Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's All Relative

Behold: Now I will blog about structuralism without understanding it all that well.

One idea that I can somewhat get my mind around is Saussure's statement, "signs function not through their intrinsic value but through their relative position." The signs we're interested in here are those of language, of course. Saussure opines that, because signs are comprised of an arbitrary relationship between signifier (the image or the sound) and signified (the concept or idea), we can only know one sign as it relates to another. Opposites and binaries are important in structuralism and this is because, according to the theory, we can only know a sign by clashing it against another. Man is not woman. Cat is not dog. Joker is not Batman. Etc. So, we arrive at the belief that signs are only interprettable as what we perceive them to be relative to other signs. We don't get meaning from a sign based on what it "essentially" is but what it is relative to its opposite and to everything else. Because Batman becomes justice and order, Joker manifests chance and chaos. And there can't be justice without chance and there can't be order without chaos, etc. It's all relative.

Starting on Post-structuralism made me understand these ideas a little bit better, mostly because Post-structuralism (apparently?/seemingly?) wishes to revel in a place where we can look past these oppositions and liberally assign meaning to each independent sign. I have a long way to go before I can speak particularly coherently about Post-structuralism, but at least starting on it has helped me really recognize how this binary system works and, as a result, how all signs we can know we know relatively. <---I think you're not supposed to end a sentence with an adverb, but I did it anyway.

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