post structuralist

anonymous asked:

Hi! Just wanted to say good luck with your finals paper!

Thanks!  I’m real excited about it.  I’m taking a post-structuralist perspective on Alice in Wonderland.  I’m attempting to reconcile two popular interpretations of the book with my thesis stating that “Alice in Wonderland uses discontinuity to illustrate how it feels for a child to adapt to the arbitrary adult world.”

Types of Literary Criticism


  • Also known as ‘practical criticism’.
  • This theory was dominant in the US and UK between the 30s and 70s. 
  • A formalist, decontextualised approach to literature where the text is examined independently of other influences.
  • Explores the essential elements of language, imagery, symbolism, figures of speech, ambiguity, irony, paradox.
  • Pretty huge span of approaches - for example, within Shakespearean new criticism you had A.C. Bradley’s character-based critique, Harley Granville-Barker’s study of stagecraft, G. Wilson Knight’s exploration of image and theme, and L.C. Knights’ suggestion that Bradley is a douche and Shakespeare was a poet, not a dramatist. (Yeah, fuck you, Knights.)


  • Funnily enough, this approach believes that historical context influences interpretation.
  • Stuff like: religion, political idealism of the time, cultural shifts, social attitudes, war, colonialism (although that’s a whole other bag of cats, see below), pop culture references and in-jokes, and anything that might have influenced the text during the era in which it was written.
  • Within historicist criticism there should be a distinction between text and context; history is the background that the text passively reflects.
  • Buuuut often this approach reveals more about the critic’s political/social/personal values than the period they are studying. Natch. 


  • Popular at the beginning of the 1900s - literature and art are timeless, revealing a universal truth about humanity.
  • Like, writers are totally free agents whose intentions shape the meaning of their writing, man. 
  • Like, human consciousness shapes language, culture and society, NOT the other way around.


  • A criticial theory systemised in the 20s, based on the materialist philosophy of Karl Marx (1818-83) and Friedrich Engels (1820-95) whereby the material circumstances of life are determining factors in the individual’s experience.
  • So, like, the economic organisation of society shapes culture, politics, philosophy, religion, education, law and art.
  • So, like, fuck liberal humanism; people are shaped by their environment, NOT the other way around. Authors and their works are basically products of society. 
  • These guys believe that art reflects changing economic conditions and class values. There’s a little cross-over with historicist criticism in the approach that literature should be interpreted within the context of the period and its political inflections - often with a focus on the lower classes.
  • Get yourself familiar with the Marxist concept of ‘ideology’ - a function which ‘naturalises’ the inequalities of power through a complex structure of social perceptions which renders class division invisible. 
  • Yeah. It’s heavy, dude.


  • Based on the linguistic theory of Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913)
  • The belief that language shapes humanity, culture, communication, and the way we perceive the world. Yay, go language.
  • Structuralism was a radical theory during the second half of the 20th Century whose central argument opposed liberal humanist ideas (Recap: lib-humans reckoned that human consciousness creates language and culture - structuralists reckoned the complete opposite. At this point everyone is basically being completely contrary for the sake of it.)


  • A critical theory prominent in France in the 1960s, primarily associated with philosopher Jacques Derrida and critic Roland Barthes - a reaction against structuralism as well as a development of it. <sigh>
  • Ok, so this language thing? How about we agree that reality is constituted through language BUT language itself is unstable and beyond our control. Like, language is an unreliable narrator, yeah? Yeahhh.
  • Essentially, it’s language that speaks, not the author. So let’s call it THE DEATH OF THE AUTHOR because we are needlessly dramatic. 
  • So, like, literary texts don’t present a single or unified view and the author cannot claim authority on interpretation. (The curtains are blue…)
  • You can trace a whole thread of critical development here from formalist criticism to structuralism to post-structuralism and later to deconstruction - all of which are concerned with the ambiguity and contradictions within text and language. To make it even more confusing, new historicism (see below) can also be seen as post-structuralist since it places stress on a text’s connection to culture rather than relying on the autonomy of the text itself.
  • Time for a stiff drink.


