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Tracing the Ultimate Meaning Based on Structure  

2008-03-25 23:02:03|  分类: 作业及论文 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Tracing the Ultimate Meaning Based on Structure

--On the Connection of Structuralism and Deconstruction

 Thesis statement:

Deconstruction definitely has connection and continuity with structuralism although it appeared specially for the destruction of structuralism. Based on its four major deconstructive strategies: anti-logocentrism, destruction of binary opposition, the invention of Différance, intertextuality, deconstruction actually inherits structuralism in that they derive from the same origin: structure, and they trace the same target: the ultimate meaning.

 

 

Introduction

Structuralism and deconstruction are two western criticism schools in the 20th century. They are more or less similar in their mode of thinking and the latter is actually an inheritance and continuum of the former, although deconstruction, according to its morphology, is to dismantle (“de-“) construction, or structure, and it meant to destroy the structuralism in the first place.

As we all know, Structuralism is dedicated to analyzing the universal systems and structures interrelated in the human social and cultural phenomena. It is not merely studying system though it is inclined to regard language (or langue) as a certain system with a surface structure and deep structure. It is to do a systematic research on how structure functions within the system, that is, within a certain text, and dig out an ultimate meaning under such structure. Such a traditional center-oriented metaphysical thinking is criticized as logocentrism in the deconstructionists’ eyes since it always tries to presuppose a center there in every binary opposition and presuppose the priority of speech to writing, etc.

Deconstruction, in its arguments, takes structure as a weapon to attack structuralism. Since structure is complicated, temporary and there is always différance (deferment) of the signifier to signify the signified, language and meaning have no beginning and no ending. We can get close to the ultimate meaning but we can never reach it.

After analyzing their differences, this article is going to draw a conclusion of their connection and continuity in their focusing on structure and targeting at the ultimate meaning.

 

Chapter I. Focusing on Structure

In Course in General Linguistics, Saussure induces and proposes the four principles in structural linguistics: diachronical and synchronical method, langue and parole, signifier and signified, system difference determination of meaning. Derrida deconstructs these structuralist principles in his anti-logocentrism, destruction of binary oppositions, and invention of différance (deferment). But after analyzing deconstructionist logic, we may find, in the literary criticism, both structuralism and deconstruction are focusing on structure (or system) within language signs.

1. Anti-longocentrism

From Saussure, structuralism falls into the realm of form, mode and structure. He holds that language analysis is divided into diachronic and synchronic and distinguishes parole from langue within language. From such division, logocentrism is formed. Logocentrism thinks that the existence of every object in the world is related to its presence; therefore the ideal method is to think the “thoughts” directly instead of resorting to the language media. Since it is impossible, language is then required to be as transparent as possible so that man can be the spokesman for Truth. That is to say, there is a spontaneous, intrinsic and direct relation between speech and meaning (i.e. Truth). Writing, however, is secondary since it is the substitute of human voice.  Meanwhile the speaker’s presence avoid ambiguity of meaning while  writing is a series of signs which is easily misinterpreted due to the speaker’s absence. After him, Jakobson develops phonocentrism, and Levi-Strauss promotes ethnocentrism. All such analytic methods form a center of a deep structure of discourse, around which, the interconnected and inter-transformed elements constitute an inter-relative structure to balance and construct the whole system. Therefore in the literary criticism the whole procedures of composition, analysis, interpretation, and criticism are all directed to the authorized center of discourse.

In Grammatology, Derrida argues that writing may be either phonetic or non-phonetic, and explains that the function of writing is not merely to substitute for the presence of speech, and that writing has its superiority for its “iterability”. He thinks that only when signs are iterable, can the signs have the same shape under different circumstances and can the listener or reader understand the speaker or the writer’s intention without any preparation or context. And there is an “arch-writing” which includes both speech and writing (pure writing).

In so doing, Derrida deconstructs and destroys the metaphysic thinking – logocentrism.  Thus results in the estrangement of the latter texts and textual language from the center of discourse authority to marginalization.

2. Destruction of binary opposition

Structure is the core in the thinking of structuralism. The Swiss psychologist Piat holds that a structure has three features: totality, transformality and adjustability. From this totality, structuralists find a binary opposition. They stress that much of our imaginative world is structured by binary oppositions, such as being and nothingness, father and son, God and creature, day and night, etc. The structuralist activities are to reconstruct the objects according to the binary oppositions.

