English 456: C20 Criticism and Theory

Questions on Derrida's "Structure, Sign, Play in the Discourse
of the Human Sciences" (1966)

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1. What is the definition or description of "structure" given by Derrida at the beginning of the essay, around 1117-18? In what sense does he suggest that it is contradictory?

2. Around 1118, which authors does Derrida connect to the "rupture" or philosophical "event" that began to question this long-standing principle of structure? (The term structure doesn't apply only to modern structuralism; Derrida is invoking a much older notion.) Why can't the authors he mentions simply abandon older frameworks such as may be found in metaphysical philosophy?

3. Much of the essay deals with the work of twentieth-century structural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. Around 1120, what conceptual problem does the Levi-Strauss quotation show the "scandal" of incest posing for the traditional opposition between nature and culture? How does the anthropologist handle that problem?

4. Following up around 1122-25, what basic criticisms does Derrida make of Levi-Strauss' emphasis on the structuralist as bricoleur? Take note of Derrida's remarks about structuralism's stance as critical of naive empiricism (in the sense of "those who proceed without taking sufficient thought for their methodology"), as well as his statements about "supplementarity," "play," "games," the bracketing out of history, and "structure."

5. At 1125, what, according to Derrida, are the two ways of interpreting interpretation"? Why can't we simply choose between these two ways, privileging one over the other?

6. On the whole, Derrida's essay is critical of Levi-Strauss. But why would it be wrong to say that the essay dismisses Levi-Strauss' ideas or endeavors? In what sense would dismissing his concepts out of hand be a violation of Derrida's own way of proceeding as an analyst?

*The reading selection is from Adams, Hazard. Critical Theory Since Plato. Rev. ed. New York: Harcourt, 1992. 1117-26. Derrida originally gave this paper at Johns Hopkins in 1966. It was later included in Writing and Difference.