ENG 201 (Lecture 3.1): Structuralism and Saussure

ENG 201 (Lecture 3.1): Structuralism and Saussure



what better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than recording and uploading video lectures about structuralism am i right right so so with that in mind what I what I plan to do is go over or read from the transcript of a written lecture which I didn't the substance of which I went over in class this past Tuesday though I didn't read it read it read it word for word in class and I'll be looking at some passages from our main textbook and then at the end I may I'd like to go over some of the articles about mrs. Dalloway or on mrs. Dalloway that we that you had to read for this past Tuesday that we also discussed at the end of class last Tuesday especially in the context of our two methodologies of new criticism and structuralism it can be really tricky to distinguish between the two of these and many of you in a few of the response papers I got to these articles and just in conversation in class many of us realize that it if if a work of structuralism structuralist literary study is dedicated to just a single work of literature as opposed to many works of literature and I'll talk about this in just a few minutes it can be hot really difficult to distinguish between a new critical and a structuralist reading okay so that that's one thing that I hope to develop for us in this lecture and and really through the remainder of the semester the distinctions between the attitudes of new criticism structuralism and deconstruction will be pretty important for all of us deconstruction which will be coming up which is coming up next week goody for all of us all right so before I just keep rambling for another 10 minutes something most of you have gotten used to already I think I just want to begin ok so structural is criticism and poetics is the title of this chap of this chapter of this lecture the transition from new criticism to structuralism can be a bit confusing the other name I've been using for structuralism that is formalism resembles structuralism so closely especially since Clint Brooks actually uses the word structure over and over again in his close readings of individual poems as well as in his more theoretical writings about what literary criticism should be giving an account of what it when it interprets individual works of literature and so if you need a refresher on that it might be a good idea to go back and look at the video lectures from week one regardless of this resemblance between formalism and structuralism and regardless of certain affinities between formalism and structuralism there are some pretty key differences many of them theoretical rather than practical in nature what do I mean by this mainly that new critics did not really develop a systematic theory of despite despite my claim in my first video videos that Kleenex was for me so surprisingly theoretical and in some of his writings new criticism did not really develop a systematic theory of literature at all though many of them did attempt to give accounts of poetry or literature in general they were rarely informed at least directly by the centuries of aesthetic theory that predated them thus they were a kind of odd mixture of empiricism a school of philosophy predicated upon trusting only those facts gathered by our senses by our direct contact with the world around us and a romanticism generally a belief in the trends and transcendent power of art or literature poetry specifically there is a bit of cognitive dissonance in other words in some new critics insofar as they want to formalize and standardize the study of literature so that it is a set of investigations about what is in the poems themselves that's the empirical side of it all the while retaining a notion as we saw in client Brooks that poetry has some sort of essential and vital nature that really escapes in sort of an empirical account homes are for Brooks you will remember alive and we cannot be alive to them unless we attune ourselves to the paradoxical and ironical modes of expression inherent in them they are able to express things feelings and ideas that are inexpressible in ordinary expository uses of language this privileged enough literature by the new critics seems to cut against the principles of a more empirical approach to literary study the kind of approach that they purportedly wanted to standardize the influence of structuralism on literary studies marks a movement away from the submit stir of empiricism and romanticism structuralist literary study retains an interest in something called structure or form but is generally less interested in the unique aspects of particular works of literature and more interested in the grammar or poetics the set of codes and conventions that structure our perception of something as literature from the get-go as well as our expectations of what should or should not be found in literary works if this does not make sense yet that's okay we'll come back around to these ideas the shift from new criticism to structuralism so the shift new criticism which kind of you know it's hard to date but 30s 40s 50s and then trickling into the latter decades of the 20th century structuralism which we can kind of date around the 70s in some sense at least in the United States the a great deal of French structuralism is being pursued or what we would call as structuralist structuralist kinds of approaches to a variety of subjects objects and topics is going on in 50 60 s and 70s especially in France this shift from new criticism to structuralism the 30s 40s 50s into the 60s and 70s at least in in the United States was really sparked by the reception of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure's course in general linguistics which was not really a book but a compilation of students notes on his lectures but what does linguistics as the study or theory of language have to do with how one might go about the study of literature we might say how does so sory in linguistics specifically have to do with the study of literature is it simply that literature is an example of language and so that what sesor says about language in general must somehow be beneficial to studying literature we'll have to come back to these questions so search theory an approach to the study of language is predicated upon a series of important distinctions and premises in this in the description below this video I'm going to link you to a video about so sir that I posted last semester for a different class on postmodern literature in which we read Jacques Derrida's of Granite ology and so serve is one of the main one of the main antagonists let's say in that book and so I have a video