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February 17, 2012

Systems Overload: Structuralism

Image Source=http://macdonaldbranding.blogspot.com/2011_02_01_archive.html

Habib, M.A.R. A History of Literary Criticism: From Plato to the Present. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005. ISBN:0-631-23200-1.

Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts: Writing about Literature with Critical Theory. 5th ed. New York: Pearson, 2008. ISBN: 032144907X.

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan, eds. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004. ISBN: 1405106964.

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. ISBN: 0415974100.

Fry, Paul H. Theory of Literature. New Haven: Yale UP, 2012. ISBN: 9780300180831


[These are our primary course texts on theory. The Rivkin and Ryan anthology contains your collection of primary sources about literary theory as written by the pioneers and theorists who helped develop them. Use the articles from the anthology (and any others I publish for you on our course libguides page) as your primary sources for your final mock conference papers].

Remember: I have to "approve" all comments so you won't see it immediately after posting. After hitting submit, you should see a screen that confirms this.

We are beginning to use some concepts in our discussions that you may or may not have had practice using before. I want to be sure that you have a clear understanding of the words we use in class (no more blank stares!) so be sure you are looking up words you don't feel you yet "own" (means, making it a part of your personal vocabulary) by utilizing your dictionaries to the fullest.

Dr. Hobbs

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For more English-Blog entries on the topic of Critical Theory, please click HERE.

Posted by lhobbs at February 17, 2012 04:04 PM

Readers' Comments:

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ENG 435 Students of 2009,

You have two great overviews of this theory in your Lois Tyson (Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006) and Julie Rivkin texts and the excerpt given to you in class from the Stephen Lynn text. If you want to see a breakdown of this theory as explained by Charles E. Bressler in his textbook Literary Criticism: An Introduction To Theory And Practice, please look at the short PowerPoint outline available by clicking HERE as desgined by Kevin Frey (thanks Kevin for creating this!).

In this entry, you will be entering:

[1] Your two self-designed reading-response questions (short answer) based on the "overview" summaries of this theory you were assigned from various textbooks. Due in the comment box here AND in the appropriate folder on turnitin.com on the day BEFORE the class meeting they are to be used.

[2] Your two self-designed discussion questions (longer answer) based on the application of specific terminology from this particular theory toward the primary works we have read for this course. Due in the comment box here AND in the appropriate folder on turnitin.com on the day BEFORE the class meeting they are to be used.

[1] your precis of the article assigned to you from the Rivkin and Ryan anthology about this particular theory. Due in the comment box below, in the appropriate folder on turnitin.com, AND as a hardcopy in class according to the deadline listed on our itinerary (see syllabus). Be prepared to discuss your article with the rest of the class.

Good luck,

Dr. Hobbs

ENG 435 Reading-Check Questions – From 11 February 2009 – Topic: Structuralist Theory in Literature

 

1. True or False ? (and, explain your rationale): In terms of literary study, when “you describe the structure of a short story to interpret what the work means or evaluate whether or not it’s good literature,” you “are engaged in structuralist activity” (Tyson 210).

 

A: F (see Tyson 210).

 

2. From Cecilia B., Liz H., and Sarah T. (similar questions):  What is “structure” to critical theorists?  Lois Tyson discusses the three properties of a structure (a.k.a. conceptual, not a physical framework): wholeness, transformation, and self-regulation (211). Explain the meaning/purpose of one of these properties.

 

A:

Wholeness: In wholeness, the system functions as a sole entity rather than a compilation of individual things because these things together create something new (Tyson 211).

 

Transformation: Transformation states that the structure is not a fixed system but is “capable of change” (Tyson 211).

 

Self-regulation: Despite the transformation property in a conceptual framework, the structure is self-regulating because it cannot go beyond the limits of its own system (Tyson 211).

 

3. From Wesley J.: Language, according to the claims of Ferdinand de Saussure, can be understood as two different but connected concepts: langue and parole (Tyson 213).  Explain what he means by either the term “langue” or “parole” (choose one).

 

A:

Langue: refers to the system of rules and conventions which is independent of, and pre-exists, individual users. Langue, which means “language” in French, represents the (the unchangeable) knowledge or competence that all speakers possess of their language. Not everything in parole is in langue. Langue represents that which has been institutionalized as a system of codes. It does not change like speech does.

Parole: is the application of langue in particular instances.  Parole, which means “speech” in French, is the (changeable) actual performance of speakers when they speak or write. Here changes in language can occur through the speech act (Tyson 213).

 

4. Saussure “argued that words do not simply refer to objects in the world for which they stand,” according to Lois Tyson.  For him, a word was actually “a linguistic sign” that consisted of a signifier and a signified—“two inseparable parts” much like “the two sides of a coin” (Tyson 213). This is a two-part question: Explain the difference between the signifier and the signified.

 

A:

Signifier: A “sound-image” (mental imprint of a linguistic sound). By itself it is an arbitrary sound that means nothing, i.e. “dada”

Signified: The concept to which the signifier refers. Only together is a sign formed (Tyson 213).

 

 

5. From Travis R.: In his discussion of Cultural Anthropology, what Greek myth did Claude Levi-Strauss use as an example of the knowledge that we are born of sexual union and that (as believed among many cultures) we are born of the earth? (Tyson 215).

 

A: Sophocles’s Greek Tragedy, Oedipus Rex (Tyson 215)

 

6. From Jessica P.: Northrop Frye is known for, among other things, his theory of myths, as an expression of structuralism. What word does he use to refer to “any recurring image, character type, plot formula, or pattern of action” that frequently reappears in human-created narratives? (Tyson 223).  Hint: We have discussed this word already in our discussions of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. 

 

A: Archetype (Tyson 223).

 

7. [BONUS QUESTION] Inspired by Liz H.: Gérard Genette differentiates “among the three levels of narrative that generally have been included under the umbrella of the term narrative: story, narrative, and narration” (Tyson 228). Explain one of these.

 

A: See page 228 of the Tyson Text

Story: the chronological succession of events being narrated (content). Constructed by the reader after s/he reads the narrative.

Narrative: the actual words on the page (text). Produced by narrator when s/he narrates. Constructs the story by the reader.

Narration: the act of telling the story. Produces the narrative. Some one-way relationships. Narrator does not speak to the author—audience does not speak to the narrator.

 

 

 

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Sarah Tatko
Dr. Hobbs
Eng-435
11 February 2009
Structuralist Questions
Discussion:
Q – According to Tyson, how does structuralism define the word “structure”?
A – “They are conceptual frameworks that we use to organize and understand physical entities.” However, a structure needs to be composed of three properties: wholeness, transformation, and self-regulation. The structure needs to function as a whole unit and not individual parts, it cannot be static, and the transformations it undergoes cannot stray from the original system of the structure.
Reading Check:
Q – Name three of the five components that Culler has identified with the structural system.
A – The convention of distance and impersonality, naturalization, the rule of significance, the rule of metaphorical coherence, the rule of thematic unity.

Posted by: Sarah T. at February 9, 2009 06:58 PM

Cecilia B
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
11th February 2009
1. In structuralism, to what do structuralists refer when mentioning surface phenomena?
- Surface phenomena envelopes the visible world consisting of innumerable events, objects, behaviors, and activities which humans participate in, interact with, and observe (Tyson 210). Surface phenomena are also subject to its underlying structures which arise from the human consciousness, and though these phenomena have innumerable possibilities, they are restricted to a limited number of structures.
2. What are the three properties of a structure (conceptual framework)?
Wholeness, transformation, and self-regulation are parts which make up the conceptual system of a structure. With wholeness, the system functions as a sole entity rather than a compilation of individual things because these things together create something new (Tyson 211). Transformation states that the structure is not a fixed system but is “capable of change” (Tyson 211). However, despite these transformations, the structure is self regulating because it cannot go beyond the limits of its own system (Tyson 211).

Works Cited
Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide. 2nd Ed. New York:
Routledge, 2006

Posted by: Cecilia at February 10, 2009 01:47 PM

Explain parole and langue.

Describe language in regards to structuralism. What are the pieces of the system that illustrate struckturalism?

Why might semiotics be good for examining popular culture?


Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide. 2nd Ed. New York:
Routledge, 2006.

Posted by: Wesley J at February 10, 2009 07:49 PM

Liz Hardy
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
February 10, 2009
Reading/Discussion Questions


1. How do the Structuralists define “structure”?


2. In Genette’s work, what three levels are important to the concept of Tense?


Discussion Question


1. What kind of plot type, narratology, can you see in one of our assigned texts?

Posted by: Liz H at February 10, 2009 07:52 PM

Jessica P.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
2/10/09

Discussion:
Q: Structure is a conceptual system that is comprised of three properties. Name and explain these elements.

A: 1. Wholeness. Basically, it simply means that the system works as a complete unit.
2. Transformation. This property allows the system to be capable of change, where its basic components can be transformed into new structural elements.
3. Self-regulation. This property keeps the transformations under control by making sure the new elements belong in the system and obey its rules.

Short Answer:
Q: Frye uses a method called archetypal criticism. What does the word archetype refer to in this term?

A: Archetype is a term that refers to any recurring image, character type, plot formula, or pattern of action.

