Re: post-structuralism

Christopher Pound (pound@IS.RICE.EDU)
Sat, 9 Apr 1994 20:52:38 -0500

> John O'Brien writes,
> "Please define `post-structuralism.' The concept is interesting; what
> makes it `post' and why do you think that structuralism has failed?"
> Post-structuralism reasserts the importance of process, change and
> circumstance, and sees human beings as active creators of culture instead
> of passive automotons who obey cultural rules.

Where in the world did you get that from? First of all, "post-structuralism"
is the (English) label applied primarily to French thinkers who don't agree
that such a thing exists. They reject the term outright and go around saying
things like, "Il n'y a rien apre`s le structuralisme!" (J.-J. Goux). I once
heard Lyotard take Poster to task for using the word at all, but Poster
defended himself by asserting that "from an American perspective" there
certainly were several major things that those French thinkers (including
Lyotard) held in common.

Which brings me to my second major point: one of the things they, the post-
structuralists, share is that they have all *completely rejected* the
instance of the 'subject' that underlies the notion that there is such a
thing as either an 'active creator of culture' or a 'passive automaton who
obeys cultural rules.'

Finally, I don't think that line about the reassertion of "the importance of
process, change and circumstance" is really fair with respect to either
structuralism or post-structuralism. Levi-Strauss, for example, understood
_langue_ to have a sort of reversible temporality to it, whereas for _parole_
time only goes one way; this isn't quite the same as ignoring either process
or change ... If you had said that post-structuralism emphasizes 'play' over
against 'structure,' I would have agreed. If you had said that post-structur-
alism emphasizes the 'deferral of meaning' over against the 'assignation of
meaning,' I would have agreed, but from what you did say, I can only assume
that you have, in your reading, seized on some aspects of that writer's
thinking that actually mark him/her as different from what 'post-structuralist'
generally means, even if that writer is generally classified as a post-

Christopher Pound ( | They think they are Parisians, but
Department of Anthropology, Rice U. | they are nothing. -- Pierre Bourdieu