From oppositions to difference.
Claude Levi-Strauss and Structuralism
Characteristics of structuralism:
between surface reality and underlying reality; the most important meanings may be unconscious.
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
notes that much of our imaginative world is structured of, and structured by,
binary oppositions (being/nothingness, hot/cold, culture/nature).
was strongly influenced by structural linguistics, and a linguistic model of
Basics: De Saussere and Structural Linguistics
First distinction: langue and parole.
the sound or written text signifying something.
the concept to which it refers.
is the sign: like a piece of paper with two sides.
of ‘dog’ in different languages: The fact that signifiers are different in
different languages shows that:
are arbitrary, public, and based on a linguistic community.
known partly by what they are NOT; I.e. dog is not god is not dot, etc.
Language to Mythology
Surface Structure and Deep Structure, the latter is often
Myths structured by underlying relations of:
Similarities or analogies.
Break down the myth into its sentences.
Write each sentence on a card.
Each card has a subject doing something.This
is called a relation.
Relations that express similar themes are called bundles of
Grouped into bundles, they are now recognized on a
synchronic or thematic level. Each
bundle focuses on a single thematic opposition, e.g. residence, marriage,
economics, politics, cosmology, etc.
Myth of Asdiwal
Setting: Tsimshian society
inhabiting the Nass and Skeena
River Valleys in B.C.
Asdiwal is born from the union of a widow and a
stranger bird of good omen. His father,
the stranger bird, gives him magical hunting tools. Asdiwal attempts
several marriages, ones that do not follow the matrilineal descent and patrilocal residence ideal.
None work. Finally, he forgets his snowshoes one day while hunting and
turns to stone on a mountain.
Bundles in the Myth:
(Matrilineal) and Residence (Patrilocal).
Movements in the Myth:
o Patrilocal residence is first negated by death,
leading to neolocality.
o Matrilocal experiment between stranger and dau fails, but it does lead to a son, Asdiwal.
o Then several directly matrilocal
experiments between Asdiwal, the dau
of the son, and Asdiwal and the sisters of 4
brothers, are tried. They also fail.
o He moves to a new village, neolocal
residence, leading to oppositions with the group.
o Asdiwal’s wife then joins him in neutral territory
o Basically, all attempts at doing something different with
the matrilineal, first patrilocal and then matrilocal residence patterns fail. Everything has been tried.
o Hence, the best possible solution is the one that already
exists in reality.
What This Means
Major contradiction in the story and in Tsimshian
society is between matrilineal inheritance and patrilocal
residence and the problems this causes for the ‘father’.
Progression from strong oppositions, tensions and
contradictions in society.
Attempts to resolve the opposition through mediation.
2 opposites are replaced by similar, though less strong
Myth proceeds by substituting ever weaker terms in the
However, the opposition, since it is a real one, can never
be resolved; hence failure of the attempts at marriage.
Therefore, the best possible solution is the one that
Post-structuralism:Oppositions and their Undoing
de Saussere: language is a system of
differences….each signifier is defined through a relation with another
Language IS a system of differences, but that is ALL it is.
the signified/signifier relation: this reflects de Saussere’s
Phonocentrism assumes a privileged relation between the signifier and
signified, which does not exist.
fixed relation between signifiers and signifieds
exists; e.g. look up a signifier in any dictionary, and you find only another
signifier, not a signified.
Hierarchies of Oppositions
any traditional philosophy, there is a logos, the key idea upon which it rests.
this implies that the key idea rejects and displaces its opposite.
there is always a hierarchy of oppositions
goal of deconstruction is to ‘reverse the hierarchy’, at any particular moment.
logocentrism and phonocentrism.
Differance, and Difference
constitutes a continual play of relations of difference.
language, there is ‘experience’, or differance.
works up and constitutes differences, transforming differance
is to find the gap which language marginalizes, and then to unravel the
gender relations: other of man was woman, other of ‘woman’ was colonized woman,
with each term reversing the previous hierarchy.
to the multiple subjectivities that we all inhabit. No single subjectivity is
considered final; there is no end point, but only a continual play of