Posted by: Jessica Pall at February 10, 2009 11:57 PM

Travis Rathbone
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
10 February 2009

Quiz Questions

1. When discussing Cultural Anthropology, what Greek myth did Levi-Strauss use as an example of the knowledge that we are born of sexual union and that (as believed among many cultures) we are born of the earth.
-Oedipus Rex

2. According to the Tyson text, in Semiotics, what is a Sign System?

-A linguistic or nonlinguistic object or behavior that can be analyzed as if it were a specialized language.

Posted by: Travis R at February 11, 2009 12:37 AM

Ava L.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
14 February 2009
Stephen Lynn and Designs Meant for Destruction
According to Stephen Lynn, chapter five “Opening up the Text” in his book Text and Contexts: Writing about Literature 5th Ed., “Structuralism shares similar assumptions of reader-response criticism of how meaning is made, but instead of focusing on the response itself, structuralism seeks to expose the system of the meaning that inspired the response” (Lynn 110). Structuralism originated during 1913 to 1915 as a result of a series of lectures delivered by Ferdinand de Saussure. Saussure attempted to examine the “the relationships of all the parts of a language at any given moment” (Lynn 109), rather than focusing on the history of a particular language. Saussure attempted to distinguish the surface elements of the language (parole) and the way an individual understands the language (langue). Saussure’s “structural approach to linguistics exposed the arbitrary relationship between the signifier (a word, an image) and the signified (the concept that the signifier is pointing to)” (Lynn 109). Saussure’s approach was a hugely influential because it emphasized the need to “find the underlying commonalities and distinguishing differences applying a scientific approach to language” (Lynn 109). Lynn asserts that in order to understand deconstruction, one must first understand structuralism. Deconstruction attempts to “expose the gaps and inconsistency that exist in the structure of the language” (Lynn 111). The approach known as Post-Structuralism, which “attempts to reveal the failure of the system” (Lynn 110), are the “assumptions and ideas that make deconstruction possible” (Lynn 111).
Jacques Derrida, who is considered to be the “most important figure for deconstruction” (Lynn 110) believed that the signifier and the signified worked independently from each other. Derrida believed that the “signifier and the signified were not unified, but rather contained an arbitrary and constantly shifting relationship” (Lynn 112). Derrida’s assumptions were a very important part of understanding the way deconstruction works. Applying a deconstructive theory may be beneficial to the reader for many reasons. A deconstructive approach allows the reader to “see what is being excluded or suppressed in the text, encourages an acute alertness to rhetorical strategies, and helps to anticipate some of the ways that even simple text can be misread” (Lynn 113-15). All of which can be a very effective tool in analyzing the text being read. A deconstructionist would first, “identify the unity, and then dispel and divide it” (Lynn 118). Deconstruction is sometimes referred to as “dangerous and disturbing” (Lynn 122), however there are many deconstructionists that would argue this claim asserting that “nothing really changes except our awareness of the complexity and “otherness” and openness of our discourse” (Lynn122).

Work Cited
Lynn, Stephen. “Opening Up the Text:Structuralism and Deconstruction”. Texts and Contexts: Writing About Literature 5th Ed. New York: Pearson, 2008. 109-22.

Posted by: Ava at February 14, 2009 10:13 PM

Cecilia B
Dr. Lee Hobbs
ENG 435
16th February 2009
Précis of Michel Foucault’s “The Archaeology of Knowledge”
In the vein of structuralist theory, Michel Foucault sets out to explain the true description and intent of discourses which do more than “use signs to designate things” (96) and place a value on a work. Foremost, Foucault describes discourse as an enterprise consisting of ideas, themes, and statements which follow a set of rules and conventions governed by tradition; for example, science, philosophy, history even more precise groups such as psychopathology are discourses (91). With this explanation, Foucault has readily affirmed that discourses have become flawed structures because of the misconceived notions which people apply to them. Ultimately, Foucault argues, one should not treat discourse as a “group of signs” which signify a reality but as a “practice which systematically forms the object of which it speaks” (96). Foucault terms this “discursive formation” (94), and it theoretically boils down to the idea that a book, as Foucault uses for an example, is a unity which can be absorbed into a variety of different discourses making the material book itself “variable and relative” (92). This idea also leads Foucault to reason that one cannot determine which discourse or even value a book belongs based on its relation to other books already recognized within that discourse. Rather the principles that have become recognized as part of the structure of a specific discourse will determine this since again each book “originates with its own individuality” (93) which is then subject to different applications of any one discourse.
Work Cited
Foucault, Michel. “The Archaeology of Knowledge.” Literary Theory: An
Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. New York: Blackwell
Pub., 1998. 90-96.

Posted by: Cecilia at February 14, 2009 11:35 PM

Ava L.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
13 February 2009
Reader Response Questions for Structuralist Criticism
1.Name one of the three properties of the conceptual system and explain what purpose it serves.
A.Wholeness- working together to create something new within the text.
B.Transformation- text is capable of change.
C.Self-regulation- never permitted to leave the limits of its own structure.
2.Define signifier and signified and explain how why they are important to structuralism.
A.Signifier is the actual word or object being used and signified is the concept of the word or object being used.
B.Both are important to structuralism because they influence the interpretation of the text or word.
3.Northrop Frye states that there are four mythos in structuralism. Name two of them.
A.Romance, Irony, Comedy, and Tragedy
Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today 2nd Ed. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Posted by: Ava L. at February 15, 2009 04:58 PM

Ava L.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
15 February 2009

Reading Check Questions on Structuralism Module 5
1.Two of Northrop Frye’s mythos exists in “Gatsby”. They are Romance and Irony. Identify each mythos with the character and the season that they belong to.
A.Nick Carraway is associated with the winter mythos (Irony, complexity of reality) (Tyson 239).
B.Gatsby is associated with the summer mythos (Romance, the successful guest) (Tyson 239).

2.Define the term “unidealized existence”.
A.The term “unidealized existence” refers to everyday, flawed human beings and not the world of heroes (Tyson 241).

3.Who is the hero in Gatsby and why?
A.Gatsby is the hero in this novel because he is the one on the romantic quest. He is attempting to recapture the Golden Age that existed pre-war. He wants to reincarnate his life with Daisy as if nothing has changed (Tyson 239).

Work Cited
Tyson, Lois. “Structuralist Criticism”. Critical Theory Today 2nd Ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. 234-243.

Posted by: Ava L at February 15, 2009 05:32 PM

Wesley Johnson
Hobbs
Eng 435
15 February 2009
Précis: “Morphology of the Folk-tale”
Vladimir Propp’s article “Morphology of the Folk-tale” is very short. But, it seeks to illuminate the structure inherent within Folk-tales (Propp 72). However, before an overview of the article can be given, it bears noting that this article is incomplete. It is clearly pulled from a longer work of Propp’s and this is problematic for reasons of coherence and reference explanation. But, that said, this short piece of work does describe some interesting elements that unify Folk-tales. And, even though Propp is focused on Russian Folk-tales, these connections exist in virtually all Folk-tales.
Basically, morphology is an exposition of a Folk-tale according the pieces that combine and create it. A few times, Propp lines up examples of Folk-tale story lines and shows how they are similar. In doing this, one of his major themes is exposed. Propp refers to characters within stories as dramatis personae; and, he writes that these persons abound in stories. But, aside from the multitudinous names, these persons serve only a few simple purposes (Propp 72). However, the number or variation of these functions are not explored in this portion of the article (I assume that he explores this notion in later parts of his work).
Propp continues to describe that if the functions of characters are figured out, one can understand the structure that persists in tales. Again, Propp lists examples of plots that are similar, varying only in character names and small details. The uniformity of plot
and structure that connects tales is the strongest part of this article. By setting up examples side by side, Propp’s point of unity is very obvious. But, this is also one of the least explained portions of the article.
Although, Propp’s article seeks to describe the structure of Folk-tales, the article serves to describe virtually any work. That said, a problem does arise when comparing post-modern work with Propp’s description of morphology. Because Propp calls for a specific order of narration within tales (one could also discuss this in regard to short stories and other fiction), if a narrative is stream of conscious, or even unreliable, Propp’s morphological structure will be inadequate.


Work Cited
Propp, Vladimir. “Morphology of the Folk-tale” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 72-75.

Posted by: Wesley J. at February 15, 2009 05:52 PM

Sarah Tatko
Dr. Hobbs
Eng-435
16 February 2009
Structuralism Compared to Social and Cultural Phenomena
In 1975, Jonathan Culler wrote a piece titled Structuralist Poetics. One portion of this work, “The Linguistic Foundation”, explores how social and cultural phenomena are similar to the structuralist idea on the operation of language. Culler uses culture as a tool to describe the rules and norms of linguistics.
To begin, Culler defines the formation of meaning. Meaning is created through a system of symbols that uses a network of relations. An example of this is the study of semiology, the study of signs and symbols. Society and culture are full of symbols and signs that form a relation to the people of that culture which in turn creates meaning for them. Culler uses the sport of football to illustrate. If a person from a culture without football came to see the sport they would know the rules but they would not understand the meaning of the game because they do not have a relationship with the system (Culler 56). The same is true for the English language. It is composed of signs and symbols that allow the people to make meaning out of the sounds.
The Prague Linguistic Circle, which included Jakobson and Trubetzkoy, established the “phonological revolution” (Culler 57). This is the distinction between phonetics, the study of speech sounds, and phonology, the function of speech sounds in language. Phonology is especially important to sturcutralists because it signifies how a basic phenomenon (such as phonetics) can create relations to form meanings (such as phonology).
Two terms that are important to linguistics, and equally important to structuralism, are langue and parole. Langue is an institution or “a set of interpersonal rules and norms” (Culler 57). Parole is how it is manifested into speech and writing. The rules between the two are debated continuously but Culler gives the example that to learn English is to master a system of rules and norms and not a memorization of utterances. A linguist does not want to learn utterances but wants to understand them in order to master the English language. In other words, structuralists find the distinction between rules and behaviors because the rule itself has no meaning, rather, it is the space between the rule and the behavior that creates the meaning (Culler 58).

