Reacting against the text-focused method of Liberal Humanism is Structuralism, which, in very basic terms, argues that all works should be set in the context of the structures which surround them. The names most closely associated with Structuralism are: Ferdinand de Sausurre (who can be considered a pre-Structuralist), Claude Levi-Strauss and Roland Barthes. It is, as can be seen from the names, the beginning of the French domination of Critical Theory. To explain the meaning of these structures, it is worth looking at an example. In "Waste Land Limericks", Wendy Cope parodies the poetry of T.S. Eliot:
"In the last minute of the first hour
In April one seldom feels cheerful;
No water. Dry rocks and dry throats.
The poem in itself is of little worth if one does not already have some familiarity with Eliot's work. More than that, if one has not read the The Waste Land, it is likely to be misunderstood if understood at all. Thus, it is also necessary to understand some of the reasons that influenced Eliot to write like he did (the aforementioned "impersonality" and "objective correlative", for instance). Finally one must understand the changing attitudes to Eliot's work since his death (the criticism levelled at him for misogyny and anti- Semitism, for instance) so Cope's parodying takes on a hint of darker invective. All of these considerations represent the "structures" which Structuralists believe to be integral to an understanding of literature. Of course in the case of parody the need for a knowledge of the contextual structures is heightened, but all literature (argue the Structuralists) is enhanced by an understanding of the political / historical / social / artistic environment from which the text issued. We can therefore see a decisive break in the Theory of criticism between Liberal Humanists, who believe in the primacy of the text, and Structuralists, who stress the importance of the context of the text. Here are some of the most important tenets of Structuralism:
1. Meaning occurs through difference. Meaning is not identification of the sign with object in the real world or with some pre-existent concept or essential reality; rather it is generated by difference among signs in a signifying system. For instance, the meaning of the words "woman" and "lady" are established by their relations to one another in a meaning-field. They both refer to a human female, but what constitutes "human" and what constitutes "female" are themselves established through difference, not identity with any essence, or ideal truth, or the like.
2. Relations among signs are of two sorts, contiguity and substitutability, the axes of combination and selection: hence the existence of all 'grammars', hence all substitutions, hence the ability to know something by something else and, above all, hence metonymy and metaphor. The conception of combination and selection provides the basis for an analysis of 'literariness' or 'poeticality' in the use, repetition and variation of sound patterns and combinations. It also provides keys to the most fundamental elements of culture.
3. Structuralism notes that much of our imaginative world is structured of, and structured by, binary oppositions (being / nothingness, hot / cold, culture / nature); these oppositions structure meaning, and one can describe fields of cultural thought, or topoi, by describing the binary sets which compose them. As an illustration, here is a binary set for the monstrous.
4. Structuralism forms the basis for semiotics: the study of signs. A sign is a union of signifier and signified, and is anything that stands for anything else (or, as Umberto Eco put it, a sign is anything that can be used to lie).
5. Also central to semiotics is the idea of codes, which give signs context - cultural codes, literary codes, etc. The study of semiotics and of codes opens up literary study to cultural study, and expands the resources of the critic in discussing the meaning of texts. Structuralism, says Genette, "is a study of the cultural
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