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The term, post-structuralism, is sometimes used almost interchangeably with deconstruction, while, at other times it is seen as a more general, umbrella term which describes a movement of which one important element is deconstruction. Thus Richard Harland, for example, suggests that post-structuralists fall into three main groups: the Tel Quel (a French journal) group of Jaques Derrida, Julia Kristeva and the later Roland Barthes; Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (authors of the influential Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (published in French in 1972) and the later Michael Foucault; and (on his own) Jean Baudrillard (Harland 1987, 2). Whether Jacques Lacan is a structuralist and/or post-structuralist is a matter of continuing debate.

The degree of uncertainty that surrounds the use of this term can, however, be suggested by noting that Alex Callinicos proposes a rather different division of post-structuralism into two main strands of thought. The first of these is what Richard Rorty has dubbed ‘textualism’, while the second is one in which the master category is Michael Foucault’s “power-knowledge’. This ‘worldly post-structuralism,” as Callinicos calls it using a term of Edward Said’s, involves an articulation of “the said and the unsaid,” of the discursive and the non-discursive (Callinicos 1989, 68). Callinicos argues that whereas the textualists see us as imprisoned in ‘texts’, unable to escape the discursive (or unable to see any reality unmediated by Discourses), “wordly post-structuralism” leaves open the possibility of contact with a reality unmediated by or through discourses.

If one accepts this division it has to be said that post-structuralism in its textualist version has had a far more significant impact upon literary studies than has the Foucauldian variant, although many of Foucault’s ideas have been taken up for criticism and development by feminist critics.

“Textualist” post-structuralism represents, at the same time, both a development and a deconstruction of structuralism – a demonstration of its argued inner contradictions. A classic example of this is to be found in an early (1968) interview of Derrida by Julia Kristeva, published in “Positions”. Derrida here takes issue with what he claims is Saussure’s maintenance of a rigorous distinction between “the signans and the signatum, [and] the equation of the signatum and the concept, which, he argues,

“inherently leaves open the possibility of thinking a concept signified in and of itself, a concept simply present for thought, independent of a relationship to language, that is of a relationship to a system of signifiers…” (1981, 19)

Within Saussure’s revolutionary view of language as a system of ‘difference’ with no positive forms, that is, Derrida argues that one can discover (by deconstructing Saussure’s argument) a relic of the old ideas, an extra-systemic entity, a ‘transcendental signified’. By pursuing the implications of Saussure’s arguments as far as possible one is able to go beyond them: the rigorous structuralist thus stands like Keats’ Cortez, staring at the Pacific of post-structuralism (although his wild surmise is hardly silent).

Derrida’s own position is best followed through certain key terms such as ‘deconstruction’, ‘logocentricism’, ‘difference’, ‘transcendental signified’, ‘metaphysics of presence’ and so on. Suffice to say that central to his endeavour (as he himself admits) has been a commitment to rooting out of a belief in absolute and extra-systemic determinants of meaning.