Work Cited
Culler, Jonathan. “The Linguistic Foundation.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 56-58.

Posted by: Sarah T. at February 15, 2009 09:44 PM

Kristin Brittain

Dr. Hobbs

ENG 435

2/13/08

Précis of “Mythologies”

Roland Barthes showed a new analysis of signs in the essay, “Mythologies” that constructed many accepted universal myths. He argued that a myth is “tri-dimensional pattern” that describes the “signifier, signified, and the sign” and it is a “second-order semiological system” (81). Once the materials of “mythical speech” (the signs; writing, pictures, art, etc.) become a signified function and are transformed into myth; the unity becomes a language (81). The signs are referred to as “language-object” and the myth is called “metalanguage” (82). The metalanguage is the accepted “global-sign” that speaks about the language-object and they constitute each other and have the same signifying function in creation of the myth.
Barthes gives two prime examples of mythical speech using the linguistic system and the mythical system. First there is meaning, then concept, and both of these gives signification. For example, a picture of a black French soldier saluting is the meaning of the picture; it signifies French greatness and equality, and thus gave signification.
The Roman’s in Films, Soap-powders and Detergents, The Blue Guide, and The Great Family of Man are all mini essay on myths that Barthes probes within “Mythologies.” Most of the essays exemplify the control of the bourgeois society. For example, in The Roman’s in Films Barthes explores the use of hair and sweat in movies, such as Julius Caesar, as signs to portray today’s conception of Roman ethnicity inside a classical setting. Barthes claimed it was “duplicity which is peculiar to bourgeois art” (84).

Work Cited

Barthes, Roland. “Mythologies.” Literary Theory: An Anthology 2nd Ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin andMichael Ryan. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 1998. 81-89.

Posted by: Kristin B. at February 16, 2009 12:29 AM

Jessica P.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
2/16/09

Précis: Two Aspects of Language

According to Structuralism, there are two types of discourse—metaphoric way and metonymic way. Jakobson claims that preference is given to one of these ways based on cultural influence and personality. However, in aphasia one of these two discourse types becomes completely blocked, a situation that scientists find useful to study.

The metaphoric way of discourse is associated with poetry and romantic expression as it uses signs to express emotions and ideas. In contrast, metonymy is often categorized with prose as it uses concrete language to convey concepts.

Jakobson states in his article, Two Aspects of Language, that an individual expresses his personal style of discourse by using two types of speech, similarity and contiguity, in both of their aspects—positional and semantic. For example, in Russian lyrical songs metaphoric dialogue is primarily predominate while in heroic epics the metonymic way is more often used.

It is interesting to examine the different cases of aphasia and how this disorder affects and influences the symbolization of objects, people, and ideas. In aphasia, sometimes the predominance of one discourse becomes so overwhelmingly oppressive that the idea being tried to convey was lost. Further, the structure of dreams can be analyzed to see if the symbols are based on contiguity or on similarity.


Works Cited

Jakobson, Roman. “Two Aspects of Language”. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.76-79.


Posted by: Jessica Pall at February 16, 2009 10:56 AM

Travis Rathbone
DR. Hobbs
ENG 435
16 February 2009

Speech Act Theory and Authorial Modes: Two Aspects of Narrative Transmission

In his essay “The Structure of Narrative Transmission,” Seymour Chatman defines and analyzes key terms and modes of narration. Chatman’s key issue (a theory originated by John Austin) is what he calls “speech act” theory. Chatman introduces speech act theory by stating that a sentence can be divided into three parts: illocution, locution, and perlocution. A sentence’s purpose and intention is dubbed illocution; the sentence’s syntactical/grammatical makeup is its locution; finally, the effect the sentence has on the recipient is its perlocution. Initially, when one verbalizes a sentence, he formulates the sentence in accordance with the grammatical rules of language. Second, he states (or performs) the sentence (an act that can also be non-lingual). Lastly, if he succeeds in persuading the listener by his statement, he executes perlocution. Chatman notes that perlocution can take place whether or not the sentence is verbalized.

Chatman also spends some time on narrator authority and what he calls the “author-narrator” and the “implied author.” The author-narrator is separate from the narrator and should never be considered to hold the same moral viewpoint as that of the “author” of the written work, for they are not the same person unless explicitly stated. The Dickens who narrates his stories is not the same person as the Dickens who wrote the stories. The implied author is a reader construct and is also not the narrator; He is the image of the author (but, again, not the actual author) that the reader creates in order to better understand who created the characters and events that transpire in the novel.

Work Cited
Chatman, Seymour. "The Structure of Narrative Transmission." Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd Ed.
Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 97 - 124.

Posted by: Travis R at February 16, 2009 11:42 AM

Liz Hardy


Dr. Hobbs


ENG 435


February 16, 2009


Précis of Course in General Linguistics
Ferdinand de Saussure

In Ferdinand de Saussure’s article, “Course in General Linguistics” (1916), he delves into the topic of language as it relates to all aspects of life, literary and otherwise.
Saussure seeks to explain the concept of language in everyday terms and by integrating terms into our everyday vocabulary, language becomes something accessible on a scientific level.

Already familiar with the concept of the sign, signifier, and signified, Saussure goes deeper to explain the primal elements of language. A heady concept introduced by Saussure is the reality of differences within a language. Differences, according to Saussure, make up a language, and “the bond between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary” (Saussure 62). These differences transform our ability to communicate, and it is what makes us human. At a basic level, humans must be able to communicate, but the complexity of communication comes in when one realizes that there could be seven different ways to express a thought because of word choice. Most importantly, when it comes to understanding Saussure is the reality that “language is form and not a substance” (71). Language is capable of manipulation to fit our needs, but it relies on a basic structure.

This concept is especially important in relation to Structuralism through its emphasis on underlying principles that make up language. Saussure seeks to understand why language is important, not just the reality that humans communicate. By focusing on language as if it has a formula and structure, Saussure succeeds in Structuralism.


Works Cited
De Saussure, Ferdinand. "Course in General Linguistics." Literary Theory : An
Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Grand Rapids: Blackwell Limited, 2008. 59-71.

Posted by: Liz H at February 16, 2009 12:19 PM

Ava L.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
14 February 2009

Stephen Lynn and Designs Meant for Destruction
According to Stephen Lynn, chapter five “Opening up the Text” in his book Text and Contexts: Writing about Literature 5th Ed., “Structuralism shares similar assumptions of reader-response criticism of how meaning is made, but instead of focusing on the response itself, structuralism seeks to expose the system of the meaning that inspired the response” (Lynn 110). Structuralism originated during 1913 to 1915 as a result of a series of lectures delivered by Ferdinand de Saussure. Saussure attempted to examine the “the relationships of all the parts of a language at any given moment” (Lynn 109), rather than focusing on the history of a particular language. Saussure attempted to distinguish the surface elements of the language (parole) and the way an individual understands the language (langue). Saussure’s “structural approach to linguistics exposed the arbitrary relationship between the signifier (a word, an image) and the signified (the concept that the signifier is pointing to)” (Lynn 109). Saussure’s approach was a hugely influential because it emphasized the need to “find the underlying commonalities and distinguishing differences applying a scientific approach to language” (Lynn 109). Lynn implies that in order to understand deconstruction, one must first understand structuralism. Deconstruction attempts to “expose the gaps and inconsistency that exist in the structure of the language” (Lynn 111). The approach known as Post-Structuralism, which “attempts to reveal the failure of the system” (Lynn 110), are the “assumptions and ideas that make deconstruction possible” (Lynn 111).
Jacques Derrida, who is considered to be the “most important figure for deconstruction” (Lynn 110) believed that the signifier and the signified worked independently from each other. Derrida believed that the “signifier and the signified were not unified, but rather contained an arbitrary and constantly shifting relationship” (Lynn 112). Derrida’s assumptions were a very important part of understanding the way deconstruction works. Applying a deconstructive theory may be beneficial to the reader for many reasons. A deconstructive approach allows the reader to “see what is being excluded or suppressed in the text, encourages an acute alertness to rhetorical strategies, and helps to anticipate some of the ways that even simple text can be misread” (Lynn 113-15). All of which can be a very effective tool in analyzing the text being read. A deconstructionist would first, “identify the unity, and then dispel and divide it” (Lynn 118). Deconstruction is sometimes referred to as “dangerous and disturbing” (Lynn 122), however there are many deconstructionists that would argue this claim asserting that “nothing really changes except our awareness of the complexity and “otherness” and openness of our discourse” (Lynn122).


Work Cited
Lynn, Stephen. “Opening Up the Text: Structuralism and Deconstruction”. Texts and Contexts: Writing About Literature 5th Ed. New York: Pearson, 2008. 109-22.

