Structuralism: a glossary and a bibliography

by Dorothy B. Selz (1975)

A good beginning is Piaget’s Structuralism, which offers a survey of all the arts and sciences under one rubric: how they function as structures. To proceed to the special concerns of literature and anthropology, Michael Lane’s Introduction to Structuralism, with a prefatory history and a compilation of basic articles and good bibliographies could be a good choice.

Reading Claude Lévi -Strauss is difficult, but inevitable. One should start with Tristes Tropiques, then Structural Anthropology, where he elaborated his structural method in studying myth and criticized the scientific validity of psychoanalyis. The Raw and Cooked discusses the complex relationships among myths, customs of food preparation, kinship relations and other aspects of culture.

Lévi-Strauss paved a new way for mythical-anthropological investigration, and those who followed in his steps in this field are Leach, Kirk, and Haugen. They studied the re-orienting views of the Bible, the classics of Greece, and te myths of Scandinavia, believing those are human imagination to cope with nature.

Apart from anthropology, structuralism is also applied to linguistics, and therefore reading Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics is a must. In our reading, Saussure is followed by Jakobson and Propp. We then will arrive at the Russian Formalists, notably Erlich and Jameson.

In literary criticism, a prominent practitioner of structuralism is Barthes. Jakobson and Lévi-Strauss also tried to apply structuralism in analyzing Baudelaire’s text, but their analyses is objected by Riffaterre. Shkovsky’s theory, albeit unimpressed to Owen Barfield or the New Critics, is valued by professor Scholes in his Structuralism in Literature. In this work, Scholes applies structuralism in genre analysis and James Joyce’s works.

Lastly, structuralists also have their answers to the grandiose philosophical questions such as “what is the nature of the perceiving seld”, which can be found in Johns Hopkins’ 1966 conference speech and Macksey and Donato’s The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man: The Structuralist Controversy. Those are not the final answers, but they broaden sympathies and widen perspectives.

