Structuralism and Poststructuralism For Beginners
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by: D. Palmer
In its less dramatic versions, the author writes, structuralism is just a method of studying language, society, and the works of artists and novelists. But in its most exuberant form, it is a philosophy, an overall worldview that provides an account of reality and knowledge. Poststructuralism is a loosely knit intellectual movement, comprised mainly of ex-structuralists who either became dissatisfied with the theory or felt they could improve it. Structuralism and Poststructuralism For Beginners is an illustrated tour through the mysterious landscape of these two theories. The books starting point is the linguistic theory of Ferdinand de Saussure. The book moves on to the anthropologist and literary critic Claude Levi-Strauss; the semiologist and literary critic Roland Barthes; the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser; the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan; the deconstructionist Jacques Derrida. The book concludes by examining the postmodern obsession with language and with the radical claim of the disappearance of the individualobsessions that unite the work of all of these theorists.
In terms of Western culture, most of the 20th century was a downward arc of nihilism (a general mood of despair at the pointlessness of existence), despair and emptiness. No one did more to make it worse than the "post-modernists" who arose in the 1960s, who took Sartre's and Heidegger's bankrupt philosophies as their point of departure.
Superb book for simple tying-together of major points: We came to this book having read Derrida, Foucault, Saussure, etc, but not knowing about Structuralism as an -ism; just about the individual authors and their works. This book helped us think of them as a unified movement, and aided me in finding commonalities in their works. We imagine that this book would be even more useful for someone who has not read these authors; that way, you could get the general map before setting off into detailed inquiry (We did it in reverse!). The explanations and illustrations are genuinely humorous, and the book is a lot of fun. Of course, as with any book of this type, many things are drastically oversimplified, and many things presented as facts are actually the author's opinions -- but that comes with the territory of attempting to sum up a whole philosophical movement in a short little text.
Structuralism" and "Poststructuralism" have become buzzwords, bandied about frequently but only rarely understood. The concepts are difficult, especially for someone who does not have a background in philosophy, linguistics, or social sciences. To make matters worse, many of the most famous and influential of the Poststructuralist thinkers revel in obscurity, deliberately making their writing as abtruse and convoluted as possible.
This book is an excellent introduction to the concepts of Structuralism and Poststructuralism. The author studies a few of the most important scholars on the topic -- beginning with Saussure, the father of Structuralism and of modern linguistics and going on to Lacan, Foucault, Barthes, and Levi-Strauss. He touches upon their major contributions to the subject, giving explanations which can be grasped by any bright and interested layman.