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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

From Structuralism to Post-Structuralism (Deconstruction)

Constructions of Meanings and Their Radical Uncertainty (2014 S)

reading notes
Reading Notes
  • The Basics:
    • Poststructuralism vs. Liberal Humanism p. 118
    • Poststructuralism: the Cretan paradox p. 119 –or the paradox between subject of enunciation and tne enunciated; e.g. Auto-biography
    • The illusion of presence p. 122
    • In defence of absence 124 – (including definition of Différance)
    • Binary oppositions revisited 128-
    • Literary deconstruction 131
    • Implication 135
reading notes1
Reading Notes

Beginning Theory

  • “Structure, Sign and Play”
  • “There is nothing outside the text”
  • Comparison of Structuralism and Poststructuralism
  • Poststructuralism: methodology
notes on oran s presentation
Notes on Oran’s Presentation
  • Differences between structuralism & poststructuralism
  • Difference – differentiation and postponement of presence
  • Death of the Author – you agree?
  • Discourse and Power
  • e.g.Huckleberry Finn
quotations 1 traces of other words
Quotations (1): traces of other words

(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 [1982] 1996: 30)

quotations 2 diff rance
Quotations (2): Différance

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:


quotations 2 diff rance1
Quotations (2): Différance

…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”)

  • Structuralism: A Brief Review (two examples)
  • Poststructuralist Views of Language & Reality
    • Language (Polysemy) and Reality
    • Jacque Derrida: (1) Différance
    • Jacque Derrida: (2) Transcendental Signified
  • Deconstruction: Practice:
    • e.g. Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”; Keats’“Ode on Melancholy”
    • e.g. “Refusal To Mourn The Death, By Fire, Of A Child In London”
  • Derrida in Context;Self-Conscious/Deconstructing Texts
key words for structualist and semiotic approaches
Key words for Structualist and Semiotic approaches:
  • I. Following language as a model
  • II. Disclosing the deep/basic structure of a text, which is a (combination or selection) system of meaning composed of basic elements such as:
    • -- binaries, or semiotic rectangles,
    • -- roles/actant and functions,
    • -- mytheme,
    • -- narrator- narratee,
    • -- signs or signification on different levels (signifier and signified). Roland Barthes’ Semiotics
semiotics some key concepts
Semiotics –Some Key Concepts
  • Culture is composed of different languages, or systems of signs;
  • Myth (or connotation) is constructed by emptying out or distorting the signs’ original meanings (denotation);
  • Myth is seductive, and its is apparently natural and innocent.
examples for analysis gender identity
Examples for analysis: gender & identity

TOYOTA-VIOS 1.6-目光吸引篇

  • Signs? Objectification of the Woman?
  • Myth vs. Reality?
two more examples for analysis gender identity
Two More Examples for analysis: gender & identity

TOYOTA-VIOS 1.6-目光吸引篇

  • Main idea: “What do you want?”“Vios, it’s everything.”
  • Signs:

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.

  • Distorted: city, the woman an ad and its interpellation(召喚) in disguise
  • Symptom Revealed: spectacle/image society; “The TV is watching us.”
two more examples for analysis gender identity1
Two More Examples for analysis: gender & identity


  • Signs? Connotations? Distortion?
  • Is the woman all powerful?
two more examples for analysis gender identity2
Two More Examples for analysis: gender & identity


  • Signs: frame within the frame
  • of the Gothic: woman in a cape; old mansion/computer game parlor; a secret pass;
  • of electronic game -- virtual reality with a woman presented in double;
  • sci-fi: strong woman in black tight-fit dress,
  • Is the woman all powerful?
    • Apparently, the two women empower each other;
    • Actually, the visa card is power.
  • Distortion: money = power; game = reality
  • Symptom Revealed:everything is construction, but the power of money and electronic game is stronger than anything else.