  • A term coined by Stephen Greenblatt (Shakespeare-critic-extraordinaire) in the 80s - a reaction against old historicism (where text is a reflection of historical background) and a move away from Marxist and post-structural theories.
  • New historicism asserts that the text is an active participant in historical development.
  • So, like, art and literature help to create the cultural values of the period in which they are produced. BUT, we are also formed and tied to cultural ideologies, so it ain’t all about the text. 
  • Involves close reading of the text, taking into account political ideology, social practice, religion, class division and conflict within society.
  • A pessimistic take on Foucault: the belief that we are ‘remarkably unfree’ of the influence of society and socio-political power operates through the language of major institutions to determine what’s normal and demonise ‘otherness’.
  • Seriously. Fuck society. 


  • We can’t let the Americans monopolise this kind of criticism.
  • Goddamn Greenblatt.
  • So consider this: how much freedom of thought do we actually have? Does culture shape our identities or can we think independently of dominant ideologies? Huh? Huh? Are we saying anything new yet? 
  • Basically, a historicist approach to political criticism with a revised conception of the connection between literature and culture. 
  • Culture is a complex, unstable and dynamic creature which offers an opportunity for the radical subversion of power and society.
  • Unlike historicism or Marxism, cultural materialists believe the author is able to achieve a degree of independence from prevailing structures of power and discourse. 
  • Often demonstrates optimism for political change - once again, critical theory reflects the critic’s personal opinions and hopes for change in present day society. Literary criticism can change the world, man.
  • Some crossover into feminist/queer/post-colonial theory, because FUCK ALL THOSE OLD WHITE GUYS.


  • Following the women’s movement of the 1960s, feminist theory was established in the 70s and 80s and founded on texts Le Deuxieme Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and Sexual Politics by Kate Millett.
  • Explicitly political – similarities to new historicism and cultural materialism - challenging the subordinate position of women in society and deconstructing/contesting the concept of essentialism, whereby men and women have intrinsically separate qualities and natures. 
  • Often seen as an attack on the Western literary canon and the exclusion of female writers throughout history. Focuses on female characters and authors, exploring the influence and restrictions of patriarchy, and constructions of gender, femininity and sexuality (both in text and culture).
  • Feminists influenced by post-structuralism tend to disregard the positive discrimination of women writers, claiming “it is language that speaks, not the author.”
  • Feminism and psychoanalytical theories (esp Freud and Lacan) contributed to the erosion of liberal humanist ideas, redefining human nature and the concept of child development, and exploring the psychology of patriarchy and male-dominated culture. 


  • During the 80s, queer theory was influenced by post-structuralist ideas of identity as being fluid and unstable, and investigates the role of sexual orientation within literary criticism from a social and political viewpoint.
  • An opposition to homophobia and the privilege of heterosexual culture and an exploration of themes that have been suppressed by conservative critical theory.
  • A look at LGBQTA, non-binary characters and authors and their influence within a historical, political, religious and social context.
  • The end of ‘gal-pals’ and ‘no-homo’, fuckboys.


  • A critique on the English canon and colonial rule with a focus on canonical texts written during periods of colonisation.
  • An exploration of cultural displacement/appropriation and the language and cultural values thrust upon/developed by colonised people.
  • Post-colonial theory gives voices to colonial ‘subjects’ and looks at the impact on individual and collective identity, as well as the complexity of colonial relationships and interaction.
  • Gonna have a lot to do with politics, history, social ideology, religion and international/race relations, obvs. Stay woke.

