Eagleton's Description of Post-Structuralism=qewreyriypgibberishadsfgjkhmb

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From Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory:

"'Deconstruction' is the name given to the critical operation by which such oppositions can be partly undermined, or by which they can be shown partly to undermine each other in the process of textual meaning.  Woman is the opposite, the 'other' of man: she is non-man, defective man, assigned a chiefly negative value in relation to the male first principle" (115).

This is one of very few sentences in this chapter, actually in Eagleton in general, that made any kind of sense to me.  If you're looking for a harsh critique, here it is.  I can't stand the way Eagleton presents information.  It's long, boring, hard-to-understand, and cloaks the point.  I feel like I know less about post-structuralism now than I did to begin with.  (I'm not saying he's a terrible writer or anything, and I'm sure there are many fans out there.  I'm just not one of them.)

TIme to get back to the quote.  The first sentence is interesting although somewhat self-explanitory.  Who would have guessed that 'deconstruction' would mean deconstructing the text?  I was not too keen on his woman example either.  I get why he used it; he does not really mean that women are less than men, however, when I read this, my eyes were burning.  It seems that really what Eagleton wanted to say is that post-structuralism is about overturning power structures within literature.  Am I right?  Can anyone translate Eagleton for me? 

3 Comments

Katie Vann said:

I actually didn't mind this chapter of Eagleton as much as the others (although I'm not sure I understood it all correctly, but I think I did). Poststructuralism, I think, is looking at how text, no matter who wrote it, always has more than one meaning, and that meaning in a way is empty. The meaning itself is empty because it had to be explained by words or phrases which are signifiers that can once again be studied, analyzed, and possibly deconstructed. Poststructuralism had an impact on economies and societies because it tied everything that we base societies' values, laws, and morals on language which has been determined to be and bottomless pit of meaning and even a "failure". However, Eagleton points out that if this belief was to be taken to heart, society as we know it would fall apart because language fails to give it any solid foundation to stand upon. Taking postructuralism, Eagleton points out that although society is based off of language, it is possible to put value into what society sees as truths and morals because of actual actions. I think, in other words, that we determine and describe something as wrong because of a negative consequence on society an action can have, such as murder.
As to your opinion on Eagleton's above example using women, I don't really see it as completely negative. I think he was just using it to show an example of how we define something by stating that it is not its opposite. Whether or not the way Eagleton states it above is degrading women, I don't know and I really didn't get that impression. However, I think the difference between our two readings kind of displays some of poststructuralism's beliefs: that out of the same text, there is endless meaning and interpretation. Also, along with that, as I did to your interpretation, someone else can come along on your blog and pick apart my comment piece by piece and write their own explanation. And it can continue on and on.
Am I heading in a good direction with this, or am I off target? Please let me know what you think!

Actually, I think you were heading in the right direction. Great explanation. That helped. My question would be then how would one go about writing a paper for this type of criticism if you're constantly undercutting something? I guess my problem is that I frankly don't see the point of deconstruction and post-structuralism (is there a difference)? This whole subject would pretty much be a muddy point for me.

Greta Carroll said:

Katie, I think you did an excellent job of explaining the chapter. I thought that this chapter was easier to understand than most of the other by Eagleton. I was also not offended by his example using women.

As to Angela’s question, first to the difference between post-structuralism and deconstructionism, I’m not 100% sure of the difference myself. But, it seems to me that deconstructionism is more the actually act of reading a text and finding the contradictory meanings, whereas post-structuralism deals more with the inseparability of the signifier from the signified.

As for what the point in using it is, if you really get down to it, what’s the point in using any school of literary criticism? What’s the point in even studying literature? Lol, I know, I’m exaggerating. But, I think to the post-structuralist, there is no other way to study literature than this way. Because any other school of criticism ignores the “web-like complexity, which post-structuralism designates by the word ‘text’” (Eagleton 114). If we don’t deconstruct the text, they feel like we are ignoring many details within a work which contradict the very point one is trying to make. In other words, by deconstructing the text, you are taking into consideration all the parts of the text, even those that disprove your point. You don’t smooth over these little details, you confront them head on. By doing this, you recognize the multi-faceted and multi-dimensional meanings of the work.

In many ways, this helps us to keep making literature relevant to us today, no matter why the work was originally written. As Eagleton explains, “by a certain interpretative violence and bravura, Balzac’s narrative can be read as peering beyond its own historical moment in the early nineteenth century to Barthes’s own modernist period” (Eagleton 121).

So I look at the worth of post-structuralism to rest in its ability to keep literature relevant, look boldly at all the parts of a text even the ones that contradict, and its realization that literature can mean almost anything. “It is a shift…to seeing it [literature] as irreducibly plural, an endless play of signifiers which can never be finally nailed down to a single centre, essence of meaning” (Eagleton 120). And if you think about it, this allows all of our interpretations (that are backed up by the text) to be right. There is no one answer, a work can encompass hundreds of ideas all contradictive, yet allows them to still be meaningful.

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