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Structuralism's God Complex

"The ideal reader or 'super-reader' posited by structuralism was in effect a transcendental subject absolved from all limiting social determinates. But not even Levi-Strauss was able to read texts as would the Almighty himself." (Eagleton 105)

Structuralism, much like all the other schools of criticism we have been studying, can be a method to use when interpreting a piece of literature, but it cannot be the only method used. There are way too many restrictions. When I first started reading Eagleton's essay I found myself going along with the structuralist system. But, then I realized that to just concentrate on the rules and expel the "human subject," ergo take humanity out of literature, was a disturbing concept. Concentrating on only the rules and seeming to have a God-like knowledge of these rules was a bit ridiculous.

I liked this quote because it shows that only the Almighty himself would be able to have the capacity for true structuralist criticism. Later in the text Eagleton brings up a valid point he says "the competent reader is one who can apply to the text certain rules; but what are the rules for applying rules? (109)" This also goes against the structuralists teaching. For who put the laws and rules there in the first place?


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Comments (5)

That was a good explanation Mara. I did not understand this quote when I read it. Sometimes I feel that the only way to be a good critic would be to be God so I see what Eagleton means. Sometimes I get frustrated with the lack of answers we have in English. Sometimes it can be fun, but sometimes not. If you want to read more about that, read my blog. The link is below.

What I'm curioius to know is this Levi-Strauss related to the jeans guy?


Greta Carroll:

Mara, I really enjoyed reading your blog. I was agreeing with Structuralism as well till I got to the removal of humans from the reading as well. Eagleton went through all the reasons why Structuralism was good and then tore it down. I think part of what Eagleton is trying to stress to us is that we need to question, that’s why as soon as gets us nodding along with a school, he pulls the carpet out. He wants to teach us to question and to teach us not to assume things. Which leads me to the quote you chose about the “ideal reader” or “’super’ reader,” I can’t help but ask myself, why would anyone want such a person? Everyone is imperfect, just like the schools of literary criticism, in a lot of ways the “un-ideal” reader is the one who comes up with the most interesting perspective. Wishing for an “ideal” reader rules out so many other people. I don’t think that when a writer writes a book that they write for a select few “good” readers, it’s for anyone that wants to read it.

james lohr:

I'm not certain even God could read strictly by a structuralist standards. This whole section seemed like a load of bull to me. By using this method you seem to lose all the personal connections art works are supposed to create.


Angela, I was wondering the same thing about Levi-Strauss. I did some research and e is not the same man as the jean guy.

Mara, I wrote about the ideal reader on my blog. Do you remember from “writing of fiction” that there is no ideal reader? Check out my blog at http://blogs.setonhill.edu/JennaMiller/2009/02/ideal-reader.html

Michelle Tantlinger:

It's amazing how many contradictions there are in one chapter. It's like you begin to buy into a point, the author sets you up well and bam, he issues an "oh but it could be this way" statement. I get tired of running in circles.

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