A Dubious Discourse

In 1963 Roland Barthes recommended: "watch who uses signifier and signified, synchrony and diachrony, and you will know whether the structuralist vision is constituted." When Barthes put that remark into an essay entitled "The Structuralist Activity," he was at the peak of his career as a structuralist. Yet, as is clear from that suggestion, as well as from the other signifiers that have both syntagmatic and paradigmatic (two more to look out for) relationships in that text, structuralism was a hard-to-define exercise. In the succeeding 20 years things have become less murky and more clear—at least with regard to the ophthalmologic condition of structuralism. But just when most were finally able to peg the clues as they presented themselves, the poststructuralist age leaped full-grown from Jacques Derrida's head.

Christopher Norris is able to write in a tone that is undoubtedly meant to evoke the ubi sunt formula for the briefest moment: "Barthes was a brilliant stylist and a highly original—at times even wayward—constructor of theories." The past tense of the verb in that sentence signifies more than the fact that M. Barthes has been tucked away in his grave since 1980. This is evident if the syntagmatic chain of that utterance (another word to monitor) is examined. Antony Easthope is a great one for using all of...

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