The Heart of Post-Structuralism: Aporia

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“The tactic of deconstructive criticism, that is to say, is to show how terms come to embarrass their own ruling systems of logic; and deconstruction shows this by fastening on the ‘symptomatic’ points, the aporia or impasses of meaning, where texts get into trouble, come unstuck, offer to contradict themselves” (Eagleton 116). 

My word for this week is aporia.  Eagleton actually defines what aporia is in his sentence.  He describes it  as “impasses of meaning.”  Aporia is basically what post-structuralism is founded on.  Aporia, as Merriam Webster, observes is “real or pretended doubt or uncertainty.”  So in other words, the very idea that words’ meanings are constantly shifting because their meanings are created by other words (whose meanings are determined by other words) is in a sense a type of aporia.  For if there is this constant flickering of meaning, it is impossible to have a fixed and determinate meaning.    

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7 Comments

Derek Tickle said:

What a good way to explain aporia. I had not heard of this term before reading Eagleton's chapter on Post-Structuralism.

I think that it is interesting that you said that words cannot have a true meaning since our culture and society is always changing it. I remember, in a previous lit. crit. class, that Dr. Jerz said how the word gay changed from a meaning of "happy" to a meaning of "a person's desired sexual attraction." It is interesting that we are constantly changing words in our society. Does this mean that we are going to read literature, in the future, as being completly different from what the author intended?

I came across a website, or a blog, that discusses how words change over time. It is: http://ezinearticles.com/?-Etymology--How-Words-Change-Over-Time&id=12709 and the article is by Maria Boomhower.

I found it interesting how she described some words and their orginal meanings. I think that we have changed some words 100%.

Finally, does criticism change the meaning of certain words or does society? Is their ever a normal meaning for a word or is there always room for discussion?

Good job!

Greta Carroll said:

Derek, that was quite an interesting article you sent me. I have a hard time believing some of those words changed so much, that really is amazing. As for whether we will read things in the future the way the author intended, personally, I think it is impossible to actually know what the author intended. However, I think it is possible to determine that out of two possible interpretations one might be closer to what the author intended based on their other works, comments they have made, or historical context. But whether we read texts based on author intention I suppose simply depends on how we want to read the text. If people in the future keep reading texts through the lens of author intention then how we read the text might not be that different from what the author intended. However, if we read the text through the lens of post-structuralism which declares “’the death of the author’” (Eagleton 119), then I think we are going to interpret the text very different from how the author meant it to be.

As for whether criticism or society changes the meanings of words, I would say that both of them do. Everything affects how we perceive words. The meaning of words is always changing and shifting, after all the only reason words mean anything is because we decided they would mean that thing. So as time goes on and we decide that the word means something slightly different, then it does.

Bethany Merryman said:

I'm really glad you looked up the heart of the uncertain post-structuralism. In my mind, this idea of shifting meanings is so artistic. When people talk about the arts, it's the uncertain that makes them so interesting and controversial.

And nice addition to Greta's blog Derek!!!

Thanks for this definition Greta. I have seen this word before and was unsure of the meaning. This definition also helps in the understanding of post-structuralism.

Derek Tickle said:

Greta- I think that words, in specific contexts, will have one meaning, but they change so quickly because of the way of culture works.

As for criticism, I thought about movie critics. Would you agree, when I say that if most movie critics say that a movie is not worthy to see, then most people will not see it? Does the same hold true to literature?

Greta Carroll said:

Derek, I don’t think people pay that much attention to movie critics…at least I know I don’t. I frequently read their reviews and if there is some movie they say is wonderful, I might go and see it. However, if there is a movie I want to see and they say it’s bad, I go see it anyway. I like to see things for myself and make up my own mind about things before I believe someone else.

Also, I think literature is a little different. When I go and see a movie, I go more because I want to be entertained than because I want to be mentally stimulated. When I read a book (granted I do read some books that aren’t particularly substantive), I look for something a bit more philosophical and deep. In some ways that’s why I like literary criticism so much better than book reviews, literary criticism doesn’t just say a work is good or bad, it carefully looks at the text and finds meaning in it. Having said that, I don’t sit around reading literary criticism for fun, so I can’t say that critics really influence me to read particular books.

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