that it that I put posted last semester that is really just sort of doing what I'm going to do in this video so if you like to double up on and see what I said about so sir back then click the link below and you can go watch that before watching the rest of this one anyway Parker covers the the distinctions that are important to so serve and so sirs main premises on pages 45 to 52 in our our primary textbook and also on page 59 which I don't think I did a sign but I want to cover them in a somewhat different order than he does in this video in a sense that is less important to develop a robust theoretical understanding of each of so sirs concepts than it is to understand the the ethos or the kind of attitude or point of view that so sir is developing toward his object of study it is so sirs point of view I argue and its implications for how one approaches an object that will be most influential on literary studies and that is still very influential on literary studies the first distinction between and these are these are French terms lung and POW whole lung and / whole or parole these concepts can be translated pretty simply into language and utterance okay the first lung denotes the overall system of language including its rules of grammar and usage the second pack hole denotes instances of language use right specific uses of language so we might say French is an example of lung right do you know French do you speak French are you fluent in French right because what we're referring to is a language that has its own lexicon grammar codes and conventions of usage and not and competing codes and conventions of usage depending on what culture or what you know district within a particular national culture one is currently inhabiting so that's that would be French that's long versus a poem or a novel or a greeting in French right Sallu you'll see that right these would be instances of parole right specific utterances so sir argues that linguists should not so much concern themselves with the interpretation of particular utterances but should instead concern themselves with the systematic study of lungs of language itself to illustrate the difference between lung and payroll so sir and others often use the example of a game like if we wanted to study a game right any game a game of chess for instance now games are not languages though perhaps they are in America maybe a metaphorical sense the difference between the set of rules in a game the codes and conventions according to which one structures one's approach to playing the game versus particular moves or turns in an actual game being played is analogous to the difference between the larger system of language right its rules codes conventions grammars etc and individual uses of language in speech writing etc so sir also wanted to get out of the history of language business at least in the course in general linguistics usually pursued in the field of philology he thought that focusing on changes in vocabulary and definition excuse me across the centuries and between different languages stymied our ability to develop a rigorous theory of language in general a theory that might be generalizable to other languages as well both present and past and so we get a second distinction right and this is on page 59 from Parker's book which you did not read between synchronic and diachronic investigation synchronic study refers to the isolation of a language from its development or history it is concerned with how a language is used out of particular time diachronic study would be concerned with the development of a language well not just a language but really anything with its history its shifts in rules and the story of the standardization of certain norms codes and conventions in order to understand the difference between these the game analogy is once again useful say we are studying the rules codes and conventions of how to play chess that was my example before a structuralist would bracket out any concern with the study of how chess came to be played the way it is right where there where there are always kings and queens and rooks and knights and pawns and bishops right or or what right and what is the history of how certain ways of moving were assigned to each of these pieces right a structuralist wouldn't care about those questions or might be curious but in in the actual study of the game would not necessarily be investigating those questions instead they would be concerned strictly with how chess is played right now or at some determined point or spend time in the past so we have lung and paw hold synchronic and diachronic investigation so sir prefers lung a focus on lung or language and he and he wants to also bracket out concerns with the development or history of that language and folk and pursue a synchronic study of that language sorry I was just looking at the time here so so sir instead of defining linguistics as um oh wait excuse me this happens sometimes oh yeah sorry so we have lung and parole we have synchronic and diachronic investigation now it's time to make sense of the oddest set of terms which though not directly applicable to literature again help to fashion an ad or point of view for a new approach to such study so so sir instead of defining linguistics as the study of words right that have a sort of set of ready-made definitions Scizor claims that linguistics should be or is the study of signs and the governing rules and relations that regulate the usage and meaning of signs how and in what way does a sign manage to signify something that is how and in what ways does it manage to mean something to competent users of language this is where it gets tricky because so sir invents an anatomy of the sign and I don't know why this was Anatomy who knows invents an anatomy of the sign it is made of two inseparable yet distinct components the signifier and the signified we can roughly define these two components or at least Jonathan color does as form and meaning by form we mean what's what's the vehicle by which the sign is sort of circulated and distributed so if we're talking about speech and want to use a particular sign as an example we would say that the sound could act right when you put it together into the sound cat right that's the signifier the sound cut at right would be a signifier since it is the form the Sonic form of our word cat right our word cat the meaning or sensor significance that we associate with this sound at is the signified as Parker puts it on page 47 so sir saw a firm link between the signifier our example cut and signified our our concept of cat that we attached to that sound so that any given sign is not merely the concept it represents the signified or its