Posted by: Ava L. at February 17, 2009 09:09 PM

Ava L.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
17 February 2009

Reading Check Questions on Deconstruction
1.Nonreferential language from a Structuralist perspective refers to the concepts that an individual places on a word or object. In what way does this perspective differ from a Deconstructionist perspective?

A.Deconstructionists believe that the nonreferential language does not refer to worldly things or the concepts that an individual places on them. Instead of placing emphasis on the object or the concept it shifts the emphasis to “the play of signifiers of which the language itself consists” (Tyson 252).

2.Jacques Derrida states that there are two important characteristics of language. Describe each one.

A.Signifiers continually defer and postpone meaning.

B.Meanings are the results of the way we differentiate and distinguish one signifier from another.

3.Discuss a Deconstructionist approach of human identity.

A.The language that human beings use is unstable and as a result “we are unstable and ambiguous force-fields of competing ideologies” (Tyson 257). Tyson implies that because we each have our own desires, fear, dreams, hopes, and so-on, that no individual can have an identity. The word identity refers to a singular unit and since we all differ in our beliefs we can possess an identity.

Work Cited
Tyson, Lois. “Deconstructive Criticism.” Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. 252-57.

Posted by: Ava L. at February 17, 2009 09:59 PM

Wesley Johnson
Hobbs
Eng 435
18 February 2009
Folk-tale morphology and Joyce’s Portrait
Vladimir Propp’s article “Morphology of the Folk-tale” illuminates the unifying structure inherent within folk-tales. Specifically, he notes that components of tales change; Propp cites character names and some details of plot as examples of these changing characteristics. But, the ultimate point (Propp refers to these as themes) of a folk-tale falls into a few stock types (Propp 71). So, to apply this article to another work of literature, one need only examine the unifying properties of a text.
Applying Propp’s Folk-tale morphology to James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man presents a few problems. The most obvious is that Joyce’s work is not actually a Folk-tale. But, if one uses Propp’s theory as a theoretical framework, Joyce provides an interesting forum in which to maneuver. Before exploring the actual text of Portrait, its place in literature may be of some interest. Portrait is canonized as a bildungsroman. This classification serves as a morphological theme in that it specifically attributes certain elements to Joyce’s work. That is, upon learning of the novel’s morphological frame, a reader can automatically assume that the novel will possess the psychological, and potentially physical, growth of a protagonist.
On another level, Joyce infuses his novel of growth with mythological references. The character name of Stephen Dedalus is an obvious reference to the Icarus and Daedalus myth. While it’s not specified why this allusion is drawn, if one uses Propp’s morphological applications, mythological references provide another characterizing trait of the novel. If a reader knows the myth, he or she will be able to apply the background of Daedalus as an inventor and captive in a maze to Stephen. From this, readers can examine Joyce’s novel as it exemplifies the mythology’s plot. Also, ironically enough, mythology itself is a unified subject. Many mythologies are cross cultural and have similar ideas or messages. Therefore, within Portrait, the Icarus reference serves as a guide to the reader’s expectations for the characters within it.
Also, in light of this guiding mythological morphology, one can understand the dramatic end of the novel, “ I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race,” where Stephen escapes to France (Joyce 224). This escape can be seen as a direct reference to the escape of Daedalus in the mythical story. And, continuing with the structure of the myth, because Icarus fails in his escape, a reader may be left with the idea that Stephen’s escape to France will end in disaster. However, because Stephen’s father in Portrait is such an economic failure, the roles of the father in son seem to have switched from the Daedalus myth. So, perhaps Stephen will be successful in France and his father’s failure is the disappointment that connects to the mythological allusion.
Ultimately, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man contains multiple underlying themes that connect it popular literature and connect it to the bildungsroman genre. Of course, one could even go further and examine the novel as it presents characteristics of the artist’s growth or künstlerroman. That said, James Joyce’s Portrait provides an intricate field in which to examine morphological themes that unify it and other literature of the same ilk.
Works Cited
Joyce, James. The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. 1916. Ed. R. B. Kershner. 2nd ed. New York: Bedford, 2005.
Propp, Vladimir. “Morphology of the Folk-tale” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 72-75.

Posted by: Wes J at February 17, 2009 11:03 PM

Liz H


Dr. Hobbs


ENG 435


February 18, 2009


Structuralism and the text of The Great Gatsby

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work, The Great Gatsby, one can see an extreme sense of social stratification through the reality of the fact that different classes do exist. However, when it comes to applying the work of Saussure to Fitzgerald’s book, it is particularly important to analyze the emphasis on language and its underlying relationship with the text itself.

Within the world of Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway must contend with learning a new set of phrases and jargon specific to the area of Long Island that he lives in. Nick Carraway speaks differently than the hired help of Jay Gatsby or even the lower social standings of various characters. His education affords him the right to converse freely with whomever he desires. As Saussure points out “language is form and not a substance” (71). It can be freely manipulated to meet Nick’s needs.


However, one interesting point that The Great Gatsby’s world does bring up is the idea of being able to change one’s social standing and class. If one does succeed at moving up the social ladder, would it help or harm his or her ability to communicate? For Structuralists, communication is key on such a basic level. Is the world of Jay Gatsby mindful of this communication always? I would allege that they are not, especially since Jay Gatsby is eventually murdered because of one man’s conclusions based on circumstantial events.


Works Cited


De Saussure, Ferdinand. "Course in General Linguistics." Literary Theory : An
Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Grand Rapids: Blackwell Limited, 2008. 59-71.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. 1925. New York: Scribner, 1999

Posted by: Liz H at February 18, 2009 10:59 AM

Brooke King
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
20 Feb 2012
Q: What is a guiding principle of structuralism?
a. narrative progression
b. characterization
c. composition
d. semiotics
e. all of the above
A: All of the above (Tyson 209, 216)
Q: "A discursive formation is a coherent group of assumptions and language practices that apples to one region of knowledge, or expresses the beliefs of a social group, or articulates rules and ideals regarding kind of behavior." Who is attributed with developing this idea?
a. Michel Foucault
b. Jacque Lacan
c. Julia Kristeva
d. Tzvetan Todorov
A. Michel Foucault (Rivkin and Ryan 54)

Posted by: Brooke King at February 19, 2012 04:49 PM

Question 1:
According to Lynn, a “pattern and design” in the text that the reader must “actively perceive” is the foundation of what critical theory?

Answer: Structuralism
(Lynn 107)

Question 2:
Explain what the main goal for deconstruction theory is, according to Lynn’s perspective.

Answer: Deconstruction attempts to show how those structures found and placed upon a given work ultimately fail and fall apart.
(Lynn 109)

Posted by: tiffany carpenter at February 20, 2012 01:36 AM

Q: True or False: According to Rivkin/Ryan, an example of a "dominant discourse" in the United States is one that lends great privilege to the "freedom" of the individual.
A: True ( Rivkin/Ryan 55)

Q: According to Lynn, why does it make sense for an understanding of deconstructionism to follow an understanding of structuralism?
A: To see how something comes apart (deconstructionism), one must first see how it went together (structuralism). (Lynn 108)

Posted by: Diego Pestana at February 20, 2012 07:39 AM

Travis N. Rathbone
Dr. B. Lee Hobbs
ENG 435
20 February 2012

Structuralist Criticism Quiz Questions

Q: How does Tyson define the term Surface Phenomena?

A: The objects, activities, and behaviors that are observed and interacted with on a daily basis—the visible world (Tyson 210).

Q: According to Tyson, what are the three properties of a structure?

A: Wholeness, transformation, and self-regulation (Tyson 211).

Posted by: Travis N. Rathbone at February 20, 2012 08:15 AM

Douglas Phillips
Burgsbee Hobbs
ENG 435
19 February 2012

Reading questions for Structuralism

Question 1.

Q: What were the terms Ferdinand de Saussure applied to the surface elements of language and to the underlying structure of language?

A: Parole, or “speech,” and langue, or “language.” “The surface elements of language, which Saussure called parole (French for “speech”)… it is our understanding of the underlying structure, which Saussure called langue (French for “language”) (Lynn 109).

Question 2.

Q: According to Tyson, you would not be “engaged in structuralist activity if you describe the structure of a short story to interpret what the work means or evaluate whether or not it’s good literature” (209). Under what circumstances would you actually be engaged in a structuralist activity by examining the structure of a short story, then?

A: If you were studying a large number of works to reveal their underlying principles or if you were describing a literary work to demonstrate its underlying principles within a certain structural system. “In the first example of structuralist activity, you’re generating a structural system of classification; in the second, you’re demonstrating that an individual item belongs to a particular structural class” (Tyson 209).

Posted by: Douglas Phillips at February 20, 2012 08:26 AM


Students,

Here are your self-designed questions, rephrased as they appear on the reading check with the answers. Please strive for this format for your future self-designed reading check questions.