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

poststructuralism theory
Poststructuralism: Theory

Major Questions

  • How does poststructuralism de-center traditional authorities?
  • Why is the author dead? Why is there nothing outside the text? Why is reality ‘textual,’ and individual, ‘a product of social and linguistic forces. . . ‘a tissue of textualities” (64-65)?
  • Why is signifier ‘floating,’ meaning disseminated, and text, “an endless free play of meanings”(66)?
1 how does poststructuralism de center traditional authorities
(1) How does poststructuralism de-center traditional authorities?
  • the traditional centers or foundations of our lives -- e.g. Truth, Humanity, Family, Nation, History, Reality, God, Creativity, Author  and their stable meanings
  • Physical analogy: the ground beneath our feet; fixed landmark – with which we feel stability and measure the other things;

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

2 why is the author dead
(2) Why is the author dead?

Why is reality ‘textual,’ and individual, ‘a product of social and linguistic forces. . . ‘a tissue of textualities” (Beginning 64-65)?

  • Self: No longer a unified self; in a system of relations with multiple Subject Positions

 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

2 why is the author dead1
(2) Why is the author dead?

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;

  • e.g. Internet and the world of ads
2 why is the author dead2
(2) Why is the author dead?

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

which of the following statements are not ambiguous
Which of the following statements are not ambiguous?
  • I am 40 years old.
  • The Republic of China was born on Oct. 10, 1911.
  • I love you till the end of the world.
  • 多吃蔬菜﹐有益健康。
  • 中國人生性刻苦耐勞。
  • 你要做和事佬﹐真是吹縐一池春水。
  • The experience of the earthquake yesterday was quite uncanny.
which of the following statements are not ambiguous1
Which of the following statements are not ambiguous?
  • I am 40 years old. Who is this “I”?
  • The Republic of China was born on Oct. 10, 1911. born?
  • I love you till the end of the world

 (現代啟示錄 can be a store name.)

 love?

  • 多吃蔬菜﹐有益健康。 insecticide? Vegi with blue cheese?
  • 中國人生性刻苦耐勞。 中國人?
language literature as an enclosed system
Language/Literature as an enclosed system



(narrative structure:

roles + actions);


Thematic structure: Motifs, mythemes, metaphors, etc.

polysemy caused by context
Polysemy caused by context




+ more stereotypical descriptions, or a father’s advice to his son, etc.



why is language ambiguous
Why is language ambiguous?
  • Why are meanings undecidable & slippery?

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)

multiple context
Multiple Context: 吹縐一池春水

Male poet and

Waiting woman.

  • 謁金門 馮延巳





  • 中主李璟很欣賞這首詞,便對馮延巳說:「吹皺一池春水,干卿底事?」馮延巳答道:「怎及你的細雨夢回雞塞遠,小樓吹徹玉笙寒呢?」


random samples from internet
吹縐一池春水(random samples from Internet﹚
  • 東元聲寶合併 吹縐一池春水. 中時電子報 03:59
  • 免費下載音樂軟體是否侵犯智財權, NAPSTER吹縐一池春水, 受質疑.
  • 她愛笑,笑得很野,有時不經意的把眉輕鎖,落在河表哥心中,就如吹縐一池春水 (source)

Traces of other usages

derrida outline
Derrida: Outline

-- Jacque Derrida:

1. Prologue: Instability of Meaning (discussed)

2. Writing as Différance

3. ‘Center’ as Transcendental Signified and Binarism

4. Deconstruction: Literary Practice

language in movement 1 spacing
Language in movement (1) “Spacing”
  • Movement from one Signifier to another

-- Meaning changed when the context is further revealed.

  • Comic effects in standup comedians’ show 相聲: old traces vs. newly defined meanings. (e.g. 政府官員,很持久)
  • The traces of the old meanings are both present and absent.
writing and diff rance
Writing and Différance

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)

writing and diff rance 2
Writing and Différance (2)


  • To differ;

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.

writing and diff rance1
Writing and Différance

The chain of signification:

(1) symbolization or mythologizing

writing and diff rance chain of signification 1

Manifest Destiny

White Man’s Burden


Writing and Différance: chain of signification (1)
  • Signifier Signified 2 Signified 3

Asian People


Exotic (Evil or Weak)

Other Racial Features

What they did

Other Skin colors

Innocent, Strong

and Civilized


White Americans

The other Americans

writing and diff rance chain of signification 2
Writing and Différance: Chain of Signification (2)

Re-contextualization; traces kept. e.g.

