Decorative side twirl
Poststructuralism - its basis and notions

Much Madness is divinest Sense —
To a discerning Eye —
Much Sense — the starkest Madness —
'Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail —
Assent — and you are sane —-
Demur — you're straightway dangerous —
And handled with a Chain —
                     Emily Dickinson, # 435

'Poststructuralism' is a broad and debated term, covering disparate works that tend to reject generalisations, first principles, axioms, absolute definitions, and origins. It sprang out of the Tel Quel group in France in the 1960s, which included at different times Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Michel Foucault. Its influence and assumptions are still felt in critical work that wouldn't define itself as 'poststructuralist', including much feminist and postcolonial theory. The term is sometimes used to include deconstruction (another contentious label).

Its arguments rely on Saussure's 1916 Course in General Linguistics, which states that meaning is a product of language. This reader gives a brief introduction to this linguistic basis: five simple principles with buttons to drill down for explanations or supporting quotations from Saussure.

A constellation of literary notions that still influence us emerged from poststructuralism, such as the Other, how identity is constructed, the death of the author, and intertextuality. For each, I provide snippets from different theorists. This section is non-hierarchical hypertext, so relax and explore.

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