Dr. Hobbs

1. Rivkin and Ryan quote the following passage in their overview of Structuralism: “A discursive formation is a coherent group of assumptions and language practices that apples to one region of knowledge, or expresses the beliefs of a social group, or articulates rules and ideals regarding kind of behavior.” Which well-known theorist is credited with developing this idea?
a. Michel Foucault
b. JacqueS Lacan
c. Julia Kristeva
d. Tzvetan Todorov
A. Michel Foucault (Rivkin and Ryan 54)

2. According to Stephen Lynn, when a reader attempts to accomplish a structuralist reading of a text, s/he must “actively perceive” what foundational elements in the text?
a. comedy and tragedy
b. paradox and epiphany
c. pattern and design
d. class struggle
A: c. pattern and design (Lynn 107)

3. True or False?: According to Rivkin/Ryan, an example of a "dominant discourse" in the United States is one that lends great privilege to the "freedom" of the individual.
A: True ( Rivkin/Ryan 55)

4. According to Lois Tyson, you would not be “engaged in structuralist activity if you describe the structure of a short story to interpret what the work means or evaluate whether or not it’s good literature.” Under what circumstances would you actually be engaged in a structuralist activity by examining the structure of a short story, then?
A. If you were studying a large number of works to reveal their underlying principles or if you were describing a literary work to demonstrate its underlying principles within a certain structural system. “In the first example of structuralist activity, you’re generating a structural system of classification; in the second, you’re demonstrating that an individual item belongs to a particular structural class” (Tyson 209).


5. According to Lois Tyson, to what do Structuralist theorists refer when mentioning “surface phenomena”?
A: The objects, activities, and behaviors that are observed and interacted with on a daily basis—the visible world. Surface phenomena envelopes the visible world consisting of innumerable events, objects, behaviors, and activities which humans participate in, interact with, and observe. Surface phenomena are also subject to its underlying structures which arise from the human consciousness, and though these phenomena have innumerable possibilities, they are restricted to a limited number of structures. (Tyson 210).


6. There are, reports Lois Tyson, three primary properties of a structure (,i.e., a conceptual framework). Identify AND explain one of them.
A:
I. Wholeness. Working together to create something new within the text. Basically, it simply means that the system works as a complete unit. With wholeness, the system functions as a sole entity rather than a compilation of individual things because these things together create something new.

II. Transformation. This property allows the system to be capable of change, where its basic components can be transformed into new structural elements. Transformation states that the structure is not a fixed system but is “capable of change.”

III. Self-Regulation. Never permitted to leave the limits of its own structure. This property keeps the transformations under control by making sure the new elements belong in the system and obey its rules. Despite transformations, the structure is self-regulating because it cannot go beyond the limits of its own system (Tyson 211).

7. What were the two key terms Ferdinand de Saussure applied to the surface elements of language and to the underlying structure of language? This was discussed in BOTH the Tyson and Lynn chapter overviews for Structuralism. HINT: These are not the two parts of a sign
A. Parole, or “speech,” and langue, or “language.” “The surface elements of language, which Saussure called parole (French for “speech”)… it is our understanding of the underlying structure, which Saussure called langue (French for “language”) (Lynn 109; Tyson 213).

8. In the overview articles by both Lois Tyson AND Stephen Lynn, you learned that a “sign,” according to Ferdinand Saussure, is made up of two important components. Identify and explain each of them. HINT: These are not the same terms used to differentiate the structure that governs a language and millions of individual utterances that are its surface phenomena.
Answers:
A. A Signifier is the actual word or object being used.
B. The Signified is the concept of the word or object being used. (Lynn 109; Tyson 213)

Put together, the Signified and the Signified make up the unit we refer to as a Sign. Both components are important to structuralism because they influence the interpretation of the text or word.


9. When discussing Structural Anthropology, Rivkin, Ryan, and Tyson each refer to a well-known Greek myth that Claude Levi-Strauss used as an example of the knowledge that people are both born of sexual union AND (as believed among many cultures) also of the earth. What is that myth? (HINT: This same myth is also used by Freud for other purposes.)
A: Oedipus Rex (Rivkin/Ryan 53-4; Tyson 215)

10. According to Lois Tyson, which of the following is a guiding principle of structuralism?
a. narrative progression
b. characterization
c. composition
d. semiotics
e. all of the above
A: All of the above (Tyson 209, 216)

11. According to Lois Tyson, in the field known as Semiotics, what is a “Sign System”?
A: A sign system is a linguistic or nonlinguistic object or behavior that can be analyzed as if it were a specialized language. In literary analysis, it is interested in literary conventions: the rules, literary devices, and formal elements that constitute literary structures (Tyson 216).

12. Tyson recalls Northrop Frye’s idea of Mythoi and its use as a signifier for the underlying structural principles of four narrative patterns (genres). Name two of them.
Answers:
A. Romance
B. Irony
C. Comedy
D. Tragedy (Tyson 221)

13. Tyson recalls that scholar Northrop Frye uses a method called archetypal criticism. Archetypes, if you read carefully, are a concept made popular by Freud’s disciple, Carl Jung. What is meant by the term “archetype”?
A: An archetype is a term that refers to any recurring image, character type, plot formula, or pattern of action (Tyson 223). What makes it different from theme?

14. According to Stephen Lynn, why does it make sense for an understanding of deconstructionism to follow an understanding of structuralism?
A: To see how something comes apart (deconstructionism), one must first see how it went together (structuralism). (Lynn 108)

Posted by: Dr. Hobbs at February 20, 2012 01:48 PM

Brooke King
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
22 Feb 2012
Morphology of the Folk-tale
Propp discusses the comparison of theme of folk-tales. He starts by separating the component parts of fairy tales by demonstrating that both constants and variables are present in the tales. However, the names of the dramatis personae change, but their action and function do not. Fairy tales, he infers, often attribute identical actions to various characters, making is easier to study the tale according to the functions of its dramatis personae. In addition, realization of function can vary. The function of characters are those components that could be replaced by motifs or elements. The function of characters can also be transferred to other personages. Propp expresses that the number of function could be small, but the number of personages very large, thus explaining the two-fold quality of tales. While they have multiformity, color, and picturesque quality, they also has distinct functional uniformity and repetition. This means that the functions of the dramatis personae are the basic components of the fairy tale. The definition of a function is usually in the form of a noun expressing an action (flight or interrogation) and cannot be defined apart from its place in the narration. In simple terms it means that the given function within a course of action as to be considered in order to give the personae function. For example, if a hero is given money by the major and then buys a car with the money, and in another scenario the hero is given money by the major for his heroic act of bravery, both acts are a morphological element- the money. While the two scenarios are different, they are an identical act that has been given different meaning. " Function is understood as an act of a character, defined from the point of view of its significance of the course of action" (73). The function of characters serve as a constant element in fairy tales and subsequently are a fundamental component of the tale itself. As well as function, elements within the tale have uniformed laws to which the tale must adhere to: the sequence of function is always the same and fairy tales are all of one type in regard to their structure. The function of dramatis personae is dictated by the tale itself. A tale begins with some sort of initial function and then subsequent functions follow in a series of events: one of the members of a family leaves home, an interdiction is address to the hero, the interdiction is violated, the villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance in the aim of finding out the location of precious objects, the villain receives information about his victim and an answer to his question, the villain attempts to deceive his victim in order to take possession of him or of his belongings, the villain is usually disguised and uses persuasion. All of these functions serve the dramatis personae to dictate action within the tale.

Work Cited
Propp, Vladimir. "Morphology of the Folk-tale." 1927. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. 72-75. Print.

Posted by: Brooke King at February 21, 2012 08:32 PM

Travis N. Rathbone
Dr. B. Lee Hobbs
ENG 435
22 February 2012

Structuralism Précis: “Course in General Linguistics”

In his work “Course in General Linguistics,” Ferdinand de Saussure posits that language exists outside the influence of the individual. One can never modify language by himself. Instead, the modification must be a social endeavor. The meaning of language derives from the association of an auditory image and a concept. By parsing the difference between language and speech, a categorization occurs between the “social” and the “individual” and what is considered “essential” and “accessory” and almost accidental. Whereas language is passively assimilated by society, speech is a premeditated performative act on the part of an individual. Additionall, language is composed of a system of signs, the purpose of which is to express ideas.

For some, language can be reduced to simply a naming process—words in correspondence to things. The issue with this understanding of language is threefold: It posits that ideas are in existence before words, it does not examine whether the word is vocal or psychological, and it undermines the complexity of the link between the name and the concept.

For Saussure, the sign unit is composed of a concept and a sound-image. It is important to note that the sound-image is not a material, physical sound, but, rather, a psychological imprint or impression of the sound on the senses. A concept is more abstract but simply refers to the “thing” to which the sound-image is referring. It is this combination of the concept and sound image that Saussure gives the label of sign. It is easy to forget that a sign encompasses both the concept and a sound-image. In common language, a word is generally interpreted as merely the sound-image and not as the coupling of sound-image and concept. The misunderstanding here lies in the notion that the sensory aspect implies the whole. Conversely, an arbor is a sign because it contains the concept of a tree in addition the sound-image. In order to curtail ambiguity, Saussure proposes different labels for this interaction. He distinguishes sign to designate the whole, signified to designate the concept, and signifier to designate the sound-image.

From here, Saussure defines two principles of his theory. The first principle states that the linguistic sign is arbitrary, which is to say the relationship between the signifier and the signified is random and does not have a natural connection. There is no inner relationship between the sounds of a word and the idea inherent in its concept. The second principle states that the auditory signifier evolves over time and represents a measurable span in a single dimension (as illustrated by a line). This is crucial because visual signifiers can hold numerous groupings while auditory signifiers can only work within the dimension of time. In writing, the unfolding of time is represented by markings on the page. What relates to the static side of this concept is defined as synchronic. If something pertains to the evolutionary process, it is defined as diachronic. Synchrony, then, designates a language-state and diachrony refers to an evolutionary phase.