Hot new take: Ideological ideas are most useful when you also consider their critiques. IMO anarchism and marxism can work well together because they critique and balance each other. In their combination you can find some sort of comparative truth that isn’t present in entirety in either by itself. Post-Left/Post-structuralist critiques don’t necessarily supersede more traditional leftist/marxist ideas but actually provide useful criticism that helps develop better theory. If you don’t engage critically with your beliefs you aren’t improving them.

tonight i was at the bar with three other hot shit professional whipsmart lady friends when a drunk but affable dude came over to hit on us. he tried some mild negging to our increasing delight (one of my friends literally had her chin in her hands, fluttering her eyelashes at him like he was an adorable toddler as he kept trying to neg at her), and when that didn’t pan out, he told us he was “really into philosophy” these days. little did he know what table he had sat down at. we all immediately started quizzing him. “what kind of philosophy?” 

“oh, you know,” he said, waving his hand. “just a few books here and there.” 

“that reminds me,” my friend said to me, “i have to lend you that new haraway.”

“didn’t you send me an article about derrida the other day?” says another friend.

“are you more into post-structuralist or pre-Socratic?” another friend asked him, trying to throw the poor guy a bone

“uhhhhhhh,” he said, sweating nervously, “i’m into that one guy. you know. the irish one. you know. what’s his name.” we all waited quietly and patiently as he made increasingly desperate hand gestures, waiting for one of us to offer him a few names. finally his internal clock ran out, and he said, “you know. Kant.”

“ah,” i said, “yes. that great Irish philosopher, Immanuel Kant.”

by now we were just being mean. one of my friends kept pushing him to actually name one of the books he’d been reading, and he finally mumbled, “you know, the motorcycle one.”

“this was not the conversation you were expecting, was it?” i asked him. no, he admitted, no it was not.

This is why Lacan speaks of the unconscious as a ‘sliding of the signified beneath the signifier’, as a constant fading and evaporation of meaning, a bizarre ‘modernist’ text which is almost unreadable and which will certainly never yield up its final secrets to interpretation.

Lacan, as we have seen in our discussion of Freud, regards the unconscious as structured like a language. This is not only because it works by metaphor and metonymy: it is also because, like language itself for the post-structuralists, it is composed less of signs — stable meanings — than of signifiers. If you dream of a horse, it is not immediately obvious what this signifies: it may have many contradictory meanings, may be just one of a whole chain of signifiers with equally multiple meanings. The image of the horse, that is to say, is not a sign in Saussure’s sense - it does not have one determined signified tied neatly to its tail - but is a signifier which may be attached to many different signifieds, and which may itself bear the traces of the other signifiers which surround it. (I was not aware, when I wrote the above sentence, of the word-play involved in ‘horse’ and ‘tail’: one signifier interacted with another against my conscious intention.) The unconscious is just a continual movement and activity of signifiers, whose signifieds are often inaccessible to us because they are repressed. This is why Lacan speaks of the unconscious as a ‘sliding of the signified beneath the signifier’, as a constant fading and evaporation of meaning, a bizarre ‘modernist’ text which is almost unreadable and which will certainly never yield up its final secrets to interpretation.

Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction.Wiley-Blackwell. 2008.

Film Analysis 101: Nelson v Murdock

I handed in my dissertation yesterday. I’m in film studies and you’d think I’d grow tired of analysing Daredevil after writing a 4k chapter about it but here I am, the day after handing it in, writing meta.

This is sort of an introduction to film analysis as well and I hope it might give you a bit of an insight into film studies if that’s something you’re interested in.

When you’re analysing a film or a TV show, there are so many layers you can look at. I usually stay on a narrative level and analyse the representation of something, often through the lens of gender and sexuality. (My dissertation is about masculinity and male friendship in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Go figure.) But you can just as well look at cinematography, sound, editing, colour, music, acting. Not to mention all the theoretical approaches you can use: feminist, psychoanalytic, structuralist, post-structuralist, semiotic, etc. Anything goes basically.

