success, such as it has been, in building and revising human cultures” (Spolsky 1). When comparing post-structuralism to meaning, language, and society, one can see how deconstruction can transform a society’s language or definitions. If one reader states the term “ruler,” then one could deconstruct it to mean the success of a nation or the slow death of a country. There are several more definitions to include, but Spolsky used a vivid image by saying that post-structuralism is “revising human cultures” (1). This can be seen from how a class of scholars can take a text and turn its meaning into something that the author, did or did not, intend it to mean.

As a result of these academic websites and authors, one can see how post-structuralism does not have one meaning or specific definition since it was a form of structuralism. The need to take a stand on a specific issue with supported evidence is one way of convincing or showing one specific meaning of a text. Derrida’s essay in Keesey’s textbook was a complicated text, but it showed how post-structuralism has the same attributes. In other words, a reader may have one meaning of a text, but another reader could deconstruct it to mean the complete opposite. One may wonder where the line is drawn or where does deconstruction stop. An answer to a question like this may not have one definition, but it provides society with a basis of formulating ideas and presenting evidence on a specific topic that supports a specific view point. When referring to the “self,” in reference to Dr. Mary Klages, a reader can utilize the complex nature of language and present their view point in a way that can be deconstructed, used to stimulate academic thoughtfulness, or to enrich a culture's knowledge.

Works Cited

Critical Theory, Poststructuralism, and the Philosophy of Liberation. Douglas Kellner. “Illuminations.” 4 April 2009. http://www.uta.edu/huma/illuminations/kell7.htm.

Darwin and Derrida: Cognitive Literary Theory As a Species of Post-Structuralism. Ellen Spolsky. 2002. “Poetics Today.” 4 April 2009. http://poeticstoday.dukejournals.org/cgi/ content/abstract/23/1/43.

Poststructuralism as Theory and Practice in the English Classroom. Harold K. Bush, Jr. June 1995. Eric Digest. 4 April 2009. http://www.indiana.edu/~reading/ieo/digests/ d104.html.

Post Structuralism. Roger Jones. 4 April 2009. http://www.philosopher.org.uk/poststr.htm.

Structuralism/Poststructuralism. Dr. Mary Klages. 11 Sept. 2008. 4 April 2009. http:// www.colorado.edu/English/courses/ENGL2012Klages/1derrida.html.

2 Comments

Derek, good job getting this done already! You mentioned that Dr. Mary Klages stated that, “the SELF--also known as the ‘subject’ is self in language” (1). This is a really good example of deconstruction. After all, it sounds to me like what she’s saying is that our very idea of “the self” is a construct created by language. If our idea of self is created by language and doesn’t actually exist, then what is self? We’re back to the endless circle of signifier and signified.

Thanks Greta!

I think that Dr. Mary Klages is describing "the self" as a construct created by language. It is interesting to compare "the self" this way because language is constantly changing just as each of us are changing constantly.

I think that this process is similar to a revovling circle that continues to present old and new ideas and once everyone deconstructs them, then we are presented with a new idea and then it starts over again.

Thanks for the comment, Greta!

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