Saussure continues his reasoning by pointing out an apparent paradox within the system. When observing a word, the concept is counterpart of the sound-image. Furthermore, the sign thus created then becomes counterpart of other signs. The system of language, then, derives its meaning from interdependent terms, yet each term derives its value in relation to other terms. This is true of the conceptual side of value as well as for the material side of value. Sound alone is not substantial enough to bolster language; a tangible element is necessary to create meaning. Saussure uses the example of a coin to illustrate this point. The value of a piece of money is not fixed on the metal contained within. Instead, the value stems from the amount indicated on its surface. The same holds true for the linguistic signifier. Its value derives from what separates its sound-image from other sound-images.

In his concluding thoughts, Saussure states language failed to exist, either by idea or sound, before the linguistic system. Indeed, it is because of this system that language has conceptual and phonic differences. Additionally, the idea or substance of a sign is less important than the collection of signs to which it belongs, for the value of a term can be modified by surrounding terms. Language is based on phonic and conceptual differences, so, in essence, language is not a substance but a form.

Work Cited

De Saussure, Ferdinand. “Course in General Linguistics.” 1916. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 59-71. Print.

Posted by: Travis N. Rathbone at February 22, 2012 09:47 AM

Emmanuel Cruz
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
February 22, 2012
Précis: The Reality of Knowledge
Michel Foucault argues that tradition enables human beings to isolate new concepts against a background of permanence. This happens because there are “the notions of development and evolution: they make it possible to group a succession of dispersed events, to link them to one and the same organizing principle, to incessant correlation of its different elements, its systems of assimilation and exchange” (91). Hence, this can become problematic because it has been accepted and it has to been questioned. Foucault thinks that we must also question the divisions or unions between ideas, which we have embraced for generations and have become familiar with. These ideas or disciplines include but are not limited to fiction, history, religion, literature, philosophy, and science. The division between these disciplines has been accepted without any kind of scrutiny. He writes, “In any case, these divisions—whether our own, or those contemporary with the discourse under examination—are always themselves reflexive categories, principles of classification, normative rules . . . facts of discourse that deserve to be analyzed . . . they are not intrinsic” (91). It is important to carefully analyze the classification between these disciplines because once these forms of continuousness are suspended; a new field is set free for analysis and evaluation. This, of course, directly applies to language because (langue) is a field opened for possibilities. It is a finite body of guidelines, which indirectly authorize an infinite number of interpretations and performances to come to the surface. A system such as language is not subject to any rules or guidelines until someone creates rules and applies them to the system. Therefore, there can be many possibilities evolution and transformation within language because we are only following a prescribed set of rules, which restricts imagination.

Posted by: Emmanuel Cruz at February 22, 2012 01:09 PM

Diego Pestana
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
February 22, 2011
“The Linguistic Foundation” Precis
In in his selection from Structuralist Poetics entitled “The Linguistic Foundation,” Jonathan Culler attempts to illustrate an intrinsic relationship between structuralism and the study of linguistics. Culler begins by laying out two reasons why he believes linguistics is useful for studying cultural phenomena. The first reason, Culler writes, is that he believes social and cultural phenomena are not isolated material objects but objects with meaning, “and hence signs” (56). What this means is that events that define or makeup a culture do not occur in a vacuum but are a result of a surrounding influence. The second reason Culler states is that these cultural phenomena “do not have essences but are defined by a network of relations” (56). And it is because of these two reasons that Culler believes that semiology (the study of signs) and structuralism are inseparable because the studying of signs requires a consideration of the system that gives those signs meaning.
Of structuralism, Culler writes that it is based on the idea that meanings behind human action are a result of a system of conventions that makes the meanings possible. The two examples Culler uses to illustrate his point are a soccer game and a wedding. Culler writes that if someone from a culture where the two did not exist were to observe the events, he would be able to describe what it is he is saying, but the overarching meaning behind the events would escape him as he would not be privy to the system of conventions that gave each event specific meaning.
Culler goes on to write about the influence that linguists can have on structuralism's understanding of cultural phenomena. Culler notes the work of Ferdinand de Saussure, who distinguished speech (la parole) from the system of language (la langue). This distinction is vital for structuralists because to master a set of rules in a system, more is needed than knowledge of la parole. What is needed for structuralists and linguists, is understanding how la parole fits into the larger langue. Culler uses the English language to substantiate his claim as to truly know English is to understand its language system, not just know the different utterances of different words.
Culler also cites the contribution of Levi-Strauss who distinguished the study of speech sounds (phoentics) and how those sounds function in a particular language (phonology). And this distinction is important for structuralists, according to Culler, because it illustrates the systematic nature of popular phenomena. This distinguished the system of speech from its realization, or practice. It provided a shift of focus away from concentration on characteristics of individual phenomena to “abstract differential features which could be defined in relational terms” (57). Culler calls this distinction, for structuralists, the clearest model of linguistic method.
The last distinction that Culler writes about is the difference between rule and behavior. Culler writes that a study of laws that attempts to discover behaviors is not always complete because the rules often differ from actual actions. An example he illustrates is of a rule that states that no one should step on the cracks in the pavement. While the law may tell an investigator something about the culture, the action someone who deviates from the rule by stepping on the cracks tells us even more. Another system he illustrates is of people keeping promises. For example, if someone were discovered not to keep any promises, an assumption would be made that that person was not properly assimilated into the “promise-keeping” system.

Work Cited

Culler, Jonathan. “The Linguistic Foundation.” 1975. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden : Blackwell, 2004. 56-8. Print.

Posted by: Diego Pestana at February 22, 2012 01:37 PM

Tiffany Anne Carpenter
Dr. Hobbs
Eng 435- Literary Criticism
22 February 2012
Précis 3: Two Aspects of Language
In “Two Aspects of Language,” Roman Jakobson discusses the importance of language and examines key elements, terminology, and roles of semiotics, language, and speech. What becomes essential when considering his arguments are the key terms that he attempts to explain. For example, much of his arguments rest on the role of aphasia as any disturbance in language and he goes on to explain how the study of language and aphasia contribute to examining the breakdown and structure of communication, particularly in relationship to metaphoric discourse.
Jakobson discusses the importance of the listener and the communicator or speaker and how various preconceptions can play a role in how various messages are received, thus the way that the speaker makes their selection of word choice and communicates their speech is essential. Furthermore, he explains that there are two types of “connection (similarity and contiguity) in both their aspects (positional and semantic) [in which] an individual [is able to manipulate and] exhibit his personal style, his verbal predilections and preferences” (77). He points out that there various distinctions between the use of these elements in verbal art versus poetry and that there is a significant “bio-polar structure of language” and that as a result, there is a “dichotomy [of] consequence for all verbal behavior and for human behavior in general” (78). He then mentions a Russian folk tale by Uspenskij to explain the use of parallelism and distinguish between the devices of metonymic and metaphoric processes. He finally explains that metaphor is the best tool for poetry and metonymy is the best tool for prose because of the “two aphasic patterns” of contiguity and similarity. Words are used not only to have an individual meaning, but to related to one another in context, as well.
Through the discussion of these dichotomies within the world of language, Jakobson points out how essential it is to examine the role of language, speech, and to consider how specific choices that are made within communication can significantly affect the interpretation and understanding of the audience, listener, and reader.


Work Cited
Jakobson, Roman. “Two Aspects of Language.” 1956. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 76-80. Print.

Posted by: tiffany.carpenter at February 22, 2012 02:07 PM

Travis N. Rathbone
Dr. B. Lee Hobbs
ENG 435
29 February 2012

Signifying Significant Headdress: Applying Saussure to Kundera

In the seminal work “Course in General Linguistics,” Ferdinand de Saussure posits that a sign system can be parsed into two correlative parts: the concept and the sound-image—the signified and the signifier respectively: “The linguistic sign unites, not a thing and a name, but a concept and a sound-image” (Saussure 61). Though the relationship between the signifier and the signified is of a vital, inseparable nature, the two are also characterized by a completely random coupling. In other words, the connection between the concept and the sound-image is arbitrary. This point is illustrated by simply looking at numerous languages and the myriad linguistic symbols for a single word—a cat for example. Though the concept might remain static, the sound-image is dynamic. For Saussure, the signifier is “unmotivated, i.e. arbitrary in that it has no actual connection with the signified” (Saussure 62). At first glance, this particular brand of theorizing might seem difficult to apply to literature; however, playing with the meaning and interpretation of a certain sign can hold great worth for the practitioner of literary analysis.

In general usage, if the signifier is characterized by its transmutations and the signified remains relatively constant, perhaps there is substance in flipping the properties of these terms and interpreting them in a new way. If the sound-image remained constant but the concept underwent metamorphosis, some interesting insights might come to bear. Indeed, this form of property exchange already seems to occur in the sense that two people can discuss the same thing (sound-image) but feel differently about what exactly is being represented (concept). This will especially be of interest when analyzing the sign that is the bowler hat in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. For the purposes of this analysis, only the viewpoints of Tomas and Franz will be analyzed. However, a more exhaustive approach would include examinations of Sabina and Tereza as well.

