I Don't Like Scrambled Eggs, but I Do Like Eagleton's Essay

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-From Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory: An Introduction


“It has yearned for the sign which will give meaning to all others—the ‘transcendental signifier’—and for the anchoring, unquestionable meaning to which all our signs can be seen to point (the ‘transcendental signified’).  A great number of candidates for this role—God, the Idea, the World Spirit, the Self, substance, matter and so on—have thrust themselves forward from time to time” (113).


“That any such transcendental meaning is a fiction—though perhaps a necessary fiction—is one consequence of the theory of language I have outlined.  There is no concept which is not embroiled in an open-ended play of signification, shot through with the traces and fragments of other ideas” (114).


In some of my education and child psychology courses, we have discussed the fact that at birth, infants use every sound in every language in their babbling.  However, when they begin to hear their families talking to them, they drop all sounds that are not present in the speech they are exposed to.  How is this possible?  I really do not know much more about this occurrence than what I have written here, but as Eagleton explained Post-Structuralism and the ideas in the above quotations, I thought of this idea.  I think that maybe, with further research, this idea could be used to argue against the Post-Structural thoughts that there is no “‘transcendental signifier.’”


Aside from this thought, however, I really found Eagleton’s chapter to be helpful.  Even though these metaphysical ideas of the signifier and the signified are at first difficult to understand, I think that the concept is interesting in that every word can only be defined by other words and by what it is not.  After all, people often define their likes and dislike this way.  For instance, when someone asks me what my favorite food is, I usually say that I like most foods, but I don’t like scrambled eggs, green olives, and tomatoes.  We often define what we like by negating the opposite, so why not recognize that the same is done for the definitions of words. 


Take a look at what others have to say about Eagleton's essay on Post-Structuralism. 


Jenna said:

Wow! That is amazing about the babies babbling in different languages. No wonder why it is easier to have a child be bilingual than an adult. I also found Eagleton’s chapter interesting. The fact that a signifier does not automatically give the signified is just another of the ambiguities of English.

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