Guide to Week 8: Thursday
We will thoroughly discuss binary oppositions in "Doctor," and the other possible Structuralist methods we encountered in Tyson (Barthes, Frye, the Narratologists, and Propp). If you have read the story and cannot yet detect its structuring binaries or some rules that might govern their operations, make sure you read the "Applying Structuralism" examples to get some idea what each theorist's methods can reveal. If we have time, we will try out some first-stage, data gathering of binary oppositions for your Structuralist analysis of "A Very Short Story," which will be the topic of your "Working With Structuralism" paper. Click here for tips to help you develop your Working with Structuralism paper on "A Very Short Story" (In Our Time), due 9:00 AM, next Monday, as an email to me or as an attached Word file. Click on the previous hyperlink for some help discovering specific binary opposition systems in a story. There are a lot of them in "A Very Short Story," but for the first-time Structuralist, they may seem invisible until you attune your thinking to Structuralist theory. Remember, once you've found a system of binaries, you are only half-way done, like a New Critic with a list of "tensions" and no "theme." Your reasoning, which explains the significance of the rule which makes these binaries function, will generate your thesis and complete the "Working with" assignment.
Do you want to test your ability to identify and to use Structuralist methods?
Do you doubt your ability to use Structuralism to interpret the binary oppositions in a system and the structuring rules which make the system interpretable? Sometimes the problem is simplifying the source text until you can see the patterns, so let's try starting with a "text" that is already extremely simplified. Try watching this excerpt from The Way Things Go (Der Lauf der Dinge, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, 1987). Do you see repeated "roles" being played that follow rules for belonging to that role? Do you see repeated, rule governed actions being performed by those roles?
If you are having trouble abstracting the actors and actions, think about the repetitions in terms of narratological "propositions": "A proposition is formed by combining a character with an irreducible action (for example, 'X kills Y' or 'X arrives in town', or irreducible absolutes (for example, 'X is evil' or 'X is queen')" (Tyson 227). The "sequence" of propositions constructs the story. Tyson's illustration of the most basic sequence is: "(1) attribution, (2) action, (3) attribution: the protagonist starts out with an attribute (for example, he is unloved), and by means of an action (he seeks love) that attribute is transformed (he is loved)" (227).
Is there an underlying structuring "myth" being articulated by the whole series of individual episodic iterations in the clip from The Way Things Go? See? I told you that you could do Structuralism! Now try "Bambi Meets Godzilla"!