Binary Opposition

Laura Maxwell (English 111, 1994)

Structuralist analysis as developed by Claude Levi-Strauss has focused largely on oral narrative and has achieved a certain freedom from chirographic and typographic bias by breaking down oral narrative in abstract binary terms rather than in terms oft he sort of plot developed in written narrative. LÚvi-Strauss's fundamental analogue for narrative is language itself with its system of contrastive elements: phoneme, morpheme, etc. He and his many followers generally have paid little if any attention to the specific psychodynamics of oral expression as worked out by Parry, Lord, [link to McLuhan quotation on Lord and Parry's work] and particularly Havelock and Peabody. Attention to such work would add another dimension to structuralist analysis, which is often accused of being overly abstract and tendentious -- all structures discerned turn out to be binary (we live in the age of the computer), and binarism is achieved by passing over elements, often crucial elements, that do not fit binary patterning. Moreover, the binary structures, however interesting the abstract patterns they form, seem not to explain the psychological urgency of a narrative and thus they fail to account for why the story is a story.

Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, 164