Barthes and Derrida are the primary
voices of post-structuralism. Barthes, as we have seen, started as
a structuralist. But then. . .Barthes wrote "the Death of the Author"
in 1968, which I want to read and understand--it seems like a structuralist
would want to keep the author alive as part of the work's context! But
in fact, here's what he said. The text is independent and immune to
the possibility of being unified or limited by any notion of what the author
might have intended, or 'crafted' into the work (66). The death of
the author is also the birth of the reader. Trying to decipher a text
is futile. So it seems that a time of free play has opened, in which
meanings can be played with at will, with no textual authority. A word
can mean whatever you want, Alice, if you're master. However, this
time did not last, and post-structuralism moved to a time of "disciplined
identification and dismantling of the sources of textual power, as Barbara
Johnson has said. (66)
Derrida's "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse
of the Human Sciences" (1966) was a starting point of post-structuralism.
It provided the idea of a decentered universe, whereas before "man"
was the measure of all things. In the 20th century the centers were
eroded by historical events sometimes--for instance, WWI destroyed the illusion
of steady material progress, and the Holocaust destroyed the notion of Europe
as the source and centre of human civilization. (67) Sometimes
it was eroded by scientific discoveries and sometimes by artistic or intellectual
revolutions. (I would point to the Romantic period as the start of
these!) Derrida sees this decentered universe, a kind of Nietzschean
universe of free play, as liberating. No guaranteed facts, but only
interpretations. Derrida didn't do lit, but others borrowed terms and
techniques. His Of Grammatology
states, that "there is nothing outside the text." In 1967 he put out that book, plus Speech and Phenomena
and Writing and Difference
Barry says that "reading and interpretation are not just reproducing
what the writer thought and expressed in the text. This inadequate
notion of interpretation Derrida calls a 'doubling commentary' that tries
to reconstruct a pre-existing, non-textual reality to lay alongside the text.~"
What reading should do is to produce the text, since there is nothing
behind it to reconstruct in this way of thinking, so the reading must be
Deconstruction is applied post-structuralism--an action.
Post-structuralism is the theory, and deconstruction is the actual
reading or critical practice or method. This jargon is hard to get
clear in my mind. Deconstruction is called by Terry Eagleton "reading
against the grain" or "reading the text against itself" so that we can know
the text more completely than the text, or the writer, can have done. Barb
Johnson in 1980 calls it "the careful teasing out of warring forces of signification
within the text." I'd like to try some of that.
Here is another pairing-up.
The structuralist seeks:
Effect: To show textual unity and coherence.
The post-structuralist seeks:
Shifts/Breaks in: Tone
Effect: To show textual disunity.
The three stages of the deconstructive
process are called the VERBAL, the TEXTUAL, and the LINGUISTIC. The
first, the VERBAL stage, is similar to Richards and Empson: looking
for verbal difficulties and contradictions, looking just at words. Then
comes the cute TEXTUAL stage, at which the deconstructionist looks at the
poem or whatever more as a whole, looking for shifts or breaks in continuity,
and the lack of a fixed and unified position--showing paradox on a larger
scale. The last stage is the LINGUISTIC stage, or have you forgotten
already? The adequacy of language itself as a medium of communication
is called into question. For example, saying that something is impossible
to say, and then saying it, or saying that something is misrepresented, and
then using the misrepresentation anyway. Or the feelings expressed
are not the same feelings as those that are verbally professed--some kind
of irony, sounds like.