Criticism / Internet
Assisted Courses / English Department
Important concepts and Topics
A. structuralist linguistics:
Saussure's langue and parole; signifier and signified binary opposition
B. structuralist analysis of narrative
C. structuralist poetics: Roman Jakobson's
metaphor and metonymy
D. Barthes' semiotics
(theory of signs)
A. structuralist linguistics: Saussure's langue and
parole; signifier and signified binary opposition
The author is dead.
Structuralism finds out the grammar of literary works.
Saussure's Language Theory
langue and parole
langue and parole--the language system and the individual utterance
<<--object of structuralist study: langue; the system of rules, the
grammar, underlying literary works>>
sign = signifier and signified
How language refers to things
sign = signifier--signified; the relation between is arbitrary (e.g.
red = stop, green = go);
meaning is not fixed. A signifier means by its difference from the other
(Green and LeBihan)-on signification
signifier + signified = sign--referent
Saussure "The linguistic sign unites, not a thing and a name, but a concept
and a sound-image. . . The two elements are intimately united, and each
recalls the other.
"The linguistic sign is arbitrary. It is unmotivated, i.e. arbitrary in
that it actually has no natural connection with the signified."
What about Onomatopoeia, 象形文字?
signifier + signified -referent triad: The inclusion of the concept within
the triad of signification suggests that there is no natural or immediate
relation between the words and the 'thing.'
-- Underlying our use of language is a system, a pattern of paired opposites,
or binary oppositions.--or a system of differences
-- Signs work not by referring to things but by taking up a position within
a system of signs. No word has meaning on its own: there is always present
in each word all the synonymous and antithetical terms in relation to which
they are all used by speakers.
-- In Saussure's model, the arbitrary linking of signifier and signified
is forgotten in the practice of actual speakers who behave as if a sign
were a perfect unity, but in Lacan and others the signifier's arbitrariness
determines the whole operation of signification.
e. g. the opposition between the old man and the river in
B. structuralist analysis of narrative (narratology):
I. narrative structure: Vladmir Propp
II. thematic structure: scapegoat;
Oedipus complex (e.g. model: Levi Strauss's over-evaluation of kinship
and under-evaluation of kindship )
syntax as the basic model for their analysis: Suject + predicate = Actant
Propp: for him there are 7 "spheres of action" (villain, hero,
false hero, donor[provider], helper, dispatcher, princess [and her father].)
e. g. Cinderella and its modern versions: do we have fairy godmother
as the helper today?
e.g. education of the Hero: Hercules, Lion King, Mulan
"Should Wizard Hit Mommy?" Is the wizard or Mommy the "villian"?
"Young Goodman Brown" : Brown (Subject) + [going to the forest]+ Object?
(Is black sabbath his object?) -->
What is his opponent at the end, the whole town, or himself?
1. Usually interesting analysis happens when the characters break
these categories or confuse them.
2. You can set up your own categories.
3. This kind of structuralist analysis is useful on popular cultural
products or shorter texts.
Greimas: refines and develops Propp's work Example: "The Purloined
notes and an
three pairs of actants: Helper/Opponent, Sender/Reciever, Subject/Object
three basic patterns of action: contractive, disjunctive, and performative.
Greimas' semiotic rectangle: four terms, instead of two.
e.g. "The Purloined Letter"
III. structure of narration (narrator-narratee)
text, story, narration
tense: order, duration, frequency
mood: distance and perspective (focus) --regulation of information
voice: time of narrating, narrative levels (the level of the story, the
level of the narrating), and "person"
Jonathan Culler (The Pursuit of Signs)
story and discourse: A distinction should be made between the sequence
of events and the way they are told. The critic should also decide
if the the former's revelation depends on the latter.
For example, in the story of Oedipus the King, Oedipus admits to killing
the king after he knows that he is the king's son, whereas in the witness's
account it's "three robbers" that kills the king, but not three "travellers."
Seymour Chatman ("What Novels Can Do That Films Can't [and Vice Versa]")
uses the distinction between the story time and discourse time
to talk about the differences between film narration and novelististic
narration. He argues that films (because of the illusion of motion,
or visual continuity) cannot really stop and describe, whereas novels can.
C. structuralist poetics:
Roman Jakobson's metaphor and metonymy
His study of aphasia: two major kinds of disorder--'similarity
disorder' and 'continguity disorder'
He relates these two kinds to the two basic rhetoric figures: metaphor
and metonymy. Linguistic signs, for him, are formed through the two-fold
process of "selection" and "combination."
and Semiotics p. 78)
1. discover the distributive pattern which link the stanzas of poems
in a variety of combinations;
2. shows that the central lines are a some way distinguished and set
off from the rest.
3. Example: "Spleen"
D. Barthes' semiotics (theory of signs)
reference: Structuralism and Semiotics pp. 123-134 (focus: 123-25;
e. g. national flag, ads of your choice
R. Barthes "Myth Today"
All social practices as sign-systems. E.g. clothes
on Punk Style
He regards all social practices as sign-systems which operate on the model
of language. Any actual 'speech' presupposes a system (langue) which is
e.g. sentence: an ensemble of blouse + skirt + high heeled shoes
blouse + trousers + snickers
system: a. blouse, shirt, T-shirt
b. skirt, trousers
Dick Hebdige thinks that Levi-Strauss's concept of "homology" can be used
to read punk subculture as a third level of discourse. Punk style
"deconstruct" itself by representing the experience of class contradictions
in the forms of visual puns, bondage, ripped tee shirts and the link.
In linguistic terms, these stylistic signifiers of sex and class refer
to other signifiers, not to signifieds.
As a result, punk style becomes a "dislocated, ironic, and self-aware"
third-level discourse signalling the values of contradiction, disruption,
Hebdige uses as support Resistance Through Rituals, in which the
authors use the concepts of homology and bricolage to explain how
a certain subcultural style appeal to a particular group of people.
"The skinheads were cited to exemplify this principle. The boots,
braces, and cropped hair were only considered appropriate and hence meaningful
because they communicated the desired qualities: 'hardness, masculity and
workingclassness.'" (Praxis, 184)
primary signification & secondary signification (e.g. in myth, literature,
signifier + signified = sign (full)--denotation
form + content = sign --connotation
sign (rose) = signifier (rose) + signified (passion)
+ my intention + social conventions = secondary signification: