Roland Barthes’s approach to Balzac’s novella is based on several important theoretical assumptions about the nature of literature derived from the study of linguistics. What the structuralist attempts to do, says Barthes, is decompose an object (a literary work, a film, or any other cultural creation) 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. For Barthes, although an artwork may seem to copy something outside itself (for example, the novel Huckleberry Finn may seem to copy or “be about” the adventures of a young boy in mid-nineteenth century America); it is not the nature of the copied object that makes the work an artwork, although that is a prejudice of a realistic approach to literature. Instead, what makes Mark Twain’s novel a novel is the technique that differentiates it from the hypothetical “real world” that it seems to imitate.
What the structuralist activity succeeds in creating, says Barthes, regardless of whether it is engaged in by an artist or by a critic, is a simulacrum or similitude of an object or an experience which differs from the original object in that the simulacrum makes clear or lays bare the means by which the original object is perceived; that is, its functions or structure. The structuralist activity thus makes the object...
(The entire section is 1717 words.)
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