As an example, I’ll show you something I noticed about Nelson v Murdock that didn’t make it into my dissertation. Quite often, the narrative of an episode will not stand alone. Other factors will help tell the story, enhance it, comment on it. This post is abut how I think cinematography, editing and colour underline the narrative of Nelson v Murdock.

Keep reading

anonymous asked:

Hiya, Conor! I was wondering if I could ask you something... How do you inform yourself, or keep yourself posted, of the contemporary philosophers (I saw an ask about your favourite 21st century philosopher and it hit me that had I been asked that question (in some alternate universe where I'm not a hermit and I talk to people), I would have had no idea how to answer whatsoever)? Thank you for taking the time to read this and possibly answer. I hope you have a lovely and peaceful Sunday.

hello hello! i’ll let you in on a little secret buddy, and that is that i don’t. i find myself largely turned off by 21st century philosophy at the minute, so the one or two philosophers i do like i can recall fairly easily. the fact of the matter is that whilst i intend to getting round to actually reading some zizek properly or having a more in-depth knowledge of post-structuralist texts, i find the sort of slight confusion between literary critique and actual philosophy a little bit tiring and obscure. it makes it harder for me to read and harder for me to think yeah, this is how we live, or yeah this is how we should live. hope that doesnt upset anyone, and im sorry i couldnt actually be more helpful! love conor xo


@artanxieties tagged me in the camera roll mood board thing. I just finished a corp law assignment and I got stumped by GODDAMN Microsoft word and I don’t even know what life is rn, all I know is Foucault is bae and I’m such a post structuralist leftie ❤️❤️

I nominate @fallopiate , @teentitans (who is in this board lol) , @deloyal and @snyr-f

Alright, girls and boys and those who are neither, I am here today to bring you what I like to call more colloquially, “The Voltron ages from Comicon are garbage and here’s why!”  In fact, consider that my thesis statement because things are taking a turn for the (informal) essay here, my friends.

Under the readmore for length!

Keep reading

A Remake Without an Original

Hold on tight, folks. We’re going full post-structuralist.

So. I’ve been thinking about the discussions that @nostalgebraist and @cyborgbutterflies​ have been having about Undertale fairly recently.

And I think I’ve hit upon a Doylist explanation for why Undertale is so morally bizarre:

All the characters in Undertale have no canonical existence, they have all been preemptively rewritten as the characters that fandom would have turned them into.

Undertale as it exists now, is like the fanon version of a game that never existed.

Let’s call this hypothetical game-that-never-was “Undertale Prime”.

In Undertale Prime, Papyrus is pretty much an exact duplicate of Skeletor: an evil mastermind whose plans never come to fruition. Constantly frustrated, taking out his anger on his minions in the most hilariously melodramatic ways.

In Undertale Prime, Undyne is a deadly serious super-soldier. Even a bit of a sadist. She is acquainted with Alphys, but there’s no romance between them.

In Undertale Prime, Mettaton has no Mettaton EX form. He remains a rectangular robot for the entire game, but his personality shows small signs of the sass and flamboyance of Mettaton EX.

In Undertale Prime, Alphys is a tetchy mad scientist, more like Cumberbatch’s Sherlock than anything else. Prickly on the surface, lonely underneath. There’s no mention of anime or internet arguments or anything like that.

In Undertale Prime, Asgore is stern and serious, and completely in charge, but tormented by the necessary evils he has committed to protect his kingdom. Like a more sympathetic version of a king from a Shakespearean tragedy.

And finally, in Undertale Prime, all bosses are killed without remorse or punishment.

We’ve seen these character archetypes before, and we can guess how a typical fandom would reinterpret these archetypes:

the Thwarted Mastermind becomes a Bumbling Narcissist.

the Deadly Soldier becomes a Hot-Blooded Blockhead.

the Mad Scientist becomes an Adorable Nerd.

The Geometric Robot becomes a Svelte Bishonen.(look at Bill Cipher fanart)

The Tormented King becomes Sad Dad.

