In today’s lecture Graham discussed how the foundations of knowledge are challenged through the works of theorists commonly associated with structuralism. I am going to focus on these theorists, looking at the divergence and convergence of their ideas.

Ferdinand de Saussure: Saussure used structural linguists to analyse human culture in a system of signs. The sign has two components; the signifier and the signified.

Barthes: Barthes employed the principles and methods derived from Saussure by looking at the semiology of the process of myth creation. He explained a second-order sign, or connotations. Barthes suggested that this second-order sign are designed to perpetuate society and the current ideologies. This is the naturalisation of cultural artifacts and representation.

Jacques Lacan: As a post fruedian structuralist Lacan’s work features the theory of the unconscious, the castration complex, the ego, identification and language as a system. Like Barthes Lacan suggests that we are not the central point of the universe but evolve around social ideological culture of language. Lacan extends and alters Plato’s theory of the cave to explain the unconscious.

Lacan- Plato's Cave

‘Whenever we arrive at the cave of the unconscious, it is always closing time; the only way we have of gaining access is to be inside already. The structure of the unconscious is knowable only by those who are prepared to admit and espouse its exhaustible capacity for displacement.’ (Strurrock.J)

Jacques Derrida: Unlike the above theorists Derrida is considered a post-structuralist. He interprets and analyses such texts as Plato and Saussure to concentrate on the signifier. In his dealings with philosophical texts Derrida produced a critical account of western thought. Logocenterism or the metaphysics of presence. Logocenterism suggests the limitations of knowledge, that our knowledge is rooted in a superia signifier which

‘nothing is identical with itself; the moment something is thought, said, written or intended, it becomes a trace of itself, no longer itself, no longer present…’ (Fortier.M.)

Julia Kristeva: Alike Derrida, Kristeva is a post-structuralist theorist. Kristeva is heavily influenced by Lacan in Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia UP, 1982) Kristeva explains that oppression of women as they can not abject the maternal body.


Fortier M. Theory/Theatre. p.39

J.Strurrock. 1979.Structuralism and Since. pg 119


Russian formalism is a critic of literature popular from the 1910’s to 1930’s.  To understand some ideas represented i am refering back to my previous blog on Angela Carter. ‘Art as Technique’, one of the core texts from the russian formalist movement explains defamiliarization. Theorist Shklovsky says;

“The techniques of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.”

Carters poetic style denies tradition and create an unfamiliarity. In formalism the focus is on the artistic object itself rather than the authors personal intentions.

Vladimir Propp analysed russian folk tales. By breaking down narrative into morphemes he took on the russian formalist approach and came to a conclusion that narrative follows 31 functions and 8 spheres of action. Therefore expressing the idea that all narrative structures follow a similar path. Levi-Strauss an anthropologist was influenced by Propps ideas and through the analysis of myth proposed that all myths follow a universal law of human thought.

“mythical thought always progresses from the awareness of oppositions toward their resolution” (Strauss.C)

Binary oppositions were a key to understanding narrative for Strauss. This structuralist approach along with the ideas of Todorov and other Formalists does not consider surrealism in narrative. It suggests that all narrative follows a realist approach. However in cinema this is clearly undermined as shown in the Dada movement which peaked 1916 to 1922.

Tzvetan Todorov used structural conventions to illustrate narrative. He suggested that all narratives begin with an equilibrium, which is disrupted in a chain of events, to end which a equilibrium. This conventional standard of narrative form allows problems to be solved and resolution to be distriputed.


Claude Levis-Strauss. 1983.Structural Anthropology.

Last year i picked up my first Angela Carter novel, The Bloody Chamber (1976). Having little or no idea what to expect i delved into ornate and unnatural styles of metonymic fairytales. Often described as postmodern parodies, Carter extracts content from traditional stories and uses them as beginnings of new stories. Puss-In-Boots, one of Carters short stories featured in The Bloody Chamber, quite deliberately  derives from the latent content of the French literary fairytale. Carter described this as;

‘The cat as con man… A masterpiece of cynicism… A figaroesque valent– a servant so much the master already’

If i was to make a list of post modern attributes in literature, cynicism, parody, metonymy, along with cultural and intertextual reference would without a doubt be there.

Literature is just one way at looking at postmodernism. It is applied to a wide variety of practices associated with postmodernity. Having positive and negative dimensions it’s initial concerns are to;

‘De-naturalize some of the dominant features of our way of life; to point out that those entities that we unthinkingly experience as ‘natural’ ‘(Hutcheon.)

Postmodernity refers to the historical period following modernity. To help me grasp the difference of the two periods I can compare the writings of Virgina Woolf with Angela Carter’s postmodern styles of literature. Having read Mrs Dolloway (1925) i experienced the way in which Woolf captures characters mentality through a multiplicity of narrators. Woolf depicts the possibility of an evolved awareness that could connect people on a conscious level. Marsh says this modernist style of writing;

‘Came to occupy a space between historical memory and imaginative construction’ (Marsh. Nicholas)

 The multiple voices in Woolf’s novels can also be described as a postmodern trait. The difference lies in the intertextuality and fragmentation of the novel. This indicates the complexity of the transition between modernity and postmodernity.


Carter.A.1976.The Bloody Chamber.

Marsh.Nicholas.1998.Virginia Woolf The Novels.

Hutcheon.L. 1989.The Politics of postmodernism. Routledge