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S Anas Ahmad

16 ENM 19, GE 1678

M.A. English Lit. (Final)

Response Paper
Roland Barth, The Structuralist Activity

Barth begins his seminal essay with a discussion about the usage
and classification of the term Structuralism. He says that
structuralism cannot be considered as a theory, a movement or a
means of anal ysis because it doesnt have any fixed law, there is
no consensus or solidarity of doctrine or commitment amongst the
scholars. Structuralism derives linguistically from the word
structure which is widely used in scientific study but doesnt
reflect the true meaning of the term as it is used in literature. In
order to arrive at a suitable meaning of structuralism one must
resort to take help of jargon re lated to the literary word like
functions, forms, signs and signification. To distinguish it from
other schools of thought pairings like signifier signified,
synchronic diachronic etc are taken which are part of Saussurian
school of thought.
According to Barth, Structuralism is not just a word, its an
exercise undertaken by a Structural Man who can be a writer,
painter, musician etc in whose eyes a certain exercise of structure
represents a distinctive experience, his work and ideas are defin ed
by his imagination, his mental experience of the structure at hand.
Thus, structuralism is an activity that Barth refers to as the
Structuralist Activity. The primary goal of all structuralist
activity is to decompose an object and then reconstruct the object
in such a way as to make clear the rules by which the object
functions that is, the very means that make it possible for the
object to be a cultural object and communicate itself as such. This
new resultant structure is called as a simulacrum of th e object but
its a directed, interested simulacrum because the imitated
object brings into fore a hidden meaning which itself wasnt
visible in the initial object. This hidden unintelligible meaning
opens new paradigms of anal ysis which were not acces sible
before. For Barth, this newly created simulacra are important
because it has intellect added to it which has an anthropological
value. Structuralism is thus an activity of imitations but it is
different from the literary mimesis because the simulacra isnt
created as it is. The process of decomposing and recomposing
adds a new hidden meaning to the object.
The process of decomposing an object is called d issection and the
process of recomposing is called articulation that is further
subdivided into summoning and combination. This process is of
significance in the whole structuralist exercise because the
structuralists arent concerned with the absolute end meaning,
rather they are more interested in how the meaning was obtained ,
the process becomes the primary focus of analysis . This approach
is based on the basic assumption of modern linguistics and
semiotics that the meaning of anything which can be
communicated is determined not by its essence but by differences
within a patterned structure; what makes the object meaningful is
its position within the pattern, that is, its difference from, or
boundaries between, other objects. Thus, it is the underl ying
structures which bind an object which appeal to structuralists
rather than their surface meaning. The object is first dissected
and broken into fragments and studied in isolation in differential
with other objects. Once a relationship between the underlying
elements of the structure is arrived at, the object is than studied
in totality that is called articulation.
The process of production of a simulacrum is also important in
the sense because it manifests a new category of the object which
might be different from its initial classification. It is not the real
or rational but a functional category which puts the whole realm
of exercise in the domain of scientific inquiry. The goal of
structuralist exercise for Barth is to show that meanings are not
fixed or endowed or enforced upon man. They can be fabricated
and thereby its not the contents of the result which is of appeal
but the act of arriving on these meanings. Bart h says that, Homo
significans would be the new man of structural inquiry.

The Structuralist Activity (1963) is indicative of the period when

Barth was dabbling in the realm of Sasussuiran linguistic school
of thought. It was written prior to his shift to Post
Structuralism and his influential text The Death of the Author. It
was the author which was of significance for the structuralists and
close reading of the text as an exercise was taken to assess the
hidden meanings and influences before the shift to the reader
response criticism took place.