In “The Structuralist Activity” Barthes spends much of the article explaining how and why exactly the application of structuralism is to be considered an activity. There is one particular part of the essay that I found to be especially important. I feel that it is here that Barthes captures the essence of Structuralism, leaving the rest of the essay to mostly definition and explanation: “…what is new is a mode of thought (or a ‘poetics’) which seeks less to assign completed meanings to the objects it discovers than to know how meaning is possible, at what cost and by what means.” Structuralism is more concerned with the act, or process used in deriving meaning than the meaning itself, or the content of a theory.
What I am wondering here is if the act or process used is referring only at the level of language. Let us take a feminist interpretation of Frankenstein for example. I will use the designation ‘x’ to represent a completely articulated feminist theory on Frankenstein. Now using Barthes’ structuralist activity, he will be interested in the act by which the meaning behind ‘x’ was derived. Would this act include the examination of things like historical context and relationships between characters, since these probably would have been considerations for the writer who came up with ‘x’? Or will Barthes want to stay strictly at the level of language (as I imagine Saussure would)? Or is this simply a misunderstanding of the application of this theory? Perhaps Barthes is speaking more generally, and the structuralist activity is not meant to be applied to specific, individual interpretations?
“…but only the act by which these meanings, historical and contingent variables, are produced.” – when he refers to these meanings that have been produced, can these be examined case by case, or must it be examined in terms of a necessary method (be it conscious or unconscious) that will be used in order to derive any meaning whatsoever?