I just don’t get poststructuralism

At all.

I’m not even entirely certain how I got started reading about poststructuralism. I think I had just been doing a good bit of reading about structuralist linguistics for a while, and I kind of picked up a few books to see what the connections might be.

My experience: I start reading Foucault and I think – this is a really interesting thesis, but by the end I find myself thinking: how did we get here? I found Barthes’ Mythologies to be good for a few laughs, but after I read only so much of it, I felt like what maybe he was really shooting for was “the death of the reader” from the strain of trying to follow his connections.

As far as I can tell, much of my trouble with understanding poststructuralism stems from one of its major premises, which Catherine Belsey articulates as “meaning is difference.” As someone who has engaged in neostructuralist linguistics for the last several years I find the singling out of meaning as difference almost incomprehenisible.

Within more modern versions of structuralism that also trace themselves back to Saussure meaning is partly similarity (synonymy). It is partly taxonomic (hypernymy and hyponymy; holonymy and meronymy). Meaning can be partly derivative (as in the case of a noun also become a verb; e.g. “to google” something).

If we branch out into other approaches like Pustejovsky’s generative lexicon, capturing the creative aspect of meaning is important. In cognitive approaches, meaning is conceived of more as encyclopedic.

Why single out difference as an overarching theme? It seems a bit myopic.

So, maybe a good poststructuralist can help me here (partly sometimes I’d like to fancy myself the kind of scholar who has read, understood and appreciates Foucault). Or maybe I’m well behind the times and we’re post-poststructuralism now. Just don’t deconstruct this post because I may not understand you.

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