Notes for Roland Barthes “The Structuralist Activity”


(149) whatever the case, it is probably the serious recourse to the nomenclature of signification (and not to the word itself, which is, paradoxically, not at all distinctive) which we must ultimately take as structuralism's spoken sign: watch who uses signfier and signified, synchronic and diachronic, and you will know whether the structuralist vision is constituted.

Experience shared by analysts and creators, as shared by readers and writers.

(149) We can in fact resume that there exist certain writers, painter, musicians, in whose eyes a certain exercise of structure (and not only its thought) represents a distinctive experience, and that both analysts and creators must be placed under the common sign of what we might call structuralist man, defined not by his ideas or his languages, but by his imagination – in other words, by the way in which he mentally experiences structure.

Definition of structuralism as an activity sounds like a programmed procedure.

(149) Hence the first thing to be said is that in relation to all its users, structuralism is essentially an activity, i.e., the controlled succession of a certain number of mental operations.

Compare reconstructing simulacrum of an object to Bogost using exploded view; he mentions units in the next paragraph.

(149-150) The goal of all structuralist activity, whether reflexive or poetic, is to reconstruct an “object” in such a way as to manifest thereby the rules of functioning (the “functions) of this object. Structure is therefore actually a simulacrum of the object, but a directed, interested simulacrum, since the imitated object makes something appear which remained invisible, or if one prefers, unintelligible in the natural object. . . . the simulacrum is intellect added to object, and this addition has an anthropological value, in that it is man himself, his history, his situation, his freedom and the very resistance which nature offers to his mind.

Mimesis based on analogy of functions, Levi-Strauss homology.

(150-151) both derive from a mimesis, based not on the analogy of substances (as in so-called realist art), but on the analogy of functions (what Levi-Strauss calls homology). . . . what will be called, precisely, a compositionby the controlled manifestation of certain units and certain associations of these units. . . . It is therefore to the degree that the goals of structuralist activity are indissolubly linked to a certain technique that structuralism exists in a distinctive fashion in relation to other modes of analysis or creation.

Dissection and articulation will become functionalism in a few paragraphs, separate from philosophy motivated by computer science and artificial intelligence research.

Sounds like a permutation of Socrates method of division and collection in Phaedrus, also the exquisitely described operation of humans doing structuralist activity again foreshadows what is commonly done by software.

(151) The structuralist activity involves two typical operations: dissection and articulation. To dissect the first object, the one which is given to the simulacrum-activity, is to find in it certain mobile fragments whose differential situation engenders a certain meaning; the fragment has no meaning in itself, but it is nonetheless such that the slightest variation wrought in its configuration produces a change in the whole.

Work of art is what man wrests from chance; although Barthes uses units, Bogost may consider this the epitome of systems operations thinking.

(152) Once the units are posited, structural man must discover in them or establish for them certain rules of association: this is the activity of articulation, which succeeds the summoning activity. . . . form, it has been said, is what keeps the contiguity of units appearing as a pure effect of change: the work of art is what man wrests from chance.

Functional category of object, different than real and rational, but man fabricating meanings, also in scientific objects.

(153) First of all, it manifests a new category of the object, which is neither the real nor the rational, but the functional, thereby joining a whole scientific complex which is being developed around information theory and research. . . . Ultimately, one might say that the object of structuralism is not man endowed with meanings, but man fabricating meanings.

Manteia function of artist/analysis of Hegel: speak locus of meaning, does not name it.

(154) his [artist/analyst] function, to return to Hegel's example, is a manteia; like the ancient soothsayer, he speaks the locus of meaning but does not name it.



Barthes, Roland. “The Structuralist Activity.” Eds. Richard DeGeorge and Fernande DeGeorge. The Structuralists from Marx to Levi-Strauss. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1972. 149-154. Print.