A Glossary

  • associative relations
  • binary opposition: minimal pairs?
  • bricolage: metaphorical substitution; chẳng hạn, vòng tròn?
  • code: “The mythical consciousness resembles a code which is intelligible only to those who possess the key to it – i.e., for whom the particular contents of this consciousness are merely conventional signs for something “other”, which is not contained in them” (E. Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, vol. 2, Mythical Thinking, p.38).
  • determism: one of the nets of Lévi-Strauss, that basic patterns of thought are assumed to be inevitable: “I have always aimed at drawing up an inventory of mental patterns, to reduce apparently arbitrary data to some kind of order, and to attain a level at which a kind of necessity becomes apparent, underlying the illusions of liberty” (Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked, p. 10). [là dựng nên một hệ thống trong đầu để giảm thiểu tính võ đoán của ngôn ngữ? phải chăng đó là lý do luôn cần đặt lại các câu hỏi “nghĩa là gì”? tinh thần là gì?]
  • diachronic
  • dialectics
  • displacement: substituting one code for another by metomyny or metaphor. An old, ineffective symbol fails to tally with new perceptions; the replacement is perceived with approval since it is already operating in another whold code that the audience accepts.
  • l’esprit d’homme, l’esprit humain: the spirit of man, the essence of humanity. “Lévi-Strauss characterizes this universal espirit humain as follows: like language, the human mind differentiates empirical reality into constituent units; these units are organized into systems of reciprocal relations, and these systems enunciate rules to govern their possible combinations. Further, the qualities of mind and language are not only universal (all men have the intellectual capacity to make and use symbols, and all languages exhibit universal features) but unconscious as well… The assumption that structures of the human mind are unconscious and generic, universal and invariable, is of critical importance. (Bob Scholte, “Epistemic Paradigms,”, in Claude Lévi-Strauss: The Anthropologist as Hero, ed. E. N. Hayes and T. Hayes, p.110-11)
  • grid: metaphor for the apparent nature of the mind to isolate units of experience from the continuum and to identify them in relation to other units: a note in a scale, a color in a spectrum, a relationship to other people. A grid may apply to inner experience, a visceral rhythms” (Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked, p.27)
  • homology
  • idealism
  • kinship laws
  • langue/parole: “If we could embrace the sum of word-images stored in the minds of all individuals, we could identify the social bond that constitutes language [langue]. It is a storehouse filled by the members of a given community through their active use of speaking, a grammatical system that has a potential existence in each brain, or, more specifically, in the brains of a group of individuals.” “Execution is always individual, and the individual is always its master: I shall call the executive side speaking [parole]” (Saussure, Course in General Linguistis, pp.13-14)
  • mechanism, materialism
  • mediation
  • metaphor, metonymy
  • mode
  • myth: in anthropology, a coded message, a model order of experience just as grammar is the model order of language
  • paradigmatic
  • phonemes
  • regulation, self-regulation
  • Russian Formalism
  • semiology
  • set
  • sign, signifier, signified
  • structuralism: a study of the laws of composition both of nature and of man’s creations. Language, as a creation, has offered a prime subject, and discoveries in the science of linguistics have provided methods for structural analysis in other areas. Myth similarly is governed by laws of compositioon (such as metaphor, displacement, mediation, sequence), and so are kinship regulations and other social and artistic artifacts. The recurrence of similar laws of composition leads the structuralist to speculations about the mind which enacts these laws.
  • structure: a set of terms in a relationship constantly defined, whatever the transformations. “Lévi-Strauss’ society is a totality of which the essence is embodied in a structure. This structure manifests itself in various forms – e.g. in myth, ritual, rules of marriage, law, etc. Structures of this kind vary both geographically through space and chronologically through time. One structure changes into an adjacent structure by dialectical variation of its component elements” (E. Leach, “The legitimacy of Solomon”, in Introduction to Structuralism, ed. M. Lane, p.251).
  • synchronic
  • syntagmatic relations
  • transformation
  • variables, variants
  • wholeness: not merely an aggregation of parts, but a family of elements. “The elements of a structure are subordinated to laws, and it is in terms of these laws that the structure qua whole or system is defined” (J. Piaget, Structuralism, p. 7)

A Selected Bibliography

Barthes, Roland. “Racinian Man: The Structure,” in On Racine, trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1964, pp. 3-60.

Erlich, Victor. Russian Formalism. The Hague: Mouton, 1965.

Guillen, Claudio. Literature as System. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1971.

Hartman, Geoffrey. “Structuralism: The Anglo-American Adventure,” in Structuralism, ed. Jacques Ehrmann. New York: Doubleday, 1970, pp. 137-158. (Also in Yale French Studies, 1966).

Haugen, Einar. “The Mythical Structure of the Ancient Scandinavians,” in Introduction to Structuralism, ed. Lane. New Yorj: Basic Books, 1970, pp. 170-183. (Also in To Honour Roman Jakobson, The Hague, 1956).

Hayes, Eugene N. and Tanya Hayes. Claude Lévi-Strauss: The Anthropologist as Hero. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1970.

Jameson, Frederic. The Prison House of Language: A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1972.

Jakobson, Roman and Claude Lévi-Strauss, “Charles Baudelaire’s ‘Les Chats,’ ” trans. Katie Furness-Lane, in Introduction to Structuralism, ed. Michael Lane. New York: Basic Books, 1970, pp. 202-221. (Also in L’Homme, 1962).

Jakobson, Roman and M. Halle. Fundamentals of Language. The Hague: Mouton, 1956.

Kirk, G.S. “Lévi-Strauss and the Structural Approach,” in Myth: Its Meaning and Functions in Ancient and Other Cultures. Berkeley: Uni. of California Press, 1973, pp. 42-83.

Lacan, Jacques. “The Insistence of the Letter in the Unconscious,” in Structuralism ed. Ehrmann, pp. 101-137. (Also in Yale French Studies, 1966).

[some others]

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