(and the most sympathetic/admirable women become lesbians)

But most importantly, all these villains would become sympathetic.

They’d become comedy relief, or even woobies.

Undertale takes the most probable fanon reinterpretations of Undertale Prime, and makes them canon. Why are the villains actions treated so cavalierly? Because typical fandom wouldn’t care. Typical fandom forgives villains, typical fandom makes villains cute.

But the discrepancy is this: in Undertale, the characters’ actions all remain the same as they would be in the dark and serious story of Undertale Prime. They play the same role in the plot, they are still Villains. The only things that change are their personalities, and the manner in which they are presented to the audience.

The result is that Undertale Prime makes moral sense, but Undertale does not.

It’s as if the Avengers canonically considered Bucky Barnes a family friend and acted as if the events of The Winter Soldier had never happened, as fandom wishes it were– But Bucky was still a terrorist.

It’s as if the characters in Borderlands 2 saw Handsome Jack as charming comic relief, the way the audience does– but Handsome Jack was still a murderous psychopath.

It’s as if, in Kingdom Hearts 2, Organization XIII were portrayed as the bickering sitcom family that the KH fandom made them into– but they were still trying to kill Sora and friends.

Every playthrough of the Kingdom Hearts franchise involves killing every member of Organization XIII.

But I guarantee you every Kingdom Hearts fan has their favorite Organization member.

None of the characters in Undertale are “held responsible” for attacking Frisk, because a game audience typically does not hold boss characters responsible for attacking the player. Instead, the audience sees them, through a Doylist/Mechanics-oriented lens, as a welcome addition to the game: a challenging battle and an entertaining character.

Undertale takes the player’s expected affectionate attitude towards bosses, and makes it the “objectively morally right” choice, according to the game’s in-world metaphysics.

Undertale is not just a game that preaches pathological altruism, it is, in itself, a pathologically altruistic text– a text that privileges the interpretation it expects to be subjected to over its own internal structure and logic, and preemptively changes itself to make those expected interpretations into objective truth, even when those changes create plotholes and morally repugnant implications.

A game, suffering to make itself everything the world expects it to be, about a child who suffers to make itself everything the world expects it to be.

anonymous asked:

What books/readings would you recommend to someone just starting to get into critical theory?

The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism is one text that attempts to encapsulate it all. Unfortunately, it’s an expensive book, but you can easily request it through Interlibrary loan at most public or university libraries. I recommend reading your way through chronologically. It might take a while, but you’ll be presented with most of the major facets of critical theory (along with the historical, social, and political backdrop for said theories), and you’ll receive a greater context for it all, mainly illuminating the arbitrary divide between, say, the political and the social, or the private and the public; this is why I recommend approaching it chronologically — you’ll see which texts are responding to — and critiquing — each other, as most are). My theoretical interests align most “cleanly” with poststructuralism, Marxism, and semiotics, so I would suggest really living in the texts of Derrida, Deleuze, Althusser, and Saussure. But if I could only recommend one person who, I think, illustrates the multiplicitious aspects of critical theory, it would be Roland Barthes, who in many ways was the “first” (post)structuralist, a semiotician, and also a Marxist critic. If you cannot afford the anthology, pick up copies of The Rustle of LanguageMythologies, and S/Z (all should be easy to find used in stores or on Amazon), which I would consider as acceptable a “starting” place as any other.

TJLC: Structuralist Theory

So thinking of my reply to @toxicsemicolon’s post, it occurred to me that things are even more complicated (for an English literature/media academic) than ‘confusion’ or ‘crustiness’ and boredom would suggest. One reason I’m more open to TJLC, and thinking in terms of predictive analyses (which still aren’t natural, but to me that’s beside the point by now) is that I’m much more fond of structuralism as opposed to post-structuralism. As a disclaimer, I’m not really a lit theory person; academia != literary theory, in terms of academic focus. You can (if you want, and I did want) pretty much avoid at least 85% of theory in your undergraduate studies, though less so in graduate work (though it depends on your focus). I like hanging with the Classicists, the Romantics and the Medievalists, and sometimes I go as far as dipping a foot into 19th century lit. Let’s just say the lit theorists left me alone, along with everyone else who’s only vaguely aware the 20-21st century English-language literature even exists. We are so not cool. Alas. 