1. Pharmakon: 1). poison, 2). Pharmacy

2. 〈幌馬車之歌〉;吹皺一池春水

  • Do you agree that meaning is always uncertain and slippery? What does Derrida’s views of language shed light on our communication?
  • What is wrong with binarism(either . . . or), which structuralism sees as basic to our thinking?
  • Why are poststructuralist views of reality radical or de-stablising? Are they then destructive?
the transcendental signified
The Transcendental Signified
  • (Textbook: p. 124) transcendental signified: source of meaning and center of existence; foundations; the external point of reference, whose definition should not be changed, should not be relational.
  • The “unmoved mover” e.g.

God (transcendental signified)

The Bible (transcendental signifier)

the transcendental signified and binaries
The Transcendental Signified and Binaries

They are the upper terms in hierarchical binaries: e.g.

critique of metaphysics logocentrism phallogocentrism
Critique of Metaphysics: logocentrism, & phallogocentrism
  • Traditional binaries are hierarchical. Should be reversed or questioned.
  • Logocentrism: Logo as center, source, or founding presence of knowledge and human beings.
  • Phallogocentrism: the hierarchy of Man/Woman= sun/moon, reason/emotion, Subject/Object, etc.
ways of questioning the hierarchical binaries
Ways of Questioning the Hierarchical Binaries
  • The two termsare actually mutually determinant. e.g. The West has to define itself by having/rejecting an “Other” which is different.

2. The weak term is not really weak.

3. Mutually implicated: One term implies its opposite term.

deconstruction practices
Deconstruction: practices
  • Open texts  A text that deconstructs its own unity or “author.” (contemporary self-reflexive texts)
  • Reverse the text’s binaries or expose its undecidability or multiple meanings
  • Study the process of signification of a sign or a text and find out what it tries to erase. (e.g. Scarlet Letter; Barthesian studies of commercials)
deconstruction practices 2
Deconstruction: practices (2)

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.

deconstruction example 1 process of signification
Deconstruction: example (1)process of signification
  • Wordsworth’s poems:

“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”;

  • I = cloud ([Dorothy]) + daffodils dancing ([daffodils weary])
  • Daffodils = milky way ([real flowers])  I saw
  • Daffodils in glee ([the waves])  I recollect them in my mind’s eye =bliss of solitude ([the actual experience]).
deconstruction of binary opposition example 2
Deconstruction of Binary Opposition: Example (2)

“Ode on Melancholy”


  • No to active pursuits of sleep or suicide ( drowns the soul, turns it passive);
  • Savor the contraries and transience in life;
  • 1. “She” (active) dominates where all the senses are quickened; you 

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.

undecidability example 3
Undecidability: example 3
  • “Refusal To Mourn The Death, By Fire, Of A Child In London”(Beginning app 2)
  • Verbal -- paradoxes;
  • Textual – no fixed context in this poem;
  • Linguistic (contextual) – against‘a grave truth’ (or all the received (cliché) ways of mourning) but then the poem still uses its rhetoric
undecidability example 4
Undecidability: example 4

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 )

undecidability example 41
Undecidability: example 4

“A slumber did my spirit seal” -- Contradictions between



the human




the cosmic

peacefulness and regularity

Gap: What happened in between the present and the past?

Whose peacefulness is it? Whose death and when?

derridian deconstruction in context
Derridian Deconstruction in Context

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.

self conscious texts in contemporary popular culture
Self-Conscious Texts in Contemporary Popular Culture
  • Challenge the author e.g. Icicle Thief; Truman Show;
  • Exposing the (TV) frames: “Money for Nothing” (Dire Strait); Ferris Beuler’s Day Off (1, 2); MTV channel’s commercials (parodies)
  • Reality and illusion: Vanilla Sky, Mulholland Drive
  • Parody: Moulin Rouge, 全民亂講
works cited
Works Cited
  • [textbook] Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. 2nd Ed. Bressler, Charles E. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999.
  • Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Peter Barry.