Thursday, November 16, 2017

Structuralism and Poststructuralism in literary theory

Structuralism was a broad movement which attempted to locate the operative principles which ground activities and behaviours; its importance to Literary Theory is substantial, although Literary Theory has rejected a number of its premises. Two central structural theories were Freud's psychoanalytic theory and Marx's economic/political theories. What marks these theories as structuralist is their locating of generative forces below or behind phenomenal reality, forces which act according to general laws through transformative processes. In structural theories, motive, or generative force, is found not in a pre-text but in a sub-text; the surface is a transformation, a re-coded articulation of motive forces and conditions, and so the surface must be translated rather then simply read. From the rise of the whole rich field of semiotics to the theorizing of the history of science to the revolutionizing of anthropology to the creation of family therapy, structuralism has been a central, pervasive force in the century. The idea of decoding the depth from the manifestations of the surface, that what appears is often masking or is a transformation of what is, is a key tenant of Literary Theory.

Poststructuralism carries on with the idea of the surface as a transformation of hidden forces, but rejects structuralism's sense that there are timeless rules which govern transformations and which point to some stable reality below and governing the flux — what poststructuralism refers to as an essentialist or totalizing view. Poststructuralism sees 'reality' as being much more fragmented, diverse, tenuous and culture-specific than does structuralism. Some consequences have been, first, poststructuralism's greater attention to specific histories, to the details and local contextualizations of concrete instances; second, a greater emphasis on the body, the actual insertion of the human into the texture of time and history; third, a greater attention to the specifies of cultural working, to the arenas of discourse and cultural practice; lastly, a greater attention to the role of language and textuality in our construction of reality and identity. Literary Theory is a poststructural practice.