Amongst the layers of subtle metaphor and symbolism in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the bowler hat is a recurring motif that holds a multifarious significance to the characters that populate the work. For one character, the bowler hat holds a significance that transforms throughout the course of her story: “[The bowler hat] returned again and again, each time with a different meaning, and all the meanings flowed through the bowler hat like water through a riverbed” (Kundera 88). For the sexually liberated and spiritually light Sabina, the bowler hat is an issuance of patrimony that was once worn by her grandfather. The first time the bowler hat is introduced within the novel is during a clandestine meeting between Tomas and Sabina: “When [Sabina] opened the door, she stood before [Tomas] on her beautiful long legs wearing nothing but panties and bra. And a black bowler hat. She stood there staring, mute and motionless” (Kundera 28). Tomas’ reaction to this gesture was to be expected. Without saying a word, he took the hat and placed it on the bedside table; they then made love. Within the pages outlined by the text, Tomas’ association with the hat is sexually charged if not fleeting. In the third part of the novel, the reader again witnesses Tomas’ reaction to the bowler hat: “[D]uring a visit to her studio . . . the bowler hat had caught Tomas’ fancy” (Kundera 86). After placing the hat on her head, the two lovers observe each other in a mirror: “And all at once she realized they were both excited by what they saw in the mirror” (Kundera 86). The brevity of his encounter with the hat is deliberate, and even though the sound-image in this instance was identical to that of Sabina’s, the hat embodied different ideals for both. These ideals were different, even, from the way it is viewed by another of Sabina’s lovers, Franz.

Unlike Tomas, who much like Sabina is spiritually and sexually light, Franz’s nature is augmented by a much heavier composition. His substantive conscious and preoccupation with fairly shallow ideals attend to his less than transcendental presence. For Franz, the bowler hat represents something he cannot quite understand; it represents a foolish, uncomfortable state of being, and it introduces a level of uncertainty in life and love—especially his love for Sabina. Franz’s encounter with the bowler hat ends similarly to Tomas’ initial encounter with the headpiece. “[H]e gently took the brim of the bowler hat between two fingers, lifted it off Sabina’s head with a smile, and laid it back on the wig stand. It was as though he were erasing the mustache a naughty child had drawn on a picture of the Virgin Mary” (Kundera 85). This action, however, was not followed by throws of passion as in the former instance. Instead, Franz takes his leave of his mistress, and Sabina remains in her apartment to once more ponder the significance of the bowler hat.

Though this analysis is barely scratching the surface of the text and the multifarious roles the bowler hat plays, a more exhaustive endeavor would surely include a study of each major character in the novel. Though the sound-image of the bowler hat remains the same for the characters, the concept clearly differs in significance for each. A more thorough examination of the text would also include reference to the referent, which for the immediate purpose would provide too much substance to go into here.

Works Cited
De Saussure, Ferdinand. “Course in General Linguistics.” 1916. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 59-71. Print.
Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Trans. Michael Henry Heim. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1984.

Posted by: Travis N. Rathbone at February 29, 2012 02:01 PM

Diego Pestana
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
March 2, 2012
The Hobbit's Journey: Bilbo Baggins' Separation
One aspect of Joseph Campbell's idea of a Hero's Journey, as illustrated in Christopher Vogler's take on The Hero with a Thousand Faces, that is easily adaptable to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, notably in Rinkin/Bass's film adaptation, is the idea of “Separation.” According to Vogler, “Separation” is the first stage in the Hero's Journey. During the separation phase, the hero is first shown in his ordinary world that is habitual to him. This is to place emphasis on the extraordinary nature of his journey, or, as Volger writes, if we are to see the hero “out of his customary element, you first have to create a contrast by showing him in his mundane ordinary world.” After the hero is depicted in his ordinary world, there is a “Call to Adventure.” Here, the hero is confronted with some type of challenge that requires action on his part. And at first, the hero is reluctant to accept that challenge. This stage is appropriately called the “Refusal of the Call.” There is then some kind of intervention, either supernatural or by another character, which leads the hero into “Crossing the Threshold” and beginning his journey. All of these stages of separation are illustrated in Rankin/Bass's The Hobbit.
In the beginning of the film, Bilbo Baggins, the hero, is first shown in his home of Hobbiton in the Shire. Bilbo is shown living comfortably in his home, enjoying the relaxing atmosphere. The narrator remarks of Bilbo's home saying that, “It was a Hobbit hole. And that means comfort.” This illustration fits the idea of showing the hero in his ordinary world as a means to emphasize the contrasting extraordinariness of the journey he is about to embark on. Shortly thereafter, Bilbo is confronted by Gandalf who is seeking his help as a burglar. This is the “Call to Adventure” segment of the separation. In fact, Gandalf even asks Bilbo, “You do not wish to share a grand adventure?” And, as per Volger's illustration of Campbell's idea, Bilbo initially refuses remarking, “We Hobbits are quiet folk. Adventures make one late for dinner.” This illustrates the idea of the hero's “Refusal of the Call.” However, Bilbo eventually changes his mind because of intervention on the part of a mentor and the supernatural. Gandalf does his best to convince Bilbo to accept the wonders of an adventure, but it is the supernatural feeling Bilbo receives from hearing the dwarves sing that ultimately convinces him to go, and thus “Cross the Threshold.” Through this analysis, Campbell's “Separation” stage of the Hero's Journey, as restated by Volger, is easily seen in Rankin/Bass's The Hobbit.

Works Cited
“The Hobbit.” Dir. Jules Bass, and Arthur Rankin, Jr. Web.
Vogler, Christopher. “A Practical Guide to Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” 1985. Memo. 2 March 2012.

Posted by: Diego Pestana at March 2, 2012 02:14 AM

Douglas Phillips
Burgsbee Hobbs
ENG 435
27 February 2012
Narrative within the Rankin-Bass Version of The Hobbit
In studying film, it is easy to forget that although the viewer is watching a movie and not reading text from a book, the viewer is still a “reader” of a “text” nonetheless. A film, just like a book, can make a “statement” that is then interpreted for meaning by the audience, even without words. In his article on “The Structure of Narrative Transmission,” Seymour Chatman states that “It is essential to understand the ‘statement’ is used her in an abstract independent of any particular medium” (97) and it in the same “abstract” sense that the term statement is being applied within this essay. One common way for a text to make a statement is via a “narrator,” an entity who may or may not exist within the text itself that relays information to the reader. Chatman clarifies that the narrator may not even be an explicit presence within a work, but that the narrator could be implied “a construction or reconstruction by the reader” (99). However, in the Rankin-Bass version of The Hobbit, the narrator is not implied, but explicit, there exists more than one narrator, and each narrator has a different intent and effect within the narrative.
If the narrator is an entity within a story either implied or explicit that relays information to the reader, then there exist several different narrators within the Rankin-Bass version of The Hobbit. First, there is the character of Gandalf, who explains the nature of the world of “Middle-Earth” to the Bilbo, and by extension, provides expository information to the audience. The character of Gandalf also serves as a Deus ex Machina within the film, using his magical powers to bail the other characters out of various life-threatening situations. Ironically, the all-powerful nature of Gandalf’s character necessitates his removal from many scenes of the story because he is so powerful that the obstacles which give pause to the dwarves would be trivial and anti-climactic for the wizard.
A second type of narrator in this film would be the various singers who highlight the events of the story with their songs and help explicate the feelings of Bilbo and the other characters. Although these extra narrators only seem to relay obvious information that would be easily gleaned from the action of the scene, there are occasions where the lyrics of the song do address the less-obvious feelings of the characters and thereby replace the traditional internal monologue which a written text would normally have employed.
The primary narrator of The Hobbit is another character within the tale, Bilbo Baggins, the titular hobbit. During the film, Bilbo recounts the adventures he is having in the movie from the perspective of narration from his book, which is written after the events of the movie. As Bilbo is the main character of the story, his narration is of particular interest to the viewer.
Although narrators are important to the concepts of narrative transmission as forwarded by Chatman, the narrators are not the only element of narrative transmission. In his essay, Chatman defines three important terms for his reader, locution, the grammar of a statement, illocution, the intent of a statement, and perlocution, the actual effect of a statement (100). Illocution and perlocution are the two terms which will be of the most interest here, however.
In the narrations by Gandalf, the singers, and Bilbo, what are their intentions and effects? For Gandalf, the intent, or illocution, is simple: get Bilbo to help the dwarves one their quest to take the dragon’s treasure from Smaug. Although it is not clear why Bilbo is so important to the dwarves’ quest, it soon becomes apparent that Gandalf needed him to be “the reasonable one,” a member of the group who would not be so preoccupied with greed and who would be a peace-maker for the dwarves. The singers tend to highlight the obvious action within the movie, and in effect help reveal internal character thoughts in an oblique way with their lyrics. As for Bilbo, his direct narration serves to help him establish himself as superior to the dwarves in judgment, although he does end up inadvertently displaying that he himself is just as opinionated and judgmental as the dwarves because he is constantly looking down on them as petty and greedy.
As unusual as it may seem to apply literary terms to an animated film, the film itself is based upon a written story by J.R.R. Tolkien and the nature of narrative still applies, even when the medium of the narrative is pictorial rather than textual. The multiplicative narrators and their varying intentions give the audience a varied image of the action of the plot, and the effects each character has on the others, though simplified for younger audiences, help to highlight the importance of the effect of an argument on others as well as the intentions behind the argument.

