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Chapter 5: Literature and
A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature
Chapter 5: Literature and
I. Structuralism and Post-structuralism, Including
A. Structuralism: Contexts and Definitions
Structuralists identify structures, systems of relationships,
which endow signs (words) with meanings
B. The Linguistic Model
Saussurean linguistics: la langue, la parole, semiotics,
syntagmatic reading; Jakobson, communicative functions
Chapter 5
C. Russian Formalism: Extending Saussure
Moscow scholars after World War I: Propp (folktales),
Shklovsky (poetry as defamiliarization); narrative =
story + plot
D. Structuralism, Lévi-Strauss, and Semiotics
Structural anthropology: all societies have complex
structures; paradigmatic approach to “deep
structures” of culture and myth
Chapter 5
E. French Structuralism: Coding and Decoding
French structuralists Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, Todorov
all used Saussure to read complex texts (Proust, Balzac)
Narrative analogous to sentence—syntagmatic reading; cf
Russian Formalists on story and plot (histoire and
Text is message to be understood by a code; Barthes’s
codes: actions (proairetic), puzzles (hermeneutic), cultural,
connotative, symbolic
F. British and American Interpreters
Culler: seeks to expand the poetics of structuralism
Chapter 5
G. Post-Structuralism, Deconstruction
Influenced by Barthes’s structuralism
texts subversively undermine their meaning just as
language is constant free play and deferred meaning,
with broad referentiality
Derrida: difference, philosophical skepticism;
meaning reveals contradictory structures within
Chapter 5
II. Dialogics
Bakhtin’s dialogics expresses the inherent addressivity of
all language especially as it appears in the polyphonic novel
Marxist and Christian influences
Role of the grotesque
A subject is not an object of address but a dialogic partner;
Mae Gwendolyn Henderson
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