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Literary Criticism. Class #1. Structuralism. “ Linguistics is not simply a stimulus and source of inspiration but a methodological model which unifies the otherwise diverse projects of structuralists.” (Culler, Structuralist Poetics , 4).

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Literary Criticism

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Literary criticism

Literary Criticism

Class #1



Literary criticism

  • “Linguistics is not simply a stimulus and source of inspiration but a methodological model which unifies the otherwise diverse projects of structuralists.”

  • (Culler, Structuralist Poetics, 4)

Literary criticism

  • Barthes: “I have been engaged in a series of structural analyses which all aim at defining a number of non-linguistic ‘languages’”

  • (Essais critiques, 155; qtd in Culler, Structuralist Poetics, 4).

Ferdinand de saussure

Ferdinand de Saussure




  • 1916

    Course in General Linguistics

Literary criticism

  • “the father of modern linguistics”

  • Led to “the linguistic turn” in the 20th- century history of ideas

The sign

The Sign 符號

Literary criticism


  • “The bond between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary,” not “motivated” (by natural resemblance).


Literary criticism

  • “The meanings we give to words are purely arbitrary, and . . . these meanings are maintained by convention only” (Barry 41).

Bracketing the referent

bracketing the referent

  • =leaving out the third dimension of the sign, that to which it refers

  • Argued that language should be studied apart from the world to which it refers.

  • Language = chess?

    (Norton 959)

Bracketing the referent1

bracketing the referent

  • Against “reference,” essentialism, or mimetic representation, namely, one-to-one correspondence between words and things

Possible exceptions

Possible exceptions

  • 1. Onomatopoeia: “shatter,” “clash,” “tick-tock,” “drip-drop”

  • 2. Interjections: “哎呀!” “Ouch!” “Damn!” “Gosh!” “Shit!”

Literary criticism


  • “In language there are only differences 差異" (Saussure, Course in General Linguistics).

  • “The meanings of words are . . . relational” (Barry 42).

Literary criticism

  • The definition of any given word “depends for its precise meaning on its position in a ‘paradigmatic chain,’ that is, a chain of words related in function and meaning each of which could be substituted for any of the others in a given sentence” (Barry 42).

Literary criticism

Vertical axis

Paradigmatic chain

syntagmatic chain

Horizontal axis

Literary criticism



  • I bought my hat in an antique store.



Literary criticism




  • Ms. Su lives in a house.




Literary criticism

  • Saussure’s example: “we feel the 8.25 p.m. Geneva-to-Paris Express to be the same train each day, though the locomotive, coaches, and personnel may be different. This is because the 8.25 train is not a substance but a form, defined by its relations to other trains. It remains the 8.25 even though it leaves twenty minutes late, so long as its difference from the 7.25 and the 9.25 is preserved. Although we may be unable to conceive of the train except in its physical manifestations, its identity as a social and psychological fact is independent of those manifestations” (Culler 11).

Binary oppositions

Binary Oppositions

  • “Indeed, the relations that are most important in structural analysis are the simplest: binary oppositions” (Culler, 14).

Literary criticism

  • good / eviloriginal / copyprimary / secondaryinside / outsidereality / appearanceessence / accident


Literary criticism

  • soul / bodypure / corruptedfather / sonmale / femalespeech / writing


Literary criticism

  • center / marginsnormal / deviantnatural / unnaturalstraight / gaywhite / blackself / other


Literary criticism

  • truth / fictionphilosophy / mythsciences / humanitiesclassical / romantic

    modern / postmodernpoet / critic

Literary criticism

  • sex / gendermaster / slavehigh culture / pop culture

    base / superstructurewaking / dreaming

    latent content / manifest contentthe library / the web


Literary criticism

L homme sans t te

L’Homme Sans Tête

  • (directed by Juan Solanas)

  • Discussion: Identify the binary opposites.

The paradigmatic chain

the paradigmatic chain

  • “What goes without saying” → ideology

  • What is “conspicuous by its absence” → flout conventional expectations → value

  • (Daniel Chandler, “Semiotics for Beginners,”

Literary criticism


  • “Language constitutes our world . . . Meaning is always attributed to the object or the idea by the human mind, and constructed by and expressed through language: it is not already contained within the things” (Barry 43).

Literary criticism

  • Problems with Descartes’ idea: “I think therefore I am”?

  • World language I


Literary criticism


  • Discussion:

    (1) Identify binary oppositions

    (2) Discuss how language constitutes our world.

Langue vs parole

Langue vs. Parole

  • Parole 話語 : an individual utterance (specific, diachronic)

  • Langue 語系: a larger system or structure (synchronic, ahistorical)

    (Barry 44)

Literary criticism

  • “Any actual ‘speech’ (parole) presupposes a system (langue) which is being used.”

    (Selden 55)

Noam chomsky

Noam Chomsky

  • Competence能力→ Langue

  • Performance表現→ Parole

Semiology vs semiotics

semiology vs. semiotics

  • Semiology:

  • Semiotics:

Food for thought

Food for Thought

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of using linguistics to study other cultural phenomena?

Claude l vi strauss

Claude Lévi-Strauss




  • 1962 The Savage Mind

  • 1962 Totemism

  • 1964-71 Mythologiques (4 vols)

  • 1978 Myth and Meaning

  • 1984 Anthropology and Myth

Literary criticism

  • "Structuralism is the search for unsuspected harmonies..."

  • (Lévi-Strauss, qtd. in

Myth language

Myth = Language

The oedipus myth

The Oedipus Myth

  • (1) the overvaluation of kinship ties (Oedipus marries his mother; Antigone buries her brother unlawfully)

  • (2) the undervaluation of kinship (Oedipus kills his father; Eteocles kills his brother)

L vi strauss


  • “[T]he individual tale (the parole) from a cycle of myths did not have a separate and inherent meaning but could only be understood by considering its position in the whole cycle (the langue) and the similarities and difference between the tale ad others in the sequence” (Barry 46).

Literary criticism

  • “A structural anthropologist may examine the customs and rituals of a single group of people in some remote part of the world not simply to understand them in particularbutto discover underlying similarities between their society and others”

  • (Dobie, Theory into Practice, 140)

Literary criticism

  • The End

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