Posted by: Douglas Phillips at March 2, 2012 02:02 PM

Tiffany Anne Carpenter
Dr. Hobbs
Eng 435- Literary Criticism
2 March 2012
The Hero’s Journey in Beowulf
Joseph Campbell’s monomyth on the idea of the “Hero’s Journey” is an important examination various plots and characters in works when considering structuralism and deconstructionist theory. The idea is that this hero has a specific journey to complete in various ways in which he establishes himself as a hero worthy of his ultimate outcome, having to go through a series of calls, trials, battles, and make personal decisions in order to achieve his ultimate goal and end up successful by the end of his journey. This journey includes many facets, but the most important are three phases in which the hero has to go though: the call to adventure, the departure, the initiation, and the return. An example that might be considered is the hero Beowulf on his journey to defeat Grendel in the first work.
For Beowulf, his departure starts when he travels because he hears that there is a king that needs salvation and protectors. He seeks to find King Hrothgar, who tells him about Grendel and how he needs to be defeated for the protection of his land and people. The initial knowledge of this starts as Beowulf crosses the threshold by seeing the gatekeeper who allows him to enter this new extraordinary world. The man with the torch acts as the one who lets Beowulf enter this special world, where he goes to meet with Hrothgar and establishes his call to adventure, deciding to prove himself a warrior by taking on the task of defeating Grendel. Here we see Beowulf depart from his ordinary world and enter a new world where he begins the initiation phase. Hrothgar enlists the help of Beowulf to defeat this evil monster who plagues his land and people. When Beowulf accepts this challenge, he is responding to his bravery being called into question. He wants to prove himself a warrior and worthy of recognition, powerful and brave to the king.
This transformation and initiation phase that fills the middle of Beowulf’s journey is essential and filled with tests and battles. The villain is the monster Grendel, who finds out about Beowulf and tries to go after him. This is where the villainous plot comes to a head because Beowulf finds out that Grendel can’t be killed with any mortal weapon and it is this test that acts as the supreme ordeal in this section of Beowulf’s journey, giving him the chance to prove himself and be successful or not. After this, there is a series of additional events that can be considered battles and ordeals later on, such as Beowulf battling Grendel’s mother and his ultimate battle with the dragon.
Beowulf, after responding to these calls of adventure and successfully making it through his tests and battles, succeeding and transforming as a warrior and brave hero, is able to ultimately complete his return when he later dies trying to kill the dragon. He ultimately can be seen as failing his final mission because he leaves his people without a king, even though he does, in fact, defeat the dragon, but he still is able to remain a hero because “thus made their mourning the men of Geatland, for their hero's passing his hearth-companions: quoth that of all the kings of earth, of men he was mildest and most beloved, to his kin the kindest, keenest for praise.” His return is essentially his death and yet it is the culmination of his journey because it does bring honor to his name.
While this is just one examination of Campbell’s model of the “Hero’s Journey,” there are many forms that are modeled in various works, all having the commonalities of the hero on this ultimate quest to make it to an extraordinary world and answer the call to adventure, in hopes of returning home a better hero.

Work Cited
“Beowulf.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature, Volume 1A: The Middle Ages. Ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J. Dettmar. 4th ed. Vol. 1A. Boston: Longman, 2010. Print.

Posted by: tiffany.carpenter at March 4, 2012 06:59 PM

Brooke King
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
29 Feb. 2012
Mighty Morphing Beowulf
The epic poem of Beowulf has been translated into many avenues of literature, comparing characters, meaning, etc. However, very little has been said about its basic narrative structure, the meat and a potatoes of the poem itself. By looking at a certain section of structure within the poem, one can find that it structure parallels to other epics and narrative works. Vladimir Propp suggests that every narrative folk-tale has a universal narrative structure. In Beowulf one of Propp's thirty-one functions exists quite obviously, the villainy that occurs in the form of Grendel. Villainy is a section of the narrative structure that deals with the villain causing harm. Looking at the character Grendel in Beowulf, the villainy function within Propp's universal folk-tale structure can be seen and broken down, making Beowulf a universally structured narrative poem.
The villainy function serves to create the conflict within the narration. In order to cause disarray within the narration, a element of complication must be introduced. The villain suits this role of hindrance for the hero. " The villain causes harm/injury to a family member (by abduction... plunders in other forms... commits murder...). This lack is made known; the hero is given a request or a command, and he goes or is sent on a mission/quest" (Rivkin and Ryan 75). In Beowulf, Grendel attacks Heorot, leaving Hrothgar defenseless against Grendel's evil doings. Grendel serves as the catalyst for Beowulf to leave Geatland "and seek out that king, the famous prince who needed defenders" (Norton 1636). The initially attack by Grendel serves as the function for which other actions are taken off of and used to serve as other elements of function. Propp's structure relies on the fact that every function feds off another function. So, when Grendel attacked Heorot, it triggered the call to adventure for Beowulf ,what Propp calls "the beginning counter-action," where the hero agrees or decides upon a counter-action in order to resolve the villainy that has taken place.
Beowulf entrance into the narrative plot occurs as a continuance of the dramatis personae that Grendel begot when his narrative function of villainy occurred. The sequence of events, Propp asserts, must go in a certain order for the function of action and dramatis personae to continue. In other words, Grendel and Beowulf have to meet and strikes blows with each other because their dramatis personas are at odds with their functions within the narrative structure.
So Grendel waged his lonely war,
inflicting constant cruelties on the people,
atrocious hurt. He took over Heorot,
haunting the glittered halls after dark... (1635)
The introduction of the hero, Beowulf, must occur because Grendel's actions have occurred, lending themselves to the function of villainy within the narrative structure and plot. Grendel himself cannot serve as a function of dramatis persona without Beowulf character to counter him. They serve as equal functions. "Functions of characters serve as stable, constant elements in a tale... They constitute the fundamental components of a tale" (Rivkin and Ryan 73). While the functions can vary in action, coming before or after in the tale, they must be there in order for the dramatis persona to exist and it is because these functions are certain in a tale, the tale can be viewed through the use of the functions to understand the narrative structure.
Beowulf exists within Propp's definition of morphological folk-tale because the functions within the narrative structure are set off by the actions of the dramatis personas within the narrative plot. Grendel's villainy serves a glimpse of how Propp's functions of dramatis persona work within Beowulf. However, it is Grendel's function within the poem that proves to be the catalyst for the remaining functions within the epic poem, which coincides with Propp's thirty-one functions of dramatis persona, making Beowulf a universally structure epic poem.

Work Cited
"Beowulf." The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Ed. Sarah N. Lawall and Maynard Mack. 2nd ed. Vol. B. New York: Norton, 2002. 1626-702. Print. 100-1500.
Propp, Vladimir. "Morphology of the Folk-tale."1927. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. 72-75. Print.

Posted by: brooke king at April 13, 2012 06:02 PM

(Since most comments aerddss mostly Plato's Phaedrus, I will concentrate on Saussure's Course in General Linguistics.)I found Saussure's Course in General Linguistics a very compelling read. Saussure justified his ideas on linguistic theory through a more scientific approach. Whether legitimate or not, if you subscribe to his theories you could surely justify it through his article, as it is quite thorough (even if not as sturdy as he asserts). He is sure to build his theory of the linguistic system block-by-block, based on signifiers and the signified (sound-images and the concepts they evoke, respectively), or units. He begins by simply stating that speaking is independent and separate from language , at least from the viewpoint of the individual. To clarify, the individual subscribes to the language of the time and geographic area they are in, but language is independent of the individual in its diachronic characteristics. It takes more than one person to change the language. This point bothered me.I'm not sure that this point qualifies in the current time period. Saussure theorized and taught in the early 20th century when the technology that affected one's influence and power was not available. In his time, one would have to spend a lifetime perfecting a thesis or theory, then publish it, then likely die before their influence caught fire and spread throughout the nation or world, thereby possibly changing the language (style, words' meanings, etc.). Currently, anyone can publish their thoughts (no mater how malformed) on a blog, comment board, tweet, etc. in a matter of seconds and reach an audience of millions within the minute. This greatly influences the impact of the individual on culture, and thus language. Take President (Elect for the next 13 hours) Obama, for an example. His media campaign has run virally through the country, even the world, and has changed culture in the past 30 months. I believe that Saussure does not account for cultural impact of the individual simply because there were not the tools available at that time to indicate that a threat to static language this big could exist.For the time, Saussure makes a very valid point and achieves a great characterization and analysis of the human language. He resists other ideas that language is highly malleable and presents a very concrete argument on the scientific (even mathematical) elements of language through his analysis of semiology. A point that seems to have held up through time since this was recorded was the idea that everywhere and always there is the same complex equilibrium of terms that mutually condition each other and that signs within language in their totality are positive, but we conceive true meaning from signs by their negative values through consideration of both the signified and the signifier, or by comparison to other signs. Put frankly, in language there are only differences. Interestingly, signs can only be perceived as positive because of their negative parts (signified and signifier). He concludes that in a linguistic system, the substance of sign is of less importance than the signs around it linguistically because their is no meaning without comparison to other signs. This seems to be a novel truth of language.

Posted by: Jorge at October 27, 2012 06:02 PM

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