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This page contains too many great, white, heterosexual males and not enough antiracist mathematics. Please do not edit this page if you have essentially a Issac Newtonian, mechanistic world view: if you tend to believe that reality is objective, which is to say that it exists, "out there", absolutely independent of the human observer, and of the observer’s intentions and observations, or generally have no idea what postmodernists are talking about.
Structuralism is the name applied by reactionary lumpenproletariat to a subcategory of Continental Philosophy, which is in turn often described by running-dogs of the fascist power elite as a school of "thought" which is subordinate to the privileged Anglocentric self-constructed paradigm of Analytic Philosophy. Expressed in terms that even the bourgeoisie can understand from their blinkered false consciousness, Structuralism proves that capitalism is for poo-poo heads.
In the beginning was Saussure. And Saussure said, "let there be signs and signifiers," and lo, it was so, and the world rejoiced to have a method for analyzing the structure of language. For the purposes of this article, we'll pretend that Saussure's ideas still have merit despite their being decisively punked by Chomsky over 50 years ago. Nevermind that the foundation of structuralism is an outdated linguistic model, it's cancelled by our use of outdated economic model and everyone knows that two negatives multiply to become a positive. It's perfectly a perfectly sensible analysis of the semiotics. Trust us. We're professionals who studied under that Nazi collaborator at Yale; who are you going to believe, Ph.D.s or your lying eyes?
Saussure's greatest prophet was Claude Levi-Strauss, who earned a fortune selling designer jeans before getting drunk with Alan Alda and formulating the world's most specious academic discipline. Levi-Strauss thus said that Sassure's ideas could be transferred from analysis of language to analysis of culture. When critics said that Levi-Strauss was daft and that structural linguistics was fatally flawed, Levi-Strauss used complicated pseudo-algebraic equations to frighten his critics into silence lest they appear to be unenlightened plebes who presumed to know more than their educated betters. According to Levi-Strauss, all culture, mythology and religion can be expressed thus:
- Fx (a) : Fy (b) : : Fx (b) : Fa1 (y)
Seriously, who remembers how to do algebraic functions, let alone a function where Fx(b) represents Oedipus? Let's proceed as if we understand what the fuck Levi-Strauss was saying.
In order to understand what isn't structuralism, and thereby what structuralism itself is, we must break the discourse down into its fundamental units and distribute them among paradigms. Roughly, there shall be four categories: (A) homosexuals with a grudge against the bourgeoisie, (1) dead linguists, (B) anthropologists, and (Z) psychoanalysis fixated with their own reflections. All these categories can be summed up in one word: Frenchiness, a label which implies the desire to reject all labels (particularly the label of cheese-eating surrender monkeys who gave their country over to the Nazis despite having a larger army). However, like anything written by a structuralist, this is simply a preliminary work (you ain't interpreting me this way and that, fool, I ain't no text), and thus we shall be too lazy to bother breaking down the discourse.
Example of a structural argument from Roland Barthes's "Mythologies: The Gayness of Incest":
- to make a break implies breaking from something, and thus the break trails along that something with itself. Indeed, any justification for such a transgression shall be carried out from within the syhchronic schemata of structural relations known as our culture, and thus the transgression shall carry the transgressed along with itself. This is why I cannot find the justification historique for the possibility of total social acceptance for incest. Indeed, it is precisely because it is taboo that it is hot. So thank the homosexual gods the bourgeoisie disapprove. We shall play off their codes, for you can never break them, and engage, mother to son, Barthes to Barthes.
Don't you wish you paid $30,000 a year at Yale to learn to write this way?
The first student to earn a degree in structuralism was Michael Nicholson (no relation to Jack), who wrote a 1971 thesis on a structural analysis of I Love Lucy. As of 2012, Mr. Nicholson remains unemployed.
Why Structuralism is Dead
In Why I Am So Savvy, Jacques Derrida put the final nail in structuralism's coffin when he proved no one can be a structuralist. For Frenchiness, that is, the label which implies the desire to reject all labels, is a prerequisite to being a structuralist. Thus anyone who desires to become a structuralist ultimately fails, because in trying to ascertain Frenchiness, they do the exact opposite of what is needed to obtain it. However, a week later, Derrida deconstructed the possible/impossible binary opposition. Much confusion ensued and everyone decided it was best to leave structuralism alone, thus birthing structuralism. Did you see how I deconstructed your expectations? Mwahaha, now give me grant money so I can avoid sullying my hands with manual labor.
Criticisms of Structuralism
While structuralists do have much in common, they are a very diverse group, so it is hard to produce a sweeping criticism. Indeed, it is hard to even give a sweeping critique of a single structuralist, for their views and opinions continue to shift
when their bullshit contradicts empirical facts when their dialectical cognition of narratology reaches a sophisticated new plateau. Many structuralists and post-structuralists have provided and contemplated productive critiques, such as the problem of the atemporality of structuralism and the validity of its claim to being a science. These criticisms often go ignored in the English speaking world, however, because -- with one important exception -- its philosophers see no point in contemplating them, for they have provide three ultimate refutations:
Sokal: "Lacan? He must be wrong, because I don't understand him, I don't understand him, I don't understand him. Foucault? He must be wrong, because I don't understand him, I don't understand him, I don't understand him. Barthes? He must be wrong, because I don't understand him, I don't understand him, I don't understand him. Saussure? He must be wrong, because I don't understand him, I don't understand him, I don't understand him."
Richard Dawkins: "HOW DARE YOU QUESTION SCIENCE AND SECULAR HUMANISM. BASTARDS. YOU MAKE ME SO ANGRY. YOU WOULDN'T KNOW REASON IF IT BIT YOU IN THE FUCKING FACE. FUCK YOU AND YOUR FUCKING MEME, IT'S A MENTAL ILLNESS! THAT'S WHY YOU QUESTION SCIENCE. YEAH. YOU'RE ILL. AND DO YOU KNOW WHAT IS THE WORST THING OF ALL? I DON'T FUCKING UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU'RE SAYING."
Sokal and Dawkins together: "They're French! They're French! And we don't understand what they're saying! They're French! They're French! And we don't understand what they're saying! They're French! They're French! And we don't understand what they're saying! They're French! They're French! And we don't understand what they're saying! They're French! They're French! And we don't understand what they're saying! They're French! They're French! And we don't understand what they're saying!"
The one important exception noted above came from J.G. Merquior, a student of Levi-Strauss whose book Prague to Paris demonstrates an intimate understanding of structuralism and a definitive refutation of its core ideas. But Merquior was a Brazilian and thus not French and probably a reactionary who smelled like steamed cabbage, so let's pretend that he never existed, shall we?
Advocacy of Structuralism
Michel Foucault responded to these criticisms by demonstrating their cultural contingency through the fact that in Russia, structuralism doesn't understand you. Thus it became OK again for graduates to get down and synchronically boogey. And that they did. That they did good. However, some people remain ambiguous about their opinions on structuralism, because that's the only way to look academically suave.
Frenchie psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan famously said that the unconscious is structured like a language (it isn't). And when he wasn't busy seducing Lucien Sebag's teenaged daughter and driving his patients to suicide, Lacan also said that the phallus was the signifier of the square root of -1. Lacan also claimed that he thought not with his brain but with his feet, which makes as much sense as anything else in this article.
- Paul de Man, which translates to English as "Derrida's lickspittle".
- Richard Webster. "Lacan Goes to the Opera."