Structuralism (1):
Basic Concepts and
Structuralist Narratology
Structuralism: Outline
Starting Questions
Structuralism: Basic Concepts
From New Criticism to Structuralism
Major Theorists (1): Ferdinand de Saussure
Structural Narratology:
-- Claude Levis Strauss
-- Vlarmir Propp
6. Practice: 箜篌引 & “The Long Enchantment”
Starting Questions
About our life:
--When a person says “I love you,” what does it
-- Why do ads influence us so much?
About literature:
-- Is there common structure among some
(types of ) literary work? What does the
common structure suggest about our
-- How do we use our linguistic knowledge
on literary analysis?
Starting Questions (2)
More abstract questions:
-- How is reality/nature and how do we
get to know it? Just through
experience? With or without
mediation (媒介)?
-- How are meanings or our ideas
produced? By our mind? By a
supernatural being? Or by language?
Structuralism: Basic Concepts
(1) Language and reality
Does language/art work
elevate/reflect reality,
create reality,
distort/hide reality or
replace reality?
Pay attention
to the position
of these two men.
Durand, Asher Kindred Spirits 1849
Structuralism: Basic Concepts
(1) Language and reality
Who is created
by whom?
The Creation of Man (Fragment of the Sistine
Chapel ceiling) 1511-12
Structuralism: Basic Concepts
(1) Language and reality
Are we living in
our own fictions?
Left: The Human Condition; Right: The Art of
Structuralism: Basic Concepts (1)
Language: Does language reflect reality,
create reality, distort reality or replace
The Treachery of
Images, by Rene
Magritte, 1928/29
Or The Treachery
of Languages?
Structuralism: Basic Concepts(2)
a. Against the mimetic theory of language (p.
88), Structuralists think that Language is
not a transparent container of our
ideas/meaning; we produce our ideas
through language as a system of difference.
b. Anti-Humanism: The author is dead.
Literary works are not independent entities.
c. Structuralism finds out the grammar of
literary works.
Basic Objects of Study
Example – phonemes
Rules: How to
 combine into words
 Select and combine
into a sentence.
Princess, prince and a
 combine into a
fairy-tale. (Snow
White and Cinderella
are in structure the
same story.)
Structuralism: From Units & Rules
to Basic Structure (langue)
Langue or signifying
system 表意系統:
-- Literary work,
-- narratives (e.g. myth)
-- tribal or community
ritual (a wedding, a
rain dance, a
graduation ceremony)
-- "fashion“ (in clothes,
food, cars, etc.)
-- any kind of
From New Criticism to Structuralism:
Search for “the common” or the universal
Form    
Structure: basic pattern
an entity with interrelated parts.
Pygmalion And Galatea,
by Jean-Leon Gerome, after 1881
structural linguistics: Ferdinand
de Saussure (textbook pp. 89-95)
1857-1913, Swiss linguist; one of the founders
of modern linguistics.
Major ideas:
1. The synchronic vs. the diachronic; langue vs.
2. Language is a system of difference.
Meaning occurs in binary opposition
between two signs. (e.g. toy, boy)
3. sign = signifier and signified; the connection
between them is arbitrary.
Language as a system of relation
and difference
Underlying our use of language is a system, a pattern of paired
opposites, or binary oppositions.--or a system of differences
relations: toy  boy (sound),
 table (grammatical unit),
 girl (antonym), etc.
difference: binary opposition
I saw a girl in red. (e.g. 噹狗狗 and 狗噹噹)
(syntagmatic relations)
I am a girl.
a boy,
a dog,
an ironing board.
sign = signifier and signified
Saussure: "The linguistic sign unites, not
a thing and a name, but a concept and
a sound-image. . . The two elements
are intimately united, and each recalls
the other.”
signifier + signified  referent triad:
concept of rose  the actual rose we
refer to
The inclusion of the concept within the triad of
signification suggests that there is no natural
sign = signifier and signified
"The linguistic sign is arbitrary. It is
unmotivated, i.e. arbitrary in that it
actually has no natural connection with
the signified."
-- e.g. The signs “dog,” “chien,” “狗”
arbitrarily refer to the concept of the
animal dog.
-- Can be replaced by other signs;
-- Can create ambiguities.
-- What about Onomatopoeia, 象形文字?
Are there natural resemblances
between the signs and what they refer
to? (e.g. Cock-a-doodle-do, cocorico
Claude Levi-Strauss
1. Kinship system: structures how things
or people are “exchanged” within a
e.g. women in exchange for dowry.
2. We think in terms of binaries. (e.g.
raw vs. cooked; good vs. bad)
3. Myth: basic units – mythemes, e.g. in
Oedipus myth: overrelating and
underrating of blood relations
Structuralist narratology: Vladmir
syntax as the basic model: Suject + predicate
= Actant + function
Propp: for him there are 7 "spheres of action"
(villain, hero, false hero, donor[provider],
helper, dispatcher, princess [and her
father]) and 31 functions.
e.g. Cinderella and its modern versions:
-- Villain: the stepmother, helper: fairy
-- do we have fairy godmother as the helper
Practice I: 樂 府 詩 箜篌引
Binary opposition between 公
and 河;between the speaker
and 公。
1.公 試著克服河  公被河克服。
2. 公:(男﹚人;河:自然
3. Speaker: 試著阻止公;奈何
Practice I:
Variation (1): 「公無渡河,公竟渡河,
逕自直奔 水中央而捨去性命,他
(source: 枯萎年代 ﹚
Mythemes (or themes): 梁祝,
Liebestod (love death).
Practice I:
Variation (2):向陽的四句聯
Variation (3):公無渡河 ──詩誌
八掌溪事件 《李友煌》.
The Long Enchantment
1993, 11 min 23 s
Françoise Hartmann
Info Source:
The Long Enchantment
A little girl espies a wondrous pony under her
window one charmed moonlit night. Is it all a
dream? Flora is spirited back in time to an
enchanted forest. Here, she witnesses the
machinations of a wicked wizard who casts a
spell on the pony. The courageous little girl
eventually confronts the wizard and conquers
the forces of evil that had been unleashed
centuries before! Sure to delight young
imaginations, The Long Enchantment is a
spellbinding animated fairy tale, where "once
upon a time" ends "happily ever after."
The Long Enchantment:
Basic units/actants:
fairy-tale characters: king, princess, fairygodmother, wizard & his spell (“My
spell would break if for your sake a
friend would dare to eat a pear.”)
orchard, wind-fallen fruit, pear, horse 
fairground pony
The Long Enchantment:
Analysis (2)
Mytheme or functions:
spellbound princess/pony,
time travel (back and
double, interaction
between the pony and
Flora (pear  tear).
“The Long Enchantment”
unlike “Little Red
neither the king nor
the fairy godmother
can help; no prince
to rescue.
The Long Enchantment:
Analysis (3)
To break the pony’s long enchantment, Flora
can only rely on herself, as well as the Pony’s
messages. Through the pony’s and Flora’s
rescue of each other, we see interactions
both magical and natural.
Structuralism and Saussure
Claude Levi-Strauss "The Structural Study of Myth" and
Other Structuralist Ideas
Hawkes, Terence. Structuralism and Semiotics. U of
California P, 1977.

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