Confined as we are to a structural analysis, we need give only a brief justification of the proposition just advanced, and according to which complex kinship structures—i.e., not involving the positive determination of the type of preferred spouse—can be explained as the result of the development or combination of elementary structures. A special and more developed study is to be devoted to these complex structures at a later date.Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Elementary Structures of Kinship, 1949
It’s complicated.Facebook, ca. 2007
Precritical and commonsensical accounts imagine language as liberation from bodily constraints. Through language, internal representations escape their cranial enclosure permitting, if not a communion, at least a confluence of individual thoughts and experiences. In 1972, American literary critic Fredric Jameson suggested recent theoretical trends might be flipping this notion on its head, when, inspired by Russian formalism and structuralism, he spoke of a “prison-house of language” (1974, i, 186, 214-215). This analogy suggested a carceral account of language, in which humans—perhaps including theorists—were held captive by words and signs. Utterances became less like the expressions of a rich subjective interiority than a trace of fetters, anchored in the walls of cells assigning the speaker’s perspective.
In some crucial respects, the carceral analogy had much to recommend it. French structural anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques recounts indigenous life enclosed by a vicious colonial state and reduced to a dispersed network of fragmentary elements. Swiss structural linguist Ferdinand de Saussure’s accounts of speech as situated in a “spoken chain,” “sound-chain,” and “phonetic chain” envisions the subjects of language as manacled in linguistic determinants that precede and exceed them (1959, 22-23). His celebrated account of language as a game of chess implies not merely containment but also a highly regimented warfare in which capture and defeat spring more from the “rules of the game” than individuals’ agency. French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s account of the criminal as subject to the demands of a social structure, rather than aberrancy of conscience or soul, suggest analyst and society are, in fact, oriented and constrained by an individual’s pathology (2006, 102-122, 739). Such examples illustrate a few of the “constraints” operative within structuralist models. The subjects of structuralism find themselves governed by spaces, operations, procedures, and transformations not of their own making, where potential moves follow precisely assigned steps.Continue reading