representation or form the signifier but the two bonded together like two sides of a coin or a piece of paper this should make some sort of sense to us right that so that was Parker this is me this should make some sort of sense to us since when I use when I excuse me when I use the sound to cut at none of you are confused right when you hear the sound cat if you're competent English users you're not confused right you mean may not be imagining the specific cat if you have a cat or you think I have a cat or you saw a cat out a window you might not be imagining a specific cat in the world but you are ready because you are again competent English users to make sense of whatever sentence I might put together concerning a cat as difficult as it may be to understand this two-part anatomy of signs it is important if only because of the two following principles that so sir associates with signs first though the signifier and signified are inseparable in a particular sign in a particular instance of power within the governing system of a particular lung the relationship between signifier and signified is arbitrary there is no natural logical or essential relationship between them even though we cannot separate them right even as competent English users there is a kind of necessary bond between the sound cat and the meaning we associate with it right even though there's a kind of a set necessary link between them that we can't just decide to break apart so sir says that necessary relationship is still not essential logical or natural there is no reason other than accident and history and contingency for why the sound cat corresponds to our concept cat none at all for a structuralist the signifier and signified are simply and irrevocably sutured together into the sign cat later structure lists will make a great deal of this principle of arbitrariness but if the relation between signifier and signified is arbitrary what guarantees that I will know what someone means when they use the sign cat so sirs answer is a bit weird excuse me but incredibly important and instead of me trying trying to describe it although I do in the video I link to below let's look at how Parker deals with this right so the first principle is the principle of arbitrariness the second principle is just as important so turn to page 48 because I want to read read maybe a couple pages of this okay I completely forgot cat was his example okay so on page 48 he says we only recognize the signifier such as cat so sir continued by processing it's by processing almost unconsciously right or or unconsciously it's difference from other potentially similar signifiers we recognize the word cat because it differs from bat and cut and cab and so on not because it has an inherent connection to the particular signified that convention has attached to it each language has a limited set of sounds which linguists call phonemes that it speakers people who know it Sloane here marking meaningful differences English has about 40 phonemes linguists tell us varying with the speaker and dialect but speakers of English have grown so accustomed to those phonemes that they are not conscious of them it would have worked out differently such that we did not hear a meaningful difference between the sound cat in the sound cut or between cat and CAD or KITT we apprehend the difference between signifiers then by a conventional distribution of phonemes that could have turned out differently and that to some extent has turned out differently in different versions of English some English speakers such as Shakespearean actors roll an R sound but that causes no confusion because we recognize – notably different sounds the rolled and the unrolled are as the same phoneme as our sounds in other words but in another language such as Spanish they could represent different phonemes making a word with a rolled R signify something different from an otherwise identical sound without a roll R so let's keep let's keep reading ok writing so sir notes works the same way – people may not write this the letter R exactly the same way but if we recognize it as the letter R then they both write it within the range of possibilities that readers of English conventionally recognized as signifying the same concept the writing system could have been constructed differently such that the differing ways that two different people write R could have signified two different letters with us come to recognize signifiers this is the important bit not because of an inherent quality within them think about new criticism for a second right we first came to recognize signifiers not be like the sound cat not because of an inherent quality within that sound within the signifier but by their position in a system of differences from other signifiers we recognize immediately the sound cat not because of something inherent to it not because it alone in isolation is somehow special but because it exists all ready within a much larger system of sound compositions from which it differs to so sir then I'll just read the next short paragraph to say sir then difference a system of comparisons and relations produces meaning meaning is not inherent to the sign not inherent to the signifier right meaning is not inherent to the signifier that's the exact next question right on the contrary it comes from an arbitrary system of conventions that distributes the differences among signifiers in language for so serve and he's quoting so sir here there are only differences so that language is a form and not a substance all right so to sum up and I might pause here and begin begin the next video so sir Scizor emphasizes long over parol synchrony or synchronic study over diachronic study he emphasizes signs rather than words distinctions between signifiers which are made up of phonemes and signified x' which it's probably better to call our concepts that are attached to those signifiers he develops the principles of arbitrariness right but the relationship between signifier and signified between form and concept is arbitrary there's no natural relationship between the two and that the difference and that the difference between a signifier and all other signified x' within and readymade but volatile network of differences right but it is that difference from other signified x' that produces the meaning to the meaning to which that signifier is attached what an earth does any of this have to do with literature in the next video I'll begin to directly address that question

2 thoughts on “ENG 201 (Lecture 3.1): Structuralism and Saussure

  1. Thanks for uploading such a comprehensive lecture on structuralism. It has been very helpful. 🙂

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