Anyway, my point is that I’m still at least familiar with the broad movements in my discipline, and on top of that I’ve read Ulysses (and enjoyed it, even). You can see my dedication. Anyway, one reason I liked Ulysses is that as much as the novel was focused on experimentation with narrative, it was always deeply intertextual and rooted in the realities of class and gender, as well as the historical context of early 20th century Dublin city life. The idea of a heroic progression– no matter how much it’s ultimately messed with by Joyce– is nevertheless at the heart of the story. We have a Hero’s Journey– one of the most famously wandering and loose and barely readable texts in the English canon is actually framed around a classic structure. And well, I’m a kind of Jungian structuralist at heart. 

What does that mean? I don’t like to predict, normally, no. In my opinion, I do dwell in the moment as a reader and as an analyst, more or less. To me, the prediction element has been incidental, no matter how central that aspect is to the actual TJLC theory. I am deeply, deeply wedded to structure by inclination, however, and in the case of BBC Sherlock, structure predicts because it is so solid but as yet incomplete.  No wonder post-structuralist analyses are merely interesting, and very rarely compelling to me. To me, the philosophical underpinnings (existentialism, say) are more interestingly worked out in pure fiction or narrative philosophy. When you’re analyzing novels (or complete arcs of any kind in media, such as BBC Sherlock), you have a format where its deepest identity is tied up with its structure. I cannot overemphasize this. You really don’t need an investment in Johnlock to see this, and it’s maddening to me that even TJLCers don’t always see this fact, understandably enough; ‘it’s not about the ship, stupid’ is not exactly our rallying cry since we are fans, after all. I’m a fan, too, but in some ways I’m a lit nerd first, and will be a lit nerd last.

So what is structuralism?

Keep reading

anonymous asked:

hi, I am sorry to ask this but I just read your posts on Twitter where you discussed how frustrating it is when ppl appropriate intersex ppl's experience to support or detract from gender/feminist theory, and I was wondering if you would mind explaining in plainer language what you mean when you say 1/2

2/2 ‘when post-structural theorists refer to the social construct of sex they are performing an epistemologic critique of concepts in language, not implying that sex is ontologically the same as gender and/or proceeds gender.’ my English reading comprehension is not the best, I’m sorry! 

I meant specifically that the post-structural feminist approach of deconstructing the ideas involved in the social formation of gender  (i.e., via “the social construction of reality”) is an approach pursued by post-structuralists to all categories of knowledge and does not imply unity of essence or an essential point of origin. That is to say, post-structural feminism, in saying that both sex and gender are social constructs, does not by itself posit a hypostatic union between sex and gender. The concept of the social construction of reality (specifically sex here), as employed by post-structural feminists like Judith Butler, has been invoked by some to imply an essential unity between sex and gender which is not necessarily implicit to post-structural feminism. 

Moreover, not all approaches to gender theory rely on the post-structural epistemological approach (of deconstructing socially constructed categories of knowledge) and its possible, in a Marxist context for example, to say that while physical sexual characteristics exist in the material world that ideology plays a role in categorizing these and in assigning meaning to these in society. This is functionally analogous to what is meant by post-structuralists by “sex is a social construct” but does not employ epistemological critique which is rooted in a different and arguably incompatible philosophical tradition. Additionally, addressing this same problem without employing post-structural epistemological critique is much simpler and avoids confusion with respect to the traditional feminist definitions of sex and gender: it acknowledges that some of the ways in which sex is classified in the social order are gendered without creating confusion about what the terms “sex” and “gender” mean. 

