Cast of Characters

Sigmund Freud


It is said that we are all post-Freudians, and it may be true. The concepts of dreams as wish fulfillent, the Oedipal complex and the id, ego and super-ego are almost cultural idioms. He "discovered" the unconscious and attempted to unlock it through the talking cure. Although his ideas were supposed to be more medical that ideological, they have permeated continental philosophy so much that they might some day be so taken for granted that they require deconstruction.

Ferdinand de Saussure


There are more dads on this page than at a Styx reunion cruise, but Saussure is undoubtedly the "father of 20-century linguistics." His description of language as a system translated to structuralism in literary theory.

Jacques Lacan


His year seminars in the 60s and 70s were like the Bible to post-structural thought. His "Seminar on the Purloined Letter" redefined psychoanalysis, both revising Freud's theory and taking psychoanalytic reading from the psychobiography of Marie Bonaparte and making it in terms of Saussure's signifier and signified. His ultimate signifer was the phallus, what Freud simply thought of a penis, but what Lacan made to be an undefined, ever-present object of desire. If Freud is the father of psychoanalysis, Lacan is its prodigal son.

Jacque Derrida


As the founder of deconstruction, Derrida wished to unravel the metaphysical assumptions that - since Plato - had been taken as "givens" in the foundations of modern day philosophical assumptions. He had feuds with both Lacan (about "The Purloined Letter," notably, and with Foucault (who called him an "obscurant terrorists" because he "wrote so obscurely as to be incomprehensible"). Regardless, he went on to influence The Yale School of deconstructionists, which included Paul de Man and Irene Harvey.

Michel Foucault


Because he was so interested in the study of social institutions and power hierarchies, he is thought of a structuralist. He would reject that label and say that he was not presenting a cohesive body of work, but rather "tools" for others to use in their analysis.

Roland Barthes


He is said to have influenced structuralism, existentialism, post-structuralism, semiology and Marxism, and his "death of the author" idea greatly influenced Derrida. Although elements of his thoughts can be found in a number of philosophies, he is best known as "the" structuralist.

Copyright 2008, Alexandra Conti, University of Florida