25 January 2010

Structuralist Poetics (6 - suite et fin)

Part 3 of the book, "Perspectives", consists of two short chapters.

The first deals with the objections that the "Tel Quel" school might raise. I remember Tel Quel. It seems to have faded away but in Culler's description it seems basically to be be post-structuralism. Derrida and Kristeva are mentioned, and the assumed attack is made on the basis that Culler's theory of literary competence can only be valid if there is one privileged reading, whereas Derrida has shown that there is an infinite play of readings. Culler's reply seems to be that in practice, some readings are evidently better than others. He also amusingly deals with Saussure's theory of anagrams. He believed that Latin poets regularly hid proper names in their texts by way of anagrams. Kristeva appears to have given this notion serious thought.

The second and final chapter is by way of summing up. Culler stresses again that his project is for an analysis of how readers create their reading, but that the poetics must not be based on linguistics.

My final comments: I remain doubtful that it is possible or sensible to develop a full structuralist poetics. Structuralism itself seems badly damaged by the post-structuralist attacks, which have, however, not provided an alternative. But the attempt is valuable. It's interesting that despite all the reservations Culler expresses, Barthes is really the hero of the book. As Susan Sontag realised, his literary competence was unrivalled.

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