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Structural Anthropology, The Savage Mind, Totemism, Writing Degree Zero, Mythologies, On Racine

saussure linguistic formalists activity

a movement of thought which developed from the linguistic theory of Ferdinand de Saussure (18571913) and the practice of the Russian Formalists (see formalism). It was chiefly a French phenomenon, although it had far-reaching effects elsewhere, and rose to international prominence with the anthropological work of Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908): Structural Anthropology (1958), The Savage Mind (1962), and Totemism (1965). The brilliant literary and cultural criticism of Roland Barthes (19151980), notably Writing Degree Zero (1953), Mythologies (1957), and On Racine (1963), was also immensely influential. Saussure argued that the linguistic sign is purely conventional, functioning only as part of the system to which it is assigned; the Formalists sought to direct attention to the foregrounding of artistic means. Together, these two suggestions invited a new emphasis on structures rather than textures, on codes and systems rather than contents and meanings. In a famous example of Saussure's, what identifies a train is the journey it makes and its place in a time-table, not the engine and the rolling-stock. In marriage exchanges even people become a form of currency. Structuralism proposed that much human activity, even seemingly improvised activity, is in fact a game or a ritual, and that all games and rituals have rules which can be uncovered and described. One effect of this proposition for literature was a rediscovery of rhetoric as a mode of analysis, and the work of Tzvetan Todorov (1940) and Gérard Genette (1930) in particular offers excellent examples of what highly formalized close investigation of a text can yield. Structuralism gave way to post-structuralism when writers and scholars began to feel that the rule-bound world of their enquiries was not so much too abstract as too intelligible, too perfect in its inevitable coherence.

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