From Structuralism to Post-Structuralism (Deconstruction). Constructions of Meanings and Their Radical Uncertainty (2014 S). Reading Notes. The Basics: Poststructuralism vs. Liberal Humanism p. 118
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From Structuralism to Post-Structuralism (Deconstruction)
Constructions of Meanings and Their Radical Uncertainty (2014 S)
(Basics 125) Derrida argues that the same
holds for words: every single word contains traces of other words– theoretically of all the other words in the language system:
the signified concept is never present in and of itself, in a sufficient presence that would refer only to itself. Essentially and lawfully, every concept is inscribed in a chain or in a system within which it refers to the other, to other concepts. (Derrida  1996: 30)
Meaning, then, is the product of difference and it is also always subject to a process of deferral. In fact, a word’s – or sign’s –relations to other words and to words that will follow are a condition for meaning – without those relations meaning would
not be possible. As Derrida puts it:
…the movement of signification is possible only if each so-called ‘present’ element, each element appearing on the scene of presence, is related to something other than itself, thereby keeping within itself the mark of the past element, and already letting itself be vitiated [contaminated] by the mark of its relation to the future element, this trace being related no less to what is called the future than to what is called the past, and constituting what is called the present by means of this very relation to what it is not (“Différance”)
1) the car: Silver gray colors, in a clean but empty city with glass buildings; easy, fast and smooth driving luxury and power (The whole city is emptied out.)
2) Objectification of the Woman? A woman larger than life (with the power of T.V. wall+glass building) the woman’s flowing hair, gaze and smile are signs of the man’s self-projection of power, ease and desirability.
Keywords: constructionism floating signifier
-- a major theoretical school in the postmodern age which radicalizes structuralist views of language by seeing signified as signifier, and separating signs from ‘reality.’
-- in conflict with many other theoretical schools such as Marxism, Feminism and Postcolonialism, but also get to be combined with them;
-- the areas of its influences range from arts, politics to popular culture.
Keywords: constructionism floating signifier
With their views of language’s fluidity, all the above fixed meanings are destabilized.
Physical analogy: our perception on a moving train of another moving train//multiple signifying chains intersecting with one another textuality
Why is reality ‘textual,’ and individual, ‘a product of social and linguistic forces. . . ‘a tissue of textualities” (Beginning 64-65)?
Our social existence is modeled after language as a system of relations (e.g. kinship; gender)
different languages (discourses) provide us with different subject positions. There are meanings in a text which its author is not aware of. polysemy; e.g. 吹皺一池春水
Why is reality ‘textual,’ and individual, ‘a product of social and linguistic forces. . . ‘a tissue of textualities” (64-65)?
2. Text: From work, to text to (inter)textuality;
“There is nothing outside of text”
No fixed boundaries; no stable meanings;
3. “The death of the author.”
The birth of the Reader
4. Readings of Meaning and Reality:
1) deconstruction – to read against the grain; to find textual undecidability &
2) postmodern self-reflexivity –everything is representation and in need of interpretation(more examples later)
Q 3: -- Why is signifier ‘floating,’ meaning disseminated, and text, “an endless free play of meanings”(Beginning 66)? Note: metaphors of dandelion or seeds
(現代啟示錄 can be a store name.)
roles + actions);
Thematic structure: Motifs, mythemes, metaphors, etc.
+ more stereotypical descriptions, or a father’s advice to his son, etc.
1. Polysemy: Traces of other signs, other meanings. (e.g. national “birthday”; 干卿底事)
2. Multiple Context; Reference Undecidable. (e.g. “The end of the world” )
3. Meaning is not “present” in language; it happens “in between” signifiers.
4. (intention and the unconscious)
Male poet and
Traces of other usages
-- Jacque Derrida:
1. Prologue: Instability of Meaning (discussed)
2. Writing as Différance
3. ‘Center’ as Transcendental Signified and Binarism
4. Deconstruction: Literary Practice
-- Meaning changed when the context is further revealed.
Language a system of difference of Différance.
* While structualists had treated binary oppositions as stable terms in a formal structure, Derrida sees them as organized in unstable disequilibrium. because of the presence/absence of traces
* Derrida sees the signified’s also in a relation of difference, and they are turned into signifiers floating signifiers.
(Textbook: chap 6: p. 123; 28)
A sign is defined by its binary opposition to another sign.
2. To defer.
The signifier (black) that is distinguished from the other one (white) is not completely erased; it is only deferred, bracketed or merely “put under erasure.”It can subvert the fixed meaning of the sign.
The chain of signification:
(1) symbolization or mythologizing
White Man’s Burden
Exotic (Evil or Weak)
Other Racial Features
What they did
Other Skin colors
The other Americans
Re-contextualization; traces kept. e.g.
1. Pharmakon: 1). poison, 2). Pharmacy
God (transcendental signified)
The Bible (transcendental signifier)
They are the upper terms in hierarchical binaries: e.g.
2. The weak term is not really weak.
3. Mutually implicated: One term implies its opposite term.
4. Find where the text differs from itself. (critical difference) ambiguity and undecidability
5. Radical contextualization to find out its intertextual references and thus undecidability of meanings.
“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”;
“Ode on Melancholy”
He ‘burst’ joy’s grape against his palate; ‘hung’ as one of his trophies (passive)
When senses are active, the poet seems powerless and passive.
A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London
Never until the mankind makingBird beast and flowerFathering and all humbling darknessTells with silence the last light breakingAnd the still hourIs come of the sea tumbling in harnessAnd I must enter again the roundZion of the water beadAnd the synagogue of the ear of cornShall I let pray the shadow of a soundOr sow my salt seedIn the least valley of sackcloth to mourn
The majesty and burning of the child's death.I shall not murderThe mankind of her going with a grave truthNor blaspheme down the stations of the breathWith any furtherElegy of innocence and youth.Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter,Robed in the long friends,The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,Secret by the unmourning waterOf the riding Thames.After the first death, there is no other.
A slumber did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears:
She seemed a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.
No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Rolled round in earth's diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees.
(William Wordsworth )
“A slumber did my spirit seal” -- Contradictions between
peacefulness and regularity
Gap: What happened in between the present and the past?
Whose peacefulness is it? Whose death and when?
1. Anti-Foundationalist & de-centering;
2. Like New Critics, deconstructionists read closely to find out the contradictions and gaps in a text, but without reconstructing them back to a unity.
3. Other usages of “différance”: desired object in unattainable, constantly deferred and replaced; colonial mimicry disseminate/de-center colonial authority.
4. “différance” and temporary closure.