Introduction to Post-Structuralism

Poststructuralism, a concept rarely defined and widely discussed, has complicated and problematized our understanding of the world that it has become impossible to define it. Some say it was a continuation of structuralism; some believe it was a reaction against structuralism.

On the contrary, to both believe, one finds it to be true to both views and none at the same time. Poststructuralism comes out structuralism as a reactionary movement against structuralism. Structuralism reaches the meaning of the text through linguistic analysis to show that there is a common and central meaning to all the cultures.

Poststructuralists also find the meaning of the text through its linguistic analysis (every critic analyses the language of the literary text, but when the word linguistic analysis is used it is to suggest the form or pattern of the text and language) to claim that there is no common or central meaning.

Poststructuralism denies the centrality of meaning by arguing that the meaning of a particular sign may differ from culture to culture; therefore, there cannot be a universal meaning. For instance, ‘apple’ may mean a fruit to some people and phone, also, to some people; the colour white may also connote mourning in some cultures and happiness in others.

So, universal truth or meaning has no space in poststructuralist discourse because language in itself is a product of the culture which ascribes meaning to the signs.

Structuralists argued that the meaning of the text is separable from culture and poststructuralists argue against this view. Structuralists’, like Levi Strauss, orthodox belief in ‘logocentricism’ was rejected by poststructuralists like Jacques Derrida.

The idea that a literary text has a single meaning or purpose was dumped by poststructuralists. They believe, rather, every individual creates his/her own meaning of the text; hence, a text has multiple meanings. For them, the meaning finds attention in its reader’s reception of it than what the author intends. 

Poststructuralism and structuralism both deny the agency of the author in the text. They believe that the moment the text comes in the reader’s hand, its author dies, and the reader as its sole agent takes birth.

Roland Barthe, a structuralist and later turned poststructuralist, in his essay, “The Death of the Author,” argues for the replacement of the author by the reader as the primary subject of inquiry. This process is called ‘destabilizing’ or ‘decentering’ of the author. Without any concentration on the author poststructuralists examine the sources for meaning e.g. readers, cultural norms, other texts, etc.