Derrida calls such kind of system of philosophy which holds that with a center in the middle structure weaves a very complicated yet stable and hierarchical web. This way of thinking does not jump out of the traditional western thought that the binary opposition or pair, in which one part of that pair is always more important than the other. Derrida tries to subvert such “hierarchical” relationship. He destroys the binary opposition of speech and writing at first: not only writing is not inferior to speech, but arch-writing includes generously speech. Thought the two elements of each binary opposition has differences, there is no such hierarchical relationship of them being superior or inferior. And the two elements can be inter-immersed and inter-contained.

3. The invention of Différance

Saussure’s linguistics says that sign is composed of concept and sound. The referent in the world is concepted and signified in the human brain, and presented by the actual signifier. And the traditional linguistics also thinks that the signified can relate and refer to the referent one for one.

Vincent B. Leitch, American critic, states in Deconstructive Criticism, that the signifier of sign refers to the conceptual signified since sound represents the complete concept. For example, the sound “chair” can be sensed by human brain though there isn’t presence of the object chair. Therefore signifier represents an absent-presence and postpones (or defers) the presence of the object. For such, Derrida creates a conception of différance, a French word with two totally different meanings. In French, the verb “différer” means both “to defer” and “to differ”. Thus, différance may refer not only to the state or quality of being deferred, but to the state or quality of being different. Différance is indefinable, and it cannot be explained by the “metaphysics of presence”. Derrida explains that différance is the condition for the opposition of presence and absence, and is also the “hinge” between speech and writing and between inner meaning and outer representation.

In the above arguments, Derrida does not deny the importance of structure, but regards structure as a complex, fragmental, non-centered, multi-meaningful, etc. unlike the structural point of view of the features of structure: systematic, centered, hierarchical, etc. In this sense, both structuralism and deconstruction study the features of language and literary texts within structure. They both never touch things outside text such as the background, the author, etc. and do not consider the complex changeability of language in a diachronic way. Both of them argue within the realm of structure.

 

Chapter II. Targeting at the Ultimate Meaning

Both structuralism and deconstruction are trying to cover the same scope: the meaning of the text. Structuralism tempts to build a meaningful structure in order to reveal the deep meaning of a text hidden behind the surface meaning. They are inclined to form a statement: the meaning of this text is… while Derrida finds fault in such sentence structure because it implies that there is something understandable and can be labeled as different names. Therefore there is no ultimate meaning but only a trace to the ultimate meaning. His purpose is to dismantle the ultimate meaning and to build a blank and deferment in the reaching of it.

Levi-Strauss holds that any change in one element may cause change in other elements within the structure. It is possible for any structure to deduce the series of changes in the same categories. As a result, the textual meaning will be framed into a stable mode so as not to be “misread”. Thus the hidden discursive meaning can be, and will be, dug out as long as we have found the rules within the structures.

Although it has the same target of trying to trace the existence of meaning, deconstruction nihilizes meaning in its breakdown of structure, dissolution of center, destruction of totality and abandonment of stability.

Structuralism holds a kind of intertextuality: the signs, language systems, social backgrounds, intellectual discourses within a literary text are all connected with other texts in a sundry, complex way. Before reading, the reader has already had a pre-reading intertextual understanding and in the reading he may form a new intertextuality mingled with his own and the text’s textuality. Such kind of intertextuality directs the text reading to a center, and therefore has a centripetal force to restore the deep structure of meaning. This is a cognitive mode deconstruction tries to destroy. Based on such intertextuality itself, deconstruction argues that each reading leads to a new intertext because all the elements, the signs, language systems, intellectual discourses, etc. are not sole or linear, and every reader may have different pre-reading knowledge to direct to centrifugal interpretations. Under such conditions, there is no existence of binary oppositions and terminal meaning, but perpetual meanings reproduced from the structure and reconstructed by different readers. Therefore there appears a blank in the theme (meaning) of the text for the readers to fill in and to complete. Who can say that the endless completion is not the best interpretation?

In a word, the interpretation modes of both structuralism and deconstruction are to trace and dig out the ultimate meaning of the text. The difference is that structuralism is to reconstruct an ultimate structure, complete the blank and find the ultimate meaning in the structure while deconstruction is to dismantle structure, create contradiction and establish a perpetual unreachable blank, which is actually, in a way, the ultimate meaning of the text.

 

Conclusion

After close comparison of the two, we may conclude that structuralism and deconstruction have the same origin: from structure, and the same target: to direct to the ultimate meaning of a text. They are complementary in the way of thinking, especially, in the textual interpretation. It has been proved that both centripetal interpretation in structuralism and centrifugal interpretation in deconstruction are two very effective methods for a textual interpretation. We should utilize them both to help us have a better understanding of a text.

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