Language and magic, a few theories - part 3
  • Okay but like spells are amazing! Do you understand? It’s like an example of language that allows for no other interpretation, where the illusion of a singular meaning actually stands true. Or so we are made to think. But what if

    • Changing the way words are pronounced does not cause the spell to fail

    • But produces a substantially different effect

    • Ditto wand movements

    • So the singular meaning which is assigned to the words of the spell is actually the result of non-verbal actions and tone and things like that, signifiers of meaning basically.

    • So while there is no such thing as the dead author in magical practice, because intent always is effective and really, you can’t misread a spell coming towards you, spells don’t necessarily all have the same effects if you vary the different aspects of the spell.

    • And of course, if you vary your intent, you can drastically alter the consequences of your spell, especially if you’re using it as a means to and end.

    • But can you imagine??? The wizarding world is one of the few places where the stress lies on the intent of the spells used, not on the interpretation of how they were used - except in matters of law and justice, where the Ministry decides whether xyz use of magic is dark magic, but even then, when its a “light” spell being used for “dark” purposes the focus is still on intent.

    • Like the wizarding world is a fantastic parallel for structuralism and post-structuralist theory, yet it is not because so many concepts get reversed and subverted here. Language is such an important part of the wizarding world - it literally is the source of power in this world and it organizes their world on a literal level, far beyond the muggle world - but at the same time, it cannot be divorced from intent here (authorial intent v. spellcaster’s intent) because intent is the absolute basis of meaning in the wizarding world.

    • Though, of course, how the wizarding world interprets what is right and wrong and light and dark is an arbitrary system - so I suppose agency in interpreting magic is given to the end result. i.e. you have freedom to interpret the consequences as you choose (e.g. killing a person v. killing a parasite) but not of the actual spell.
    • So the actual spell has a singular meaning. Its effects, do not, and they are interpreted differently by different people.
    • Of course this would be exactly the sort of thing a muggleborn ravenclaw would worry about - being an outsider in the wizarding world and wondering whether all these spells have standard, singular meanings and wondering about intent and magic.
    • No I’m not thinking about HJPEV and Hermione Granger what gave you that idea >_> <_<
David Foster Wallace on Deconstruction

Not much of a DFW fan – prefer him as an analyst to a writer – anyways, stumbled across this excerpt from one of his books. Makes for an interesting, quick read: 

The deconstructionists (“deconstructionist” and “poststructuralist” mean the same thing, by the way: “poststructuralist” is what you call a deconstructionist who doesn’t want to be called a deconstructionist) … see the debate over the ownership of meaning as a skirmish in a larger war in Western philosophy over the idea that presence and unity are ontologically prior to expression. There’s been this longstanding deluded presumption, they think, that if there is an utterance then there must exist a unified, efficacious presence that causes and owns that utterance. The poststructuralists attack what they see as a post-Platonic prejudice in favor of presence over absence and speech over writing. We tend to trust speech over writing because of the immediacy of the speaker: he’s right there, and we can grab him by the lapels and look into his face and figure out just exactly what one single thing he means. But the reason why poststructuralists are in the literary theory business at all is that they see writing, not speech, as more faithful to the metaphysics of true expression. For Barthes, Derrida, and Foucault, writing is a better animal than speech because it is iterable; it is iterable because it is abstract; and it is abstract because it is a function not of presence but of absence: the reader’s absent when the writer’s writing, and the writer’s absent when the reader’s reading.

For a deconstructionist, then, a writer’s circumstances and intentions are indeed a part of the “context” of a text, but context imposes no real cinctures on the text’s meaning, because meaning in language requires a cultivation of absence rather than presence, involves not the imposition but the erasure of consciousness. This is so because these guys–Derrida following Heidegger and Barthes Mallarme and Foucault God knows who–see literary language as a not a tool but an environment. A writer does not wield language; he is subsumed in it. Language speaks us; writing writes; etc.