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Formalism and Structuralism

  • Date Submitted: 04/12/2016 01:42 PM
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Formalism and structuralism bring with them an attempt to use objective criteria in the study of literature and the text. Can these ever be sufficient tools for analysis of the text? If not, identify what are the limitations of this type of analysis? 

Structuralism, with its core ideologies stemming from language and semiotics is better understood within the system created to allow it to function. The father of structuralism himself, Ferdinand de Saussure, argued that 'in the language itself there are only differences, and no positive terms. Whether we take the signified or the signifier, language has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the linguistic system, but only conceptual and phonic differences that have issued from the system.', meaning that language itself is a paradox. That language consists of relationships which it creates itself and that words themselves are arbitrary, with no obligatory relationship with the object.

So, when reviewing the approach structuralism adopts with regards to the analysis of literary text, it must be said that structuralism is definitely a reader friendly system. It has knocked down the perceived, institutionalised class barriers of classical literature, allowing the reader to now view literature as a part of a larger cultural system; thus, no individual piece of literature is an autonomous whole, it is purely part of the greater literary system.

Structuralists generally see texts as syntagmatic structures, so that through syntagmatic analysis, they are able to see how sequential events evolve within a narrative. This pursuit to find patterns within narratives was pointed out by Roland Barthes who said 'the first task is to divide up narrative and...define the smallest narrative units... Meaning must be the criterion of the unit: it is the functional nature of certain segments of the story that makes them units - hence the name "functions" immediately attributed to these first units'. However, the...

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