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Ferdinand De Saussure and Structuralism – From the Sausurrean Linguistic Turn to the Countercanons – semiologic

When dealing with disciplines as multifaceted as linguistics and literature, we can always be reminded of the renowned fable of the three blind men, who come across an elephant. One touches a leg and says, ‘Aha! An elephant is like a column’. Another touches the trunk and blurted out, ‘No, an elephant is like a thick rope’. A third, touching a large ear, says, ‘Oh, that can’t be. An elephant is like a carpet’. Each laying a hand on only one part, but envisioned the whole in a different way. However, none was entirely erroneous in his perception, and yet none really fully grasp the idea of an elephant.

Ferdinand de Saussure laid down the terrain of linguistics by disregarding the ‘human’ aspect of language, which in this case is called the Speaking Subject for this is something that presented a heterogeneity that completely negated his purpose of establishing certain regularity in language. This is definitely an offshoot of the Saussurean school of thought that first established the demarcation line between the Speaking Subject (Parole) from the Language itself (La Langue). This concentrated the linguists’ premium focus on looking for a system that homogeneously appears in language.

The language became more than just a tool for naming objects, but in a sense, it was freed from the invalid claims of being in the world of ideas before in the world of forms. The focal point of this claim lies in the structure and nature of language sans its limitless and sporadic anthropological underpinnings. In the same manner, semiology (which at the time was an unchartered field) became a springboard for more of his bold claims regarding the parameters that linguistics should come into play for ‘the task of a linguist is to find out what makes language a special system within the mass of semiological data’ available. The Saussurrean view gave an upper hand to language insofar as considering it a self-regulating social institution, which would eventually mean that it holds power over us. As deterministic and restricting as it may sound, for de Saussure, language is a system that governs our society for it affirms human communities and consequently, subjugates the one that binds us all-human communication.

No one can deny that the Saussurean theory spoke a language that goes beyond its years. Looking at how Saussure’s linguistic structuralism was entrenched onto the literary criticism is just an indication of how this particular work has made an indelible mark in the intellectual and academic field, and how it was able to transcend other disciplines. This made a sudden pendulum swing from the inclusion of various outside sources (other than the text itself) espoused by the Classicist to the text-centered movement as supported by his strong declaration of the power of language and its signifier-signified relationship. Though in the present, formalism is considered to be stale and is less likely used in ascertaining sound literary interpretation, the new light that it served to literary criticism brought forth more ways to read and unearth the meanings of texts. It opened the doors for a more serious look on critical reading and interpretation, which was freed from the shackles of the inaccurate reliance on the interpretation of the writer.

Like the dethroning of an existing rule of thumb, the “death of the author” clears the text of outside influences ushering in the long-awaited “birth of the reader.” The definitive aspect of this offshoot from the linguistic to its literary implications lie in its stable arguments that cover most part of the critical points of language that haven’t been given framework before. The shying away from the Platonic standpoint on language gave a great deal of rooms for more discoveries about the complexities and intricacies of language. Moreover, since language and literature are staple partners in affirming humanity, I think it is but proper for Ferdinand de Saussure’s work to be a springboard for such Structuralist orientation in literature.