Post-Structuralism: Very Short Introduction by Catherine Belsey

Poststructuralism: A Very Short Introduction

Post-Structuralism: Very Short Introduction by Catherine Belsey is an insightful and thought-provoking book that explores the concept of post-structuralism.

Post-structuralism is an intellectual movement that emerged in philosophy and the humanities in the 1960s and 1970s, challenging the tenets of structuralism which had previously held sway over the interpretation of language and texts in the humanities and the study of economies and cultures in the social sciences.

The book begins with a brief account of the historical relationship between structuralism and poststructuralism, and then traces the key arguments that have led poststructuralists to challenge traditional theories of language and culture.

It examines how poststructuralism encourages a way of looking at the world that challenges what comes to be accepted as ‘truth’ and ‘knowledge’, and how it calls into question how certain accepted ‘facts’ and ‘beliefs’ actually work to reinforce the dominance and power of particular actors within international relations.

For example, most international relations scholars and diplomats agree that countries pursue their self-interest. A structuralist would say that is a self-evident truth. A post-structuralist, though, would point out that self-interest is not always objective (like number of barrels of oil) but defined by culture. An American’s view of self-interest is shaded by ideas about freedom. A Chinese view of self-interest is shaded by civilization history and Confucian precepts, etc. They would say that there is really no such thing as a world guided by objective self-interest, since culture is always changing the definition.

In literature, language has the same effect. Words are the simplest examples – “modest”, “cool”, “bachelor”, etc are all words that have not only changed meaning over time, but also have a connotation that requires a sense of time and culture. With “cool” – a poststructualist would point out that even if you have an objective definition for a “fashionable item”, the connotation of the use of “cool” varies widely by who is using it and how, etc.

Examples are drawn from both high art and popular culture, such as Shakespeare, advertising, Christmas cards, Lewis Carroll, Marcel Duchamp, Toni Morrison, and the lithographs of M. C. Escher.

Overall, Post-Structuralism: Very Short Introduction by Catherine Belsey is (like all Very Short Introductions) an engaging and informative book that provides an accessible introduction to the concept of post-structuralism.

What I Liked

Ok, first off, A Very Short Introduction is almost always going to be a book I like. The series is just brilliant, and poststructuralism is a topic that is absolutely perfect for A Very Short Introduction. The concept is complicated, nuanced, and just way to dense for the Internet. It takes an academic to cover the topic, and an academic who can write to cover it well. Dr. Belsey covers the topic well.

What I Did Not Like

There’s not a lot that I did not like about the book. However, the topic of post-structuralism is a bit exhausting. I understand why it’s essential and valuable in some situations. And I think it’s an excellent concept to understand.

However, it does come across as academic narcissism, with too many words spilled and journals filled with finer details around literary criticism. Much of it is straight-up incoherent and pretentious, even if there’s an exciting bit of usefulness for the concept as a whole.

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